Friday, December 30, 2011

Best of...

It's that time of year. The time for making the end of year 'best of' lists. Movies, books, music, and even pop culture moments are collected - most often in groups of ten.

I've never been much for making my own 'best of' lists. It's too absolute for me. How can I rank a historical romance against a young adult dystopian novel? How can I rank a cheeseburger against a slice of cheesecake? Still, in keeping with the season, I am going to do my best to join in on the list making.

The end of the year is closing in quickly though, so I'm going to keep it short only naming one of the best books I read and one of the best things I made to eat.

One of the best books, was actually a whole series of books. I read the first and then quickly hunted down the other two and read them as well. Although, the series was called a trilogy, I read on the author's blog that she is considering writing a fourth one... So now I have a new years wish as well.

The series I am referring to are Susan Beth Pfeffer's, Life As We Knew It, The Dead and The Gone, and This World We Live In.

All three books are about the aftermath of a natural disaster - a meteor hits the moon knocking it closer to earth. Like dominoes falling the consequences begin to stack up, from flooding that kills millions to volcanic eruptions that fill the sky with ash and kills the crops that can no longer get the sun. The best though is the human reaction on a small scale. These books aren't like an disaster action movie where the main entertainment is watching the White House explode and freeways crumble. The drama is instead watching one teenage girl trying to cope as her world grows smaller and society crumbles around her.

These books stuck with me. Weeks after I read them I couldn't shake the 'wow this is exactly how it would happen feeling.' If you haven't read these books - they'd be an excellent way to start the new year.

Now on to the best thing that I made. This one was actually pretty easy. You see, 2011 was a special year in many ways for me. It was the year I got an agent. It was the year my book sold. And it was also the year that I got an ice cream machine. And it was the year that I used that machine to make my first batch of salted caramel ice cream.

If you don't have an ice cream machine, I would recommend making 2012 the year that you get one too. And the first ice cream you make - should be this one.

Happy New Year Everyone!

Recipe from Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home

Salted Caramel Ice Cream
Makes about 1 quart

It was at a French bakery where I worked throughout high school and college that I first heard of salted caramel, called "salty" caramel by a chef in his thick French accent. For years it has been the most popular flavor of ice cream in our stores, accounting for more than 20 percent of sales, and we still make it the way we always have, one batch at a time, the sugar hand-stirred in a pan over a hot burner. The reward: no better flavor in the world.

2 cups whole milk
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 1/2 ounces (3 tablespoons) cream cheese, softened
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
2/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Danger! This is the dry-burn technique. I don't add water to the sugar before putting it on the heat, as some chefs do. Caramelizing sugar dry means it goes faster, but you have to watch it more closely and be ready with your cream. Here is an overview of what you are going to do:

Stand over the pan of sugar with a heatproof spatula ready, but do not touch the sugar until there is a full layer of melted and browning liquid sugar on the bottom with a smaller layer of unmelted white sugar on the top. When the edges of the melted sugar begin to darken, use the spatula to bring them into the center to help melt the unmelted sugar. Continue stirring and pushing the sugar around until it is all melted and evenly amber in color--like an old penny. When little bubbles begin to explode with dark smoke, give the sugar another moment and then remove from the heat. Immediately but slowly pour about 1/4 cup of the cream and corn syrup mixture into the burning-hot sugar. Be careful! It will pop and spit! Stir until it is incorporated, then add a bit more cream and stir, then continue until it is all in.

Mix about 2 tablespoons of the milk with the cornstarch in a small bowl to make a smooth slurry.

Whisk the cream cheese and salt in a medium bowl until smooth.

Mix the cream with the corn syrup in a measuring cup with a spout.

Fill a large bowl with ice and water.

Heat the sugar in a 4-quart saucepan over medium heat until it is melted and golden amber in color (see note above). Remove from the heat and, stirring constantly, slowly add a bit of the cream and corn syrup mixture to the caramel: It will fizzle, pop, and spurt. Stir until well combined, then add a little more and stir. Keep adding the cream a little at a time until all of it is incorporated.

Return the pan to medium-high heat and add the milk. Bring to a rolling boil and boil for 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and gradually whisk in the cornstarch slurry.

Bring back to a boil over medium-high and cook, stirring with a heatproof spatula, until slightly thickened, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat. If any caramel flecks remain, pour the mixture through a sieve.

Gradually whisk the hot milk mixture into the cream cheese until smooth. Add the vanilla and whisk. Pour the mixture into a 1-gallon Ziploc freezer bag and submerge the sealed bag in the ice bath. Let stand, adding more ice as necessary, until cold, about 30 minutes.

Pour into frozen canister and spin until thick and creamy.

Pack the ice cream into a storage container, press a sheet of parchment directly against the surface, and seal with an airtight lid.

Freeze in the coldest part of your freezer until firm, at least 4 hours.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Guest Interview with Tiffany Strelitz Haber

Today I'm very excited to present picture book author Tiffany Strelitz Haber. Tiffany is the author of The Monster Who Lost His Mean (Henry Holt/Macmillan, Spring 2012) and Ollie and Claire (Philomel/Penguin, Spring 2013), a fellow Apocalypsie and a fellow member of the KidLit Authors Club.

About Tiffany
Tiffany Strelitz Haber was born in NJ, raised in NYC, has traveled extensively and lives for adventures. She will taste any food she is served, be it fried Witchetty Grubs on a stick or Calf’s Brain Ravioli, and loves being high in the air or deep in the sea. Her obsession with rhyme began at the age of 3, when a nursery school admission scout asked her, “What is a flower that rhymes with nose?”, and she proudly shouted “Rose!” Twenty-five years later (give or take), now married with two sons and coming off of a long career in finance, she has reconnected with her love of words and rhyme as a writer. Tiffany resides in central New Jersey and is available for children’s workshops everywhere.

Tell me about how food figures into your writing. Do your picture books deal with eating either imaginary or real foods?
Um…I’m kind of *not* allowed to write about food anymore. Or at least not for a while. I have one picture book revolving entirely around cheese. Another involving a *very* hungry porcupine whose penchant for dining on inanimate objects gets him in a bit of a situation. Oh, then there’s the detective who’s all about pickles. Plus, both of my forthcoming picture books actually mention food in their opening stanzas; eyeball soup and hot buttered biscuits and jam, respectively. So yeah…I might need to lay off a little. It’s really not intentional, though!

