Saturday, October 29, 2016

Men who Cook

When a mom is raising sons, she has to decide what kind of men she wants to raise. For me, raising men who cook was a top priority. (It's no coincidence that the romantic heroes in my books are often found in the kitchen.)

My dad always cooked. Although Mom usually did most of the cooking, Dad worked beside her--cutting up a salad, prepping fresh fruit and vegetables, chopping onions for the dish she was cooking. If Mom was the chef, Dad was the prep cook. When Mom was needed elsewhere, he could take over and run the whole show--which he frequently did. My brothers learned both by example and by being taught, invited into the kitchen and told how to help.

The family that raised my husband did not take the same approach. Though he is usually willing--and decades of experience have taught him how to throw a few kinds of meals together if necessary--Hubby prefers to bake goodies, his one great cooking expertise.

When our genetic mix produced sons, I was determined they would learn to cook. It worked well for most of them. The one great exception is the boy who took "Foods" four years in high school, but never really learned to cook anything.

My eldest can cook all kinds of foods, but like many men, he specializes in barbeque. His BBQ wins awards and gets him invitations to cook for crowds at parties and fund raisers. He's also a superior breakfast cook.

Son #2 is a chef. "Cooking is creation," he likes to say, "but baking is chemistry." While he largely leaves the baking to others, he subscribes to foodie magazines, watches the Food Network on TV, and experiments constantly with recipes. At the end of a stressful day, he unwinds in the kitchen, leaving his wife free to take on other duties such as helping the kids with homework.

One of his more enjoyable work conferences featured an onstage cooking performance and a meal prepared by celebrity chef Guy Fieri. Anyone who knows my son will not be surprised to know that he skipped a chunk of the conference to introduce himself in the kitchen and ask, "Do you need any help?" He spent the rest of the day working side-by-side with the famous chef and even helping in his onstage show. Teaching this son to cook produced not only a fine household chef, but a bold and polished showman who loves the kitchen.

Like his showman brother, our youngest watches the Food Network, studies recipes, and experiments with variations. He's the one who created a "flying pig" for Thanksgiving last year. You've heard of the Turducken--the deboned chicken stuffed inside a deboned duck which is then stuffed into a deboned turkey and all of it stuffed with stuffing? The "flying pig" takes it one step farther with a layer of ham as well as some bacon in part of the stuffing. Talk about a gourmet treat! I felt rather smug when I saw what had come from teaching this son to cook. This son is coming this weekend to bake Halloween goodies with his wife and (adorable, of course!) children.

Son #4, the one who spent most of three years living in Korea, has learned to prepare Korean food together with a number of other meals and can easily take over the kitchen if his wife is busy elsewhere or he just feels like it. So can Son #5, although he is generally less interested and tends to leave the cooking--except for the outdoor BBQ--to his wife.

It's been an adventure to see how my efforts to raise men who cook have produced such varied results--everything from the son who can hold his own with the best to the one who thinks micro-waving a hot dog is the height of culinary effort. It should also be mentioned here that I have one daughter, who is an excellent cook.

One never knows how parental teaching will play out, but I was gifted with cooks. My daughters-in-law, son-in-law, and grandchildren are glad I made the effort.

Susan Aylworth is the author of 14 novels, all available as e-books. She loves her northern California home which she shares with her husband of 46 years and the two spoiled cats they serve. When she can't be with her seven children, seven great kids-in-law, and 25 grandbabies, she loves hanging with her fictional offspring, the children of her mind. She also loves hearing from readers. Visit her website at or find her @SusanAylworth, at, or on Pinterest.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Coffee Coffee Everywhere and Not a Drop...

The emergence of coffee as America’s favorite beverage is purported to have been instigated by the unfair taxes imposed by the English government on American colonists in the late 18th Century. The Boston Tea Party is one of many iconic events that set the stage for revolution and brought an end to the dominance of Indian black tea as ritual morning, midday and evening beverage of recent arrivals to the North American continent.

So how did this replacement activity actually happen? How did it occur that now, over 1400 million cups of coffee are drunk around the world each day?

In 1793, coffee was still mainly consumed for medicinal purposes and was too expensive for everyday use.

“New York's first coffee roaster opened on Pearl Street, selling wholesale beans to taverns and hotels, which led to an abundance of coffee businesses along the East River ports. Since coffee importers lacked appropriate communication tools and were at the mercy of the bean-toting ships' arrivals, most of this early consumer-grade green coffee (which would eventually be roasted) was months old, gaining unattractive qualities from the musty and damp wooden ships….

