Monday, May 30, 2011

Until Thursday...

I am a writer of romance.

I spend my days weaving stories with the sole purpose of making my readers smile someday. It is my goal to craft a story so well that, when my hero and heroine fall in love, my reader will be right there with them, sighing or grinning or crying tears of happiness. It is what I strive for day in and day out as I write, and delete, and edit, and rewrite.

I write romance because I love love. And this Thursday, love will be at the heart of the matter as I celebrate a very important anniversary. So what is the occasion? Alas, dear Cake Reader, you will have to wait two more days to find out because, in honor of this very special day, I will be posting my blog Thursday instead of Tuesday. I hope you will join me on this wonderful occasion.

And don’t worry – it’s black tie optional ;) Until then!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Lazy Sunday

My poor husband is not a fan of Sunday evenings. Come six o’clock on the lake, all the weekenders have packed up, and only a few boats remain. To him, it represents the death of a weekend, and the impending birth of a new work week. As for me, I relish the peace as the water once more grows still.

The sun, while still bright, has fallen behind our neighbor’s trees, saving us from its hot rays and squint-worthy glare. On nights like this, we can frolic in the lake as if it was our own personal pool, stretching endlessly in both directions.

Our puppies can play along side us, champion dog-paddlers that they are, their little paws pumping rhythmically beside us as they glide through the satin water. With no worries of careless boaters, I can lay on my back as I swim, my legs kicking lazily as I watch the clouds float by.

When I finally emerge from the water, I tend to my tiny little garden, filled with hopes and dreams in the form of tomato plant seedlings, despite the gardening debacle of last year. I am an optimist, after all, and this year my lovingly tended plants will thrive.

Big black dog still splashes happily in the water, my first-born follows behind me with her ever-present rock, and little pup runs circles around my husband with youthful abandon. My whole world is here in my backyard, together for this one perfect evening.

Though this is the time of the week Kirk dreads, for me, it is magic. It fills my heart to hear nothing but the lapping of water, or the yips of my littlest pup as she tries to keep up with her sisters. I love that I can talk with my husband about nothing and everything as we float freely in the summer hush, or sit on the dock, or smile at the dogs’ antics.

Of course, it’s not a fair comparison, for I no longer live the rat race as I once did. But life has so many blessing, some huge and obvious, some quiet and simple. For me, Sunday nights are a private blessing, one best experienced with family, but shared with the world :).

Now don't laugh - but at the bottom of this post is my very first attempt at a movie. It's not very long, but I hope you enjoy!


Tell me about your favorite little moments – the ones you store away for later, and think on with a smile.

Okay, my dear cake readers, I have some sad news. In five weeks time, I must fit into one fantabulous ball gown for the Golden Heart award ceremonies. Why is this sad, you ask? Because I have banned sweets from my house! So here is a very simple, back-to-basics ‘recipe’ that made me very happy today:

Homemade Juice-sicles!

I bought a very inexpensive popsicle maker, filled it with juice (I chose V8 V-Fusion Pomegranate Blueberry with 100% fruit and veggie juice), and waited (impatienty) for the magic to happen. 25 calorie, all natural yummy summer treat? Sign me up!

video

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A Little Something Different

I just wanted to let everyone know that I am doing a guest blog at The Ruby Slippered Sisterhood on Thursday, May 19th. I hope you will all stop by and say hello there! Next week I will return to your regularly scheduled programming :)

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Let Them Eat Pie

I don’t recall if I mentioned it before, but the heroine of my second manuscript, More Than Tempting, is actually a baker. I know – wherever did I come up with that? ;) It is a bit outside the norm to have a bluestocking lead in a Regency novel, but I knew she would be the perfect foil for my hero, Richard. Richard is the brother to the heroine in my first manuscript, and I very quickly fell in love with his charm and charisma.

Writing Jane’s character was so much fun—and I’m sure you know why. I could feel her as I wrote. I knew what made her tick, and what baking was to her, and how she could express herself to others. When she was mad, she could pound bread dough into submission. When she was worried, she could retreat to her kitchen to busy her hands with the soothing routines of whisking or chopping. And when she was in love . . . well, that’s when she really came alive. Anyone who tasted her creations couldn’t help but sense the passion behind it.

That passion leads to the creation of a recipe that reminds her of Richard. When I was contemplating what that recipe should be, I went through a lot of research as to what would be available to her in the spring of 1819, both for ingredients and technique. In the end, I came up with something that I had never even heard of, let alone tried. Here is the excerpt:

Last night she had made biscuits baked with a lemon curd filling. They were delicious, and had sold very quickly this morning, but it wasn’t quite right. Biscuits were too sweet. When she thought of Richard, she wanted a little more tartness, something with a more memorable presence. Perhaps an unexpected element or two. After mulling it for most of the day, she finally had it.

