September 30, 2011


When I came up with the idea for Reading in the Kitchen, I was excited. I love reading. I love cooking. Put them together and you have fun.

Once past the initial thrill, I panicked. A little. How was I going to come up with enough food references in books to carry this series on beyond a few obvious choices? That's when I turned to family, friends and Twitter. This was a good idea, because without it, I would not have gotten the idea for today's recipe.

One of my Twitter friends reminded me of a great scene in Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights. In it Heathcliff, the Byronic hero (*yes* love getting to use that description) gets angry with another character. And dumps hot applesauce over the poor young gentleman's head.
'He shall have his share of my hand, if I catch him downstairs till dark,' cried Hindley. 'Begone, you vagabond! What! you are attempting the coxcomb, are you? Wait till I get hold of those elegant locks - see if I won't pull them a bit longer!'

'They are long enough already,' observed Master Linton, peeping from the doorway; 'I wonder they don't make his head ache. It's like a colt's mane over his eyes!'

He ventured this remark without any intention to insult; but Heathcliff's violent nature was not prepared to endure the appearance of impertinence from one whom he seemed to hate, even then, as a rival. He seized a tureen of hot apple sauce (the first thing that came under his gripe) and dashed it full against the speaker's face and neck; who instantly commenced a lament that brought Isabella and Catherine hurrying to the place. Mr. Earnshaw snatched up the culprit directly and conveyed him to his chamber; where, doubtless, he administered a rough remedy to cool the fit of passion, for he appeared red and breathless. I got the dishcloth, and rather spitefully scrubbed Edgar's nose and mouth, affirming it served him right for meddling. His sister began weeping to go home, and Cathy stood by confounded, blushing for all. (Chapter Seven)
Oh, what a fun scene. I love applesauce, but have never had it homemade, except in a restaurant, and who knows if they're serious. (UPDATE: Mom called me after reading this to tell me that both she and my grandma made it for me when I was little. So, there you go.) It also happened that I had a day trip planned to visit Nebraska City for apple picking.

It's fall in Nebraska, and if you are not familiar with the area, then you don't know that Nebraska City, located about 45 minutes east of Lincoln near the Missouri River and Iowa border, is a prime location for apple growing. The apple picking and general merriment draws us city folk out of Lincoln and Omaha to visit every fall.

So with that plan in action, I impatiently waited for harvest to begin so I could tackle this recipe.

Truth be told, picking the apples was the hardest part of this recipe. Homemade applesauce is the easiest dish I have made to date in this series. It was quick, fun and I would definitely consider this a one you could make with children and as part of a meal with little planning.

Saturday, my sister and I made it to the orchard and spent a lovely afternoon. We went on a walking tour, climbed a tree house, went through a corn maze and tasted apple wine. And of course, we picked a peck of apples. That's what the bag they gave me to put them in said, at least: a peck of apples.

It turns out, a peck is a lot. You can expect a few more book-related apple recipes in the coming weeks. As I told my sister, we have to do something awesome with the apples to fulfill their destiny.

But back to the applesauce. I didn't make it right away when I got home. There was a football game that night, and I had a date with a pitcher of beer and a pile of onion rings. So, I made it for dinner Sunday night. My Broomie and I were home all day, and I figured this would be a good chance to get his input on one of these dishes. (He's tried a few of the others, but this time it is on the record.)

Like I said. this recipe was easy. First, I peeled and diced 4 cups of apples according to recipes I found online to serve 2 people. (I used three large apples and two small ones to ensure we had enough. I placed them in a saucepan on the stove on medium low heat. Then, I added 4 tablespoons of brown sugar, 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract and 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon.

I left it to simmer on the stove for about 35 minutes.

After the apple pieces were cooked through I mashed them like I would potatoes. Only, instead of creaming those apples to bits to make them completely smooth, I left it chunky. That's how I always imagined the applesauce in Wuthering Heights, and I wanted this to feel authentic.

I removed the pot from the stove and split the apple sauce into two bowls. My Broomie walked into the kitchen as I scraped the last drop of apple out of the pot.

"Here," I said. I handed him a bowl. "You wanted to try this, right?"

"Yeah. I'll eat it later," he said. "I like it cold."

I shook my head and shoved the bowl at him.

"It's supposed to be served hot. It was hot in the book when Heathcliff dumps it on that guy."

Not that it would have mattered to the Broomie. I don't think Wuthering Heights has ever been in his reading list. But, he humored me and took a bite.

"It's good," he said.  Then he took another bite and set the bowl down. "I burnt my tongue."

In hindsight, I should have expected one of us to end up hurt. The apples were fresh off the stove. Poor Broomie. Poor Linton. If hot apples could burn your tongue, imagine how awful it would feel to take a shower in it.

I felt a little guilty for the unintended pain I caused. I kept quiet while I ate and enjoyed my own bowl of the applesauce before prompting the Broomie for his official review.

"So... what do you think about the applesauce?" I asked.

He took another bite. "It has earthy undertones," he said. He grinned at me then stuck his nose into his bowl to inhale deeply. "And lots spice."

I wish I would have videoed him doing this. I can't do justice explaining it. You'll have to take my word that it was funny. At the time, though, I was so bemused by what he was doing I sat and stared.

While I doubt the sincerity of his review, Broomie must have liked it. He ate all of it even after I stopped pestering him. For my part, I enjoyed this chunkier, heated version of applesauce a lot. You could taste the spices in it more. It tasted more like an autumn treat than a children's (or my) lunchbox item.

 I hope you'll take advantage of this fabulous fall season and make your own applesauce. Curl up with a bowl of it and laugh while you read about what Heathcliff did with his share of it. It'll change the way you eat it.

Check back next week for the next installment of Reading in the Kitchen. It'll be apple-tastic, too. To learn more about Reading in the Kitchen, click on the tab at the top of the page.

September 29, 2011

kitchen teaser for 9/30

The adventure for tomorrow's post began with a Twitter response, which led me to an apple orchard in Nebraska City. It ended in my kitchen, but half the story was getting there.

Any guesses of what will come from this fresh picked apple? Thoughts on what it might have to do with literature?

stuck in the friend zone

No. 7: Laurie Laurence from Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Laurie and Jo could have been one of my favorite romantic couples if only Louisa May would have acted upon my wishes. Instead, here Laurie appears on my list of favorite BFFs for the friendship he has with Jo March.

The history

Theodore "Laurie" Laurence, who Jo calls "Teddy," lives next door to the March family with his grandfather. Like Jo, Laurie enjoys mischief and the two engage in adventures, and occasionally misadventures, throughout their childhood and adulthood together.

Though for a time Laurie fancies himself in love with Jo, he eventually comes to see their relationship as she does: that the two are good friends, with a strong bond, that can get them through the tough times. Even if there is no romantic element to it. Sigh.

Favorite scene

In book one (the novel as we know it is split into two books), Jo's younger sister Beth becomes ill. The other three March sisters rally together to care for her while their mother is away taking care of their father, who became injured while serving in the Civil War.

The Lawrence family, including Laurie and his grandfather, come to the girls' assistance in multiple ways. They help Beth get the medical care she needs. They bring her mother home. Laurie also acts a support system for Jo, who is deeply troubled by her sister's plight.

"Laurie, you're an angel! How shall I ever thank you?" Jo says.