What kind of meals do you like to cook at home? Any ingredients you always have on hand?
I hope this doesn’t make me a fake foodie, (fauxdie?) but I am just now getting into actual cooking. For as long as a can remember, I’ve watched cooking shows on television, read cookbooks, loved to learn about different sauces and marinades and cuts of beef; when I lived in NYC, I sometimes brought takeout menus on the train with me as reading material because...well, because that’s what I wanted to read. But now finally, at the ripe old age of thirty-bleep, I am starting to put it all to practice. And it’s awesome. My kids love to help, and I think it’s such a cool family activity incorporating math, science, sharing, creating, experimenting, getting your hands dirty, cleaning up—it’s pretty perfect.

What kinds of food fuels a typical work day for you?
If I’m going to be in front of the computer all day, I don’t like to feel too full…so I’ll just nibble on air popped popcorn, rain-blo, spree, sour patch kids, maybe a big, giant, fresh salad.

For some of us food-obsessed types, the agent or editor lunch is one of the highlights of being published. Have you gone anywhere memorable with either one?
I’ve only had one agent/editor lunch (it was with both) We went to Sala 19 in NYC, and my order was: half a roasted portabello mushroom sandwich with red peppers, creamy goat cheese and a beautiful green salad. It was delicious, but also one of the few times food took a complete back seat. I was just thrilled to be sharing a meal with my editor and agent!

Who is your favorite food writer? Any favorite food scenes from novels?
I’m a big Anthony Bourdain fan for reasons too numerous to mention. ;-) There were so many incredible food references in The Hunger Games trilogy. From stale bread, to sauteed dove breasts with bacon drippings. Awesome.

Now for the signature Pots and Pens question: If you had to choose a single book and a single food item, desert island style, what would you pick?
Book: Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick. It’s actually two stories set 50 years apart. One is told entirely in text, and the other entirely through drawings. The stories intersect at the end, and the sensation is that of being caught inside a silent movie. It’s beautiful. I just finished it, and my first thought after turning that final page was that I couldn’t wait to do it all over again. Food: If I had only a single food item on a desert island? Well that’s easy. Dim sum brunch, of course! That counts as 1, right? ;-)

No-Bake Kahlua Torte
So, the recipe I am sharing is one my Grandma Edith taught me. We used to prepare it for family celebrations when I was little. It's perfect for kids to help with, it takes no time at all to put together, and you don't even bake it! Oh, and it's so freaking delicious, you'll eat the plate when you're done. Warning: no need to proceed without a love of Kahlua.

3 cups heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup coffee liqueur
2 packages Bordeaux cookies
1/3 cup chopped pecans, toasted

In a mixer bowl, beat cream until soft peaks form. Add coffee liqueur and beat until stiff peaks form. In bottom of 8" springform pan, arrange 9 whole cookies and one or two more broken cookie pieces as needed. Spread a generous 3/4 cup whipped cream over the cookies. Repeat layering four more times. Refrigerate four hours. Remove sides of pan and press pecans into sides of torte. Eat!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Lost in Translation - and some Sugar Cookie Cupcakes

You know, sometimes it's hard to get all the gloriousness that's in my head to translate correctly to the page. At least the first time. It takes a lot of time to get that perfect, movie-like story in my head recreated on the page. It's a lot like (please excuse the lame food tie in) watching Cupcake Wars and trying to get my own to look just as pretty :D

My kids both had their holiday parties yesterday. And I volunteered to make cupcakes. I have the yummiest recipe. It tastes like sugar cookies (and you can't get much more Christmasy than sugar cookies). But it's a cupcake. And it's utter deliciousness. But they don't always look all that great when they come out of the oven. It takes a little time and tender loving care to get those babies looking gorgeous :D

Here's what you'll need:

Sugar Cookie Cupcakes


1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup butter
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups flour
1 3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup milk


Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Cream together the sugar and butter. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Add vanilla. Combine the flour and baking powder and add to the creamed mixture. Mix well. Stir in the milk until the batter is smooth. Bake 30-40 mins for a 9x9 cake or 20-25 mins for cupcakes.

Icing: (I use the buttercream recipe you find in the Wilton's ready-to-use fondant box)

1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening
1/2 cup butter
Cream together

Add 1 tsp vanilla

Gradually add 4 cups sifted powdered sugar

Add 2 tbsp milk to reach desired consistency.

Decorate to your heart's content :) Happy Holidays!!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

All About Christmas Cookies

What better time of year than now to talk about cookies.  This December I've been obsessed with trying different cookie recipes. I've already been gifted a box of homemade cookies by a friend and I'm contemplating doing the same in the very near future.  Even after the holidays, who wouldn't want a box of homemade cookies?? And what better to nibble when writing than a good cookie?

I am however, pressed for time.  There's a pun here, wait for it.  So instead of rolling out the traditional gingerbread cookies this year I decided to try the cookie press.  But I couldn't find a recipe to convert a box of Betty Crocker gingerbread/cookie mix into a press cookie.  So I ad-libbed.  And by golly it worked.  

 The recipe I came up with was a cross between the cake recipe and the cookie recipe.
Combine with the gingerbread mix:
1 egg

2 Tablespoons of melted butter
1/4 cup water (add this slowly, and watch so the consistency doesn't get too wet)

Place into the tube of a cookie press and create the shapes you want. Too bad they don't make a gingerbread man shaped disc! So, that's it. Easy homemade cookies.  I actually took these to a PTA meeting and everyone wanted the recipe.  I told them it was an old family recipe from Aunt Betty. ;)

Here are a few more cookie recipes for you to try:
I've been experimenting with Russian Tea cookies, Mexican Wedding cakes, or the cookie commonly referred to as Snowballs. I found this recipe on epicurious for Chai-Spiced Almond Cookies.
The idea of almonds and chai-spice dusted with lots of powdered sugar made my mouth water and they turned out delicious. Highly recommend these beauties with a cup of coffee.