“[T]he Coffee Exchange of New York began regulating traffic in 1882, creating coffee standards and influencing the quality available to consumers. Through the progression of wooden to steam-powered ships, to paper packaging, advancements in roasting technology and selling coffee based on its taste instead of by sight, coffee morphed into a beverage which could be accessible to those outside the wealthy class and still taste good.”

By the 1900s, coffee was a preferred drink for the wealthy urban dwellers, because it was still too expensive for the majority of Americans. The development of the Coffee Exchange and improvements in shipping, advancements in roasting technology and a preference for taste also boosted the availability to a wider public.

World War II slowed that process and cheaper Robusta beans made in roads, but the advertising campaigns for “coffee breaks” in the 1950s created the atmosphere that led to the appearance of “coffee shops” and “coffee houses” that spread the word into the counter-cultures of the Beatnik and Hippie eras. These in turn led to the comfortable atmosphere of overstuffed sofas and the perception of coffee as the drink most convivial to friendly discussion.

Another instrument for the promotion of coffee to the national drink was the appearance of the beverage on the increasingly influential medium of television. In my family, coffee was the only hot drink and, more often than not for adults, served during meals. Wine and beer were only served at celebration meals.

During the 1970s, the widely popular crime series, Twin Peaks, raised coffee to the level of a connoisseur’s drink with the line “Now, that’s a cup of coffee.” By this time, Americans were well-versed in the appreciation of this all-occasions drink, therefore my first visit to the British Isles was an eye-opener. In habitants of the country of the Magna Carta had no idea what coffee should taste like. For the remainder of the weeks I spent there, I drank tea, even when, according to my fellow B&Bers, it was “too weak to come out of the pot.”

Coffee reached celebrity status in the 1980s, when the series, Friends hit the airways and made a huge difference to coffee consumption when the series was picked up by the independent telly networks in English-speaking countries around the world. The system of franchising and chain stores also extended the spread of “coffeemania” when enterprises such as Peet’s, Tully’s, La Boulangerie, among others moved into neighborhoods.

As citizens of an open society, Americans have embraced coffee and coffee rituals from around the world. We have also opened our taste buds to the joys of exotic teas but it is coffee that holds our hearts in thrall, as an emblem of our long-held and hard-won independence.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

The Marvelous Miracle of Google

A young man I know once said he thought Google was God: It sees everything and knows everything. I found his observation interesting, if somewhat irreverent. Certainly Google has become the go-to for almost anyone with a question.

Lately I've found I keep a window open on my desktop just for Google searches. My new work in progress is taking me places I need to understand much better, even including some where I've been and done. My main character, 16-year-old Marissa/Dulce, finds herself on a journey through the Amazonian rainforests of Bolivia, and even though I have been in those same rainforests, there is too much about them I don't know. Google knows it all.

What's the average daytime temperature in the rainforest? Google knows. What trees grow there? Google knows that too and can tell me whether the kapok, which is endemic to rainforests in some parts of the world, actually grows in Bolivia. (It doesn't, as a general rule.) What are forest remedies for topical infection? How tall is a mapajo tree? How does a pit viper hunt? What do you call the large-cat sound a jaguar makes? What airlines fly out of Santa Cruz, Bolivia? How do the jungles of southern Bolivia differ from the rainforests of the north? Google knows it all. Maybe there is something to the claim of omniscience after all.

As Dulce ventures farther and farther into her adventure, I will have a thousand more questions, and Google will be there for me, I love Google. Since my muse has gone rogue and begun to lead me on amazing side-road adventures I never expected to take, I am becoming ever more dependent on this marvelous modern know-it-all. It may never have a place in my heart or my worship, but Google will always have a place on my computer screen.

Susan Aylworth is the author of 14 novels, all available as e-books. She loves her northern California home which she shares with her husband of 46 years and the two spoiled cats they serve. When she can't be with her seven children, seven great kids-in-law, and 25 grandbabies, she loves hanging with her fictional offspring, the children of her mind. She also loves hearing from readers. Visit her website at or find her @SusanAylworth, at, or on Pinterest.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Conferences Big and Small

by Fran McNabb

Most professions have conferences to bring people of the same interests together. Writers are no different. In fact, writer groups might offer more in the way of conferences and retreats than some professions. Is there a conference in your future?

I attended my first writers’ conference in 2002. I was a newbie member of Romance Writers of America and a want-to-be-published author. This conference held in New Orleans was a national conference for RWA and a biggie for someone who had never been to one. I was like a kid in a candy
store. I wanted to attend every workshop offered, starting bright and early in the morning and running well into the night. Needless to say, I realized attendees really needed to make choices. Sleep had to come sometimes.

