July 3, 2015

reading in the kitchen - patriotic cupcake, take two


One of my favorite parts of my debut novel, Hard Hats and Doormats, is when Lexi Burke spends the Fourth of July hanging out with her longtime crush Jason Beaumont. Not only was this a big turning point for their relationship, but it involved one of my favorite holidays--the Fourth of July. Both of those factors made it fun to write.

Growing up, my family always did the Fourth of July pretty well. We'd have brunch with some of our close friends (someday I'll have to work my mom's egg and potato casseroles into a future story so I can share the recipes for a future Reading in the Kitchen), watch 1776, and spend some time outdoors either taking our rubber rafts out to the lake or grilling at home. Some years, my dad (who is a percussionist) would play patriotic tunes with a band. No matter how we spent our days, the night always ended with fireworks. I love a good fireworks show, so any night that ends with fireworks always seems kind of magical to me.

At some point on the Fourth of July, we would also typically eat some sort of red, white, and blue cake. This was usually done by adding blueberries and strawberries on top of white frosting. So when I set out to write this part of the book, I made sure to have Lexi arrive at Jason's house with a patriotic cupcake. It's the sort of thing you'd expect a good Midwestern girl to do.

The last time I tried to make the recipe, it didn't go exactly as planned. You can read more about those cupcakes here, but basically I took the easy route (boxed cake mix, pre-made frosting, frozen fruits), and the results weren't what I wanted. They tasted fine, but... they were missing that special Fourth of July-ness.

So with the Fourth of July upon us here in the United States, and this scene from Hard Hats and Doormats on my mind, I decided to give this culinary adventure another try.

Here's what you'll need to make this dish...


Cake Ingredients
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
Zest from one lemon
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter (room temperature)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup milk

Frosting Ingredients
1/2 cup unsalted butter (room temperature)
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
Juice from one fresh lemon
Pinch of salt

Toppings
Fresh strawberries
Fresh blueberries

Directions
Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees and line one muffin pan (makes one dozen regular-sized cupcakes). In a bowl, mix together flour, lemon zest, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. In a large bowl, combine together butter and sugar with a mixer for several minutes. Add eggs, vanilla, and part of milk. Add in flour mixture and remaining milk. Once the mixture is smooth (and it will be, though thicker than some other batters), distribute evenly in pan. Cook in oven for at least 15 minutes. Allow to cool properly before adding toppings.

While the cupcakes are baking, prepare the toppings by rinsing the strawberries and blueberries. Slice the strawberries into eighths including a mixture of small and large berries. To make the frosting, combine all of the ingredients in a large bowl and mix until smooth. The result will be a whipped, lemon-flavored topping.

Top the cooled cupcakes with frosting. In the left corner, add four blueberries to represent the stars on the American flag. Add four strawberry slices in three rows (leaving white space in between) to represent the stripes on the flag. (I'll admit I was a little sloppy with some of the stripes, but it was late on a school night. I just wanted them done!)



The result was 12 delicious cupcakes. I'll admit, I would have liked the cupcakes to taste a little more lemony, but the frosting was perfectly tart and sweet. The cupcake itself had a consistency and taste similar to pound cake, which was yummy. And because these turned out so well (and because my dad asked) I'll be making another batch of these tomorrow to share with my family as we celebrate the holidays.

In case you're interested, I also made a short little how-to video to accompany this recipe. You can watch it here or on YouTube.



About the Book
Lexi Burke has always been a stickler for following rules and procedures. As a human resources manager for a leading Gulf Coast chemical company, it’s her job to make sure everyone else falls in line, too.

But after losing out on a big promotion–-because her boss sees her as too much of a yes-woman––Lexi adopts a new policy of following her heart instead of the fine print. And her heart knows what it wants: Jason Beaumont, a workplace crush who is off limits based on her previous protocol.

While navigating a new romance and interoffice politics, Lexi must find the confidence to stand on her own or face a lifetime of following someone else’s orders.

