Monday, October 31, 2011

Meet the Contributors: Michelle McLean - and a Guest Interview with Sandra Ulbrich Almazan

I am so excited to join all the amazing writers on this blog. Food and books = two of my all time favorite things :) The quick rundown on me: I write young adult novels, picture books, and non-fiction educational books (my first book, Homework Helpers: Essays and Term Papers was released in Jan of this year). I currently have a NF book on how to write poetry and a picture book on submission and a novel in revisions with my agent (the fabulous Krista Goering) so I'm a little antsy at the moment :) In addition to my personal blog, I'm also a contributor over at Operation Awesome.

A few goofy facts: I have an overflowing bookcase in every room of my house (including the laundry room); I think my treadmill attracts spiders because the two times I got on it (in my current house anyway) a spider dropped down from the ceiling right in my face - so I don't touch the thing.

I am also excited to be able to share a fun interview with Sandra Ulbrich Almazan, who just released her novella Lyon's Legacy.

If you were marooned on an island and Pots & Pens granted your wish for only one book and one food, what would you choose?

It’s harder to choose a single book than food; for food, I’d say chocolate. I can probably find more nutritious food on the island, but there aren’t too many wild candy bars roaming around. If I was going to bring a book to read (not just to use as a survival manual), it would be the complete works of Shakespeare. You could read that over and over and see something new each time.

If you were serving one of your characters his or her ideal meal, what would it be and why?

When I read that question, Joanna immediately popped into my head and asked for sushi. It must be hard to get good sushi on a spaceship.

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

I’d like to borrow my four-year-old son’s zest for life. He has such enthusiasm for things like Halloween, and he has a great imagination too.

Hot out of the oven: What inspired your latest book, and what ingredients do you hope make it a tasty treat for readers?

It was inspired by a friend’s story about a woman who heard the Beatles perform in the Cavern, a club in Liverpool where they performed many times before they became famous. I wanted to add a science-fiction twist to that, so I came up with the idea of a time traveler going back to the past to listen to a concert by a famous musician. I asked myself who she was, why she was there, and how she got there, and eventually I came up with Joanna, sent on a mission to get DNA and clone the musician. Instead of using the Beatles, I created a single musician who lived in Chicago in the early sixites to be Joanna’s great-grandfather, the man she’s supposed to help clone.

I hope my readers will enjoy Joanna, a science geek with an attitude; George, the geneticist she falls in love with; the spaceship they travel on; and the old-fashioned Chicago Joanna visits to complete her mission.

What's cooking? Can you share a bit about your next project?

I actually have a three-course meal in the works. The appetizer is “The Fighting Roses of Sharon,” a standalone fantasy story about three generations of women in a small town with an unusual annual ritual. Next comes Twinned Universes, the sequel to Lyon’s Legacy. Both of those are in the revision stage. Finally, I’m drafting a fantasy novel called Scattered Seasons, about a group of four women called Season Lords who must combine their various magics to protect their country.

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

I once wrote a story about a woman who wrote birth announcements for people who would become famous at some point in their lives; the announcements were supposed to be the opposite of obituaries. (She had some way to look into the future to predict what they would do.) But I couldn’t explain the concept clearly or fill some of the plot holes, so that story is staying on the shelf where it belongs.

Thanks so much to Sandra for hanging out with us today! If you'd like a copy of Lyon's Legacy you can find it at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords. Be sure to check out Sandra's blog for more info on her and her books.

Recipe Time! Chocolate Cake in a Cup
This is one of my all time faves and my kids absolutely love it. It's very fast, very easy, and perfect for a chocolate lover :D It's especially perfect for Nanowrimo (which is coming up TOMORROW!!) since it takes about a minute to throw together and only 3 minutes to bake. Can't get better than that for a writer with a deadline :D


4 tablespoons flour
4 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 egg
3 tablespoons milk
3 tablespoons oil
dash of vanilla
dash of baking powder (optional)
handful of chocolate chips or nuts (optional)

Mix everything together in a big mug

Microwave for 3 minutes

Eat :D

I usually top it with whip cream or powdered sugar. You can also make a healthier version of this by using almond flour and Stevia in place of the regular flour and sugar. This is a fast, fun chocolate fix and fun to do with your kids. They can mix and cook everything themselves so it's a blast for them.


