Monday, October 31, 2011

Recipe: Halloween Soup

I'm calling it that because this soup is orange to the power of three. Buttercup squash, carrots, and sweet potatoes. It's also freakishly healthy and hearty and full of fiber, with no added sugar (basically the opposite of that other standard Halloween fare—candy). I tried a new-to-me method of preparing the squash, since buttercups (they look like knobbly, smallish, dark green pumpkins) aren't built for peeling and cubing. Baking them takes longer and creates more dirty dishes, but the result makes it so worth it.

Hot damn, just look at that color! For NOM!
You'll need:

1 buttercup squash
2 large sweet potatoes (or 3 medium ones)
¼ stick butter
3 large carrots
5 cloves garlic
1 large onion
¼ tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. cayenne pepper
lots of ground black pepper
lots of cumin or curry powder
1 qt. water
lots of salt

1. Preheat oven to 350° and lightly grease the bottom of a casserole dish.

2. Cut the squash into quarters with a cleaver or similarly big, dangerous knife. I found this physically challenging, so be careful, go slow, and don't slice a finger off. Scoop out the seeds and arrange the squash in the dish, skin-down.

3. Cut the sweet potatoes into ½-inch thick rounds and arrange those with the squash. Bake for about an hour, or until the squash and sweet potatoes are tender when poked with a fork.

4. While that's baking, melt the butter in the stew pot. Cut the carrots into strips or fairly thin medallions. Peel and chop the garlic. Chop the onion. Add all that to the butter, turning at medium-high heat until the onions are soft and clear (a couple minutes).

5. Switch the veggies to low heat and add the cinnamon, ground peppers, and cumin. Stir, then cover the pot and let simmer until the carrots are soft (20 minutes or more), stirring occasionally.

6. Once the squash and sweet potatoes are soft, remove them from the oven and let them cool for a half hour or so, until you can touch them without burning yourself. Allegedly, you can now peel the skin away from the squash, but I found this difficult, as the skin flaked off in uselessly small, messy bits. Instead, I used a large metal spoon to scoop and scrape the squash flesh from the skin. Dump that in the pot with the carrots et al. You can peel the skins from the sweet potatoes as well, but I left them on, for texture and nutrients. Add those to the pot as well.

7. Now that all the formerly hard ingredients are soft, bust out your blender. Combine the ingredients with the water in the blender and purée in however many batches it takes. Once it's all blended, dump it all back in the stew pot and stir it up.

8. Heat the soup (it sputters, so baby-sit it) and add salt to taste. Freezes well…not that you'll have any leftovers. It's crazy-tasty.

Enjoy! And happy Halloween!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Six Sentence Sunday #10

Greetings again, my sixy beasties! And happy All Hallows Eve's Eve to you all. We take Halloween wicked serious here in Salem, Massachusetts (aka Spookytown, USA) so I was thinking I ought to source a Halloween-themed six this week. Well, it turns out I've only written a single story thus far that references the holiday (don't give me that look, Ruthie Knox—the weird-ass WIP doesn't count yet), so you're stuck with this little excerpt from my 2010 Golden Heart finalist book (since published by Samhain) The Reluctant Nude:

Oh hai, Romain Duris! That's a very convincing
glare, but you're still in a tight race with 
Max when the book is inevitably [cough
cough, delusional] made into a motion picture.
Sex—sex sex sex.

That was all Fallon could focus on or remember in the following two weeks. Somewhere in her periphery a statue was taking shape, meals were being cooked and eaten, a yellow and black scarf was growing longer and longer between her fingers. Sun was shining or wind was howling or the moon was rising or falling. Beach grass and birch trees were changing color, she suspected, but the only thing she was aware of was Max: sitting beside her, standing across the studio from her, lying beneath her back in a bathtub by the fire, buried deep inside her body in his bed once the sun went down.

Addict, she thought to herself accusingly, watching him from across a display of pumpkins in the co-op market one afternoon, three days before Halloween…

Thanks for swinging by, ghouls and boys! Now head here to check out all the other Six Sentence Sunday excerpts this week. Happy Halloween!