Favorite lines

"You've got me, anyhow.  I'm not good for much, I know; but I'll stand by you, Jo, all the days of my life; upon my word I will." (302)

"Twins, by Jupiter... Take 'em quick, somebody! I'm going to laugh, and I shall drop them." (370)

"I never shall stop loving you; but the love is altered, and I have learned to see that it is better as it is." (581)

Why I love him

When I was a little girl — we're talking YOUNG, like 3 to 6 — I spent most of my time playing with the neighborhood boys. I could relate to Jo, because while wearing a dress, you could often find me climbing across a jungle gym, Army-crawling in the dirt or running up a slide. Yes, up. That's how I rolled. I was loud and rowdy, and my favorite friends would accompany me on whatever innocent mayhem I wanted to undertake.

Laurie would have been the perfect friend for little Laura, like he was for Jo. At a young age, he was her partner-in-crime. They often got into trouble together, but that only meant they had a good story to tell later.

Though easily swayed into mischief, and sometimes naughty on his own, Laurie is good at heart. He cares for others and protects those he calls his friends.

As they grew up, their relationships matured. Laurie married one of Jo's sisters, and the friends became brother and sister in law, like they had often been in life. Through tough times, such as family illness, each was the rock for the other, which is a must for any of my BFFs.

Here's another reason why I love him: I secretly wanted Laurie and Jo to get together in the end.

While I like the man Jo married (she and the professor were my No. 10 favorite literary couple in Project Boy Meets Girl), I was always Team Laurie. They had history, and went through life together. I wanted those two kids to settle down. Together. Unfortunately for me, but fortunately for posterity, the two entered the friend zone early and decided to put their roots there instead of giving romance a go.

I suppose it would have been too nice and tidy if that were the case. Don't judge me, because I love happy ever afters and childhood friends who discover love together later in life. Apparently I stopped being so much like Jo sometime in elementary school. That must be where I got my romantic notions.

So... even though that didn't happen for in this case, Laurie and Jo's friendship is still wonderful.

Return Tuesday to see who will be the No. 6 BFF. You can also read more about the series by visiting the "Projects" page, posted on the bar at the top of the page.

Please feel free to leave a comment or shoot me a message on Twitter. Follow me @lmchap. Click here to read more about PBFF.

September 28, 2011

to ad or not to ad

Let's take a break from our writing adventures for a grammar lesson. Today, we'll talk about adjectives and adverbs. Before you doze off, I promise to provide entertainment in the form of music and cartoons.

Based on the writing communities I have joined, I have surmised this fact: Adjectives and adverbs are grammatical dishes best served sparingly.

When used well they add to your story and give it depth. Overuse them and it will detract from it.

When it comes to describing characters, I unpack my adjectives... just like Schoolhouse Rock said I should.

Adjectives modify nouns and pronouns. It is tempting to want to use adjectives to describe a character. Sometimes, it might seem like the only way — but it is not.

Example with adjective: The man was tall.

Now let's try to describe this stud muffin with fewer adjectives: My neck ached from looking up at the man who towered over me.

The second example still gets the point across that the man is tall, but it does so in a more colorful way.

Likewise, adverbs are all too easy to use, and I again I turn to Schoolhouse Rock for an explanation

An adverb modifies a verb or another adjective, according to my friends at School House Rock.

Where I most need to improve my use of adverbs is with dialogue tags. During a chat last week on Savvy Authors, best-selling author Kristan Higgins made a great point about how to do this in a discussion on "The Subtle Art of Show, Don't Tell."
I was at a lecture by my most worshipped living author (Elinor Lipman, for the record), and she gave a great example of SDT.

“I'll call you,” he said hesitantly. Doesn't seem awful, does it? And it's not. It's just not as good as:

“I'll call you. Maybe. If you want.” That's the show. No need to say “said hesitantly”; she showed his hesitation in the dialogue itself. Which is why she teaches at just about every Ivy League school there is.

Now, lots of people think adverbs are the kiss of death, but I don't think so. Use them in moderation. Like a McDonald's cheeseburger, they're fine  once in a while.
The point I'm trying to make is not that School House Rock is the devil. I love the videos and the lessons I learned from the songs stuck with me after watching. What I hope you'll take away is the importance of considering the impact each word or phrase you put in a story might ultimately have on the finished product.

Adjectives and adverbs are a place to start.

September 27, 2011

chick lit plus chick lit challenge

Better late than never, I am joining the Chick Lit Plus Chick Lit Challenge for 2011.

Here are the rules:
Challengers will read 12 chick lit books throughout 2011. You can obviously read more books of other genres, but you need at least 12 chick lit to count for this challenge. Two of the twelve books need to be from debut authors. The debuts should be released in 2011.

If you're interested, check out the link above and join. You can track my progress as I finish out the year.

in sickness, in health

No. 8: Mac, Emma, Laurel and Parker from the Bride Quartet by Nora Roberts

How wonderful would it be to stay best friends with the same three people your whole life? The women featured in Nora Roberts' Bride Quartet know. Nora Roberts consistently creates captivating characters with unique and fantastic family or community ties. This more recent series exemplifies her abilities.

Plus, these ladies are fun, modern and relatable for a young twenty-something like myself. 

The history

From playing wedding in their backyard as little girls to staging the real deal as adults, Mac, Emma, Laurel and Parker have done it all. Through their wedding company, Vows, each woman takes control of a specific part of the business with her own expertise. Mac is a photographer, her story told first in Vision in White. Emma is a florist, featured in Bed of Roses. Laurel is a baker, highlighted in Savor the Moment. Parker, the event planner, finishes the series in Happy Ever After.

While planning other people's special days, each of the women also finds love — usually in a person who was already a fixture in their lives. What makes their love stories even better is that they have best friends to share the happiness with. 

Favorite scene

In the first book, we meet the women as young girls. They are playing their favorite game — Wedding Day. Emma plays the bride, Laurel is the groom, Parker officiates and Mac tries her hand at photography. On this particular day, the girls are huddled together in their game when a butterfly lands on the bouquet in Emma's hands. They all pause in wonder to look at the beautiful creature, and Mac captures the moment on film.

My summary does not do justice to how lovely the scene is, but you'll have to trust me (or go read it for yourself). At that moment, each of those girls knew they were forged in a bond, together, and it was the moment that marked their futures.

Each girl recognized the significance of the photo. It is referenced in each of the later books, because all of the women keep their own copies of the image.  

Favorite lines

There are so many good ones, but here's a scene from Bed of Roses filled with good lines from all of the friends — showing how fun they are together.
"If we're taking a moment, I'd like to thank Emma for last nights entertainment."

Emma sent Laurel a blank look. "Sorry?"

"I happened to be taking a little air on my terrace last night before settling in for the night, and noticed a car barreling down the drive. For a minute I thought, uh-oh, something happened. But now, not quite yet."

"Oh my God." Emma slapped her hands over her eyes. "Oh my God."

"When no one immediately jumped out gushing blood, or jumped out at all, I actually considered running down, prepared to do triage. But, momentarily both car doors flew open. Emma out of one. Jack out of the other."

"You watched?"

Laurel snorted. "Duh."

"More," Mac demanded. "We must have more."

"And more you will have. They fell on each other like animals."

"Oh, we did... too," Emma recalled.

"Then it's the classic back against the door."

"Oh, it's been so long since I had the back against the door," Parker said with a delicate shiver for emphasis. "Too long... I think I need another bottle of water."

