Let’s Talk Recipes

My friend and fellow Kensington author, Mae Clair, guested on Esme Salon recently.  She wrote a fun post about the ingredients needed to write a good book and her recipe for a dynamite tortellini salad.  (Well, sort of a recipe…maybe…I copied and pasted it in case you want to give it a try:)  You can find the entire post here:  https://esmesalon.com/guest-post-cooks-books-and-suspense/  And just in case you can’t wait to get in the kitchen, here’s the recipe:

Mae Clair’s No-Fail Tortellini Salad

  1. Mix a healthy dose of delusions with 1 cup of vigorous pep-talk.
  2. Remind yourself you’ve created complex characters and plots. How difficult can an oven/stove thingie be?
  3. Ignore spouse who reminds you about the “infamous cake fiasco” that resulted in one overly large, hockey puck-like biscotti. Apparently, there is a legitimate reason a box cake mix calls for water. Who knew?
  4. Settle for making a simple appetizer and breathe a sigh of relief.
  5. Ignore husband when he comments the last appetizer you made should have been killed before it multiplied.
  6. Blow the dust off cookbooks and search for an appetizer recipe.
  7. Turn deaf ear to the husband who suggests you have yet to outgrow the adult supervision stage.
  8. Decide you’d rather spend your time writing than crushing tortilla chips and slicing up fat black olives. Celebrate with a glass of wine.
  9. Head for your nearest gourmet deli and clean them out of tortellini salad.
  10. For the highly skilled (I wouldn’t suggest something this complex on the first try): place tortellini salad in a festive bowl and pass off as your own. Blank expressions and stammering rarely work when someone asks for the recipe. The best you can hope for is a diversion. Fainting usually does the trick

Now Mae’s recipe was obviously tongue-in-cheek, but for my new mystery series, my editor asked me to include two recipes for the first book.  I have more recipes than any file folder can hold, but I always worry about how much I have to tinker with them to make them mine.  I love puttering in the kitchen, but my two sisters have never met a stove/thingie they like.  Even if I do the cooking, they don’t like it when I get too “chefy.”  So, I was curious how other authors who write “food” mysteries handled the cooking and recipes.  To find out, I’ve been reading a lot of them.

I just finished The Diva Runs Out of Thyme by Krista Davis.  Clever, huh?  Davis combines cooking, characters, the mystery, and more twists and turns than San Francisco’s Lombard Street.  It was the first book in her Diva series, and I plan to buy more.  I was relieved to see that she included only two recipes at the back of the book, but she DID include lots of Martha Stewart type entertaining and decorating tips.  I got hooked on food mysteries when I first discovered Diane Mott Davidson’s Goldy Bear’s catering novels.  When Goldy catered an event, Davidson included most or all of the recipes.  Shirley Jump–who used to live in my city and was a gracious hostess for writing get-togethers–wrote a series of Sweet and Savory romances, starting with The Bride Wore Chocolate, where she shared a witty recipe at the end of every chapter.  (She said she gained weight testing them all).

Anyway, this is my question.  When a writer includes recipes in a novel, have any of you tried them out?  How many recipes do you expect at the end of a book?  Can a writer include too many?  Do you prefer simple recipes to complicated ones?

For now, I’ve moved on to reading No Cats Allowed, a Cat in the Stacks mystery by Miranda James.  Cats and librarians.  How can you beat that?

Whatever you’re reading now, I hope you enjoy it.  And happy writing!


Managing your time…your life?

I’m a procrastinator, but I know it.  I’m also driven, and I’ve come to terms with that, too. I have discipline…sometimes.  So it’s always a challenge for me to find balance.  I try to cram too many things into too small a time frame, and then I get frustrated.  So I try to come up with ways to manage my time and life, to work everything in.