My mother bakes springerle each year, a square anise flavored cake-like cookie that I could eat daily if they weren't so much work.  I found Browneyedbaker has this awesome Anise cookie worth trying. It's much easier than rolling out and cutting springerle (although if you've never had them, make them at least once. They are a delight).  This cookie recipe is easy and, well, I'm a sucker for powdered sugar icing especially when the kids add sprinkles. This cookie is also great with a cup of coffee. Hmm, I'm noticing a pattern in my cookie creation.

So what is your favorite holiday cookie tradition, and do you continue it with your family?  Got a great recipe you'd like to share?

Monday, December 19, 2011

Guest interview: Cindy Sample & Outrageous Hot Chipotle Cake

Today I'm pleased to welcome my friend Cindy Sample, a fellow L&L Dreamspell author who brings humor and romance to her murder mysteries. Having been an avid reader from the age of four, Cindy's third-grade career ambition was to become a detective just like Nancy Drew.  At sixteen, she realized her inherent klutziness could be an impediment to becoming a private eye or super spy.  Her new mission was to be a mystery writer.
With a degree in history and a family to support, Cindy put aside her literary longings for a weekly paycheck, landing a job as a receptionist with a real estate office.  Her career path eventually led to the position of CEO of a nationwide company.
After one too many corporate mergers, Cindy found herself plotting murder instead of plodding through paperwork. DYING FOR A DATE, Cindy's debut novel, was voted the # 1 Romance in the 2010 Preditors and Editors Readers Poll. Rave reviews are already rolling in for her latest release, DYING FOR A DANCE.

Let’s say a couple of your characters are raiding your fridge right now, are they disappointed or excited about what they find? My refrigerator contents are about as eclectic as my favorite books. I have nutritional items like tofu and probiotic yogurt which are probably well past their expiration date. Protein shakes (in chocolate, of course) and chocolate whipped cream because… it exists.

Chocolate whipped cream--really? I need to spend more time browsing at the grocery store. But it’s stretching your boundaries time--is there a food you’d love to learn how to cook or a different genre or type of book you’d love to try to write? I have a mild case of ADD so while I love perusing cookbooks I never want to spend the time to chop, dice, or make anything that requires more than four ingredients. Although I have no patience for cooking, I have more than enough for writing. And you don’t get published without patience. I love writing mysteries, especially my series since it concentrates more on humor than homicide. It’s a thrill when people tell me how entertaining my books are. I would like to write something a little deeper and darker in the women’s fiction arena. I’m playing around with a plot line right now. I can’t reveal anything other than the title which I love – THE TANGO LESSON.

3.    If you could borrow one person’s zest for writing and/or life, whose and why? I admire several women who have taken their personal experiences, dosed them with humor, and provided wonderful articles, books, and screenplays.  My two favorites are Anne Lamott and Tina Fey. They are both brilliant in everything they write and produce.
Please share one cheesy “writing is like cooking” thought. Well, in my case, I throw in a lot of ingredients (the characters), add some spices (that would be the romance), stir it up and let them all simmer together until it’s cooked to perfection.  Sometimes the entrée is as much a surprise to me as it is to my readers.  Then the dessert would be something so delicious it just knocks them out of their chairs! 

Hot out of the oven: What inspired your latest book, and what ingredients do you hope make it a tasty treat for readers? My latest book, DYING FOR A DANCE was inspired when I took up ballroom dancing and discovered there is a wonderfully sleazy side to competitive ballroom dancing. My character, single mom Laurel McKay, is almost as klutzy as I am, so it was no surprise when she stumbled over a dead body while taking foxtrot lessons to learn a choreographed wedding routine for her best friend’s wedding. The grand finale includes an international ballroom competition with Laurel hot on the heels of the killer!  Also since I’m a firm believer in feeding the client, or now that I’m an author, feeding the fans, I love promoting with food, I bring dead body cookies and home-made two-inch chocolate stilettos to all of my book events.  I just purchased an eight-inch life-sized shoe mold and I can’t wait to use it for a contest!
What’s cooking? Can you share a bit about your next project? My next project will move the action from the California gold country to Kona, Hawaii. I’m planning on exploring coffee plantations (love that Kona coffee), vanilla plantations and macadamia nut farms. Not only will I be sampling coffee and nuts, since the title is DYING FOR A DAIQUIRI, I’ll be forced to sample a few daiquiris in search of the perfect recipe, which will definitely be included in the back of the book. you need a research assistant? Well, we're almost done but first I have to ask, if you were marooned on an island and Pots & Pens granted your wish for only one book and one food, what would you choose? Everyone who knows me will get this answer right.  Chocolate, of course. And since this is my fantasy, dark chocolate salted caramels. I can’t imagine being stranded with only one book.  How about James Michener’s HAWAII. It’s long enough to entertain me yet again and hopefully will have useful tips on how to get off this island!
Recipe Row: What favorite recipe do you have for us today? I have a recipe that requires more than my usual four ingredients, but it is well worth it. I don’t have a photo handy because it’s our traditional Christmas Eve dessert, so you’ll just have to imagine it. 

10 oz. semisweet chocolate, roughly chopped
7 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into pieces
5 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup sugar
½ tsp chili powder (you can add more if your taste buds can handle it)
Dash of cayenne pepper
1 tsp. cinnamon
Pinch of sale

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line the bottom of a 9 ½ inch spring-form pan with parchment paper.  Grease the sides and bottom with cooking spray.

Melt the chocolate and butter together over a double boiler or in the microwave, stirring occasionally until smooth.

Whisk the eggs and sugar in a large bowl then slowly whisk in the melted chocolate. Add salt and spices and taste, adjusting spices if needed.

Pour into the pan and bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until a toothpick comes clean.  Cool completely then dust with powdered sugar or serve with whipped cream. If you’re eating it at my house, you get the chocolate whipped cream. 

Well, I surely had no problem imagining that--I can almost taste it! Thanks for joining us today. You can find out more about Cindy at:

AND she's offering a giveaway for DYING FOR A DATE. Just comment on this post or on The Writers' Lens by Friday, Dec. 23, to enter the contest for a free ebook.