Friday, October 28, 2011

Recipe: Make Your Own Croutons

Oh yeah, haute cuisine, I has it.

This all started because our new prospective roofer gave us a free loaf of bread. I scratched my head too, but apparently one of his clients works at a bakery, but the roofer doesn't eat white bread, so would we like it? Uh, sure. We don't eat white bread, either, but there we were suddenly with a loaf of it. What to do? Hey, we've got all these salad greens to eat—let's make croutons! It's really easy, and I didn't even do it quite right.

Here's what you do:

1. Procure a loaf of yeast bread. Any kind, practically—white, wheat, baguette, rolls, whatever.

2. Cut it into cubes, whatever size you prefer your croutons.

3. If it's not already stale and crusty, spread the cubes on a baking sheet and put them in a 300° oven for a few minutes, until they're dried out. The drier they are, the crunchier your croutons will be. I left mine with a bit of spring in them—I like just a bit of give in my croutons.

4. Lightly and evenly coat a frying pan or skillet with oil or butter. I suspect the best way to do this would be to use a big stove-top skillet and an olive oil mister, but I managed just fine with a wok and bottle. Turn the heat to medium-high.

5. Once the oil is heated (but not spitting) spread the bread cubes on it. Evenly sprinkle on your preferred seasonings—salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, Parmesan cheese, anything really. Once the bottom sides are browned, flip the croutons over with a spatula, brown some more, and generally shuffle them around to distribute the seasoning and prevent burning. (You can also add the seasoning later, by putting the cooked croutons in a bag or Tupperware with the seasonings and shaking them—it's not rocket science.) The bread will brown quickly and likes to smoke, so do keep an eye on your pan or skillet.

6. Remove from the heat and let them cool completely, so you don't trap any excess moisture in the bag or container you store them in, which would wreck the crunch-factor.

And that's it! You may be surprised how much better homemade croutons are than store-bought ones. Definitely worth the minimal effort.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Thrusty Thursday: the 2011 All Blacks

In case you missed the memo, I love two things above just about all else: New Zealand, and sweaty, bruised men. So imagine how my heart and loins collided when the All Blacks made it to the 2011 Rugby World Cup final! During the last World Cup in 2007, I nearly wept in the bar when France beat New Zealand in the quarter final. Well, this past Sunday, the All Blacks got their revenge and beat France (in a nail-bitingly, heart-attack-inducingly close, low-scoring game) to take the cup home. [Could it be because France didn't have their gigantic, semi-feral caveman, Sébastien Chabal this year?] Though they didn't have to take it far, since Auckland was hosting. Bonus.

Nice knee bruises, Kieran Read. May I ice those for you?

Now if you're a lady-pervert like me and you've never watched rugby, you are cheating yourself. No sports enthusiasm or rule-appreciation required. Short-shorts, basically no padding, brutish acts of manfulness just like, constantly. Unh. Anyhow, here's some more Kiwi thrust-fodder:

Oh and look, a shot of foxy flanker Kieran Read signing a young fan's jersey. How'd that get in there?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Thrusty Thursday: Carl Froch

Can a man still be thrustable even if he's been punched in the face beyond all conventional handsomeness? Oh, furk yes! Better be possible, since my current WIP's hero falls into that category. But for proof, behold Exhibit Unh—the brutal, manful, wrapped-hands sextasticalz that is English boxer, Carl Froch.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Why do I write?

I've been thinking this quite a bit the last couple weeks, probably because I fell victim to a week-long change-of-season funk, the annoying, lingering kind that makes you get all cerebral on yourself…

Why exactly do I write?

I've been able to come up with simple answers. There's the pragmatic reason—I write because I seem to be decent at it and am getting paid, with the potential to get paid more in the future. There's also the philosophical reason, which so many authors articulate as the over-simplified and frightfully hokey, "I write because I can't not write." Well, no, that's not really true, technically speaking. What they mean is, "I write because not writing feels bad," or "Writing gives my life meaning." Fine justifications, as legit as the money-based ones.

But why do we do anything? For the pay-off, financial or spiritual or social or manifested in our sense of self-worth and purpose. So, what exactly am I getting out of this gig?