I do better in life, as well as writing, when I have structure.  I’m not saying it always works, but it gives me something to aim for.  And when I fail, I don’t beat myself up.  Life happens.  But now that two sets of kids have grown up and moved on, I have the luxury to write every day of the week.  I start out with a half hour or hour on social media while I sip my coffee and let my brain turn on.  Then I rewrite whatever I wrote the day before, and then I start writing the new stuff for each day.  I’m not fast.  I’m slow, so it might take me most of the day to hit ten pages I like.  My friends write faster.  Some of them write better.  But I’m me, and I plug away.

Everything else in my life follows pretty much the same pattern.  I clean the house and piddle around in the yard on Saturdays or the weekend.  I love to cook, so I cook suppers almost every night.  And I have a method for that, too.

A friend, who had moved away and moved back recently, reminded me that I’d taught her my method for meal planning.  “I still use it,” she said.  My menus came because my daughter had 37 allergies (some mild, some not), and I had to be careful of everything she ate.  They also came because my husband is spoiled.  (He spoils me back). But he doesn’t like to eat the same meal twice in the same month.  So if I cook chicken piccata on the 3rd and I cook it again on the 27th, he says, “Didn’t we just have this?”

I love it, because I get bored cooking the same things, so I started saving recipes, buying cookbooks, and making menus–but I have a method that makes it easier for me.  Most Saturdays, I cook beef.  It can be ribeyes, skirt steak, hamburgers, meatloaf, or roasts. Doesn’t matter.  It just has to be a different recipe every Saturday. On Sundays, it’s pork–chops, tenderloins, roasts, Italian sausages, or ham; Mondays are ethnic–Italian, Mexican, or Chinese, etc.; Tuesdays are chicken; Wednesdays–soup/salad/sandwiches/or one-dish meals; Thursdays are fish or seafood; and Fridays, I DON’T COOK.  We go out.  If company comes over, I can switch things, trade one night’s meal for another.  I make a grocery list while I plan the menus, so I have all the ingredients I need.  The thing is, I have a starting point to work from. And that makes it easier, and I end up with variety and new recipes to try.  Just like when I make plot points for my writing.

Menus don’t work for my daughters.  They like spontaneity, surprises.  I’m not a big fan of suprises.  I  think they can go either way.  And plot points don’t work for most of my writing friends.  I might be a little too security minded, a little too cautious. Whatever. But to each, his own.  And however or whatever you do, happy writing!



An Ode to Food, and Back to Routine

Happy New Year!  I don’t know about other people, but I’m ready for a fresh start and a new year.  2016 was a full, busy year with more “events” than usual.  Our grandson Tyler graduated from IU in May, then he traveled for a while before starting a new job in Indianapolis in June.  Our Friday night friends moved to Carolina in June, and now I picture them playing in sunshine.  I broke my leg on June 17th and that pretty much blew my plans for the summer.  My life revolved around physical therapy and lots and lots of TLC from friends–I’m one lucky person. Then our grandson Nate joined the marines, stayed with us to do Thursday night training sessions in town, and then shipped out for boot camp in early December.  He couldn’t wait to go.  I wasn’t quite so gung-ho to lose him right before Christmas, but he was ready to prove himself.  I get that.  And inbetween all of it, I wrote.  That’s what I love about writing.  It’s “my” space, my place to go when routines crash and fall around me.  Writing can be flexible, so I met all of my deadlines.   It was nice to end 2016 on high notes, but I’m still ready for 2017!

The high notes?  My daughter and grandson came to stay with us from Friday, December 23, to late afternoon on Tuesday, December 26, and all I concentrated on was lots of good food and lots of time to visit.  No work.  No “office hours.”  With my cane and the butcher block in the center of our small kitchen, I can cook like a crazy woman, as long as I remember to stop and ice my leg in the middle of the day.  And I love cooking, especially with my daughters (except Robyn and Scott couldn’t make it this year)!