Friday, December 16, 2011

A Tale of Two Cookbooks—BBQ and the Basics

Pots ’n Pens is a blog devoted to cooking, writing, and posting great recipes for all of you out there in cyberland. So, of course, I always feel a bit awkward when my turn to post a recipe comes around.


See, I’m not really a recipe guy—at least not a follow-the-recipe guy. For the most part, I cook by taste, sight, and smell, which is all fine and dandy until someone asks for a recipe and I’m left hemming and hawing about whether I can help. This often leads to a mad dash around the kitchen pantomiming from memory the meal I cooked and guessing at exact amounts to write down. If I have time—as I always take for Pots ’n Pens recipes—I cook a reasonable facsimile and do some actual record-keeping.

Nonetheless, don’t take this to mean that I don’t use and respect recipes. There are two circumstances that especially bring out the recipe hunter in me, and they just happen to be represented by two very different cookbooks.

1. When I just want something gooooooood, I open up Barbecue, Biscuits, and Beans: Chuck Wagon Cooking. For good old Texas-style comfort food, there is nothing like this book. But don’t assume that this is a fried-food only book, because it’s not. While plenty of heart-clogging favorites are here, these recipes include the classy (Dutch Oven Game Hens), the simple (Butternut Squash Soup), and even those odd green things they call vegetables (the Cornbread Salad is beautiful and delicious).

By at least a two-to-one margin, this is the cookbook I use the most. But with favorites like too-tender-to-believe brisket, green chile hominy, and the richest, most bliss-inducing peach cobbler in the universe—the secret involves whiskey—this is one cookbook that will leave you wishing for a chuck wagon of your very own.

(Bright Sky Press’s Barbecue, Biscuits, and Beans was written by Bill Cauble and Cliff Teinert [he’s family!], both masters of chuck wagon cooking and promoters of this heritage. Included in their resumes is cooking for numerous dignitaries and several presidents, taking care of appetites at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, and catering our family reunion.)

2. When I’m not sure how to start, how long to cook something, or just need a refresher, I swear by my Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook. The majority of you are likely familiar with this classic. (Mine is the 1981 version, but the 15th edition is the latest.) It has a ton of solid recipes and tips, and it covers 90 percent of what the average household would ever want to eat. For me, it’s a resource when I forget just how long to cook a pork roast or soft-boiled eggs. Most of all, I appreciate the selecting, preserving, and cooking advice and techniques for common (and some uncommon) foods. I use this book as the basic foundation of temperatures and measurements that allows me to expand and experiment without worrying about going too far into weirdsville.

Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook and Barbecue, Biscuits, and Beans: Chuck Wagon Cooking are available at and at other fine retail outlets.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Three Ladies Chatting at a Table with Lisa Amowitz

Good morning everybody! Today we are in for an amazing interview. We get to have a conversation with two amazing authors. One you have met already. She is another contributor on Pots ‘N Pens, Michelle McLean. *blows kisses to our wonderful readers* The other is the beautiful Lisa Amowitz. *smiles and waves to everyone while the room irrupts with applause*

Lisa is an artist, graphic designer and illustrator who writes young adult fiction. She is a mom of  an actual teen, so YA; She's living it. She is represented by the incredibly awesome Victoria Marini of Gelfman, Schneider, and is currently working on her most recent book, BREAKING GLASS. You can visit her on the web at:

Hello Ladies, welcome to the table! If you were serving one of your characters his or her ideal meal, what would it be and why?

LA: Well, let's see. I write both dark supernatural YA and illustrate and write picture books (I have just completed a collaboration with your blogmate, Michelle McLean), so I would have to feed my two most recent MCs very different meals. For Jeremy Glass, the lovesick boy from BREAKING GLASS, I'd make chicken soup. Poor Jeremy can really use some mothering. As for Lyria, Michelle and my highly imaginative MC from our picture book, LYRIA'S EXTRAORDINARY WISH, I'd probably make something nutritious, yet magical--like a delicious yogurt parfait, topped blueberries, bananas, strawberries and honey.

MM – LOL the first thing I thought of was this cake I saw that was called Unicorn Birthday cake (or something like that). It was seven layers, each color of the rainbow, neon bright, covered in white frosting that glittered with sugar crystals. I think Lyria would LOVE that :)

I think my daughter would love that cake as well! She loves unicorns and glitter…Anyway back to your character. Let's say they are raiding your fridge right now, what are they most likely to eat? Are they disappointed or excited about what they find?

LA: I think BOTH my MCs would be incredibly unhappy. Jeremy exists on a diet of pizza, meatball heroes, Indian food and whatever takeout stuff his dad brings in. Lyria would most likely want mint butterscotch chocolate ice cream or whatever. I don't bring much sugary stuff into my house, so if either MC is interested in leftover broccoli soup or seafood pasta (actually Jeremy might approve of that) they'll be in heaven.

MM - I agree. Lyria is pretty much unhappy with everything about her ordinary world, and there is certainly nothing extraordinary in my fridge. She could probably dream up something fabulous though.

Share your favorite literary feast or treat. What makes this food and/or writing so memorable?

LA: I guess a memorable moment for me is when, in the first book of the Hunger Games, Katniss is treated to her very first sumptious meal in the train on the way to the Games. The way her mouth waters, even though she is consumed with guilt over how her friends and family back home will never experience such a savory delight, is so vivid and well written I can still practically taste the meal.

MM – one scene that has always stuck with me is that one from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (I believe) where Voldemort possesses Harry for a moment. Dumbledore and his friends are standing there helpless while Harry writhes in agony trying to fight Voldemort off. Just the thought of watching a loved one suffer like that, or suffering like that for your loved ones, was an very memorable image for me. If we are going for plain food…every feast scene in Harry Potter LOL How awesome would it be to just have tables full of amazing food appear before your eyes!

Is there a food you'd love to learn how to cook or a different genre or type of book you'd love to try to write?