"Unfortunately, Parker, they took it inside."

"Killjoys," Mac muttered.

"The rest was left to my very... fluid imagination. So I want to thank our own Emmaline for the view from my balcony seat. Sister, stand up and take a bow."

To enthusiastic applause, Emma did just that.

(page 204-206)
Why I love them

All four women overcome a personal struggle, stemming from their youth or the moment, thanks in part to their support network found within each other. They help Mac deal with her toxic relationship with her selfish and self-destructive mother. Emma is particularly sensitive and deals with a harsh break-up, which they support her through. Laurel learns to let down walls built around her heart as a child of divorce. Parker copes with the loss of her beloved parents in a plane crash.

Mac is free-spirited. Emma is romantic. Laurel is sarcastic. Parker is no-nonsense. Together, they are fantastic.

No matter how severe or simple, long-standing or immediate their woes, the women rally together. That is what best friends are supposed to do.

In each of the books, the women revel in their friends' new loves. They swap "sexy breakfast stories" the morning after one of the commits the deed, which humorously lightens the mood while instilling a strong sense of camaraderie.

I love the idea of four childhood best friend staying close throughout their lives and forming a business together. Not to mention it's a wedding business. At the mansion grounds they all share together. Then fall in love and plan their own weddings.

I confess I'm jealous of these women. From the hunky men and great friends to the fab business, there's a lot to envy.

Even after their stories end, I can imagine where these four might be down the road. Of course Vows will be a thriving business and their marriages stable and loving. I like to think about what it will be like for them raising families together and having their own children forget lasting friendships.

These well-developed friends are worth the time I spend thinking about them.

Return Thursday to see who will be the No. 7 BFF. You can also read more about the series by visiting the "Projects" page, posted on the bar at the top of the page.

Please feel free to leave a comment or shoot me a message on Twitter. Follow me @lmchap. Click here to read more about PBFF.

September 26, 2011

banned books week 2011 in progress

Happy Banned Books Week, readers!

Authors face many challenges from finding  time to write to getting published. Another issue most authors probably don't expect is being banned. Stores and libraries might ban a book, because they protest the content.  Banned Books Week According to its website:
During the last week of September every year, hundreds of libraries and bookstores around the country draw attention to the problem of censorship by mounting displays of challenged books and hosting a variety of events. The 2011 celebration of Banned Books Week will be held from September 24 through October 1. Banned Books Week is the only national celebration of the freedom to read. It was launched in 1982 in response to a sudden surge in the number of challenges to books in schools, bookstores and libraries. More than 11,000 books have been challenged since 1982.
Read more about the week here.

Take a look at the 10 most challenged book titles in 2010:
•  And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson
•  The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
•  Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
•  Crank by Ellen Hopkins
•  The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins
•  Lush by Natasha Friend
•  What My Mother Doesn't Know by Sonya Sones
•  Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America by Barbara Ehrenreich
•  Revolutionary Voices by Amy Sonnie
•  Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer

Books made it on the list because people deemed them unsuitable for the age group, or they protested the use of language, depiction of religion and so on. Take a close look at that list and see how many of those books are highly regarded in the industry and among audiences.
Check out this infographic on the Top 10 banned books from Huffington Post.

When books are banned, though, readers might lose out on the opportunity to read wonderful stories. Or, you might hate them but if the books are banned you don't get to make the choice to purchase or not purchase a book. Where's the fun in that?

My tip for the week, as shared by one of my Tweeps, "Don't judge a book by its review written by someone who never actually read the book."

switching course

 I made a tough decision last week.

After more than two years of plotting and a year of writing, editing and querying, I decided to set aside my first (and to date only) completed novel. I've been hinting that this day might come, and last week, I made the decision. Sometimes, you have to throw in the towel and try something else.

Why? It comes down to this: This book still needs a lot of work. The biggest issues are:
•  The pacing is off (the beginning is too slow, the ending is too fast).
•  The story loses its focus. I don't think I realized until after I tried to sell it exactly what this book is about.
•  I got messy with verb tenses, mixing between past and present when it should be past.
•  I need to expand the vocabulary.
•  It's written in first person, but I wonder if it should be told in third.

I still believe it is a good story. It just hasn't been told the way I want it. I am too frustrated with it right now to do any good for it. The frustration prevents me from working, and I need to move on for my own sanity. It is the right choice for me for now.

I hope I will come back to it, but it's hard to say when or if I will. I'm reminded of Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken."
Oh, I kept the first for another day!   
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,   
I doubted if I should ever come back.

It's not that I doubt I will return. I am realistic enough, though, to know not every story will be told. I am at a fork in the road. I can retrace my steps and go back, or I can take another paths. I want to try another path.

This process was amazing. I have no regrets and learned a lot. I know more about the writing and editing process.  I learned about publishing and networking.

The most important lesson: I can do it. I have it in me to sit down and write a full-length book.

September 23, 2011

twilight delight

Anyone else see the new Breaking Dawn Part 1 trailer? Did anyone else freak out and have a momentary baby-related panic attack thinking about what is to come?

As previously confessed, I'm a little bit of a Twi-hard. Now, I'm not saying I devote my every waking hour to the series, but I do enjoy them. And, I will likely see Breaking Dawn Part 1 the first weekend it's out — even if I worry it may cause permanent psychological damage. (For those of you who have read the book, you know why. Those who haven't, well, all I will say is I think this movie may do more to prevent teenage pregnancy then anything else has.)

In an attempt to block the future horror from my mind, I decided to think about a simpler time. A time when Bella Swan's main concern was trying to figure out if Edward Cullen was a vampire. Back in Twilight, Edward rescues Bella from a pack of scamps in Port Angeles. He takes her to dinner at an Italian restaurant where he can reveal some of his dark secrets.

She off-handedly orders mushroom ravioli… and then mentions the dish a half-dozen times throughout the rest of the scene. In between revelations and secrets, Bella reminds us that she is digging into a delicious dish. That combined with the breadsticks she's packing away and the apple on the cover of the book is enough to make me hungry every time I read it.

As a recent pescetarian convert the mushroom ravioli sounded delicious.

Let's pause a moment for me to explain pescetarianism. No, it is not some new religious sect I've joined. Don't be embarrassed if that's where your mind went. You wouldn't be the first person to ask me what church I go to or who my pastor is after mentioning it. Pescetarians do not eat meat with the exception of fish. For the most part, I stick to a relaxed vegetarian diet, which includes animal byproducts, such as dairy and eggs. Once or twice a week I eat fish.

One of my broomies (* broomie = brother/ roomie — I live with both brothers, thus they're my broomies) became a vegetarian in August, and I went pescetarian at this time. I decided to try it for a month, and when the 31 days passed, I decided to keep going. I won't go into my reasons for doing it, but I enjoy it. It forces me to try more foods and to eat things I might have previously ignored.

Changing up my diet and trying new recipes actually contributed to me creating this series.

Now that I've explained that, let's get back to Twilight and mushroom ravioli. After deciding on this menu item, the first person I turned to for advice was my Mom, of course. She leant me a couple of cookbooks from her collection. With no personal experience of her own, she assured me I would be on my own to figure it out.

"Roll the pasta dough really thin," she said, "and follow the directions."

I'd like to think I follow directions, but in the kitchen it hasn't always been my strong suit.