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Guest interview: Diana L. Driver

It’s my pleasure to introduce Diana L. Driver, who “writes the kind of stories you’d like to read.” Her books cross the genre lines from Young Adult adventure/suspense to Mystery to Romance. She’s currently working on a Cozy Mystery and a Norse Fantasy based on the myths and legends of the Northern Traditions, including Runelore.

Diana's Mayan books initially attracted me, but I've since discovered her expertise ranges from history to quantum physics to conspiracy theories--gotta love it! We now blog together on The Writers’ Lens.

So, Diana, if you were marooned on an island, and Pots & Pens granted your wish for only one book and one food, what would you choose? One Book – The Boy Scouts Outdoor Field Guide! I know nothing about foraging for food, building a shelter, or which plants might or might not be poisonous. And, if Pots and Pens were to offer me a choice of one food it’d be cherry cheesecake!

Taking a survival guide—that makes perfect sense. And yum, I love cherry cheesecake! Have you also got a favorite literary feast or treat? I’d have to say the “A Martha’s Vineyard Mystery” series by the late Philip A. Craig. Each book is set in Martha’s Vineyard and I love not only the setting, but his characters and plots. My sister lives on Orcas Island, Washington and (except for the murders), Philip Craig knew his island personalities. 

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’m currently working on an historical fantasy series which is turning out to be extremely challenging and very much a stretch of my boundaries. I’ve been reading and rereading old manuscripts just to get a feel of Norse thinking and priorities during the 700’s. Then, of course there’s all the background information that’s needed to make the book feel authentic. 
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, The Maya, People of the Maize, is a companion book to my novel, Ninth Lord of the Night. I think of it as a sample of Mayan information that encourages the reader to explore further the various aspects of the Mayan culture. Just as Ninth Lord of the Night offers the reader a full course of mystery and suspense with a touch of paranormal, The Maya, People of the Maize offers the reader a solid background from which they can choose to continue learning about this fascinating culture.    

Since I love ancient Mesoamerican cultures, those were certainly a tasty treat for me! At Pots & Pens, we know 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? Any overused writing technique will detract from a story, but if the plot is exciting and the characters are well-developed, then I can forgive a lot. Stephen King wrote in one of books, that “It’s not the teller, it’s the tale.” I agree with that. 

Recipe Row: I see you’re getting prepared for that desert island with today’s recipe—very clever!

New York Cherry Cheesecake!!
2 cups (200 grams) of graham cracker crumbs
½ cup unsalted butter, melted
¼ cup granulated sugar

32 ounces cream cheese, room temperature (use full fat, not reduced or fat free cream cheese)
1 cup granulated white sugar
3 tablespoons all purpose flour
5 large eggs, room temperature
1/3 cup heavy whipping cream (double cream)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 can Comstock pitted Cherries
Preheat oven to 350 degrees with rack in center of oven.
Grease, or spray with Pam, a 9 inch (23 cm) springform pan. Place the springform pan on a larger baking pan to catch any leakage while the cheesecake is baking.
For Crust: In a medium sized bowl combine the graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and melted butter. Press the crumbs evenly over the bottom and about 1 inch (2.5 cm) up the sides of the springform pan. Cover and refrigerate while you make the filling.

For Filling: In bowl of your electric mixer place the cream cheese, sugar, and flour. Beat on medium speed until smooth (about 2 minutes), scraping down the bowl as needed. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well (about 30 seconds) after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the whipping cream, vanilla extract and beat until incorporated. Remove the crust from the refrigerator and pour in the filling. Place the cheesecake pan on a larger baking pan and place in the oven.
Bake for 15 minutes and then lower the oven temperature to 250 degrees and continue to bake for about another 60 - 90 minutes or until firm and only the center of the cheesecake looks a little wet and wobbly. (The baking time can vary due to the differences in ovens, so make sure to check that the cheesecake is firm with only the center being a little wet and wobbly.) Remove from oven and place on a wire rack.