Now, my romances mention lots of food, because cooking is such a passion of mine.  And for me, the holidays revolve around food, so this next part of my blog is a blatant tribute to wonderful recipes.  Holly and Tyler both love Thai food, so I made my version of Nigella Lawson’s Thai yellow pumpkin and seafood curry to put over rice for their first supper at home.  My hubs has always insisted on a “fancy” supper, with all of us together, on Christmas Eve, so Holly and I made desserts for Christmas dinner early on Saturday to get them done ahead of time, and then I made The Pioneer Woman’s Steak Oscar for supper.  (Holly loves to try new recipes as much as I do.  Steak Oscar was a HUGE hit, and if you want to impress, this does it!)  For Christmas, I made “the big-ass ham” (20 pounds) that John won at the Legion, and I glazed it with The Pioneer Woman’s red raspberry/dijon mustard glaze.  I took an extra mason jar of the glaze to my sisters’ house, and they wouldn’t let me bring it home, so I know it was a hit.  And I highly recommend Marcela’s slab apple pie (from foodtv’s The Kitchen): http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/marcela-valladolid/apple-slab-pie.html.

Aside from food, we watched a movie every night Holly and Ty were here–something unusual for us, but boy, did we enjoy it.  We were all in the mood for low-key this year.  I picked first: The Magnificent Seven.  I mean, it’s a Western, and it has Chris Pratt in it. How bad can that be?  Holly picked The Secret Life of Pets–just silly fun.  And Ty picked the new Jason Bourne movie with lots of action.  Then it was time for Holly and Ty to drive back to Indy and jobs and the real world.  I finished reading The Help, and John and I rented that movie and loved it.

I got a smidgeon of work done until New Year’s Eve, but nothing to brag about.  And tomorrow, it’s time for me to hit the real world again, too.  Time to get up and write again.  And I’m ready.  It’s fun to play, but it’s great to get back to routine again.  I’m ready to hit 2017 running…Okay, limping, but with purpose.  Hope your holidays were wonderful, and have a great, new, fresh year!


How do I love thee, food?

Okay, I’ve confessed before, but I love to cook.  It’s been interesting with my broken leg.  I can’t stand up and balance long enough to fix a meal, so my poor husband’s been pressed into duty.  John was a good cook when I married him, but he was glad to pass the skillet to me as soon as possible.  Now, he grills, but he even does that less and less.  He says it’s because I’m such a good cook.  I suspect he thinks flattery will get him out of kitchen duty. But his standards have gotten a lot higher year after year.  He loves sauces and glazes.  He loves the little extras, so he doesn’t want something simple night after night.  He gets tired of take-out.  So now, I roll myself into the kitchen in my wheelchair and we walk through recipes together.  And to tell you the truth, that’s pretty fun for me.  Maybe not as much for him:)

A long time ago, my agent asked me if I’d like to include recipes with my novels, because my characters always cook and share meals together.  That’s how my family and friends bond…over food.  We eat meals and yak and catch up with each other.  My sister Patty and my cousin Jenny are coming to see me tonight, and John and I have a pork roast (with a rub) in the slow cooker to shred for pulled pork, and cole slaw, and chips.  When we think people, we think “feed them.”

My friend Mary Lou teases me that I’m one of those people who talk about what I’m going to cook while I’m eating what I’ve already cooked.  Guilty as charged.  My friend Paula brings me special spices back from her trips to Israel, and I love her for it.   I have files full of recipes, and I tinker with all of them, but I’m never sure how much I need to change a recipe I’ve found in a magazine before I can call it my own.  So I’ve always shied away from calling something “mine.”

Kensington, however, loves to promote authors who have food in their novels by sharing recipes online.  If you mention a food in your book, they’ll ask you to share the recipe.  So finally, I’ve gotten braver and sent them recipes for a few of the things that my chef, Tyne, (in book 4) makes at Ian’s inn.  Tyne has traveled the world to hone his skills.  I haven’t, and I don’t have the budget Ian’s resort does.  So I sent in my versions (simpler and cheaper) of Tyne’s dishes.  It was fun. If one of them is chosen for their publicity site, I hope people try them and like them.

