Characters That Cook

My newest release, Between Lonesome and Texas, is the 5th book in the Lone Star Cowboys series. My heroine, Mandy, has appeared in several of the previous books, first as a waitress at the local diner, and later as the cook at the Triple S ranch.

Unlike me, Mandy loves to cook. I can cook, but I don’t really enjoy it. Take me out to a restaurant and I’m a happy camper. Unfortunately, the hubby doesn’t like eating out. But because he loves me, he takes me out a couple of times a month. The rest of the time, I cook.

For Mandy, though, cooking is an expression of her soul. It’s how she shows people she cares about them. It’s also how she earns the money to try to make up for a terrible mistake she made as a teenager.

I’m not sure if Blake fell in love with Mandy or her cooking first. After a decade on the rodeo circuit, eating from food trucks and fast food joints, he thinks there just might be something to that old saying about the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. But despite the fact that life on the road is a lonely one, he can’t imagine giving up his freedom for the chains of commitment.

In all of my books, a slice of real life creeps in. In this case, it’s in the form of a couple of family-favorite recipes. You can find them both at the end of the book. A hint: they are both desserts that will make the man in your life think you’ve slaved for hours in the kitchen, but are actually very easy to make.

So how do you feel about cooking? Love it? Hate it? Consider it something you just gotta do?

Check out Between Lonesome and Texas today, and let us know if you tried one of the recipes.

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      When you’re stuck somewhere between Lonesome and Texas, which way do you turn? In one direction lies freedom. In the other, love. Or is there a way to have both?

Beyond the Fortuneteller’s Tent is Now Available

big beyond the tent copy

Beyond the Fortuneteller’s Tent

When Petra Baron goes into the fortuneteller’s tent at a  Renaissance fair, she expects to leave with a date to prom. Instead, she walks  out into Elizabethan England, where she meets gypsies, a demon dog and a kindred  spirit in Emory Ravenswood.

 

Emory must thwart the plans of religious  zealots. His mission is dangerous, his enemies are fanatical, and Petra Baron is  a complication that Heaven only knows he does not need. Or does he? Although  Emory is on Heaven’s errand, he learned long ago that Heaven does not always  play fair.

 

As Petra slowly falls for Emory, she wonders if he really is  who he seems, or if he is just as lost as she is. How can they have a future  while trapped in the past? Or is anything possible Beyond the Fortuneteller’s  Tent?

I’m so excited about my new book! Although it’s actually not new to me, I wrote it about 5 years. I wrote it when I was working with a critique partner who assured me that Petra, my main character, didn’t sound like a teenager. Even though I lived in a house full of teenagers, I lost my confidence in being able to write for the YA market, until my teenage daughter stumbled across Beyond. She read it, loved it and wanted to know what happens next. She gave it to her friends, they loved it and wanted to know what happens next. With my confidence restored, I started the sequel.

This week I finished the first draft of Beyond the Sleepy Hollow, the sequel to Beyond the Fortuneteller’s Tent. I had to write the second one before I published the first so I could keep the storylines straight. I didn’t want to have a brilliant idea while writing the second book that would impact the first book.

Since I began the Beyond series with a trilogy in mind, maybe I should wait until I have the third book finished to publish. But I’m too excited to wait any longer.

Besides, I know how the book will go…unless, of course, I decide to write a fourth and fifth book. And then things could get messy.

But, honestly, sometimes I enjoy making a little mess. And I love writing these books.

My plan is to publish Beyond the Sleepy Hollow on my birthday in January. Beyond the River Styx, the maybe third and final book, will be published in the spring.

Pajama Eve

Image(Gratuitous – My Kid was/is a Super Cute Kid Photo)

Every family has their own blend of holiday traditions, at this time of year. My favorite is actually one I inherited from my ex in-laws; and although I didn’t keep the husband, I did keep Pajama Eve. Every person who spends Christmas Eve with me receives a new pair of pajamas to impress Santa, with cookies and hot cocoa on the side.

Even though my son knows what to expect, there is a part of him that is still excited to see what new set of PJ’s he is getting. It allows him the opportunity to open one present on Christmas Eve. Which used to be enough, but in recent years he now spends at least fifteen minutes trying to weasel one more present out of me before bed.  I suppose that is the new addition to the tradition, until he is grown. At least I hope it ends when he is grown.  🙂

It really gets everyone in the spirit of giving and receiving. Plus, who doesn’t love new warm pajamas on a cold winters night?