Remove from oven and carefully run a knife or spatula around the inside edge of pan to loosen the cheesecake (helps prevent the surface from cracking as it cools).

Let cool completely before covering with plastic wrap. Refrigerate several hours, preferably overnight. Top with one can of Comstock’s cherry filling (undrained) and serve

Tips:  Sometimes the surface of the cheesecake cracks.  To help prevent this from happening do not over beat the batter, especially when creaming the cheese and sugar. Another reason for cracking is overbaking the cheesecake.  Your cheesecake is done when it is firm but the middle may still look a little wet. Also, make sure the springform pan is well greased as cracking can occur if the cheesecake sticks to the sides as it cools. 

Learn more about Diana and her books at her website

Monday, October 24, 2011

Marinade Makes the Difference: Ideas and Chicken Fajitas

We’ve all heard the stories. Literary lightning strikes, and the perfect concept erupts in the writer’s mind fully grown, like armored Athena bursting out of Zeus’s skull. (No, really, that’s her origin story!)

Sure, I’ve been there a time or two. A complete story comes out of nowhere and begs me to write it down. By and large, though, this isn’t how it works. And I would argue that even those fully formed ideas are much improved by plunging them into the mental marinade for a while.

Mental marinade—yeah, I know it sounds like something a zombie chef would use—is the combination of themes, dreams, and schemes that fill up a person’s conscious and subconscious mind. It’s the primordial soup where most brilliant ideas start. So what better place could there be for nurturing a concept into a story, or better yet, for evolving that story you want to tell into the story you need to tell?

Mental marinade. It’s a resource, not an excuse. While one idea soaks, another can find its home on the page. How long you let ideas bathe is up to you. (My work-in-progress has absorbed nearly a decade's worth of creative nutrients.)

Mental marinade. It’s fun to say, and whether you use it for hours, weeks, or years, the flavors it brings out are well worth the wait.

Although I wish I could say today’s recipe is completely mental, it does at least feature marinade. A good fajita is fun, impressive, and versatile—plus you get to add your own toppings! It’s also tough to screw up. Even a mediocre fajita is worth the wait, but with any luck, we can a do bit better than mediocre.

Chicken Fajitas

6 boned chicken breasts
¾ tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. garlic salt
1 tsp. chili powder
1 c. lemon juice
6 T. vegetable oil
6 T. wine vinegar

Optional ingredients: (Important—make second batch of seasonings and marinade if cooking veggies, but omit the sea salt.)
2 large bell peppers
2 onions

Cut chicken into strips ¼- to ½-inch thick and put in shallow pan.

Mix dry seasonings and rub evenly over chicken. In a separate bowl, mix lemon juice, oil, and vinegar. Pour over chicken, making sure each piece is completely coated. Marinate for at least 1 hour. (Longer is better.)

If peppers and onions are used, give them the same treatment as the chicken, but omit the sea salt.

Cook on skewers over grill or in pan/skillet over medium heat until cooked through.

Taste before serving, and adjust seasoning according to your preferences. Serve with tortillas and all the fixin’s. But please ignore my pitiful plating. :(

Note: This recipe responds well to alterations (fresh limes, Tabasco, a tablespoon or two of Jack Daniels, etc.).

Let’s get marinating!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Author Bethany Wiggins' Buttermilk Syrup

Bethany Wiggins has always been an avid reader, but not an avid student. Seriously!!! She failed ninth grade English because she read novels instead of doing her homework. In high school, she sat alone at lunch and read massive hardback fantasy novels (Tad Williams and Robert Jordan anyone?). It wasn't until the end of her senior year that the other students realized she was reading fiction--not the Bible 
Seven years ago, Bethany's sister dared her to start writing an hour a day until she completed a novel. Bethany wrote a seven-hundred page fantasy novel that she wisely let no one read--but it taught her how to write. Since then she has completed six more novels, each one a little better than the one before.