Income-wise, divide what I make by the hours I put into writing, and in a good month, I'm making minimum wage, if I'm lucky. It ain't the money, honey.

There's a definite thrill in being praised, but truth be told, a lousy review hits me harder than a good one cheers me, as gloomy and ungrateful as that sounds. A bad review makes me feel more bad than a good review makes me feel good—if temporarily. That's a human instinct, to react more potently to threatening circumstances. Criticism is a threat in our modern society, as visceral a scare as being chased by a predator or attacked by a rival was in ye olde survival-times. It only makes good sense that our bodies manifest threats and criticism more potently than the triggers that tell us, "You're doing great! People like you! Five stars!" The latter is awesome…but it'll never compete, gut-impact-wise, with the negative. Not for me, anyhow, though I wish it would. I just have to keep reminding myself of that, so when I do stumble into a pile of the negative, a psychic foot-in-a-turd, my rational brain can remind itself that no, I'm not in mortal danger, my body's just awash with run-away-from-the-wolverine chemicals.

So it's not for the praise. The praise is a bonus, pretty blossoms worth dodging the turds for. What about success, the carrots of potential accomplishments dangling before me? The promise of the next contract, the killer agent, the big deal, the What's Next…? Those are good. I like those, as I'm very goal-oriented and I love qualifying my own progress. I certainly like the days when I make a new sale infinitely more than those naked-feeling book release days. Plus I've always been a bit of a teacher's pet, eager for authoritarian praise from on high. But that's not why I do it.

What about the characters? Do I owe it to my characters to tell their stories? Um, no. I made those people up. If anything, they owe me. Plus they're so much fun to abuse.

Setting aside the reviewers, professional and hobbyist and Goodreads-casual alike, do I write for the readers? Well, kind of. As a professional author, of course I do. I write stories that I hope strangers will read and enjoy. But I've had the good fortune of genuinely being able to accept Stephen King's advice on the topic of reader-pleasing; you can't aim to please everyone, because no book (or song or film or painting or person or recipe) will ever make everyone happy. Not even close. Not even remotely close.

You can only aim to please your Ideal Reader, as King calls him or her, and that's what I do, now. My Ideal Reader changes from book to book. Sometimes it's my targeted editor, or my avid-romance-reader-friend Amy, or my critique buddy Ruthie. But it's always just a single person I'm writing a story for, and hot damn, that's a huge relief. Especially since I have access to that person, and can ask them to read the story as it's progressing, so I know if I'm hitting the mark for my tiny, hand-picked audience of one. And in the end, as long as they're happy then the book's a success, and on an intellectual level, I can shrug off the knowledge that some people will be disappointed, inevitably. Thank you, Stephen King, for setting my brain free.

But I write for myself, I think, above everyone else. Not in a swoony book-of-my-heart-type way. I write because it puts me in such complete control—a control I relinquish the second the book's published, when it's no longer mine to fuss with and groom, set free to fend for itself in strangers' hands or on strangers' screens. But while it's still being written and polished, it's all mine.

It's no secret I used to be a designer. I stumbled across my penchant for fiction-writing three years ago, and though I was always proud as a designer to be able to say that I got paid to be creative all day…it doesn't compare. Ideal Reader aside, as a writer I spend all day doing exactly what I want, for myself. Even during edits and revisions, I still feel in control, because I trust my editors and I trust their opinions and advice will help me make my books better, which I want far more than I want to be perfect straight out of the gate. As a writer I've had incredibly free reign over my own creativity and process—freakishly free reign. And as a pretty autonomous, admittedly self-orbiting personality, that is fucking wonderful.

I guess I don't really know why I write. Not in a way I can distill into a single pithy line, at least. (Clearly not—look how bloated and gassy this very post has become.)