LA: Hmmm...I think working on this picture book with Michelle was a big stretch for me. Though I am trained as an artist and illustrator and have been writing YA for years, I found writing in picture book language was nearly impossible. That's how I ended up begging the amazing Michelle for help. But I got more than help. I got a partner--a partner who has inspired me and spurred me toward real enthusiasm for the project. One thing I do plan to tackle down the road is a middle grade book. But first my agent would dearly like me to write another YA thriller to pair nicely with BREAKING GLASS.

MM – I’ve got to say, working on the picture book with Lisa has been beyond amazing for me. I actually write several different genres. Non-fiction, historical romances, and YA urban fantasies, as well as picture books. But I can’t draw to save my life. And the really stunning ideas for PBs aren’t always there for me. So to pair with Lisa, who had this amazing vision and is able to create these absolutely gorgeous illustrations has been a dream come true for me.

Actual cooking…yeah, I’d like to do it ALL better LOL I can bake, but my husband is the gourmet cook in the family. When I attempt anything other than spaghetti, the family revolts :)

What are three must-have foods/seasonings in your kitchen?

LA: pepper. olive oil. fresh garlic.

MM – chocolate, bread, chocolate :D

I love chocolate too, but my kids can sniff it out so it is never in my kitchen longer than a few hours. Speaking of kitchen, what's your favorite kitchen accessory or appliance? How about a favorite writing accessory or reference?

I LOVE my blending stick. It's how I make all my puree soups. My favorite writing accessory is the software Scrivener. I put all my research in there and do my outlining.

MM – umm it’s a toss - up between my microwave and toaster :D For writing, google. And I’m just starting to use Scrivener and liking it so far.

What is your A+, number 1 writing snack?

LA: that's easy--late at night it's a steaming mug of chai tea. For a writing lunch its egg salad on a rice cracker topped with a slice of tomato. Or if I want a quick breakfast, I make a scrambled egg, melt some cheddar cheese and top that with a slice of tomato.

MM – okay, Lisa is making me feel like such a slob LOL I generally go straight for the Goldfish crackers :)

If you could borrow one person's zest for writing and/or life, whose and why?

LA: I think I would borrow Michelle's! She is one of the most disciplined, positive and amazing people I know.  And she is lightning quick, reliable and super-efficient. Then there is my critique-mate Dhonielle Clayton, who is brimming with ideas, plans, and so much imagination I don't know how it fits into one tiny little woman. And last, can I borrow genius? I would borrow a QUARTER of the brain of my critique-mate Kate Milford (THE BONESHAKER, 2010). This woman is utterly, insanely brilliant and so jaw-droppingly creative it takes my breath away. And, guess what, she's as nice as a person can be. And one more? How about the amazing Libba Bray? I have had the good fortune of meeting her several times and she is SO funny, and kind that I would like a little (or a lot) of her GRACE. To be so successful, yet so grounded and have a sense of humor about herself is a thing to behold.

MM – I think my kids’ zest for everything. They get so excited over the littlest things – it always reminds me to look at the good in everything. Last Christmas, we got my kids little work desks and I stocked them with office supplies – pens, crayons, glue, paper – and I wrapped everything just for fun. My son opened the paper, looked confused but with a smile, and then said “I don’t know what to do with this but it’s awesome!” :) And I’d love to have their energy for sure :)

Please share one cheesy "writing is like cooking" thought.

LA: Don't have one of these.

MM – *crickets*  

What inspired your latest book, and what ingredients do you hope make it a tasty treat for readers?

LA: I guess part of what inspired BREAKING GLASS was thinking back to high school and how there was always some guy who would put me on a pedestal, but not really like me for who I really was. In other words, they would form some romantic notion of me, and love that person. I had a boyfriend like that and it always annoyed me that I couldn't really be myself. That's why we broke up after I went to college, because I came back as ME and that was that. Then, there is the somewhat spooky magical Northern Westchester town my close friends live in. The town is Croton-on-Hudson and the town in BREAKING GLASS (Riverton) is close visual replica of Croton, with its winding roads, gorges, reservoirs and rivers. Otherwise, I have no clue---it's just a mishmash of the dust collecting in my head.

MM – My lips are sealed on this one. Sorry.

Hey. I totally get it. What's cooking? Can you share a bit about your next project?

LA: Michelle has a whole lot of PB ideas up her sleeve, so she'll have to fill you in on those. My next WIP will be about a country boy who finds himself afflicted with a strange supernatural malady that puts him on the trail of a serial killer. I don't really want to say too much more about it!

MM – ah yes, poor Lisa…I’ll keep her drawing till the end of the century :) Since Lyria’s story is a bit more girl-centric, we want to do a book with a cute little boy hero who will have all sorts of fabulous adventures. And…I have a few more but I don’t want to send the illustrator into a panic attack ;-) For my other projects, I have an NF book on how to write poetry and my fiction WIPs a historical about 3 sisters set in Gold Rush California and a YA urban fantasy partial verse novel :)

 What's your go-to meal when you need to serve something quick and easy?

LA: A variation of the above---melted cheese on a rice cracker topped with tomato.

MM – spaghetti – it’s fast, easy, and my kids will eat it

If your book were a menu item, describe the restaurant that would serve it?

LA: BREAKING GLASS CAFE would be dark, moody and candlelit. There would be Tarot card readings and the waitresses would all be dressed like Pirate Queens. There would be no alcohol, but you'll have to read the book to find out why.

MM – hmm I think it would be very bright and colorful, with wispy drapes of iridescent fabrics hanging from the ceilings, crystal drop chandeliers, with a glass bottomed floor above a massive fish tank…and they would only serve desserts :D

LA: I think I’d rather eat at Lyria’s Luncheonette than the Breaking Glass Café. J

Tell us about your edible specialty, and rate your skill in the kitchen: novice, not bad, or nominate me for a Michelin star.

LA: I make a great ratatouille with eggplant, zucchini and polenta. I would rate myself as an intermediate cook--definitely not Julia Child, but not half bad. No one starves in my house. One thing I am awful at is baking. I leave that to my husband (not that he is that good, but beggars can't be choosers). :)

MM – I can bake – I make a chocolate cake to die for :D but cooking…yeah, not so much. I mean I’m not horrible…but I’m close :D

Describe the best cook you know and something wonderful he or she has served you.