The fifth book she wrote, "SHIFTING," is represented by Marlene Stringer of the Stringer Literary Agency, published by Walker Books September 27 2011.

Hi Bethany, welcome to Pots ‘n Pens. If you were serving one of your characters in you new book “SHIFTING” her ideal meal, what would it be and why?
Fried pork chops, string beans, potato salad, fried collard greens and chocolate cake with extra icing. Maggie Mae, my main character, LOVES southern food. She's a foster child and one foster home she lived in was with a southern family who cooked the most amazing food.

Let’s say your characters, Maggie and Bridger, are raiding your fridge right now, what are they most likely to eat? Are they disappointed or excited about what they find?
If they raided my fridge right now they'd have bacon and eggs, a spring mix salad, and milk. Maggie Mae, who has been a step or two from starvation before, would have no complaints. Bridger on the other hand, wouldn't know what to do with raw bacon or raw eggs. And the salad greens? Totally wrong dressing (I only have Italian). He'd be thoroughly disappointed and call for takeout!

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 would love to learn how to cook Thai food! And I'm tinkering a bit with science fiction lately.

What’s your favorite kitchen accessory or appliance? How about a favorite writing accessory or reference?
Kitchen appliance=my blender. If I'm in a rush and need something nutritious, I whip up a green smoothie. Favorite writing accessory=GOOGLE!!! I would shrivel up and die without Google. I search a lot.

What is your A+, number 1 writing snack?
*hangs head in shame* I DON'T HAVE ONE! I never let myself eat while I read or write because I don't taste the food (to mentally absorbed I guess) and figure it's not worth the calories if I ain't gonna taste it!

If you could borrow one person’s zest for writing and/or life, whose and why?
My mom has more zest than anyone I know. She's in her mid-sixties, yet she goes sledding, does triathlons, travels (to places like China and Italy), goes fishing . . . her zest overfloweth!

What inspired your latest book, and what ingredients do you hope make it a tasty treat for readers?
Shifting was inspired by three things: the Navajo legend of Skinwalkers, a friend of mine who died her hair black, and an abandoned mine I used to play by as a kid. Its main ingredients are horror, mysticism, romance and good food.

Can you share a bit about your next project?
STUNG (Winter 2013) is a novel that was inspired by two things: a nightmare, and the mad rush of insane people trying to get vaccinated against the swine-flu a couple of years ago. Here's the blurb from Publisher's Marketplace: The government's attempts to save endangered bees by genetic modification causes their sting to induce deadly, flu-like symptoms in humans, and a vaccine created in response changes children into ferocious, killer beasts; the uninfected have built a wall to keep the beasts out, and a girl has awakened on the wrong side.

What’s your go-to meal when you need to serve something quick and easy?
My grandma's buttermilk pancakes and buttermilk syrup. Best. Meal. Ever!

Tell us about your edible specialty, and rate your skill in the kitchen:
My edible specialty is baklava, hands down. If I weren't a writer, I'd make baklava and sell it for an exorbitant amount of money! As for skill in the kitchen, I'm a pro. Cooking is right up there with writing!

Describe the best cook you know and something wonderful he or she has served you.
I have a friend named Meggan. She made the most delicious pound cake that probably made you gain a pound per bite. But it was divine! And I'm not normally a cake-lover.

Fill in the blanks: Writing books is like cooking Baklava. You never know if all the work is really worth it--until you sample the finished product!

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.
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. I wish that book had a sequel! I want to know that the main character goes on being okay.

Not every idea is a winner. Written or not, what’s the most ill-conceived story idea you’ve ever had?
Wow. I have about one ill-conceived idea a day. I once wrote a fantasy novel about a girl who lived on a primitive island and had a modern fishing pole. So embarrassing!