My other favorite tradition is having gooey, cinammoney (it should be a word, don’t you think?) pastries prepped and ready to bake Christmas morning. This is more important to me than whatever might be for dinner. I have included one recipe for this delightful treat below, but there are many varieties to choose from. I generally lean towards the ones with icing, go big or go back to bed!

Before I take my leave I just wanted to express how grateful we all are to our readers. The success we have had with our new Christmas on Main Street Boxed Set has really touched all of us here. We have been the #1 Inspirational Best Seller for more than a week and continue to rank in the top 1-3 in Romance and Anthology Categories. If you don’t have your copy yet, click the cover on the side bar and see what all the fuss is about!

Writing books is a career, true. But it is also a huge expression of who we all are or dream to be and to have it so well received has been thrilling for all of us! So, thank you again for all of your support, reviews and referrals. We are blessed! Happy Holidays and please share your traditions with us in the comments, maybe we will be inspired to try something new.

 

CHRISTMAS TEA RING 2009_1214SwedishTeaRing0014

Ingredients:
1 (1 pound) loaf frozen bread dough,
thawed (or make your own)
1/4 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Directions:
1. Roll bread dough into a rectangle 8 inches wide and 15 inches long. Spread butter over the bread, leaving about 1/2 inch of a long edge unbuttered. Mix brown sugar, cinnamon, and flour in a bowl and sprinkle the mixture over the buttered part of the dough.
2. Starting with the long edge opposite the unbuttered edge, tightly roll the dough over the filling; seal the roll along the unbuttered edge to make a log.
3. Lightly grease a 12-inch round cake pan or baking dish; place dough into the pan and form a ring, pinching the two ends together to seal. Use kitchen scissors or sharp knife to make cuts 3/4 inch deep into the outside of the ring. Twist the cut sections of dough slightly to reveal filling.
4. Cover the tea ring with a cloth, place into a warm area, and let rise until doubled, 45 minutes to 1 hour.
5. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).
6. Bake tea ring in the preheated oven until lightly browned, 25 to 30 minutes. Cover with a sheet of aluminum foil after 15 minutes if tea ring starts to brown too quickly. Let tea ring cool in pan for about 10 minutes before removing to finish cooling on a wire rack.
7. Combine confectioners’ sugar, milk, and vanilla extract in a bowl to make a smooth frosting. Spread top of the tea ring with frosting.

Baby It’s Cold Outside…And Sugar Cookies

ice storm picAs an arctic blast makes its way across the continent (due to arrive in my town of Nashville on Friday), it’s imperative to be prepared.

There are those wonkish types who will stockpile batteries, water, and canned goods. But if an avid reader really wants to be able to face anything Old Man Winter throws her way, she needs sustenance…and I’m not talking about cans of Chef Boyardee.

Aside from a light source, what’s truly needed is books and snacks. A fully charged Kindle or a stack of paperbacks is a must. I mean, what else is there to do when the power goes out? (If you’re an OB nurse or doc, you might want to brace yourself for the first week of Sept. ’14)

amazon imageSome great titles to have by your side include Christmas On Main Street (perfect for the season, too!) and now just 99 cents.

AB set smallIf the weather makes you think of end-of-the-world scenarios, check out my Apocalypse Babes series, to worry about fictional problems instead of those pesky real ones.

Whether you’re reading heart-warming stories or Gothic sci-fi romance, you need snacks. And a perfect cold weather accompaniment is cookies. Sugar cookies to be specific. Here’s my recipe, culled from various cookbooks and my mother’s tweaks over many years. The taste is unparalleled (nothing blah here). I hope you love it as much as I do.

cookiesCream together 3/4 cup butter and 3/4 cup sugar. Add in an egg and blend well. Then add 1/2 tsp of almond flavoring and 1/2 tsp vanilla (or a little more to taste). Blend. Mix together 2 cups of flour, 1/2 tsp of salt, and 1/2 tsp cream of tartar (note: there’s no leavening agent), then add to the wet ingredients and blend until just combined. I put the dough (I always double the recipe) into a gallon Zip-Loc bag, flatten it out a bit, and chill for several hours or overnight in the fridge.