The first time I attempted homemade cookies, I didn't pay enough attention to the directions and added baking powder instead of baking soda. That batch ended up in the trash. Another time, I tried macaroni and cheese from the box, and I ended up with hardly cooked noodles in a pool of cheesy water.

I hoped the ravioli wouldn't join the Laura's Epic Fails Club.

I went to the grocery store Tuesday night to pick up some fresh mushrooms, ricotta cheese and a few other supplies from my grocery list. Excited, but unable to fight the twinge of dread at failing, I made a quick stop to the wine aisle at my local grocery store. I had a hectic start to the work week and thought a glass of wine might do the trick. I figured worst case scenario, if the ravioli turned out like crap, at least I would have the wine to console me.

While debating between a Riesling and a Guwerstraminer, a white bottle caught my eye. "Fünf Sassy White," it said in classy letters. A former high school German student, I knew "fünf" meant five, which is apparently the time it is socially acceptable to get your drink on. It was also cheaper than either of the bottles. With a bottle that classy and a name that said sassy, I was sold.

I returned home, put on my Twilight T-shirt (yes, I have a Team Edward T-shirt) and cracked open the bottle of Fünf. I sat down with one of the cookbooks. If I didn't want this to suck, I needed to research. As I sipped on the wine — which for a measly $6 was quite good and sassy — I read about how to make the dough in this handy cookbook. It only called for a few ingredients, and the trickiest part seemed like the point where I would actually have to slice and dice the dough into pretty look ravioli.

Feeling more confident, I poured another glass of wine and went to work making the filling. I read up on various mushroom recipes and decided to make a filling that sounded good to me. I finely diced 4 ounces of fresh portabello mushrooms (about half a pack of what you find in the store) and about 1/4 a good-sized yellow onion. I heated the stove to medium setting and added 1 tablespoon of olive oil into the skillet. I put the mushroom and onion in the skillet with one crushed garlic clove and some pepper. I cooked it for about 5 to 10 minutes, stirring frequently.

I removed the mushroom mixture from the stove and set it aside while I mixed 1/2 cup ricotta cheese (I used the half skim type) with 1/4 cup grated parmesan. You could probably use fresh parmesan, but I used the kind that comes in a canister, because that is what I had. I stirred the mushroom mix into the cheese and put the completed concoction in the fridge.

Now was time for the big show — making the dough. I topped off my wine glass and started mixing. Based on how much stuffing mix I had, I mixed 2 cups of flour and 2 teaspoons of salt in a large mixing bowl. In a small bowl, I whisked together two eggs with 2 tablespoons of cooking oil.

I created a well in the dry mixture, which is exactly what it sounds like, but I took a picture to help you out if you don't know. Then, I placed the wet concoction in the dry mix's well. Using a fork, I slowly added dry mix to the egg blend. As the mixture grew thicker and thicker, I added 1 tablespoon of cold water from the fridge at a time while still mixing. Total, I used about 5 tablespoons of water.

Once mostly mixed, I removed the dough from the bowl and kneaded it by hand for about 10 minutes. After the dough felt firm but slightly elastic, I covered it with the bowl I used to mix it and let it sit for another 10 minutes.

I returned to the dough and my wine and split the dough into two parts. I thinly rolled the first part like my mom suggested. I tried to keep it as rectangular-shaped as possible. Taking a butter knife, I sliced the dough into 2-inch by 4-inch parts. I then put teaspoon-sized dollops of filling on each part of dough. I folded the dough over to make it into a square. Using a fork, I crimped all four sides to seal it.

Once I was done with the first batch (which took about 30 minutes), I put them in a pot of boiling water to cook for about seven minutes. I worked on the second batch, which looked a lot sloppier and boiled them while the others cooled off.

More than two hours after starting the process, I topped a plate of the mushroom raviolis with some tomato sauce from a jar. I know it might seem silly after I went to the effort of making homemade pasta, but I was exhausted. Plus, the label on the jar assured me it was "old world style" and had a serving of vegetables in every half cup. Who was I to argue with that marketing when he wine I was enjoying tasted as sassy as I imagined it would.

I took my first bite and . . . success. The ravioli was quite good and some of the best I've ever had, even with canned marinara sauce. I didn't have any guests around to back me up, but you'll have to trust me on this. Even the weird looking ones tasted great.

I'm sure they were good enough that even Bella Swan would mention them repeatedly in a book scene if she ate them herself.

While it was a fun process and the outcome was good, it was a lot of work. I was exhausted by the time I was done cooking, and I don't think it was just the wine. If I make ravioli again, I'll do it on a weekend and give myself more time to do it. I also might experiment with the dough and filling more to see what else I can come up with.

I was so tired, I packed up the bulk of the pasta and ate it for meals the next couple of days. I also delayed making my dessert until Wednesday night and lounged on the couch for the rest of the evening.

After heating up some leftover mushroom ravioli, which was just as good the next day, I decided to make baked apples, because I figured the outcome would look like the Twilight book cover.

This was super easy. I removed the core of an apple from the top, leaving the base still intact. I placed 2 tablespoons of brown sugar, a pinch of cinnamon and 1 tablespoon of butter into the hollowed apple. For fun, I trickled some of that honey from last week's meal on top. I baked it in the oven for 20 minutes at 350 degrees.

It tasted like fall. For pretty little effort, and few calories in the grand scheme, baked apples make a good dessert and are an excellent way to use apples if you have them in stock.

I hope you fellow Twi-hards and cooking enthusiasts enjoyed these recipes.

Check back next week to see what we'll read in the kitchen next. See more literary cooking adventures by clicking on the "Reading in the Kitchen" tab at the top of the page.

September 22, 2011

kitchen teaser for 9/23

I made two dishes (an entree and a dessert). One dish is inspired by the cover. The other is taken from the story itself.

Any guesses?

sister friend

No. 9: Jane Bennet from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Beauty, kindness and class, Elizabeth Bennet's sister and BFF Jane has it all. Those traits earns her a place on the list.

Besides, I named one of my cats after Jane Bennet. That automatically scores the girl points for this list. (For those who don't know, my other kitten's name is Mr. Bingley.)

Jane Bennet Chapman, my gorgeous kitten. Sadly, she matches the real Miss
Bennet in looks alone. (I love her to bits, but she's not very nice. I often wish
we would have called her Caroline Bingley, but it's too late, now.)

The history
Jane is the oldest of the five Bennet sisters. She also has the most patience, beauty and kindest disposition. Given the craziness that is her family, maintaining her composure and dignity can be quite the feat.

Her goodness is rewarded when she lands the man of her dreams and marries him despite interference from others.

Favorite scenes

The book begins with the Bennet family wildly excited, because a single, hot bachelor (with money and digs) is coming to town. Jane quickly takes a fancy for Mr. Bingley — and it seems he might reciprocate — and his sisters quickly befriend her.

After catching a cold, and having to crash at Netherfield Park, a.k.a. the Bingley casa, Jane must stay there until well. Elizabeth walks across town to stay with her sister, which shows the close bond between the sisters. This particular moment is especially nice, because you see the lengths each would go to for the other.

In the end, when Jane becomes engaged the super hunky and dashing Mr. Bingley, the sisters steal a moment to celebrate and dish together. While recalling the history of how this came to be, Jane stops in her merriment to wish equal happiness for her sister (see quotes below).

That's the true mark of a best friend. A good BFF is someone who, despite the fact that she can brag about her own happiness, only wants the same for you. Jane is minus any cattiness or pretension in wishing the best for her sister.