Tell about a time when food inspired your writing or a book inspired your cooking.
LOL, all my recipes are scrawled on the backs of edited manuscript pages. And SHIFTING has a lot of food in it! Writing it inspired me to eat a lot of Mexican food. I think cooking and writing both take a bit of creativity.
If you could retell a book as a meal which book would you choose and how would you tell it?
My book of course! I'd open the meal with something normal, like crackers and a cheese ball. The salad would be a little unusual--let's top it with pistachios and blueberry-crusted goat cheese. The soup would have to throw you for a loop--fennel and squash soup anyone? And the main course would be totally unexpected--leg of lamb with mint jelly. But the dessert, chocolate cake with cherry-chocolate icing, would make the whole dinner experience worth it--so much so that you'd want to do it all over again tomorrow.

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

Bella Swan from New Moon. I'd slap her upside the head, tell her to get over Edward and for crying out loud stop moping! And then I'd serve her a nice steaming plate of sweet pork on tossed greens, smothered with tomatillo dressing and sprinkled with grated cheese.

Well said, because come on, wouldn’t we all like to do that to Bella at one point? Anyway, 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?
Book=How To Survive On a Deserted Island. Food=chocolate.

What favorite recipe do you have for us today?

Buttermilk Syrup

·                           1 1/2 cups white sugar

·                           3/4 cup buttermilk

·                           1/2 cup butter

·                           2 tablespoons corn syrup

·                           1 teaspoon baking soda

·                           2 teaspoons vanilla extract

In a saucepan (and use a big pan! This stuff likes to grow), stir together the sugar, buttermilk, butter, and corn syrup. Bring to a boil, and cook for 7 minutes. Remove from the heat, and stir in the vanilla and baking powder.

Thank you, Bethany. This was so much fun getting to talk to you. Everyone MUST read your book, it's very good!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

For the Busy Writer

I learned something a few years back when I picked up my writing again: it is amazing what a person can get done in 24 hours.

If you’re anything like me, you are a writer who has far more going on than just your next latest and greatest project. There’s kids and day jobs, doctor appointments, dance classes. Houses and families to maintain and above all, of course, meals to be made and eaten.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’m not a fantabulous cook, but over the years, I’ve learned how to get by, especially as things have grown busier. Recently, we added another family member who insisted on arriving about 3 weeks early, which means things are even crazier now as we adjust from being a family of 4 to being a family of 5. To give myself a little extra time here and there, I started a little stock pile of freezer dinners for our family a few weeks ago and here is one that’s a favorite for everyone from my steak & potatoes husband to our picky 3yo.

You don’t have to make things complicated to make them taste good. (And to save yourself time in the kitchen so you can have some more time in the chair to do some writing!) So here you go, and sorry, no pictures this time :(

1-2 lbs of boneless/skinless chicken breast or chicken breast tenders
1-2 bottles of creamy Caesar salad dressing*

½ head of iceberg lettuce, chopped
1-2 hearts of Romaine lettuce, chopped

The freezer part –
Put your chicken into a zip-top freezer bag. Dump in 1-2 bottles of the salad dressing, depending on how much chicken you’re using. I generally go with a 1-1 ratio: 1 lb of chicken to 1 bottle of dressing. Make sure you label the bag with what you’re making (chicken Caesar salad) before you begin … then squeeze out all the air, seal up the bag, mix around and lay flat in the freezer to begin your stock pile. This will keep for up to 6 months.

The cooking part –
Thaw out the freezer bag in the fridge or under cool running water. Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees. Pour the contents of the bag into a casserole dish. I use a 9 x 13 if I’m making any more than 1lb of chicken. Bake for about 40 minutes, or until the top is a nice golden color and the chicken is cooked through.

The mixing part –
Mix up the chopped lettuce and serve with some chicken on top. The baked dressing becomes a warm, creamy sauce to go over the chicken on top of the lettuce as well.

Super yum and easy to make! This chicken is also tasty served with pasta!

So if you’re looking for ways to save some time and squeeze in some extra writing, why not start your own freezer meal collection?

Happy eats!