Then roll out the dough on a floured surface to about 1/4″. Place cookie cutouts (don’t forget the sprinkles!) on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake at 325 deg. for 13 to 15 minutes. Remove from cookie sheet to cool. I like mine a little dark gold on the edges so they have an extra crispy, buttery flavor. YUM!

As we speak, my dough is chilling and I will have a double batch of cookies ready for Friday along with some awesome Main Street Authors on my Kindle.

Bring on the storm!

 

 

 

 

It’s December already!

It’s December, which means it’s almost Christmas. Where has winter_scenethe year gone? Remember when we were children and the winter break seemed to take forever to get here? Now the days and months fly by.

I’m no longer the gazelle that I once was. But I refuse to give into my limitations. Sometimes that means I must get creative. Tennis balls have become my friends. I’ll lean against a wall and drop one down my back. The trick is to drop it just enough to catch with the back and not let fall on the floor. It’s the best massage. Just wiggle it over the entire back without letting it fall. Or you’ll be chasing the dog for it.

Drop one into an old sock and you can toss against the ceiling to collect dust webs. I promise there is nothing out there with a long enough handle to reach in this old house. The staircase is the worst! I think it can be considered a form of exercise. Toss and catch. Turn up the music and have fun.

Mannheim Steamroller and TSO are my favorite CD’s to play while I’m “working” in my house this time of year. Mannheim Steamroller allows me to chill and TSO amps me up to do the almost impossible. December for me is more than just Christmas decorations – it’s when I change the batteries in my smoke alarms. I know that sounds silly, but somehow I remember to change them while I’m doing all the cleaning with tennis balls. Just as I remember to change the air filters on the forced air heating system on the first of each month and the flea meds go on the cat. That’s the way I remember that the smoke alarm batteries are changed in December. I’m a creature of habit!

I gave up on the cut Christmas tree. It used to be fun to go walk through the tree farm and find the perfect one. But dragging home a twelve-foot tree on the roof of my car, trimming the cut edge from the bottom and skimming some bark to expose the cambium layer so that it can drink doesn’t hold much appeal. I’ve settled for a cheap little tree that sits on a table and doesn’t need to be watered. I don’t even drag out the all the old heirloom decorations, and I have some that go back to the 1800’s. This one, I pick out of the closet, plug it in, and cover it with cheap balls because the cat thinks the balls are his play toys!

I decorate the mantles and the porch is lucky if it gets a wreath on the door. I really am a homebody and would be hard-pressed to tell you the last time someone actually set foot in my house at Christmastime. My children invite me to their houses and don’t bother to come here. Whatever I do, I do for myself. I’ve really gotten into decorating the mantles. I don’t have to worry about the animals getting into whatever I put there and there are plenty of mantles in this old house.

I’m not sure why other than it allows me to express my creative side without a big hassle. I don’t need a ladder, except over the living room mantle, for I put a wreath there. It’s also easy for me to pack up and put away after the holidays. Traditionally (Iheavy_snow3 told you I was a creature of habit!) I do the whole decorating thing the first weekend in December. That gives me a few more days to play with the tennis ball. And skipping that big tree, also means I don’t have to water it or worry about pine needles dropping. Yep! It’s a new way of life. It’s different, but it’s really not bad. I kinda like it. Less pressure, more fun, I don’t have to worry about leaving reindeer food outside because Santa doesn’t need to stop here anymore.

No cookies to bake, so nothing to tempt me into eating something I shouldn’t be putting in my mouth. Even my granddaughters have learned to make the traditional foods of our family. I’m FREE! Okay, it’s super quiet around here, but that’s fine with me. My family gets together on Christmas Eve. I’ve told my children it’s the one time I get to demand their attention. They can go with spouses on Thanksgiving and Christmas, but I get Christmas Eve.

Christmas Eve was always the big meal in my house. Years later, I discovered my mom’s reason behind that. She wanted Christmas off to enjoy the day, too. We’d have a ham and plenty of things like potato salad on Christmas Eve, which become the perfect leftovers for Christmas day. My husband grew up with a very late night meal. After Mass, he’d go to his grandmother’s house for a huge meal. And Santa always came while he was at Mass.

So when we married it was easy to blend traditions, and I’ll admit I loved not having to worry much with Christmas dinner. It meant I got time to spend on the floor with my children and their new toys. It was a quiet and relaxing day.

My husband and I married in November so the first thing we had to straighten out was Christmas. What traditions mean the most to us? Blending holidays and traditions is always important!

