April 16, 2015

reading in the kitchen - birds'-nest pudding

While all of Laura Ingalls Wilder's books are full of mouth-watering descriptions of food, but Farmer Boy takes the cake. (Ha ha ha, oh puns.) It's been years since I read the story about her husband Almanzo's boyhood in Upstate New York, but to this day my memories of it can be summed up with food, horses, and more food.

Out of the many foods featured in this book (and incidentally in previous blog posts like this, this, and this), probably the one that most stood out to me was birds'-nest pudding. Described as a fluffy nest of syrupy apples covered in a nutmeg-flavored whipped cream, this dish sounded like heaven. And because it contained apples, I figure it was also healthy, too. (As healthy as anything covered in sugar can be.)

To recreate this dish, I once again consulted Barbara M. Walker's The Little House Cookbook. Here's a list of the ingredients we needed:

Tart apples (her recipe calls for six, but I made a smaller portion with two, because as yummy as this turned out, I didn't need to eat six servings), brown sugar, nutmeg, eggs, milk, maple flavoring, flour, cream of tartar, baking powder and salt, then powdered sugar and heavy cream to make whipped cream. (You can find the full recipe on pages 126-127.)

After greasing a small baking dish (I used spray, but you can use butter or oil), I peeled and cored the two apples. I used Granny Smiths, because I'm not an apple expert, but those sounded tart. At the time of baking this dish, I still don't have a fancy shmancy apple corer, but it sure wouldn't hurt my feelings if someone wanted to give me one for Christmas.

So, yeah, they're peeled, and the core was removed, but it didn't look too pretty. No worries, because about five seconds after finishing the second apple, I filled the middle with brown sugar and nutmeg.

I popped the dish in the oven at 350 degrees to start the apple-baking process while I mixed together the pudding ingredients. At the time it seemed like a silly instruction from the cookbook, but in hindsight it makes sense. A perfectly baked apple takes more time to roast than the pudding.

Breaking slightly from the directions, I tossed the rest of the brown sugar in a bowl with one egg yolk (the egg white went in another bowl and was whipped for later use), milk, and maple flavoring (which, to be honest, I just used some syrup, because I figured it was maple flavored).

I mixed together the dry ingredients and poured them in with the egg. And then I folded in the egg white. Or at least I think I folded it in, because I wasn't too sure what that meant, and I was too lazy to Google it at that moment in my life. (I've since done it, and here's a video. I guess I did it right. Success!)

With that done, I removed the partially baked apples from the oven. The brown sugar had reduced by then, so I poured the mixture in that first and then filled it throughout the rest of the pan.

It came out looking like this:

If I ever make this dish again (and I think I will, because it was delicious and not too difficult), I think I'll use the same size of pan with more apples to have the pudding rise up even more in the pan.

This is what the amount I had in there came out as:

And no, those aren't little teeth marks. That's where I stuck a fork in it to ensure it was done.

Now, this is where I went a bit rogue. Rather than use whipped cream or make nutmeg-laced whipped cream as ordered, I used a little egg nog, because I had some handy. I realize this is in no way, shape, or fork a typical substitute, but it was pretty amazing. Heck, it was yummy when I took a few bites without any cream.

Overall, I'd call this recipe a major win, and it was probably one of my favorites that I have made out of The Little House Cookbook. I definitely will make this one again if that tells you how much I enjoyed it.

Again, if you'd like to try this one for yourself, it's on pages 126-127 in the cookbook.

To check out the other Little House recipes I've tried or any of my other Reading in the Kitchen attempts click here.

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April 14, 2015

'twenty-something' is now available!

It's another publication day!

The first multi-author collection from Marching Ink is officially on sale today. Twenty-Something features three full-length novels from Cat Lavoie, Samantha March and yours truly. The eBook is available on Amazon for the special discounted price of $1.99!

Stayed tuned… Marching Ink will soon announce the next multi-author collection for 2015 shortly.