LA: My dear friend Debbie Cohen is a great cook, but her son, college student Josh Karp is an awesome baker. Now, 20, when Josh was 13 he made a peach tart that was literally the best thing I ever tasted in my life. Sadly he is much too busy (and far away) at college--but I know we'll get him back in the kitchen eventually. (Hi Josh!)

MM – my husband. He really should have been a chef, he’s AMAZING. We do a huge taco night once or twice a month with the neighbors. He makes this incredible marinated shredded pork with homemade chips and a corn guacamole that I could live off of. And his souvlaki is soooo yummy!

Leftovers can be great, especially when the same ingredients are retasked into another magical meal. Name a book that you wish had a sequel (or another sequel) and what kind of story you think that literary remix would tell.

I adore the Chaos Walking Trilogy by Patrick Ness. I would nearly sell my soul for a fourth book in that series (or fifth or sixth). AND I am still waiting for another book by Marcus Zusak of the Book Thief. Drumming my fingers. Marcus? What the heck is taking you so long? Oh, and while we are at it, Libba Bray, what about a sequel to Going Bovine? And lastly--if only there was a sequel to one of my favorite books of all time. The Secret Garden. Hmmmm..maybe my MC can bring Frances Hodgson Burnett back from the dead to write that one.

MM – hmm you know, I really liked The Host by Stephanie Meyer. Keep hoping for a sequel to that one.

Not every idea is a winner. Written or not, what's the most ill-conceived story idea you've ever had?

LA: I had this idea of alien kids growing up on Earth with a jewel in their bellies that transmitted a signal to the other alien kids. Yeah. NOT!

MM – lol I wrote this picture book about a caveman who had to learn to share and he gathered a bunch of stuff for a meal and ended up sharing his fish and caveman salad with a dinosaur (because, you know, I wanted him to have a healthy meal lol) :D

Too much salt can ruin an exquisite meal and the perfect dessert tempers earlier mistakes. What ingredients can destroy a book through overuse or salvage a book despite its flaws?

LA: I have a long list...


LA: Too many exclamation points.

To many dialogue tags. Add adjectives and it gets even worse. (said, Mary, excitedly.)

Passive writing--I think that's what this is called (I saw the man lift the vase. I smelled the lingering smoke)

An unlikable MC

excessive description of items, scenes, etc that have nothing to do with the narrative

Telling the reader in the first paragraph the color of the mc's hair and eyes--particularly while they look in the mirror.


Beautiful, lyrical writing

a great mc with great dialogue

a clever and unique plot

MM – negatives – too much body language, especially during dialogue. Force-feeding the reader info or being redundant. Trying to use dialogue to info dump “You know Mom, the tall blonde with the glasses who went to Harvard and then gave up her career to raise five boys? She’s making lasagna for dinner, your favorite meal!”

For me, a great character saves the book every time. The rest might be dreadful but if I care about the character, I’ll usually put up with the rest.

Tell about a time when food inspired your writing or a book inspired your cooking.

LA: I have a blog post from February 2010. I had just seen Julie/Julia, the movie and ran out to buy a fancy French casserole dish. It was a time that I was feeling rather blue about my writing..but cooking excited me--and not just for the outcome, but for the simple joy of it. I decided to approach my writing the same way--focus on the process and worry about the results later. It paid off--that summer I signed with my wonderful, wonderful, (I can't praise her enough) agent Victoria Marini and haven't looked back. Oh--and I do like to make sure Victoria gets her share of cupcakes, though she wouldn't want any I baked myself. :)

MM – I read a blog post from someone who had just come back from a trip to England. They had tried lime marmalade there and loved it. I’d heard of orange marmalade, but never lime. It sounded delicious lol So it became my MC’s favorite breakfast item :)

If you could invite a character to dinner who would it be and what would you serve?

I would invite Molly Weasly from Harry Potter and ask her to conjure the meal. She is one tough chick and I love her!

MM – agreed!

Me too! She’d have to be a great cook with all those boys. One last question, if you were marooned on an island, and Pots 'N Pens granted your wish for only one book and one food, what would you choose?

LA: Oh--man. Harry Potter of course! And the food? Papaya? Refreshing, healthy and sweet? Uhhh--I think I would hate that after the first day if it was all I had to eat. Maybe I should change it to rice pudding. I never get sick of rice pudding, but I try to avoid it since it is one of the most fattening foods on the planet!

MM – hmm probably Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. I love that book (well the series really). And it’s really long so that would be helpful. As for a food…something I wouldn’t find on the island…like steak LOL

Pudding and steak, sounds good to me. Thank you, ladies. It was a joy talking to you. We look forward to reading your work.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Guest Interview: Matt Myklusch

I'm so excited to have one of my friends and agency-mate Matt Myklusch joining us here on the blog today. Here's a little bit about Matt and his fabulous books:

Matt MykluschMatt has been drawing ever since he could first hold a pencil, and super heroes have always filled up the majority of the pages in his sketchbooks. That lifelong love of comic books spurred him to write the Jack Blank Adventure series, published by Simon & Schuster's Aladdin imprint. Books I & II, THE ACCIDENTAL HERO (2010) and THE SECRET WAR (2011) are in stores now.

Prior to that, Matt worked at MTV Networks for nearly ten years. During that time, he was involved in everything from booking and producing celebrity interviews, to helping launch mtvU (MTV's 24-hour college network), to managing Spring Break events in Panama City Beach, Cancun, and Acapulco. He also worked on several less exciting projects as well, but never mind that now. Matt's true passion has always lied in his writing and artwork, which is why he has recently left his job at MTV to write full time.

Matt lives in New Jersey with his wife and family, where he is hard at work on the next book in the JACK BLANK series.
P&P: It’s stretching your boundaries time. Is there a food you’d love to learn how to cook or a different genre or type of book you’d love to try to write?