Who says nice girls have to finish last?

Now Available on


Stay connected. "Like" Change the Word on Facebook. Follow my other adventures on FacebookTwitter and Instagram. Receive news updates via my e-newsletter.

July 2, 2015

book selfie: 'down the rabbit hole'


The college student in me who binge-watched episodes of The Girls Next Door (then for the next couple of years sporadically followed along additional adventures in Holly's World and Kendra) couldn't resist reading Down the Rabbit Hole: Curious Adventures and Cautionary Tales of a Former Playboy Bunny by Holly Madison.
A former girlfriend of Hugh Hefner describes how her years inside the Playboy Mansion went from a fairytale of A-list celebrity parties to an oppressive regime of strict rules, scheduled sex, and a total loss of identity, so much so that she even contemplated suicide.
While watching the show, Holly was always my favorite. I admired Bridget's spirit and work ethic, and Kendra made me laugh, but there was something about Holly that really drew my attention. Sure, she was living in a mansion, traveling the world, and having any number of adventures, but I felt a little sorry for her. Behind her perfect hair, makeup and body, she always seemed a little sad and even lost. As she describes in her account of living in the Playboy Mansion and the years following, she was both sad and lost.

The book also showed that Holly was probably more shy than I would have expected, but also smarter and more aware of how to play the game than others might have suspected during her run on TV. (I've been re-watching the first season of The Girls Next Door since reading the book, and I swear it--in particular she--looks different after reading this story. Like, I've noticed how much general knowledge she seems to have, and how most of her ridiculous lines are said pretty tongue-in-cheek.)

I received what I expected from reading this book--the revelation that what happens behind-the-scenes if a reality TV show isn't what you see on screen. I'll admit, I anticipated more dirt and flat-out name-calling, particularly with the outcry of contempt from some in the Playboy camp. I was also a little surprised by how much of the story took place after she left the mansion, but that was some of the most interesting to learn about.

I also know that this is only her side of the story, and we always know there are three sides: what he says, what she says, and the truth. And what she says made for an easy read that reminded me of the guilty pleasure I gained from tuning into E! regularly in the pre-Kardashian days. Fans of the show (and maybe even light beach reads) will likely find this entertaining or at least interesting.

Even knowing that there is probably more to the story, I found myself admiring Holly for her honesty and her personal growth. She accepts responsibility for making her decisions, but she also shows that she has learned some of them were mistakes and that she has learned from them.

Perhaps what most surprised me about this story was how well the it cold be spun into a New Adult novel. Granted, we would have to introduce the roles of Criss Angel and Holly's eventual husband much sooner to have us readers forming our opinions and becoming #TeamHugh, #TeamAngel, or #TeamPasquale much sooner in the trilogy (yeah, I've decided this will be a trilogy, pre-GND, GND era, and post GND), but Holly, I think we could make it work. ;)

I'd recommend this book for anyone who shares my fascination with the Playboy Mansion, particularly in Hef's three "girlfriends" during the early days of the E! show. And until then, I recommend this interview Holly did with Buzzfeed.


Stay connected. "Like" Change the Word on Facebook. Follow my other adventures on FacebookTwitter and Instagram. Receive news updates via my e-newsletter.

July 1, 2015

let the camping begin


It's July 1, which means it's time to head back to Camp NaNoWriMo. After using Camp NaNoWriMo to fulfill my writing goal in April (look for an announcement about my holiday novella later this summer), I'm excited to see if I can replicate that success again this time around.