Puff pastry on the bottom. Tart lemon custard filling laced with tangy rhubarb. A generous portion of meringue on top. She nearly laughed aloud; it would be perfect.

Well, at least it sounded perfect, lol. In reality, I hadn’t a clue if such a thing would work. Wouldn’t you know it, just last week, I was trolling around Fresh Market, and I happened upon a container of fresh rhubarb, nestled in all its rosy glory amongst the ripe strawberries and raspberries. As I stood in the middle of the produce section, I couldn’t suppress the giddy grin that came to my lips. I’d never had rhubarb in my life. What if I tried the recipe I had invented for my heroine? With my new kitchen just begging for a proper baking challenge, I tossed the package in my cart and went in search of the lemons.

That night, I went to work on the creation. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before I was seriously doubting the idea. The fresh rhubarb smelled awful. Like celery—which I hate—dressed in pink sheep’s clothing. Resolutely, I kept chopping, hoping I wasn’t about to ruin a perfectly lovely lemon pie. As the filling simmered on the stove, I took the plunge and tossed in the icky pink stalks. As I stirred, the yellow mixture blushed like the first hints of a summer sunset.

Well, if it had to suck, at least it would look pretty.

Once everything had thickened, I spooned it into the waiting pie crust and went to work on the meringue. Spreading the thick, gooey white fluff over the top, I knew that not only would it look pretty, but the topping alone would be worth it. Seriously, there are few things better on earth than a simple, perfectly whipped meringue.

The whole thing when into the oven, and I began to pace. For some reason, I couldn’t wait to see how it would all turn out. It was like a small part of my imagination—my books—come to life, right in my kitchen. I was making the very thing my heroine had invented, a recipe that was meant to capture the essence of her hero. If it was terrible, for some reason I was afraid it would ruin the magic of their chemistry. What if I didn’t know them at all?

When the peaks were gently golden, I slid the pie from the oven and set it out to cool. It actually smelled quite nice. It was a good sign, but I still had to wait for the pie to first cool, then chill in the fridge.

At long last, dinner had been cleared away and the moment of truth was upon me. I pulled my creation from the fridge, cut a slice, and sat down to my plate with fork and hand. The tines glided through the creamy filling as I gathered my first forkfull, took a bracing breath, and popped it in my mouth.

And smiled.

It was absolutely delicious. The rich, tangy filling was like cool silk against my tongue, the tangy, tart flavor cut by the sweet, cloud-like meringue. The crust was beyond perfect, buttery, flaky, and just the tad bit sweet. I would have never known that the hint of rouge in the pie was actually rhubarb—it only added an unexpected…something. I don’t know what, just a suggestion of something adventurous.

Exactly as my heroine had wanted :)

Have you ever connected with a particular character? Either while writing or reading, was there something about them that just spoke to you? Have you ever brought some small part of them to life? If you haven’t, you really should!


So here it is, my Lemon Blush Pie:

Crust (yes, you can use pre-made):

1 cup and 2 tbsp all purpose flour

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 cup cold shortening (I refrigerated mine for an hour)

1 tsp sugar

3 – 5 tbsp ice water

Combine the flour, sugar, and salt, mix. Add shortening, and cut into flour using a pastry knife or two regular knives until mixture resembles coarse, pea-sized crumbs. Add water a little at a time, stirring with a fork until mixture clings together. Taking care not to over mix, shape into 1 inch thick disk, wrap with plastic wrap, and place in refrigerator for 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 425. Roll out dough on floured surface and fit into 9 inch pie pan. Crimp edges, poke holes in the bottom with a fork, and place in over for 30 minutes. Cool on wire rack,

Filling

5 tbsp cornstarch

1 and 1/4 cups sugar

1 and 1/2 cups water

1/2 cup lemon juice

1 tsp lemon extract or 1 tbsp lemon zest

4 egg yolks (save whites for meringue)

3/4 cup rhubarb, finely chopped or food processed.

1 tbsp butter

Whisk cornstarch, sugar, and water together in a medium saucepan. Add the lemon juice, extract/zest, yolks and rhubarb. Cook while stirring constantly until mixture begins to bubble and thicken. Remove from heat and whisk in butter. Either place directly in crust, or strain to remove fibers/zest (I didn’t strain).

Meringue

4 egg whites

1/3 cup sugar

Reduce oven temp to 350 degrees. Beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Slowly trickle in sugar until completely mixed. Beat until the mixture is glossy with firm peaks. Spread over filling, covering completely. Lift spatula to create peaks. Bake until meringue is golden brown, about 10-15 minutes. Cool on rack, then chill in fridge.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Happily Ever After

A funny thing happened Friday morning somewhere between my Cheerios breakfast and grilled cheese lunch. In the middle of my very normal day, I got to see a fairy tale come to life.