Matt: I would really love to write a good hard boiled crime story. This goes back to when I was in high school / college. I saw RESERVOIR DOGS, PULP FICTION, and THE USUAL SUSPECTS (my first date with the woman who is now my wife, by the way) and was just blown away by them. I wanted to do what Quentin Tarantino and Bryan Singer/Christopher McQuarrie were doing with those flicks. I had a cool idea for a story called HONOR AMONG THIEVES, but having a cool idea and writing a story are two different things. Not sure if I have the tools for this one yet, but maybe one day…
When it comes to cooking, I’d love to know all about wine, but I promise I would use this power for good, and not be a jerk about it.

P&P: That reminds me of the time my friends and I (who had just turned 21) walked into a fancy smancy wine store and asked for their finest boxed wine. They were not amused. But I digress...
What’s your favorite kitchen accessory or appliance? How about a favorite writing accessory or reference?

Matt: It is without question the coffee machine. I am hopelessly addicted to coffee and make sure to set the machine every night before I go to bed. Every night. The 3 minutes it takes to do that are ALWAYS worth it in the morning. A cup of coffee is probably my favorite writing accessory too. I often find myself getting a cup of coffee even though I don’t need one, just because I like to have it handy while I am writing (or driving, or taking the kids for a walk, or reading, etc…).
I should probably slow down my coffee intake now that I think about it. I am building up a pretty strong tolerance to caffeine. This has happened before. I need to take a week or two off of coffee, and then come back to it so that it’s rejuvenating powers will return in full force. Hard to find the right time to do this though… especially with a five month old in the house.

P&P: I completely understand what you mean. I am know the proud owner of an espresso machine--Lord help me. Anyway, please share one cheesy “writing is like cooking” thought.

Matt: Wow. SO many places to go here... I won’t even get into how quality ingredients (characters, plot, action, big moments) will make or break any dish, or how a nice easy-to-follow recipe (outline) can make all the difference in the world. I’ll look at it from the reader/dinner guest angle. When you make something out of nothing, be it a book or a fancy dinner, you want people to like it. When someone takes a bite out of something you worked hard to create, you watch them eat. You study their expressions intently as they chew. You do this without trying to be too obvious. You don’t want to come off needy or make the other person self-conscious. When my wife is reading something I wrote for the first time, every little noise she makes registers on my radar. I notice every smile, laugh, and furrowed brow. It’s all I can do not to ask, “What part are you at? What’s going on now?” every five seconds.
The bottom line is all artists* love praise and even the bravest artists fear rejection.
*I didn’t always believe food could qualify as an art form, but after eating at Per Se, I changed my tune. For those of you who know Per Se, I’m not trying to be big time here… I definitely didn’t go there on my dime. I was lucky enough to be invited along on a business dinner back before I wrote for a living.

P&P: Crunch time: What’s your go-to meal when you need to serve something quick and easy?

Matt: My son eats a grand total of six things: Chicken Fingers, Mac ‘n Cheese, Pizza, Pasta, Grilled Cheese, and Peanut Butter & Jelly (which he refers to as “jellybutter”). Sometimes he will eat meatballs, but that is hardly a guarantee. Really, anything I make for him has a 50-50 chance of being refused, even if yesterday it was his absolute favorite. As a result, everything I make for him has to be quick and easy. One time, we bought Jerry Seinfield’s wife’s cookbook and spent 3 hours making turkey chili with all kinds of good veggies pureed and hidden inside. My son wouldn’t even try it. I thought I was going to lose my mind. It will be a long time before I do that again.

P&P: OMG--I own that cookbook and went through the same ordeal! Today, lunchables are a hit. As for tomorrow? Time will tell...
Pots or Pens? If you were stuck on an island with either bland food and a great library or mouthwatering food and boring books, which would you choose? Why?

Matt: I’d take the bad food and the good books.
Here’s the thing: I expect bad food when stuck on an island like that. In fact, in that scenario, I expect no food! I’m happy just to have any food at all. I just want to survive until I can get myself home. I need to feed my mind and kill time until a ship floats by or some other means of rescue appears. Otherwise, I’m going to go crazy and start talking to volleyballs.

To learn more about Matt, you can check out his website here or follow him on Twitter here.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Comment on Writers' Lens to win TWO ebooks

In the spirit of the season, Pots 'n Pens is teaming up with The Writers' Lens to offer you the chance to win two ebooks:
--T.W. Fendley's historical fantasy novel, ZERO TIME:
As Zero Time nears, only Keihla Benton can save two worlds from the powers of Darkness. But first she must unlock the secrets of Machu Picchu and her own past.
--Susan Kaye Quinn's YA dystopian novel, OPEN MINDS: When everyone reads minds, a secret is a dangerous thing to keep.    

You met Susan Kaye Quinn in her Nov. 18 interview here on Pots 'n Pens. Learn about PnP contributor T.W. Fendley in her Nov. 4 interview on The Writers' Lens.

To enter the contest, simply leave a comment or question on The Writers' Lens blog between now (Dec. 6) and midnight Dec. 10, 2011.
Please include your email so we can reach you if you win. The more comments you leave, the greater your chance of winning the contest. The winner will be chosen after midnight on Saturday and announced on Sunday, Dec. 11

Good luck, and happy holidays!


Monday, December 5, 2011

Simplicity and Surprise

I love simplicity, like sauces that only require five ingredients and an hour of unobtrusive cooking on the backburner. I also like the elements of surprise and contrast, and will put disproportionate amounts of effort into creating them. It took me four tries to figure out how to hide lemon zest in an asparagus bisque so that the smooth, creamy earthiness ended on a bright, acidic note. There’s nothing quite so satisfying as seeing people’s faces light up with surprise and delight while eating freaking soup.

I enjoy these aspects in books as well. Simplicity makes it easy to fall into a new world. Maybe I’m a lazy reader, but I like to tumble in and not blink until about page 30. Surprise and contrast produce tension and conflict. They make us root for the battered underdog, cry for the broken hero, and cringe from the villain. Achilles with that tender heel. The daydreamer who’s a virtuoso with a blade. The uptight CEO with his secret appreciation of doilies. Okay, I haven’t seen that last one yet, but I’m sure it’s going to be amazing.

In the spirit of simplicity, I offer up a pound cake. It’s not quite as simple as the original, a pound each of flour, butter, sugar, eggs and remorse. But it’s close (minus the remorse).