A few facts about this journey to camp:

  1. My word count goal for the month is 40,000 words, though it wouldn't hurt my feelings if I surpassed that.
  2. I'm tackling two projects this July. The first will be to complete the final part of my fourth novel (which is a sequel to my third novel, which will be out later this year). Then I'm moving on to book five, which will involve...
  3. Writing what may be my most complicated project to date. Book five has multiple points of view and some heavier themes. But I still want it to carry some of the humor I include in my other works.
  4. I've scheduled one week of vacation during the final week of the month. With no concrete plans for most of that week, I'm hoping to really bury myself in my writing and see what I can do. I've taken time off for writing before, and it doesn't always lead to success. I mean, I always accomplish something, which is nothing to frown at, but I'd really like to make this one count. I'll have to do some more planning and configuring before that.
  5. I'm really excited to get back into heavy writing mode after taking May and most of June off to be in editing, querying, and promoting mode.

With that, I'd better hit the writing. Stay tuned for more updates on how this month goes. To my fellow participants. good luck.


Stay connected. "Like" Change the Word on Facebook. Follow my other adventures on FacebookTwitter and Instagram. Receive news updates via my e-newsletter.

June 30, 2015

the real marrying types with francine lasala & giveaway

When Elliot Lynch learns her family’s wedding planning business is in danger of bankruptcy, she’s willing to whatever it takes to save it—even participate in “The Marrying Type,” a reality TV show that takes viewers behind the scenes of wedding drama. Elliot’s reality show adventures—which include run-ins with a dramatic bridesmaid, rival wedding planner, and the one who got away—are told in my novel, The Marrying Type. While Elliot’s wedding stories are fiction, there are plenty of wonderful real stories out there. In The Real Marrying Types of Change the Word, real women are sharing their real wedding stories. One lucky reader will also receive a special prize!

In today’s new The Real Marrying Types of Change the Word, Francine Lasala shares how an imperfect dating past prepared her for her perfect match. 


Laura asked me to write a wedding story, and I really wanted to write a wedding story, but when I sat down to write this post, I could not remember a single detail from my wedding day. Not a one. Reasons for this?

  1. It didn’t happen? No, I’m sure it happened. I’ve seen the pictures. I paid the bills!
  2. I am old? Maybe. Except that old people can usually remember in vivid detail things that happened a decade or two ago. It’s the “five minutes ago” that gets tricky. 
  3. It wasn’t a good day? No, it was the best day. If I can’t remember a moment about it, the amazing feeling I carried away from it stays with me always. That day I became the luckiest girl in the world. 

Pretty gross, huh? Yeah, I know. But hear me out.

I was never lucky at love. Willing? Yes! Eager? You bet! But lucky? Yeah, not so much. In hindsight, this turned out to be a good thing - for a few reasons.

For one, I have tons of material for writing characters who aren’t so lucky, or, let’s be honest, smart, at love, and lots of luscious anecdotes to weave into narratives that, of course have to be fiction! Because how could they possibly be true...? Don’t believe me that an ex once “proposed” we get married at Katz’s Deli like David and Amy in Rita Hayworth’s Shoes? Let’s just say these things happen - and things like this happened to me. All the time.

That’s okay. Having endured so much of this not-so-good love has helped me build more emotional depth into my writing. My characters’ emotions are authentic, as they have at one time or another been deeply felt by the person who tortures these characters with said emotions. Having experienced the “dark underbelly” of romantic love has also been helping me develop some pretty cool material a bit edgier than what you might usually expect from me. (It’s coming - wait and see!)

More importantly, though, without having put up with all of this nonsense from ill-suited suitors, I may not have recognized my husband for the prince that he was when I met him. Actually, at first I didn’t. He was not at all like the others. He treated me like he didn’t have an agenda for me, except to hang out with me. And because he was so different, I thought, “This is no boyfriend. This is a good friend!”

Well, I was both wrong and right about that. Within two years of our first date, we said our “I dos” - not at a dive deli meat counter but at the main altar of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. On Valentine’s Day. On a day that was fifty-five degrees in the dead of a frigid February.


Eleven and a half years later, I’m still happy just hanging out with my best friend. I know I couldn’t be luckier. And I don’t need pictures to remember that - he helps me remember every day.