My family’s pretty adventurous.  My daughter Holly loves Mexican and Thai food.  She also loves cassoulets.  What can I say?  She lived with a chef for a few years.  I had to step up my game.  John loves salmon, seafood, and Creole.  Tyler loves Asian, curries, and spicy.     They all love Italian and barbecue.  None of them like repetition.  If I make chicken piccata at the beginning of the month and make it again at the end of the month, I hear, “Didn’t you just make that?”

They’re all spoiled.  But so am I.  So it’s been fun trying to share recipes with readers.  And I love it when my friends cook for me.  We all get sick of our own cooking, no matter how many recipes we have.

This has been sort of a ramble, and you might not like to cook, but happy writing!




Writing: 7 things about myself

I think I got lucky this time. I’ve spent so much time worrying about getting the elements right in a romance, I finally just sat down and wrote the first chapter. Then I played with it more the next day. I printed it out so that I could scribble in the margins, and my daughter came over for a visit. She picked it up and read it and liked it. That never happens. My first chapters are always a struggle for me. Then I took it to my writers’ club, Scribes, and read it, and THEY liked it, too. Miracles do happen:) Anyway, this is a perfect way to lead into 7 things about myself.

Number 1, my first chapters usually stink. I rewrite them, off and on, the entire time I write my books. The farther I get in my stories and the more I know my characters, the better handle I have on them. My opening hooks usually stay the same–they’re what made me excited about writing the stories in the first place, but the dance of introducing the main characters, the settings, and the books’ big questions get tweaked endlessly while I trudge through plot points.

Number 2, I make tons and tons of goals, and life never agrees with them. But I still cling to making my lists and crossing things off when I finish them. It gives an illusion of control that brings me comfort.

Number 3, I love to cook. I own more cookbooks than any person should have, and I get two cooking magazines delivered to our house each month. I get bored making the same things, so the magazines keep me inspired with fresh recipes and takes on ingredients. My daughter and grandsons lived with us for years, and the boys went through a Chinese phase. I have so many Chinese oils and flavorings on the top shelf of my cupboard, I’m lucky I didn’t need a new kitchen.

Number 4, I have a thing for British period pieces and stories. On our honeymoon, John and I had to stop whatever we were doing to watch The Wives of Henry VIII. John said he should have taken that as a sign. He was right.

Number 5, I take in strays. I only chose the first kitten we ever got. The rest have all found their way to our house. Our chihuahua is a stray. I have a gray kitten in my living room right now. The mother cat ditched him, and he’s looking pretty darned cute.

Number 6, I love bungalows. We live in one. There’s something about that period–the early 1900’s– that I like. The woodwork. The arches. The one-and-a-half storied ones. Cozy. I like cozy.

Number 7, I love people, but I need my alone time. I’m only social to a point. And I like small groups better than big groups. I get uptight and grumpy when I’m overwhelmed with too many people. But that might be typical of most writers. That’s why I like my keyboard time. It’s me, myself, and whatever characters I create:)

Happy holidays!

This isn’t my usual writing blog.  I’m in holiday mode.  December 20th was Nate and Tyler’s last day of school.  Ty’s coming home from Bloomington for the holidays, and Nate’s dropping in to visit more often.  Our “second” daughter, Heidi, (she grew up across the street and spent a lot of time at our house with our older daughter) came to town on Saturday to see her family, so we got a quick visit with her and her husband and kids.

My thoughts are full of family and get togethers.  For me, that means I’m stocked up with lots of food.  I made a pot of Tyler’s favorite vegetable soup and Nate’s favorite chicken and dumplings for easy lunches.  I bought steaks and ribs for special meals.  I have everything ready to make chicken marsala tonight.  There’s a ham for Christmas day.  And more, lots more.

Anyone who’s read my blog knows how much I love to cook.  I’ve managed to accumulate more cookbooks and files full of recipes than I’ll probably ever use.  Cooking and food sneak into the stories I write.  To me, food is the thing that brings people together, that cements a social gathering.  My writing friend Mary Lou has warned me she’s going to put a big, red X on “food” scenes in my stories that don’t advance the plot.  She says she can gain weight just beta reading one of my manuscripts:)  But what can I say?  I love cooking for people.