Vanilla Pound Cake
(adapted from the amazing All New Good Housekeeping Cookbook)

1 ½ cups butter or margarine (3 sticks), softened
2 ¼ cups granulated sugar
6 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon salt
3 cups cake flour

  • Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour 10-inch Bundt pan.
  • In large bowl, with mixer at low speed, beat butter and granulated sugar until just blended. Increase high and beat until light and fluffy (about 3 minutes), frequently scraping bowl with spatula. Reduce speed to medium; add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add vanilla and salt. Increase speed to high and beat for 2 minutes, scraping the bowl.
  • With large wire whisk, stir in flour until just smooth.
  • Spoon batter into Bundt pan and spread evenly.
  • Bake until toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 1 hour.
  • Cool on wire rack for 10 minutes. Run the tip of a thin knife around the edge of the pan to loosen. Invert onto rack to cool completely. Try not to eat until cool.

If you want to add something surprising, try drizzling the cake with the following sauce, or fold the sauce into whipped cream for added decadence. This requires some elbow grease, but makes a fine foil to the pound cake. Or ice cream. Or a dull muffin.

10 ounces frozen raspberries in syrup, thawed
2 tablespoons red currant jelly
1 teaspoons cornstarch

  • In 2-quart saucepan, push the raspberries through a fine sieve using the back of a spoon. Discard seeds.
  • Stir in jelly and cornstarch. Heat to boiling over high heat, stirring constantly. Boil for one minute until it thickens.

Find Hillary and her pen name, Regan Summers, at:

Friday, December 2, 2011

Interview with: Toni De Palma

Today I have the pleasure of interviewing Toni De Palma, author of Under the Banyan Tree (Holiday House) and the middle grade fantasy, Jeremy Owl (Aerodale Press). She is full of interesting stories and even got close to John Travolta's ankle once (but that's a story for another post). She also has a delicious chili recipe for us today as well. Yum! Welcome, Toni!

Let's start with some cooking questions first.

What are three must-have foods/seasonings in your kitchen?

Fresh basil for a caprese salad (tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, olive oil, basil and salt), different types of pastas and good Reggiano Parmigiano cheese.

Great choices! Nothing like fresh basil to add flavor. Do you have a favorite kitchen accessory or appliance that further makes the dish?

For my bridal shower, my husband's grandmother gave me a pasta machine. When I unwrapped it, I smiled politely and handed it over to him. I enjoy drinking a glass of wine while he cranks out delicious folds of pasta :)

Love this story! At least it's getting used. Maybe a writing utensil is more your speed. Do you have a favorite writing accessory or reference?

My favorite writing "accessory" has to do with space. At the start of each novel, I find a spot in my home and make that the sacred space for that story. In the past, that spot has been a little niche in my bedroom, my home office, and now it is the island in my kitchen. I don't know why it changes, but for duration of that novel, I became rather superstitious and can't switch.

I completely understand finding the perfect spot. Sometimes nothing else feels right or write. Ha.
Let's switch gears a little bit and stretch your boundaries. Is there a food you’d love to learn how to cook or a different genre or type of book you’d love to try to write?

This summer I went to a writing retreat in Paris and fell in love with the fromagerie or cheese shops. Delicate white wheels, braids and logs of creamy goodness are rolled in herbs or ash, which decorate the shops' front windows. I would love to go to the French countryside and learn to make my own cheese.

As for a book? Maybe a romance novel about a woman who finds love as she's learning to make cheese!

I have to say, I have never read a romance book like that! And, maybe you'd have to go to Paris again for research and further inspiration. What about your other books? Can you tell us what inspired your latest book and what ingredients you hope make it a tasty treat for readers?

My latest novel, Jeremy Owl, about a 10 year old science geek who is turned into an owl by a bunch of nasty fairies, is a fantasy romp that includes magical pies. One delectable scene takes place in a pie library. After I wrote it, my mouth was watering for apple pie.

Ooh apple pie. And fairies! Sold. Can you share a bit about your next project as well?

My first novel, Under the Banyan Tree, is a contemporary YA that deals with a girl's difficult family life. Actually, there's lots of good Cuban cooking in that one. For my next novel, Stealing Sarah, I'm returning to my contemporary YA roots. Sarah is dealing with economic hardship and a

long held feud with the most popular girl in the school. Sarah hungers for a different life and a certain hot guy.

Those both sound great. Contemp YA is close to my heart too. And, speaking of hungering for something, what’s your go-to meal when you need to serve something quick and easy?

While the pasta is boiling, I sauté some garlic, artichoke hearts (from a can), black olives and a handful of sun dried tomatoes. I also add a bit of vegetable broth, fresh parsley and, if you like it hot, some red pepper flakes. Pour the veggies over the pasta, sprinkle with parmesan cheese and you've got a meal with a lot of flavor.

Great idea! And now it's time for our last question. If you were marooned on an island and Pots & Pens granted your wish for only one book and one food, what would you choose?

Since I have had so many wonderful moments associated with this food (sitting on a jetty with my mom in Italy, warm summer nights in a Brooklyn pizzeria), I'd have to say without a doubt my choice would be pizza.
The second part of this question is near impossible to answer. So since I couldn't choose just one book, I'd have to say a journal. That way I could write my own adventure.

Thank you so much for joining us today, Toni! We're looking forward to trying your chili recipe!

Veggie Chili:

2 tbsp. oil

1 cup chopped celery

1 cup chopped scallions

1 large red pepper diced.

2 large cloves garlic

28 oz. diced tomatoes from a can

1 tbsp. chili powder

2 tsp. cumin

1 chipotle pepper minced

3 cans beans (pink, white, black or whatever you like)

2 1/2 cups vegetable broth

1 can corn

1/2 cup chopped cilantro

Salt to taste


Heat oil, add scallion, celery, red pepper and garlic. Cook until softens.

Stir in diced tomatoes, chili powder, cumin, salt, and chipotle. Cook for 2 minutes.

Drain beans and add along with corn and broth. Let simmer for 30 minutes.

Stir in cilantro right before serving.