Thank you for following along with The Real Marrying Types of Change the Word. 
I hope you enjoyed this series as much as I did. Be sure to enter to win the prize.


About Francine
FRANCINE LASALA is the author of novels Rita Hayworth’s Shoes and The Girl, The Gold Tooth & Everything. She has written nonfiction on every topic imaginable, from circus freaks to sex, and edited bestselling authors of all genres. She is now actively taking on clients for manuscript evaluations, editing services, copywriting (covers, blurbs, taglines, queries), and more. The publisher and co-editor of A Kind of Mad Courage, she has also contributed to short story collections, including Merry Chick Lit. The creator of The “Joy Jar” Project, and co-creator of BookBuzz, she lives with her husband and two daughters in New York.


Stay Connected
Twitter
Facebook
Creative Services website
Author website
Buy The Girl, the Gold Tooth & Everything
Buy Rita Hayworth's Shoes
Learn more about A Kind of Mad Courage
Discover Merry Chicklit
Join The “Joy Jar” Project


Prize: You can enter to win the Bridal Package inspired by The Marrying Type by completing the Rafflecopter. Note, this contest is only open to readers in the U.S. and Canada. No purchase necessary to participate.




The Marrying Type is available on AmazonBarnes & NobleKobo, and Marching Ink.


Stay connected. "Like" Change the Word on Facebook. Follow my other adventures on FacebookTwitter and Instagram. Receive news updates via my e-newsletter.

June 29, 2015

the real marrying types with danielle miller

When Elliot Lynch learns her family’s wedding planning business is in danger of bankruptcy, she’s willing to whatever it takes to save it—even participate in “The Marrying Type,” a reality TV show that takes viewers behind the scenes of wedding drama. Elliot’s reality show adventures—which include run-ins with a dramatic bridesmaid, rival wedding planner, and the one who got away—are told in my novel, The Marrying Type. While Elliot’s wedding stories are fiction, there are plenty of wonderful real stories out there. In The Real Marrying Types of Change the Word, real women are sharing their real wedding stories. One lucky reader will also receive a special prize!

In today’s new The Real Marrying Types of Change the Word, Danielle Miller shares memories of meeting her husband, the proposal, and their wedding.

I’m so honored to be part of Laura’s The Real Marrying Types of Change the Word. I never pass up an opportunity to tell my love story and today I want to tell you about how I met my husband and how wonderful our wedding turned out.  So here it goes…

Kyle and I met on the fateful night of March 5, 2011 at (the now defunct) Dillon’s Irish Pub located on the infamous corner of Hollywood and Vine in Hollywood. I was there with a bachelorette party, while Kyle was there as part of his birthday festivities. He always tells me that I was the best birthday present he ever received.

Kyle caught my eye as I was participating in a bachelorette party scavenger hunt. As he passed by, I asked if he was single and replied to his positive response with the rather forward query of “Wanna buy me a shot?” He obliged, and we proceeded to the bar to order a suggestively titled shot whose name doesn’t bear repeating here.

We immediately hit it off and Kyle helped me to complete the remaining tasks on the scavenger hunt. I wound up winning (in more ways than one). From that day on we spent as much time together and talked on the phone almost every night. Then on July 4, 2011, Kyle told me he loved me for the first time and of course I loved him too.

I had never met anyone like Kyle and never thought I could find someone so perfect for me. He makes me laugh and smile everyday. We always have fun together no matter where we are.  I can always count on him to be there for me and I knew that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him.

Then in April 2014, Kyle and I spent a long weekend with friends in Yosemite National Park. Highlights of the weekend included hiking up to Vernal Falls, biking through Yosemite Valley, and making s’mores. It was the perfect weekend. But, the biggest highlight of our trip was yet to come…

As we were making our way out of the park, we stopped at Tunnel View, the scenic overlook that’s home to one of the most spectacular views of the entire Yosemite Valley. I had wanted to stop there to recreate the photo we took together there 3 years before (during the first major road trip we had ever taken together). Little did I know that Kyle would use the occasion to propose to me.