Here is my wonderful Mr. Bingley (playing with my shoes).
He is Jane's match both in the story and among my pets.
I could hardly include a picture of her without one of him.
Favorite lines

"Now if every man in the room does not end the evening in love with you then I am no judge of beauty."

(What girl doesn't love a best friend who says something like that about how you look?)

"My dear Lizzy, do not give way to such feelings as these. They will ruin your happiness. You do not make allowance enough for difference of situation and temper."

(Jane calms down her sister with straight facts. The best besties always know when to talk you down and set you straight. It's a bonus if they do it nicely.)

"I am certainly the most fortunate creature that ever existed... Oh! Lizzy, why am I this singled out from my family, and blessed above them all! If I could but see you so happy!"

(Proving a true BFF wants happiness for her friend.)

Why I love her

Jane and Elizabeth Bennet have a close-knit relationship I am certain any set of sisters would like to have. I'm blessed to call my own sister my best friend, and I can assure you how wonderful it is.

Both sisters are willing to go to extreme lengths to ensure the other's happiness. They enjoy each other's company. They can swap secrets or laugh; talk about men or life. It's great.

After each sister marries, it appears their close relationship continues. (Definitely a perk of one pair of BFFs marrying another.)

Another mark for Jane is that I imagine she is the inspiration for the fabulous character Tom in the Bridget Jones series. Does anyone know if this is true? I've never heard for sure, but upon reading both thoroughly, that is where I see the greatest similarity in characters.

Check on Tuesday to see who will come in at No. 8. You can also read more about the series by visiting the "Projects" page, posted on the bar at the top of the page.

Please feel free to leave a comment or shoot me a message on Twitter. Follow me @lmchap. Click here to read more about PBFF.

September 21, 2011

new book, new characters

I started planning a new book this weekend. Consequently, I find it difficult to focus on anything else.

It all begins with the character.  As previously discussed, story is what happens to a character. Having characters an audience wants to read about makes the difference. The story written should be about the transformation a character undergoes during a period of time.

I am in the early planning stages, and right now I am getting to know my main character in addition to the supporting cast. I don't necessarily need to know what each person had for breakfast or what they received for Christmas when they were five (unless it is critical to the story).

What I do need to know is who my protagonist is at the beginning of the story and who she will be at the end. Here is an excerpt from a previous post about how to use this to develop a story:

An exercise I've used, thanks to the advice of another author, is to create a T-chart for the main characters, like the one pictured here. In the first column, list descriptions about where your character is in his or her life at the beginning of the story. In the second column, write where he or she is at the end of it. I typically match them up by topic.

This helps you develop the plot, because to get your character from where they are at the beginning to where they are at the end, something has to happen to them. What happens is your story.

Let's try an example for a character called Liza.

Before: Liza works for a temp agency doing filling mostly secretarial gigs at a law firm.
She has an entry-level marketing assistant job for a green energy company.
Plot development:
Liza sends out 100 resumes to 100 companies and lands interviews at five companies. She is a finalist at two and wins the job with the green energy firm by giving a dynamic mock presentation and press campaign cleverly using social media.

This is where I am at with my latest book (not this example precisely). Time will play a crucial part in this story. Giving consideration to the before and after will allow me to plan the story more.

For more information, read a couple previous posts about creating characters:
•  Naming characters
•  Developing characters

Here's a question for my fellow writers: What character development do you do before telling a story?

September 20, 2011

baby-sitting buddies

No. 10: The members of the Baby-sitter's Club by Ann M. Martin

I've heard people say you shouldn't go into business with your friends. They obviously never read the Baby-sitter's Club books by Ann M. Martin. In this series, a group of best friends decide to form a club/ business to care for the apparently endless stream of children living and playing in Stoneybrook, Conn. Despite a few spats along the way and changes to their line-up, the crew remains good friends and runs a successful business.

So there you go. You've been proven wrong, naysayers.

The history

The originals — Kristy, Claudia, Mary Anne and Stacey —  form a baby-sitter's club after Kristy notices her mom struggling to find a sitter for her little brother one night. Instead of having to work their way through a list of potential baby-sitters, parents can call the BSC during their Monday, Wednesday and Friday meetings and be connected to several potential sitters.

More friends join the BSC along the way, but most of the books I read included the original four plus Dawn, Mallory and Jessi.

Favorite scenes

There are so many books — more than 100 not including the specials, mysteries or spin-offs — so, in the interest of not going crazy, I thought I would list my favorite books from each of the seven girl's perspectives:
•  The Ghost at Dawn's House (No. 9) — the first book I read in the series
•  Logan Likes Mary Anne (No. 10)
•  Stacey's Mistake (No. 18)
•  Kristy & the Walking Disaster (No. 20)
•  Claudia & the Sad Good-bye (No. 26)
•  Jessi & the Superbrat (No. 27)
•  Mallory & the Mystery Diary (No. 29)

After book 30, I intermittently read the books, so that's probably a good place to stop.

Favorite lines

I sadly — well, sadly for me, not for the children — donated my BSC books to a local elementary school a few years ago.  Without being able to sift through all of the books, I'm not comfortable naming any. So, no quotes this time! This was a one-time fluke. Promise!

Why I love them

Each of the girls in the BSC is good at something and unique in her own way. I loved that then, and I dig it now. The books taught me that it was OK to be different, and that you can still be friends with others even if the only thing you have in common is the fact that you like to make money watching other people's children.

The girls had great principles, too. They were rewarded when they worked hard and did well. They were punished when they misbehaved. They also seemed quite smart about the way they ran their business. I mean, I haven't read the books since I was in elementary school, but their business model made sense to me. They all paid dues. They paid part of Claudia's phone bill and gas for Kristy's brother to drive her across town. The only thing I don't recall them paying is taxes, but I never did when I baby-sat, either.

The books were also available through the Scholastic book order and through the monthly club, which my parents allowed me to join. Every month, I could count on three new books arriving in the mail, until I had about 50 of the books and we decided that was enough. My school's library  had a decent selection. This was great for me, because I ran through those books, and others, at a ridiculous rate.

I credit this series and the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder for beginning my love of literature. I am a writer, and reader, now, because books like these existed when I was young.

The only disappointment for me was that at 7 and 8 years old, I wasn't a good candidate joining their club. No one took me seriously when I offered to watch their children in exchange for cash. Not that I didn't try a couple of years later. I hung up a handful of seriously ugly fliers around my neighborhood one day and sat by our phone at the time designated on the fliers hoping someone would call.

No one did, and in hindsight I should be glad. What was I thinking posting our family's phone number in public for all to see? I now consider myself lucky some crazy person didn't call our house a million times. Not then, I felt like a failure. I had set out to start a business and make some money for a car or college. Instead, I had to take out loans for both and pay the monthly principle and interest with part-time jobs. Oh if only I had successfully formed the Lincoln chapter of the baby-sitter's club. Can you imagine where I would be? (sigh)

Fortunately, I had something else to ease me disappointment. The series produced one of the best film adaptations ever made. That's right, I'm talking about the 1995 masterpiece called, you guessed it, The Baby-Sitter's Club. You might think I'm being sarcastic, because I tend to have a dry sense of humor, but in this case I'm totally serious. I loved the crap out of that movie when it came out. Heck, I asked my mom to bring it for me when she came to town for the Husker game this weekend. Check out the trailer here. Then, watch as many of the suggested clips after like I did.