So maybe I should ask myself, why didn't I write, before? Why wasn't I doing this, four years ago? And the answer to that is, because I had no idea how important it was to me, and how much more fulfilled doing it would make me feel. It's like asking someone who hasn't yet discovered their inherent love of exercise, why don't they take up walking or yoga? Well, because you don't think you need to, to live. It's easier not to, and you'll seemingly have more time to yourself if you don't. You don't know until it's gone from chore to habit to hobby to passion, just how essential it is beyond the basic benefits of physical activity and fresh air. You don't yet know that feeling in your body, that thing inside that nags you to go take a walk, tangible as a toddler or pet whining at your hip. That magic that happens when you discover something that's not only good for you, but that you enjoy doing, that some days you downright love. A compulsive, perfectly selfish love, the kind that gets a marathoner in their shoes and out on the road each morning, through rain and snow and injury, against doctor's wishes, the draw of the punishment for whatever reason stronger than an excuse to stay in bed, warm and unchallenged. It's always easier to leave the page blank, after all. But some of us just don't get off on easy.

I think that's why I write, anyhow. What about you?

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Six Sentence Sunday #9

Greetings, my sixy beasts! By now you're all surely sick of reading about my evil twin's Parisian man-whore, so let's move on. Here are six sentences from my upcoming Blaze, tentatively titled Honeymoon for One. The seaplane pilot hero and runaway bride heroine are in the cockpit, headed for the mainland, and Will is teasing Leigh for having artlessly thrown herself at him the night before:

“Never been sexually assaulted by a guest before,” Will said, facing forward. “Just trying to be polite, lest you manhandle me again.”

“Womanhandle, you mean.”

Another grin.

“You can get away with a lot,” Leigh said, “since you’re the only man who can get me off that island.”

“If we’re being indiscreet again, I’m going to go ahead and delete the last two words of that sentence.”

Thanks for swinging by, everyone! Now head here to check out all the other Six Sentence Sunday excerpts this week.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Recipe: Chocolate Chip Banana Bread

Ah, fall. It's finally cool enough to bake again, and comfy sweaters allow for a few pounds to be gained in the interest of recreational cookery. Here's the recipe for chocolate chip banana bread I've been using for years—really easy to make, maybe 15 minutes of prep and less than an hour of baking. Makes two loaves, for about twenty generous slices.

Photo credit to
1 rounded cup sugar
1 stick butter, softened
Super-ripe bananas, 4 small or 3 large
2 eggs (cage-free organic if you want to go to heaven)
½ cup whole milk (or if you're like me and never have milk in the house, mix 2:1 half-and-half plus water)
1 tsp. vanilla extract (or lemon extract, and swap the chocolate chips for slivered almonds—nom)
2½ cups all-purpose flour
1½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
12 oz. package chocolate chips (optional, really, but delicious—also try cranberries, blueberries, raisins, nuts, etc.)

1. Move the rack to the low position and preheat your oven to 350°. Grease the bottoms of 2 loaf pans.

2. In a large mixing bowl, mix the sugar and butter until smooth. I do it with a fork, but you could use an electric beater, too. If you're a wuss.

3. Add the peeled bananas, eggs, milk, and vanilla, and mix thoroughly.

4. Stir in the flour, salt, baking soda, and chocolate chips (not too thoroughly).

5. Split the batter between the 2 loaf pans and bake for 50 minutes, or until a toothpick or kebab skewer (or the tip of a sharp steak knife, if you, like me, don't own toothpicks or kebab skewers) stuck in the center comes out clean.

6. Let cool 5 minutes. Run a butter knife along the sides of the pans, to loosen the loaves. Gently turn out the loaves and let them cool under a clean cloth for 30 minutes, then store any extra bread you don't gorge yourself on in an air-tight container or plastic bag.

Friday, October 14, 2011

My Parts Asplode!!

David Gandy + a heavy bag + drawstring pants + a bunch of broody English dudes in hoodies = me, having an orgasm in my eyeballs.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Thrusty Thursday: Bruce McCulloch

There was like an eight-way earworm battle on Twitter yesterday that got first "The Daves I Know" and then "Terriers" in my head, but also reminded me why Bruce was always my favorite Kid in the Hall. So let's get thrusty, the 1990s, Canadian, Brucio way!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Recipe: Potatoes au Gratin

Not difficult, but messy and fairly time consuming. Also, supremely un-nutritious, as comfort food should be. Prep time 20 minutes, baking time 1 hour 5 minutes. Serves 4–6 as a side dish.