About the Collection
The first collection from Marching Ink features three full-length novels in Twenty-Something. From the good girl that is tired of playing by the rules in the new adult novel from Laura Chapman, to the friendship between two women that isn’t what is seems in the women’s fiction novel from Samantha March, and then the loveable Roxy that will give us plenty of laughs and touching moments in the chick lit novel from Cat Lavoie. While all characters are indeed Twenty-Something, we believe this collection can be enjoyed by readers in a variety of ages.

Hard Hats and Doormats by Laura Chapman
After losing out on a coveted promotion at work, Lexi Burke is done playing the nice girl. Her first order of business: Giving in to her longtime workplace crush. But Lexi soon learns that balancing a workplace romance and her job might be harder than she anticipated.

A Questionable Friendship by Samantha March
While Brynne and Portland seem to have an ideal friendship, cracks are starting to show as their lives take a turn for the complicated. Not willing to go to one other with their secrets, one woman begins to feel shut out and the other enters into a web of lies to protect herself. Their journey will explore several questions of friendship, and show that happily ever after might not be in the cards for everyone.

Breaking the Rules by Cat Lavoie
When Roxy Rule shares a passionate kiss with her lifelong best friend, she must come to terms with her feelings for him while dealing with two sisters in full crisis mode, a boss who makes her want to stab herself with a letter opener and a fiancĂ© who can’t wait to walk down the aisle. Can she keep it together–or will she break under the pressure?

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April 9, 2015

a few of my favorite things


I went to a counselor for a couple of months last year. I haven't talked about this much, but basically I was struggling with some stress, anxiety, and a few other emotions I wasn't sure how to handle. My counselor was great. While she didn't "cure" me of my anxiety issues (as long as I'm me and I face stress, I'm going to have to deal with anxiety from time time time) she did give me some useful tools for coping.

She taught me to recognize the signs of a panic before it turns into a full-blown attack. She gave me tips for riding out the wave physically by going for a walk or taking a quick break to do something I love. (She mentioned that she went out for copy, but for me spending a few minutes watching favorite videos on YouTube does the trick.)


She also gave me a couple of ways to internally handle my feelings. One way was to write down every single thing pissing me off. Whether it was a major conflict at work or with a story I'm writing or my irritation at having to clean up another pile of vomit, I was to write it down. The point was to do it twice a day and to give myself 10 minutes to give in to my anger (the Emperor from Star Wars would be so pleased) and then to literally close the notebook or delete the computer file and be done with it until my next bitch fest. I've found this particularly good when I need to have a semi-confrontational conversation. I get all of the negativity out of my system, think about what I'd like to accomplish with the conversation, then I find a positive way to say it.

I don't always manage to maintain my Pollyanna-ness, but I'm trying.

Probably my favorite tip was to keep a list of five things that make me happy no matter what. I copied my list down in the notes section of my iPhone, and many times when I feel myself getting a little panicky or gloomy, I open it up. My list is pretty simple, and while we're being honest and open, I don't mind sharing it with you.

Five Little Things That Make Me Happy

  1. When Bingley crawls into bed/on the couch with me and cuddles. He makes a little chirping sound while he jumps and then purrs within seconds of settling in with me.
  2. Re-reading one of my favorite trashy romance novels that are practically falling apart, because they've been so loved.
  3. Seeing a picture or video of Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, or Michael Fassbender pop up in my Facebook news feed.
  4. Getting a random text/call/message from a friend or family member, because she or he saw, heard, or read something that made her or him think of me. 
  5. Burritos.
I opened up this file again last night. I've been feeling quite a bit of stress lately. My day job is crazy busy, and as much as I enjoy building my writing career there's plenty of angst that accompanies it. While there isn't a lot I can do to change any of it, I feel better equipped to deal thanks to my list.

Now excuse me while I watch one of my go-to I-need-a-smile videos:

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April 7, 2015

a study in romance

The holiday novella I'm writing for Camp NaNoWriMo is a RomCom. Well, it's Chick Lit with a romantic plot, and I hope it's funny. And maybe that's why I found myself conducting an unplanned, unofficial study or the genre during one of my recent lazy bouts of binge-watching movies on Netflix. It started with rewatching a few of my favorite RomComs, and soon grew into checking out more alternative versions of love stories and even throwing in a few stand-up routines.

My study of romance and humor was kind of a wonderful thing.