Did you do it? Yeah, I know. It's awesome. I bet you're jealous that I have a VHS copy sitting on my coffee table. You probably want to come over and watch it with me. That's cool, just bring your own beverage and a snack to share. I'll bake cupcakes or buy some candy. I don't know yet what I'm hungry for, so we'll just have to wait and see where my cravings take me. We can clear the dust from my VCR and pop that tape in. The kittens will be here, so you'll have a cuddle buddy at some point. I have extra pillows and blankets for those of you that prefer to snuggle with something less alive. I'm painting a pretty appealing picture, aren't I?

Oh, and if any of you need a baby-sitter, give me a call! I have undergone CPR and First Aid training (though, I'm not technically certified). I am a licensed driver. I am an EXCELLENT fort builder, can do various accents while reading out loud, and excel at Arts and Crafts. Plus,  I'm great with kids. And dogs. Plus, I just read Ann M. Martin's tips on baby-sitting. Price is negotiable, but I can be bought pretty cheap if your kids or dogs are cute. Just kidding. I'll still want a cheese pizza and a few bucks for watching them, too.

That wraps it up for the first installment of Project Best Friends Forever. Check on Thursday to see who will come in at No. 9. You can also read more about the series by visiting the "Projects" page, posted on the bar at the top of the page.

Please feel free to leave a comment or shoot me a message on Twitter. Follow me @lmchap. Click here to read more about PBFF.

September 19, 2011

first line quiz answers

Here are the answers to the First Line quiz posted this morning:

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

“Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Miss Jane Marple was sitting by her window.
The Mirror Crack’d by Agatha Christie

Janie finished her essay.
The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline B. Cooney

Jacob Marley was dead as a doornail.
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Only three people were left under the red and white awning of the grease joint: Grady, me, and the fry cook.
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

A throng of bearded men, in sad-colored garments, and gray, stepple-crowned hats, intermixed with women, some wearing hoods and others bareheaded, was assembled in front of a wooden edifice, the door of which was heavily timbered with oak, and studded with iron spikes.
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

It was love at first sight.
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

They’re out there.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey

It became their motto, and Jonesy couldn’t for the life of him remember which of them started saying it first.
Dreamcatcher by Stephen King

OK. Don’t panic.
Confessions of a Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella

When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Call me Ishmael.
Moby-Dick by Herman Melville

Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were.
Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

Mr. Jones of the Manor Farm, had locked the hen-houses for the night, but was too drunk to remember to shut the popholes.
Animal Farm by George Orwell

My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie.
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

When I was seventeen, my life changed forever.
A Walk to Remember by Nicholas Sparks

All this happened, more or less.
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

“Where’s papa going with that ax?” said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.
Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

I hope this gave you something good to think about or at least was a fun activity.

Check back tomorrow for the first post in the Project Best Friends Forever series.

the big opener

The first line can make or break a story. A writer must reach out to his or her audience in that one sentence or paragraph. It sets the tone. It pulls readers in and makes them want to turn page after page to see the story through its end.

It is like a pick-up line. If a book does not have a winning opener, there is a good chance the reader will not be interested. No pressure, writers.

Then what makes a first line good?

I'm sorry to say, but everything I've heard or read is subjective. You can increase your chances of writing a quality first line (and whole book), by having a firm grasp on the story you will tell, including who the characters are, the world they exist in and the adventure will undertake. In doing so, you will write a good opener, because you know the story you will tell.

As an activity to ease this perceived anxiety, I created a quiz for my writing group colleagues a few months ago. The objective is to see how many of the first lines you can match to the title and author. While you do it, think about how that line sets the tone for the whole story if you are familiar with the work.

Check your answers here.

First Lines
1. OK. Don’t panic.

2. “Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.

3. They’re out there.

4. All this happened, more or less.

5. Marley was dead to begin with.

6. Miss Jane Marple was sitting by her window.

7. My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie.

8. Only three people were left under the red and white awning of the grease joint: Grady, me, and the fry cook.

9. Call me Ishmael.

10. It was love at first sight.

11. There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.

12. Mr. Jones of the Manor Farm, had locked the hen-houses for the night, but was too drunk to remember to shut the popholes.

13. It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

14. “Where’s papa going with that ax?” said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.

15. A throng of bearded men, in sad-colored garments, and gray, stepple-crowned hats, intermixed with women, some wearing hoods and others bareheaded, was assembled in front of a wooden edifice, the door of which was heavily timbered with oak, and studded with iron spikes.

16. When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow.

17. Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were.

18. When I was seventeen, my life changed forever.

19. Janie finished her essay.

20. It became their motto, and Jonesy couldn’t for the life of him remember which of them started saying it first.

Answer Bank
a. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

b. Little Women by Lousia May Alcott

c. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

d. The Mirror Crack’d by Agatha Christie

e. The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline B. Cooney

f. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

g. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

h. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

i. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

j. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey

k. Dreamcatcher by Stephen King

l. Confessions of a Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella

m. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

n. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville

o. Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

p. Animal Farm by George Orwell

q. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

r. A Walk to Remember by Nicholas Sparks

s. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

t. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

September 16, 2011

more pears

I had some leftovers after making my three-course pear meal, which I realized when I came home from work Wednesday night. Feeling creative, but mostly bored, I decided to see what I could do with some of the supplies in my fridge and pantry.

I figured if it turned out awful I had nothing to lose. Most of it would have gone bad otherwise, and I was just giving it a chance of fulfilling its destiny as a delicious dish.

I skinned and diced three pears and mixed it with 1/2 cup of dried cranberries, 1/2 cup of brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon and 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice (throw in nutmeg and cloves if you don't have this). On a whim, I recalled the honey I had to purchase for the salad, and I added about 6 tablespoons of honey.

I thinly rolled the remaining pie crust from last week's Green Pumpkin Pie. Then, I cut it into nine squares, trying to be as even as possible with all of them. I put the filling in the center of the square before it in half. However, the mixture became quite liquid from the pear juices, which made it difficult to seal the triangles.

I baked it at 400 degrees for 10 minutes. I then reduced the heat to 350 degrees and cooked it for an additional 10 minutes.

It was really good, actually, and not quite like anything I've had before. The honey and brown sugar enhanced the natural sugars from the pear.  I had trouble sealing the triangles, which means they didn't appear pretty, but tasted delicious.

But now I have a quandary. What should I call it? Maybe Pear Pastry Wedges or something like that? Any clever suggestions from any of you?

quite the pear

I checked my Facebook News Feed Aug. 12 and saw a picture and announcement from my friend Kathy, which caught my eye.

Kathy: I'm starting a new game: "What the Hell is That?" Identify the object in the photo and win a prize. This week's prize is a lovely basket of fresh pears from my tree. If you live too far away for delivery, it will be a picture of a lovely basket of fresh pears from my tree. Go!

I love guessing, and I love winning. Winning is awesome, and this game was right up my alley. By the time I saw the post, the first guessers went for headphone earbud, car speakers, computer microphone and plastic drain cover. They were wrong. Fifth to play, I kept my answer short:

Me: strainer

I waited impatiently to find out if I was correct, but ended up calling Kathy directly when I couldn't stand the suspense a moment longer. She told me what I already knew: I was right. A moment later she confirmed it for the world and Facebook.