For me, it was springhouse cookies. Now you would call them refrigerator cookies for the batter is made and placed in the springhouse/ refrigerator for at least 24 hours before baking. They are also jokingly referred to as ugly brown cookies, but they taste delicious.

From my husband came tourtiere or “took-kay.” (The French Canadians slur everything. LOL) The real trick was to make enough that I actually had some for Christmas morning. Okay, I figured out how to cheat on the recipe! OMG! I’m not into slaving in the kitchen and I’m not going to start by roasting a whole loin to do it!

Although my mother-in-law thought that was the only way to make it. The Christmas before my husband died, we drove to his parents’ house on Christmas day and I brought two pies with me. My MIL was well into her eighties and no longer doing the cooking that she had once done, for age and health problems were catching up to her. So I made extra tourtiere to take with us. My MIL put her nose in the air and refused to even taste my pies, but my FIL chowed down on the pies with gusto and proclaimed mine as the best he’d ever tasted. (I cringed and hoped my MIL did not hear his praise! But that MIL/DIL story is best left unspoken. Let’s just say I envy those who have a wonderful relationship with their MIL.)

The trick is to make friends with the butcher at the grocery store or at least talk to him or her a week ahead of time. Start with good lean ground pork! I actually made one and took it to the butcher, as he knew what I was making and hadn’t had it since he was a small child.

Seriously, it’s a love-hate food. Either people love it or hate to with no middle road. This should be enough for two big pies. If you used too many potatoes, or small pie plate, you’ve got three pies. If you’ve got a cup of filling leftover, you can make omelets and use it for the filling.

Tourtiere

1 pound of lean ground pork

1/2 mild onion or use onion powder to taste

3-4 medium potatoes boiled and chopped up into fine pieces- not quite mashed but almost.

1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon of cloves

a little salt to taste

real butter

two-three packages of pork gravy (I told you I learned to cheat!)

Drop a wedge of butter into a pan and then add the finely chopped onion. Fry until they are nicely caramelized. I liked the onion very finely diced – hated big globs of onion in the pie. Then add the meat and cook until there is no more pink. Add the potatoes and one packet of prepared gravy from the mix. (Make sure it’s gravy and you’re not dumping the powder and water in the pan. It doesn’t work. I tried that. LOL)

Bake between two pie crusts in a 425 F degree oven until brown. If you need a need a good pie crust recipe, let me know. (That big company that makes the refrigerated pie crust – doesn’t work. It’s too sweet. It’s perfect for something like apple pie, but it’s not suitable for a meat pie.) I promise pie crusts are very easy to make!

You know how you’re supposed to puncture the piecrust so the steam escapes? I’d use a toothpick and make decorations on the top, instead of the three little slits. Remember how you drew Christmas trees as a child? Do it on the pie! It’s adorable! If you are really creative grab the knife and draw pine branches. Let the kids do it! Christmas balls or whatever suits your fancy. Have fun. No one will see it but your immediate family.

Since the filling is cooked, and the pie is baked, I’d put it in the oven on low when we’d get up on Christmas morning and let it warm up. Then I’d make the gravy after everyone opened the presents because it only takes few minutes to make pork gravy from a package. Yes, it was our breakfast. Strange breakfast food but if you are French Canadian, it’s pretty normal.

I’ve got three books this year to keep you cozy warm through the holidays:

A Christmas on Main Street with the Authors of Main Street box setand you can’t beat the price for eleven wonderful Christmas books! Amazon http://amzn.com/B00GCPPALG

B&N http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/christmas-on-main-street-stephanie-queen/1117394281?ean=2940148958994

amazon imageSweetwater Springs Christmas with Debra Holland and Friends is my first foray into historical western romance. And that story led me to A Rancher’s Woman, which will be out shortly. http://amzn.com/B00G06W3SA

A Holiday Anthology with the Exquisite Quills a series of very eq cover swshort stories to warm you heart this holiday season and it’s free on Smashwords. What happens during the holiday when one is a gentile and the other is Jewish? Read The Kissing Ball.  https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/374815

And my River City novels about young urbanites are going on sale on Amazon for the month of December! So grab them while they are on sale.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays everyone, and for those who celebrate Hanukkah, Happy Hanukkah! Hope you all have a wonderful holiday no matter how you celebrate it. It’s a time for peace, reflection, renewal, roots, faith, family, and fun!