Up until the night before Prince William and Catherine Middleton’s wedding, I really had not paid much attention to the couple, or the events unfolding half a world away. Why should I? My love affair with England can be narrowed down rather succinctly to the years between 1810 and 1825 or so. Not strictly Regency, but close enough. And not even the Britain of real life, actually. Just the one where dashing earls and dukes win over their headstrong ladies, and the servants are always happily loyal and the smell of hothouse flowers and beeswax candles can drown out even the worst smells of the city.

I’m well aware that the London of today is very modern, with their share of political unease and clashing of classes. The era of the haute ton and all the finery and privilege is well and truly over.

But for some strange reason, the young girl within me stirred to life as the excitement built the day before the royal wedding. What would a rags-to-riches, modern day princess-to-be wear on her wedding day? Would people still throng the streets, looking for a glimpse of the happy couple like they had three decades earlier?

On a whim, I called a friend a little after nine that night and asked if she wanted to join me to watch the recorded wedding. She did, and by the time she arrived the next morning, I was assembling the ingredients for some remarkably delicious scones and heating the water for tea. She had worn a rather fetching hat of her daughters, while I had opted for my own mini fascinator.

With warm scones in hand and freshly steeped tea on the coffee table, we hit play and settled in to watch the wedding of the decade.

The two princes were handsome in their respective uniforms, Prince William looking a bit nervous while Harry flashed his cheeky grin. We giggled together like school girls as the men strode into the church, strong, and young, and delightfully happy. We watched with awe—and some laughter—as the guests arrived. The gravity defying headpieces of the ladies, the debonair morning suits of the men—it was all so very British.

At last we saw a flash of white as the bride was whisked into her waiting car and ferried across town to the Abbey. We held our breath and waited, hoping against hope that her dress would be perfect—the fairytale gown that we secretly wanted it to be.

The car stopped, the bride disembarked, and the world collectively gasped at the utter perfection of the moment. The dress exceeded my every hope, the veil was divine, and the tiara made every woman in the world smile and nod approvingly. No garish jewels, or plunging necklines, or modern silhouettes. Just the personification of grace and beauty.

We watched her every step as she and her father proceeded up the aisle, angelic music rising through the trees into the soaring rafters. The abbey seemed alive at that moment, filled with palpable joy, and hopes, and whimsy.

At last they reached the alter, and the groom held out as long as he could before finally turning to see his bride. We sighed with satisfaction at the look of honest love and admiration he bestowed on his soon-to-be wife. After a beautiful ceremony—one that felt as though it really meant something—the deed was done, and the newlyweds made their way to the waiting carriage. I think we all read Catherine’s lips and grinned when she said, “I’m so happy!” at the end of it all.

We watched as they made the journey to the palace, waving regally from the century old carriage. Flags waved, people cheered, and good wishes abounded until finally the couple emerged on the famous balcony.

Then, at last, the prince kissed his princess, and the whole world cheered. And then they did it again, just because they could :)

My hubby asked me later what on earth the big deal was, because for the life of him he couldn’t see it. I think it was just a perfect moment in time, when we could all believe in love, and fairytales, and a genuine happily ever after. With a happy sigh I can go back to writing my own HEAs, knowing that, somewhere in the world, a prince has chosen his princess not for her connections, not for money, and not because anyone told him to. No, he chose her only for love, and I’ll drink (tea) to that.


Did you watch the royal wedding? Were you one of the diehards who set the alarm for unspeakably early hours in order to watch it live? Were you mocked by husbands/boyfriends/bosses/friends? And was it all worth it? :)


I had a completely different recipe ready for this week’s blog, but changed my mind after the scones turned out so dag gone delicious. Here’s to the happy newlyweds!

Union Jack Scones (red, white, and blue, of course!)

(Slightly altered from recipe found here)

1/2 cup (1 stick) frozen unsalted butter

2 cups all purpose flour

1/3 cup sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup sour cream

1 large egg

1/2 cup fresh or frozen blueberries

1/3 cup strawberries, chopped

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Using a food processor with grating blade, grate the butter. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt, in a separate bowl, then pour over grated butter and pulse until combined. Add sour cream and egg, and pulse again until combined.

Toss in blueberries and strawberries, and lightly pulse until just combined. Turn dough out onto parchment paper-lined cookie sheet. Pat into an inch thick round, then sprinkle with coarse sugar. Use a sharp knife to cut into 8 triangles, and separate them on the parchment paper on a cookie sheet.

Bake until golden, about 14-17 minutes. Cool on a rack and serve with whipped cream.