While watching "Sleepless in Seattle," I realized I'd never seen "An Affair to Remember." Finding it on Netflix, too, I went for it. Both of these movies are kind of perfect for my story. Both showed how you can build a love story--and tension--by having the main characters apart a good chunk of time. They both showed how one moment of circumstance can change everything. And consequently, I had two real examples of how rewarding the payoff is when you get those two crazy kids together at last.

Then I went off the cuff and watched "Uganda Be Kidding Me" and "Women Aren't Funny." While neither of these will directly influence the story, and the humor isn't quite right for this project, both were kind of a challenge. Even if one person or reviewer (or a whole group of them) doesn't like what you're doing, you have to keep doing you.

I returned to my romance study, and also realized I was on a kick, with "Notting Hill." It's been years since I saw this--the first time was at a slumber party in middle school, which was one of the films that launched my love affair with British movies and TV. This was maybe the first time I've watched this as a genuine adult (because when you're twenty-eight, I suppose it's time to start thinking of yourself as a grownup), and I was struck by some of the little pockets of beauty. The first time I watched the movie, I was so caught up in the romance between William and Anna that I missed out on some of the other love stories with less screen time. Those are what make a movie divine. Then again, Anna and William's story of two people who fall in love despite the obstacles they face, and how they are able to come together regardless, was plenty inspiring.

I finished the weekend by watching "Your Sister's Sister" and "My Week with Marilyn." Both don't exactly qualify as conventional love stories, which was a good thing, because again, it challenged my thinking.

With all of this study behind me, I started Camp last week with lots of inspiration. And while I wish I could say it has been easy getting up to write every day, it's moving along.

Your turn: Where do you find inspiration for your work?

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April 2, 2015

reading in the kitchen - johnny-cake

As I work my way through the food of Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House series, and the Barbara M. Walker's The Little House Cookbook, it seemed inevitable that I would eventually make a recipe containing corn meal, buttermilk, and molasses. Maybe it's just me making assumptions, or it's all in my head, but when I read the series, it seemed like just about everything they ate had to contain one or all three of these ingredients.

Obviously that isn't the case--this is our first time working with any of these ingredients so far and we're three months into the process--but here we go. Johnny-cakes. These are mentioned straightaway in Little House in the Big Woods, and in the book Laura asks Ma where the name came from. Maybe it's a nod to the Johnny Rebs of the Civil War. Or maybe it's a New Englander's way of saying "journey." Either way, the three key ingredients in this dish are corn meal, buttermilk, and molasses.

So obviously I had to give this recipe a try.

First up, I mixed the dry ingredients--cornmeal, baking soda, and salt--together in a large bowl. The recipe called for white or yellow cornmeal, and I used white. My natural instinct would've been to use yellow (isn't corn supposed to be yellow?) but they were out of it at the store.

As will be the trend throughout the rest of the year, I next subbed butter for drippings. (Quick reminder, I'm a pescetarian, which means I eat some fish, but mostly maintain a vegetarian diet. Bacon drippings aren't exactly a staple in my kitchen.) After consulting my mom--and my own taste buds--I determined butter would be an equally delicious substitute.

I mixed a spoonful of molasses into boiling water. Now that I've tasted the finished product, I'm glad the molasses was diluted. I made snow candy once upon a time, and the sugary molasses did not make a terribly great impression on me.

I mixed the butter and watery molasses into the dry ingredients to create a paste.

Then in went the buttermilk...

And I poured the thick, gritty batter into a greased pie plate. I only made a half batch, so it all fit nicely into one pie pan in a thin layer.

Like such.

After the disappointing turnout from the fast-baking heart-shaped cakes last month, I popped the pan in the oven at a lower temperature (350 degrees) and for less time (20 minutes). Baking much like a thin quick bread, this was done in 17 minutes.

The cookbook suggested serving the johnny-cake with more molasses (I cringed at the idea) or honey, so I went with that.

And it was actually pretty delicious. It turned out much the way I expected, and even developed a nice yellow color, despite the fact that it was lacking the yellow cornmeal.

To try it for yourself turn to pages 21 and 22 in The Little House Cookbook.

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