After I thought we were finished taking our photos, I started to walk away, but Kyle asked me to sit back down on the stone wall at the edge of the overlook. I initially thought he just wanted to take some more photos together, but then he told me that I had “waited long enough” while reaching into his coat pocket.



Then he got down on one knee and opened up a little black jewelry box. I immediately started crying tears of joy. Kyle wound up so focused on my reaction that he forgot to pop the question!

“You have to ask me,” I urged. So with an assist from his better half, he finally asked, “Will you marry me?” Of course, my answer was an emphatic yes accompanied by many more happy tears.

Shortly after, Kyle told me what he had been planning to say in the proposal, before getting so lost in the moment that he was unable to articulate it…

“The most beautiful girl in the world deserves to be proposed to at the most beautiful place in the world.”

I should point out that we have a large framed photo of that view from Tunnel View hanging in our living room. He told me that he wanted me to be reminded of the moment we got engaged every time I saw that photo from now on.

I couldn’t have asked for a more romantic proposal. He did it in a place we both love and will continue to visit in the years to come.


Fast forward to April 25, 2015, the day of our wedding, and I’m putting on a wedding dress I know he will love. My friend is touching up my makeup and I’m trying to make sure I don’t sweat too much. There wasn’t a first look, but Kyle and I decided to write each other a note accompanied by a cocktail we chose for each other. There were so many butterflies flying around my stomach that I could barely finish my Midori Sour Kyle sent over to me.

As the minutes passed in the bridal prep room, I started thinking about my mother. She passed away in 2008, and I wished she could have been there to see me in my dress and see me marry the man I love. Even though she couldn’t physically be at my wedding, I know she was there in spirit and I made sure she had a presence in the prep room by placing a photograph of both of us in there (see photo below).


When it was time for the ceremony, surprisingly I wasn’t thinking about whether the flowers looked right or if the decorations were where they should be. The only thing I was thinking about was getting to see Kyle waiting for me at the end of the aisle and I couldn’t wait to see his face when he saw me round the corner.

Our ceremony was short and sweet. It was the perfect length for us since the main focus was that we get to the “party” portion of the wedding day. Kyle and I wanted the day to be more about drinking and dancing than about the formalities of a traditional wedding. Our photographs can attest to the amount of time that was spent on the dance floor. We did keep to a few traditional aspects by having close friends and family members give toasts and visiting each table throughout the evening, but after that we just wanted to party.

I absolutely loved our wedding. I got to marry the man I love and have an amazing night celebrating with those close to us. What more could a girl ask for?

Thank you again to Laura for allowing me to tell my story. Now to share some of my favorite engagement and wedding photos.








We'll be back with the final installment of The Real Marrying Types of CTW tomorrow with a new story from Francine Lasala.


About Danielle
Danielle is a lover of all things books!  She writes book reviews and anything related to books on her blog Stories Unfolded.  She started her blog in March 2012 because she loves writing, telling stories, and helping share the stories of others.

She’s currently living in California with her husband and received her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from Woodbury University. She plays softball 2-3 times per week and tries to spend as much time with her family as she can. Her day job (something all aspiring authors have) is working in Motorsports & Sports commercial insurance.

She also holds the Social Media Chair position for the Women’s National Book Association – Los Angeles Chapter and for the last four years has been working on a few books of her own.


Stay Connected
Blog
Facebook
Twitter
Instagram


Prize: You can enter to win the Bridal Package inspired by The Marrying Type by completing the Rafflecopter. Note, this contest is only open to readers in the U.S. and Canada. No purchase necessary to participate.




The Marrying Type is available on AmazonBarnes & NobleKobo, and Marching Ink.


Stay connected. "Like" Change the Word on Facebook. Follow my other adventures on FacebookTwitter and Instagram. Receive news updates via my e-newsletter.