*I've had pretty good luck with all brands of creamy Caesar dressing EXCEPT the Great Value one from Wal-Mart. So I'd recommend against that one, as the dressing tends to separate in the oven and you're left with a not so tasty looking layer of oil on top of your chicken.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Guest Post: Author Amanda Bonilla

Amanda Bonilla and I met through a blog chain we both participated in, and we've gotten to be not only critique partners but also close friends. She has a knack for bringing the world in her novels to life in an amazing, tangible way. Her debut novel, the much buzzed about urban fantasy SHAEDES OF GRAY in which shadow assassin Darian finds out the truth about who she in and who she loves, hits store shelves on December 6, 2011.

So without further delay, let's see what Amanda's got cooking for us today:

An author uses so many things to connect readers to a story. We write emotional scenes that cause laughter or tears. We create sexual tension to remind readers of the way it feels to fall in love or experience that first spark of passion. And we draw readers in by creating worlds that, no matter how unusual, can make a believer out of the staunchest skeptic.

It may seem insignificant, but food can play a huge roll in both world-building and connecting readers to a story. In any paranormal or urban fantasy world, one of the first questions we ask is, what does my creature eat? In the case of my Shaedes, I decided that I wanted their diets to be as normal as any human’s. Darian has a particular love for Honey Nut Cheerios, something that carries over from my own childhood. My grandma always had a box in her cupboard, and I definitely consider those delicious O’s as comfort food. When I developed the Lyhtans, the Shaedes’ mortal enemies, I decided to make their physical appearance as far from human as possible. So it stood to reason that their diet should be far from human as well. After much brainstorming, I decided that they should inject their prey with venom that not only paralyzes, but turns the victim’s insides into a slurpable goo that the Lyhtan could suck from the wound. I know, not exactly the most appetizing image, but that’s what I was going for. I wanted the reader to be repulsed by my Lyhtans, and I wanted to convey that this is not the type of creature you want to stumble upon in a dark alley.

Food can really make a scene pop. When I was discussing this post with Sarah, she mentioned a scene in SHAEDES OF GRAY that really stuck out for her. Darian is not-so-happy about a certain turn of events and decides to take her frustration out on a watermelon sitting on her counter. After slicing the melon in two with her katana (she may or may not have anger management issues), she casually digs into the fruit with a spoon and shovels watermelon into her mouth while she stews. This scene might not have been memorable to Sarah if Darian had been sitting in a chair or tapping a finger against her chin in thought. Her actions humanized her, connected her to the reader, put her in a situation that we might find ourselves in. I know I’ve chewed angrily once or twice. Emotional eating is one of my go-to stress relievers!

What do you think? Can food forge an emotional connection between a reader and a character? How big a part does food play in the books you read? And last but not least, what’s your favorite comfort food?

Amanda Bonilla lives in rural Idaho with her husband and two kids. She’s a part-time pet wrangler, a full-time sun worshipper, and only goes out into the cold when coerced. When she’s not writing she’s either reading or talking about her favorite books.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Guest Interview: Katy Longshore

Today, Pots 'n Pens is pleased to have Katy Longshore, whose young adult novel, GILT, debuts in the fall of 2012. Gilt is one of the books I'm most excited to read next year. Here's the back cover description:
In the Tudor age, ambition, power and charismatic allure are essential and Catherine Howard has plenty of all three. Not to mention her loyal best friend, Kitty Tylney, to help cover her tracks. Kitty, the abandoned youngest daughter of minor aristocracy, owes everything to Cat – where she is, what she is, even who she is. Friend, flirt, and self-proclaimed Queen of Misrule, Cat reigns supreme in a loyal court of girls under the none-too-watchful eye of the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk.

When Cat worms her way into the heart of Henry VIII and becomes Queen of England, Kitty is thrown into the intoxicating Tudor Court. It’s a world of glittering jewels and elegant costumes, of gossip and deception. As the Queen’s right-hand-woman, Kitty goes from the girl nobody noticed to being caught between two men – the object of her affection and the object of her desire.

But the atmosphere of the court turns from dazzling to deadly, and Kitty is forced to learn the difference between trust and loyalty, love and lust, secrets and treason. And to accept the consequences when some lessons are learned too late.