Kathy: And Laura Chapman is our WINNER of the inaugural edition of What the Hell is That?! For her superior guessing powers, Laura will receive a lovely basket of pears to do with as she pleases. Stay tuned next Friday for a chance to win another fabulous prize on What the Hell is That?!!

The competitive person that I am was excited. I mean, I would have gladly walked away with the honor, privilege and satisfaction of knowing that I was the best guesser in the world of Kathy's Facebook friends list that day. I could brag all day with a smile on my face and call it good.

The pears, which are one of my favorite fruits, were an added bonus.

I eagerly anticipated the day when the pears became mine, and they did the morning of Sept. 8, while green pumpkins weighed heavily on my mind.

With a whole basket of pears at my disposal and Reading in the Kitchen under way, I wondered if there was a way I could combine both. But I couldn't think of any instances of pears in literature.

Kathy delivers my basket o' pears prize.

Thankfully, my office buddy was already on it. After listening to me yap about the series and my pears all morning, he broke down and found a scholarly article titled The Pear in History, Literature, Pop Culture, and Art by Jules Janick of Purdue University. There is a whole section on pears in literature — I was saved. Thank you, office buddy. You are a far superior researcher than I am.

According to the article, the first mention of pear in literature dates back to Homer's The Odyssey. The pear was named as one of the "gifts of the gods."

I next learned William Shakespeare was apparently a  fan of name dropping pears. For example:

"...As crest-fallen as a dried Pear," (Merry Wives of Windsor).
"I must have saffron to color the Warden pies," (Winter's Tale).
"O, Romeo... thou a Poperin Pear," (Romeo and Juliet).

More recently, in Charles Dickens' David Copperfield, Uriah Heep says, "I suppose you have sometimes plucked a pear before it was ripe, Master Copperfield? I did that last night, but it'll ripen yet! It only wants attending to. I can wait?"

See, all three of these instances (I'm lumping Bill Shakespeare's all together) make perfectly good references to pears. Now that I was validated in using these pears, and all the wiser for having read up on the topic, I needed to decide what to do with so many pears.

Eating the pears as they were was not an option. I mean, I did enjoy a few raw pears, but there were so many. I didn't want them to go bad, and I knew I had to cook with them. With three good examples of pears in literature, I decided to make a three-course meal featuring the pear as the main ingredient.

The menu:
•  Roasted Red Onion and Pear Salad (from Carrie Vitti's Deliciously Organic)
•  Pear and Gorgonzola Cheese Pizza (from
•  Pear Cupcakes with Brown Butter Spice Frosting (based on a cake recipe from, but modified)

In town for a football game, my Mom joined me at the grocery store while I bought ingredients I didn't already have. She was a great resource for me in finding substitutions for produce that I couldn't find.

For example, my local grocery store did not have chives for the pizza or bibb lettuce for the salad. We settled on green onion and romaine lettuce as satisfactory subs. I also made a smarter long-term decision by purchasing dried thyme for the salad dressing instead of fresh. While the fresh would have likely been delicious, I knew it would most likely turn before I had a chance to cook with it, again.

It was nice having her in the store with me. Not only did it save me multiple phone calls to ask for her input, but I learned a lot. Mom is a great cook, and it was interesting to pick up on some of her habits. She offered up some tips for preparation, which I will get to later.

With a few modifications to the recipes and my mom's advice, cooking went well. Funny enough, the salad was the most time consuming part of the meal and the pizza the fastest.

I made the cupcakes first. In a large mixing bowl, I added 1 cup white sugar, 1 cup brown sugar, 3 eggs beaten, 1 cup cooking oil, 2 teaspoons vanilla, 3 cups flour, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon baking soda and two teaspoons of cinnamon. I was nervous, because it created a thick batter, which looked like this:

Oh, boy. I didn't know what I was going to do with that. It hardly looked like cake batter should. Then, I remembered I still had to include the pears. I used the most ripe of Kathy's pears and pealed the skin off and cut out any bruising. Using a cheese shredder, I added about five medium pears to the mix. It looked much better.

I lined two muffin tins with cupcake liners and added a quick coat of non-stick spray. I baked the two dozen cupcakes for between 25 and 30 minutes at 350 degrees.

I took a break while those baked, then removed them from the oven to cool. I began prep work for the salad, next. I sliced a medium-sized red onion into half-inch wedges and tossed them in 2 tablespoons of olive oil. I threw them on a baking sheet and cooked them in the oven for 30 minutes at 400 degrees. The original recipe called for coconut oil, but that was one of the concessions I made at the grocery store to keep my budget minimal.

While the onion roasted, I made the salad dressing. The recipe called for 2 tablespoons of fresh-squeezed orange juice and 1 Tablespoon of fresh-squeezed lemon juice. I used 1 orange and 1 lemon. My mom taught me a neat trick. I took the fruit out of the fridge a couple of hours before making them to bring them to room temperature. Then, I rolled them on the counter to soften them before slicing into them. This helped me get more juice out of them. Next, I added a teaspoon of Dijon mustard, 1 teaspoon of honey, 1/2 teaspoon of thyme and black pepper. I whisked these together before adding 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil.

I washed the romaine and baby spinach and tossed them together, which differed from the original recipe. I did it for convenience and didn't notice any change. Then, I added 1/2 cup of Gorgonzola and 1/2 cup of dried cranberries (more than called for, but I eyeballed it till it looked good). I sliced 1 good-sized pear into thin slices and mixed everything, including the dressing together. I served the red onion on the side, because not everyone likes onion. Crazy, I know.

The pizza came together fast. I used one tube of refrigerated pizza dough spread thin. Then, I covered the pizza with Gorgonzola, 2 ounces of walnuts and one pear diced small. I covered it with 1/4 pound of provolone, which I picked up from the grocery deli. This took all of two minutes (and a good thing, too, because I was expecting lunch guests in 10 minutes). I baked it for eight minutes on 450 degrees. It came out perfectly golden. I served the green onions on the side for the same reason I served the red onion on the side.

In between all of this, I made frosting for the cupcakes. This was the only hiccup I had while cooking

I browned 1/2 cup butter on the stove and added it to 6 cups of confectioner's sugar (powdered sugar) and 1 tablespoon of cinnamon and 1 tablespoon of brown sugar. This seemed like a good idea, because both were used in the cake, and I wanted to link both parts together. This made for a thick and chunky frosting I wasn't pleased with. So, I added about 1/4 cup to 1/3 cup of whipping cream to the mix, and it made the whole thing fluffier.

I invited two friends and my sister over for Sunday lunch to try out the dishes  and gauge their feedback.

Roasted Red Onion and Pear Salad
Glenna: The red onion added a sweet taste to it. I also liked the pear's texture in the salad.
Jacie: I've never had a pear in a salad. I wasn't sure what I thought about it, but I liked it.
Sarah: The dressing was light and refreshing.

Pear and Gorgonzola Cheese Pizza
Glenna: The refrigerator dough went well with the cheeses. It would have been interesting to see how it tasted with the green onions baked into the toppings.
Jacie: Again, I wasn't sure about pear on pizza, but it was very good.
Sarah: I've only ever had pineapple on pizza before. This makes me think other fruits might be good on pizza.