I don’t make as many big meals as I used to since it’s just John and me, so when I get a chance to feed the masses, I’m a happy woman.  This year, I didn’t just stop at the food for the holidays, though.  I wanted the table to look festive, too.  For years, more kids crowded around my table than adults, and kids could care less what food is served in.  They don’t care how their hot dogs, spaghetti, or Korean beef is plated, just as long as there’s lots of it.  But now that the kids are grown, I decided to give away my old, beat-up cookware.  I decided to upgrade.

I’m not a fussy person.  I have no desire to have anything fragile that requires much care, so fine china and crystal were out.  That’s when I discovered stoneware.  Worse, my sister, Patty, told me about the joys of In the Kitchen with David on QVC, and a monster was born–me.  My husband encouraged me.  He was happy when I bought a new bakeware set, cheered when I ordered new pots and pans and casserole dishes.  I’m not usually much of a shopper…But things for the kitchen?  When I was actively looking for them?  Watch out, world!

I was actually slowing down on my love of loaf pans, pie plates, and 9 x 13 bakeware when my second sister, Mary, gave me all of her Christmas dishes, coffee cups, and stemware.  Her love of entertaining had reached the designer, paper plate level.  Her Christmas tree plates didn’t match  any of the stuff I had, but there was a holly painted cook set that would go perfectly with them.  So guess what?  I had to store my new stuff away to make way for the even newer, Christmas things.  Now I have more stoneware of different shapes and colors than I ever dreamed possible.

It’s a good thing I only binge on cookware a few times a decade.  It’s even better that I write five days  a week, because it keeps me out of trouble.  Who knows what I’d find if I devoted more time to it?

I’m ready to enjoy the holidays.  And I hope yours are full of food and friends and merriment!

I Feed People

It used to annoy me that every time I took a personality quiz or had my palm read, I came out as a caregiver.  Now, to me, that wasn’t the glamorous, amazing personality that I wanted to portray to the world.  But what’s a girl to do?  When I went to a sci/fi-fantasy convention and had a photo of my aura taken, and it came out with a huge streak of white around my head, and blue and green around my upper body, I knew I was doomed to be a nurturer.

I can’t really argue with any of the test results.  I mean, after all, I’m the one who wanted to be an elementary school teacher.  I’m the one who loves having kids clutter my house.  I even have a tree full of birdfeeders, a shelf on my Chinese elm to feed the flying squirrels that come at night, and I feed stray cats that won’t even let me touch them.  What can I say?  The quizzes might be right.  The thing is, I really enjoy feeding things, especially people.

There’s something about food.  There’s the creative process of making it, and there’s the nurturing process of sharing it.  I’d be a FoodTV addict if they didn’t have so darned many reruns.  I can’t stand watching the same show twice.  But I love cooking for people, and I love finding and trying out new recipes.

When the neighborhood kids were growing up and stayed at our house for supper, I used to tease them that if they were nice to me, I’d give them my recipes when they grew up and moved away.  It’s no joke anymore.  They call for them when they’re ready to make one of their favorites.  It’s a huge compliment.  A friend even asked me to help her organize some kind of cooking routine, so I made her a printout of easy recipes–7 chicken recipes to choose from for Mondays, pork recipes for Tuesdays, ethnic on Wednesdays, etc.  She still uses it, and I’ve e-mailed it to many more people.

The thing is, I’ve always said that if someone carves “She was a nice person” on my tombstone, I’ll rise from the grave and haunt them.  I don’t mind being nice, but I don’t want to be known for it.  I want to be known for my writing, or my wit, or my humor.  Something other than a blue and green aura.  I felt better when I took Mike Well’s quiz on Twitter for “which famous female author are you most like,” and I tested out as Agatha Christie.  Equally adept at ferreting out dirt as serving cocktails and entrees.