If you were marooned on an island and Pots & Pens granted your wish for only one book and one food, what would you choose?

I would have to ask for Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and chocolate. Preferably dark chocolate peanut butter cups from Trader Joe's. They could probably sustain me long enough to savor Mantel’s luscious words.

I love anything from Trader Joes. *Drool* Let's say a couple of your characters are raiding your fridge right now, what are they most likely to eat? Are they disappointed or excited about what they find?

I think my characters would be disgusted by what they found in my refrigerator today. I write about the Tudors, who ate a lot of meat, and pretty much scorned fresh raw vegetables. But I'm a vegetarian, so that's what I have in my fridge. However, in one of the first scenes of GILT, my narrator, Kitty, talks about midnight parties to which the boys bring strawberries. So she would probably go for those.

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

Fresh tomatoes in the summer, garlic and chocolate. What else do you need?

Agreed! You can't go wrong there. Hot out of the oven: What inspired your latest book, and what ingredients do you hope make it a tasty treat for readers?

I was inspired to write GILT by the way Catherine Howard has been treated by history. She is often portrayed as empty headed, fashion-obsessed, and even slutty. I wanted to write a character who was Queen Bee before she became queen. I hope readers will be able to relate to this personally, and not just historically.

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

Haven't we all wanted to try fried green tomatoes? And when I was in college, working at a coffee bar, I thought that would be the perfect setting for a novel. Kind of Like Water for Chocolate, only with espresso.

 That's so funny because I actually did make fried green tomatoes from the recipe in the back of the book. They were...interesting. But I digress. R
ecipe Row: What favorite recipe do you have for us today? (If you have a
picture, please include it.)

This is a recipe that I go to when I only have about 15 min. to prepare dinner. During the summer, I don't actually cook, because where I live it gets too hot to want to turn on the oven or the stove. So we eat a lot of salads.

WHITE BEAN SALAD (serves 2 for dinner, can be doubled)

Combine in a medium-sized bowl:

1 can white kidney (cannellini) beans, rinsed and drained.
2 small celery stalks, thinly sliced
15 pimento-stuffed green olives, sliced.

In a separate bowl, whisk together:

1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
1 clove garlic, minced or put through a press
¼ tsp. sweet paprika
dash of salt

Whisk in:

2-3 Tbsp. olive oil (preferably extra virgin)

Pour dressing over the bean mixture and toss gently.

I like to serve this over a bed of baby arugula and top it with chunks of perfectly ripe heirloom tomatoes.  And if you have to have some kind of meat (like the Tudors!), it blends well with a small can of tuna, too.


You can follow Katy at her various websites:

Seriously, how amazing does that book sound? But on to the interview!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

That Thing Called Stress

Do you ever have one of those months where you feel like like you're constantly swimming underwater--minus the scuba equipment? Where each time you pop your head up for some air, a big wave pushes you under again? That's been the last four weeks for me.

Some of it--like one of our cats suddenly dying--was out of my control. But, if you're like me, anything out of your control is especially hard to deal with. In fact, the hardest part of the writing business for me, is not the writing or plotting or idea generating. It's the waiting. It's the stuff we leave to our agents and publishing houses. It's the selling of the book. It's everything we can't help. I like being in control. I hate limbo. And that's a post for another time....

So back to the stress. Losing Amelia was very hard, and I'm still dealing with that. Also, in the last few weeks, I started two teaching jobs (one on Sundays with h.s. students and one during the week as an adjunct professor), and my son began Pre-K at a new school. These last three things I brought on myself. Silly me decided that I needed more work outside of writing to take my mind off the writing things I couldn't control. So now I have A LOT of other things to think about. As for the new school, that was my idea too.

How, pray tell, does this all relate to food? Negatively.

I'm one of those people who doesn't eat when she's stressed. Nothing looks appealing. I may grab a banana, but it's a chore for me to it. People often talk about comfort food. Well, when I feel like I'm being pulled under, that doesn't exist for me. In the same way, books don't comfort me either during high stress. I find that I can't enjoy what I'm reading. I read the same words over and over and then get jittery and toss the book aside (well, not really toss; I gently put it away. Not the book's fault I'm a mess).