You'll need:
Unpeeled potatoes—20 new potatoes, or 4 big ones, or 6 medium, something like that
½ stick butter OR, ¼ stick butter plus the fat from frying 5 bacon rashers
1 small onion
1 tbsp. white flour
1¾ cups whole milk
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. garlic salt
½ tsp. paprika
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 tsp. ground black pepper
½ cup breadcrumbs or crushed up crackers
few shakes Parmesan cheese

1. Preheat the oven to 350°.

2. Slice the scrubbed, unpeeled potatoes into 1/8-inch slices and toss them in a large casserole dish.

3. Melt the butter—or, fry the optional bacon, remove the rashers once crispy and save for later, and then add half the butter. Finely chop the onion then cook it in the fat on medium heat until soft.

4. Add the flour, milk, 1½ cups of the shredded cheddar, salt, garlic salt, paprika, pepper flakes and pepper. Bring to a boil and keep boiling, stirring occasionally, for 1 minute.

5. Pour buttery-milky-cheesy sin mixture over the potatoes. Crumble bacon onto it all, if you bothered with the bacon. Turn well, and arrange the potatoes evenly in the dish.

6. Bake uncovered for 50 minutes, or until the edges are browning and the potatoes are soft when speared with a fork.

7. Mix together the remaining cheddar, the breadcrumbs, and the Parmesan, then sprinkle the mixture over the top of the casserole. Return to oven and bake uncovered for another ten minutes, until the top is nicely browned and crispy.

8. Let cool for 10 minutes, and serve.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Six Sentence Sunday #8

Greetings again, intrepid sixers! One final excerpt from my evil twin Cara's brand new release, Curio. Oh yes, the Parisian man-whore book is finally out, and available through Kindle, Nook, and direct from Ellora's Cave, if you're intrigued. Or go see what readers have to say about it on Goodreads. Right. Requisite promo done. Now, on to the good stuff…

As I took my final breath, knuckles poised to knock, the door swung in.

Didier was taller than I’d anticipated. He was more of everything than I’d anticipated. Which is saying a lot, because I’d purposefully built him up in my mind, so grand he could only fail to measure up and hence give me permission to do as I always do and declare myself above the bothersome magnetism of lust.

But Didier did not disappoint. My mouth went dry and I must have looked stoned, standing there with the blank expression I rely on when desperately trying to appear unaffected.

Thanks for stopping by! Now head here to check out all the other Six Sentence Sunday excerpts this week.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

A Very Special, Very Half-Assed Thrusty Thursday

I'm too busy writing to work hard this week. Here—stare at Jude Law's slightly sinister breed of hotness. Never get a face-lift, you beautiful weary-eyed bastard. Can you do a filthy Scottish accent and dye your hair black and chain smoke? If so, you're welcome to the role of Ian Kilpatrick when the film rights for Skin Game are inevitably optioned [cough cough, author delusion].

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

A Tardy Start to October

Hey, it's October! That means I can watch TV again… Check. I watched some in my hotel room while my evil twin was attending a smut writers' conference last week, actually, before September was even officially over. So sue me. No wait, don't.

Anyhow, now that I'm back and no longer suffering from food poisoning (possibly from the scrambled eggs I so gloatingly overloaded on at the hotel's breakfast buffet) it's time to get with the program for October. Or rather, Ommmctober, the month during which I practice yoga every day, for a minimum of thirty minutes. I could actually desperately use it, right about now. At the best of times I'm an intermediate yoga student, flexible if not especially strong…my lifts are woeful, but I can do an enviable upward bow. Right about now, I'm at least three weeks overdue for even a basic stretching session. Probably no coincidence I've been a bit of a basket case the last month or so.

Here's my little lamp-lit yoga space, in my office:

Check the hourglass, which is actually a half-hourglass (thanks, Mom) perfect for making sure I get my thirty minutes minimum in. And that's it, really. I'm off to punish my hamstrings and attain bliss.