Pear Cupcakes with Brown Butter Spice Frosting
Glenna: I hardly noticed the pear. It tasted more like a spice cake. I didn't think the frosting was too sweet.
Jacie: It would be a perfect cupcake for fall.
Sarah: The frosting wasn't overly sweet, and the buttery taste really stood out.
Glenna summed it up well when she said, "It was a good fall meal."

Overall, I enjoyed the meal. Like Glenna said, it was a good fall meal, or rather, a good meal for this time of year when summer becomes fall. For example, the citrus flavors in the dressing tasted summery, while the dried cranberries felt more fall-like. It makes a good combo with the pears, which are harvested at this time of year.

All of the dishes were also pretty easy to make. The pizza would have been more time consuming if I had made the crust from scratch. I loved the Pillsbury pizza dough, though, because it tasted a little like crescent rolls, which matched well with the other toppings.

I took the leftover cupcakes to work Monday, and they went over well there. Even a friend, who normally doesn't like pears, enjoyed the finished product. The pear taste was hard to notice, but the shredded fruit gave the cake a great texture. The cupcakes stayed moist for a couple of days, too, which is awesome.

Overall, I thought the pears tied into the books/ plays well enough. With the Gorgonzola cheese, especially, it had a very Greek feel to it, which matched the theme of The Odyssey. I can also see a young David Copperfield throwing down a few of the cupcakes. The pizza was just awesome. I can't say enough about it. I'm having a love affair with it! I'll probably make it again.

Check back this afternoon for a bonus recipe. I made it later in the week with leftover supplies from these recipes and last week's. I just winged it on this one, so it was kind of fun.

Thanks for reading this week, and I look forward to taking on another dish for next week. I welcome any suggestions you might have for future books and dishes to try.

If you like this blog, you can subscribe by clicking on the link on the top of the right-hand column. You can also follow me on Twitter @lmchap to share your own reading or cooking tales.

September 15, 2011

teaser for 9/16 in the kitchen

Any guesses on what tomorrow's Reading in the Kitchen dishes will be? And yes, I said dishes. No cheating if you were one of the lucky few invited to be my guinea pigs... er... taste testers.

Only other clue I will give: everything tasted delicious. Not much of a clue, but a true statement.

project bff

Aren't friends the greatest? I mean, sometimes you fight with them or they do something to annoy you, which is awful. But for the most part, it's great to have someone there who has your back and will be your partner in crime.

And we're not the only ones. Even fictional characters need friends in their corner, too.

In honor of friends everywhere, I'm pleased to announce, coming soon... Project Best Friends Forever!

Like Project Boy Meets Girl, PBFF will be a countdown of my top 10 favorite sidekicks and buddies in literature. I will also evaluate these characters by accounting for:
•  Who they are
•  History their relationships with the protagonists
•  Favorite scene
•  Best quotes
•  Why they are a good bestie

PBFF will kick off next Tuesday, Sept. 20 and continue to appear every Tuesday and Thursday until we make it through the list.

I'm still sifting through the books I've read to come up with my list, but I already have a few good ones I am excited to share.

In the spirit of the upcoming series, please tell me about your best friend? What qualities make him or her a bestie?

September 14, 2011

get your focus on

I am a notorious multitasker. Anyone in my office, from my office buddy to my bosses, will tell you that it's the norm to find me juggling multiple projects, answering e-mails, carrying on a phone conversation and instant messaging another person at the same time.

While having the ability to multitask has its benefits — like being able to walk and talk at the same time — it can also create problems. Why? It spreads a person's focus to thin. If you are like me and find yourself giving a little bit of attention to multiple tasks at the same time, you are unable to devote your whole focus, and mental ability, to accomplishing on to its fullest.

I preach this every day in the safety publications I produce at work. My articles constantly stress the importance of "avoiding mental vacations" or "paying attention to the task at hand" to ensure work gets done safely and efficiently. Drivers are also encouraged to devote their full attention to the road when they're behind the wheel and ignore distractions, such as cell phones and changing radio dial, for the same reason.

If this makes sense to me, why do I always distract myself with a dozen other tasks when it comes to working, writing or just about everything I do?

The answer is clear: I'm nuts and clearly like to make life more difficult for myself.

I took to the Interwebs to figure out how I could make myself stop my multitasking ways. Even accomplishing this was a challenge. I typed in the question, then checked my Facebook to see if any of my friends posted anything amazing I couldn't possibility go a few minutes without knowing. Then, I signed in to Twitter for the same reason. I switched back to my search tab and selected a promising link. While that loaded up, I picked up a book I started reading, today, and skimmed another page.

This was getting serious. I was distracting myself from researching ways to keep myself from being distracted.

"How NOT to Multitask — Work Simpler and Saner" on was a winner. It provided these 11 great tips for focusing on individual tasks to get more work done:
•  Set up a to-do list.
•  Have a notebook to capture instant notes on what needs to be done.
•  Have a physical and e-mail inbox (the fewer the better)
•  Plan your day in blocks.
•  Accomplish your most important task first thing in the morning.
•  Turn off other distractions, such as Internet and cell phones.
•  Stop yourself when you feel the urge to switch to another task before the first is complete.
•  If something comes up, put it in your inbox and finish what you're working on.
•  Occasionally check your inboxes to add new tasks to your to-do lists.
•  If an incredibly urgent interruption comes up, make a note of where you were on the original project to help you return to it.
•  Take breaks as needed to refresh yourself.

While I already do some of these, such as keeping to-do lists and ranking priority levels, I should do a better job of staying focused. I'm going to make a point to better structure my time and avoid so much multitasking.

Who knows? I might be able to get more done.

What about you? Do you have any good tips for cutting down on distractions or avoiding the need to constantly engage others through texting, IMing, Facebooking, chatting, etc?

September 13, 2011

brainstorming on the road

Blogger's Note: I asked my friend, co-worker and fellow aspiring author Jacie Noel to write this blog post. As a traveling journalist, my writing buddy gives some insight on how to take advantage of her time on the road to generate story ideas.

By Jacie Noel
Guest blogger

A while back, a couple of my co-workers and I were discussing our traveling habits, how they not only pertain to our jobs, but our lives in general. While driving several hours is a standard for our job, it got me thinking on how driving has impacted my writing.

I've talked with Laura about how she came up with one of her books on the road. I found that to be similar for me. I hardly go into my drive thinking, "Oh I'm going to come up with ideas for my book." Usually, driving includes me singing along loudly with music. But there gets to be a point in my drive where I'm developing characters and scenes and I know I have to write this down. When this first happened, I never wrote anything down thinking I would remember. I didn't. Since then I've learned from my mistakes.

Here are a couple of my tricks I've learned for writing on the road:

•  Have a notebook/pen. I carry a notebook and pen everywhere and when I'm on a trip, they sit on my passenger seat. If an idea comes to me and I have a place to stop, I will pull over and write it down. If I don't have time to write it all down, I will still write a few words or a quick phrase to bring me back to that thought later. In this case, I make sure it's safe to do so. Not  wanting to recommend any bad driving habits.

•  Keep a voice recorder. A much safer alternative if I don't have places to pull over. Personally, when I drive I'd rather not stop many times anyway. So, I have a recorder handy and put my thoughts in there. I hate the sound of my voice so I don't do this very often. I also don't travel with recorders on short trips and keep them with me unlike my notebook.

Does driving or anything else have an impact on your writing? I'd love to hear more ideas and what you think about driving and writing.

Thanks to Laura for letting me be a guest blogger!

Follow Jacie at