So what does work? Just riding the wave, waiting it out, slowly lifting myself from the water, rather than pushing up fiercely to be knocked down again.

What else? Meticulous, banal work that I normally would want to avoid. Like copyedits. My next novel, PIECES OF US, is coming out in March, and my copyedits are due tomorrow. I'm almost finished. In the past, I would have already been done, but I don't mind savoring them. With each small correction I fix, I feel a little more in control. I don't have to think much either. Just fix a comment as directed. It makes me feel like I have a better handle on everything else. Who would have thought I would be thrilled to do copyedits? But, these days, they're making me feel accomplished.

Same goes for food. While I won't make a huge pot of mac and cheese, I'll grab a handful of nuts. A box of raisins. Coffee (Ok, not exactly sustenance but I can make an argument in its favor). Little things add up to real plates of food. When I write, it's the same way. Usually, little scenes here and there that I eventually connect to make one big manuscript. Funny how my writing personality and food personality are intertwined.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Comfort Food

My niece has a stuffed bunny that she takes with her everywhere. The fur is matted and it has a funky smell, but she doesn't care. It is her comfort. Of course, she is 15 months old and can get away with carrying around a germ-infested piece of cloth and calling it a lovey. That doesn't fly when we get older and so we find other comfort sources - and for me those are books and food.

Not just any books will work though and not just any food either.

Let's talk about the books first.

So, I'm a worrier. Some of my worries are insane (there is a killer hiding behind my shower curtain), some of them are disasters that are more possible but still not probable (my children will suffer some debilitating injury on the playground), and other are just everyday concerns (laundry, dishes, dinner ideas - oh my!).

Add to this the ups and downs of pursuing a writing career, and sometimes I need an escape. Yes Hawaii would be a wonderful escape option, but I'd have to pack and deal with the whole airport thing, not to mention the price of a ticket. Luckily,there is an another option that is safely in my price range and doesn't require wearing a bathing suit.

Yes, I am talking about romance novels. They are my comfort read of choice. Not just any romance novel will do though when I am seeking that comfort read. I can't deal with sub-par plotting or flat characters or over-the-top description. When I need that escape I stick with the romance authors I know and trust, seeking out their new releases or going back to re-read (sometimes for the third of fourth time) beloved favorites.

Susan Elizabeth Phillips tops my most re-read list, followed closely by Jennifer Crusie. Loretta Chase is my go-to favorite for historicals, but I also love Georgette Heyer whose generous backlist is a gift that just keeps on giving.

I tend to devour these novels within 24 hours or less, and when I turn the last page, I return to the real world slightly dazed and blinking as my eyes readjust from near focus to far. These books get me out of my own head, and sometimes that is the greatest comfort of all.

Really, the only thing that can make a comfort read better is a comfort meal to go with it.

Halfway through a comfort read it's best to make something that spends a lot of hands-off time in the oven while I continue turning pages. For me 40 cloves and a chicken fits the bill perfectly. With a pile of mashed potatoes on the side - it's the kind of meal that will make you happy to set your book aside... for a little while at least.

40 Cloves and A Chicken
(adapted from Alton Brown's recipe)


10-12 pieces of skin-on chicken legs and thighs
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
10 fresh thyme sprigs
2-3 heads of garlic separated into cloves and peeled


1. Heat over to 350 degrees.
2. Pat chicken dry and season with salt and pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large dutch oven or a skillet with a snug fitting lid. Once oil is hot put chicken in skin-side down and cook 6-7 minutes or until skin is golden brown. Flip chicken and cook for 5 additional minutes on the other side.
3. Remove from heat. Add remaining oil, garlic cloves, and thyme. Cover and cook in the oven for 1 1/2 hours or until the meat is falling off the bones.
4. Remove for the oven. Let it rest for 10-15 minutes if you have the patience. If not - just dig right in. Garlic is excellent mashed into potatoes or spread onto bread.