From that huge conference of over 2,000 in attendance, I went on to be conference chair of Silken Sands, a much smaller conference on the Gulf Coast with my local RWA chapter, and I loved, loved, loved putting it on. I met some of the most wonderful people in the industry and today I still run into some of them. In fact, recently I attended The Magic of Books, a really small local conference, but even with its intimate attendance, I reconnected with several old friends, and, of course, met some new ones. 

My point in today’s blog post is that no matter where an author attends a conference or how big the conference might be, conferences are a tremendous asset. By sharing experiences during breaks or sitting in instructional workshops, there is no better place to learn the craft of writing and publishing, and learning the craft is what every author needs. I have two degrees in English, but I learned how to write for publication and the etiquette of the publishing process through others more knowledgeable than I.

Authors are sharing individuals. If you haven’t been to a conference lately, maybe it’s time to find one. It doesn’t have to be a big one. If you have an interest, there is a conference for you from smaller more personal functions to national one put on by ACFW, Mystery Writers, RWA and other big organizations.

If you have a favorite conference, I’d love for you to put a link in the comment section. I'm sure others will find it helpful. It's not too early to plan your conference schedule for 2017.

I’ll start:

The Blue Lake Christian Writers Retreat, March 22-25, 2017, is small, personal retreat on a serene setting in south Alabama. A discount for early-bird registration is being offered until Jan 1. Check it out at

FRAN MCNABB writes sweet romances for Montlake Publishing and for The Wild Rose Press. She also has two Indie Published books. She loves to hear from readers at or at her website

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Don’t Waste That Halloween Pumpkin

In the wake of rumors that canned pumpkin isn’t really pumpkin at all, but squash in thin disguise (see here for the story, but know that the story is  actually a bit more complicated), it’s time to talk about how to make real pumpkin foods.  I’m not taking sides in this dispute but I’ve long been a proponent of preparing your own pumpkin from the indisputably real thing for baking.

It’s really not hard, though it does take a bit more time and effort than using a can opener to access a bunch of the fake stuff. I normally buy several nice pumpkins in early to mid-October for decorations. I tend to leave them as is in my displays, but if you want to decorate, use paint or markers. Don’t carve them until the day before Halloween and they’ll keep in good shape unless you happen to live in places where nothing survives outside for very long.

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I carve mine on Halloween and put candles in them to create classic jack-o-lanterns. Once the festivities are over, though, I bring them inside and wash them off.  The next day, I cut them into quarters or eighths, depending on the size, and put the pieces on baking sheets lined with aluminum foil. I bake them at 450 F (a very hot oven), skin-side down, for an hour or until a fork slides easily into the flesh.
Let it cool, scrape off any of the stringy stuff from the top and peel the flesh away from the tough skin. I put the flesh in a blender and puree it until reasonably smooth, then measure it into one- or two-cup containers.

I use some of it to make several loaves of pumpkin bread and a batch or two of pumpkin muffins and freeze the rest.  Here’s my favorite pumpkin bread recipe:

Pumpkin Bread
3 cups self-rising flour (or 3 cup plain flour + 4-5 tsp. baking powder and 1 tsp. salt)
3 tsp cinnamon
Pinch of nutmeg
2 cups sugar
4 eggs, beaten
2 cups cooked, mashed pumpkin
1 cup melted butter

Sift dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl.
Form a well in the center and eggs, pumpkin, and butter.
Stir until moistened.
Pour into 2 well-greased loaf pans
Bake at 350 degrees, 45 – 50 minutes. 

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Coming Clean

by Janis Patterson

There’s a cute picture going around Facebook showing an overflowing laundry basket and the caption is something like “I’ve solved the mystery of the ever-full laundry basket – there must be people living here whom I’ve never met.”

It would be funnier if it weren’t too close to true. Our laundry basket is an enormous wicker basket which in another house in another decade held a decent-sized potted ficus tree. When we moved, the tree itself was given to a neighbor who actually wanted the thing (if I’d known he wanted it I would have given it to him long ago!) and I lined the basket for use as a laundry basket. It was big enough that I thought it would hold a week or more’s laundry without a problem.


The basket has a new name. According to The Husband, it is the Magic Laundry Basket. According to me, it is the Cursed Laundry Basket. I can do a laundry that totally empties the basket one day and the next it is brimming again. I’d swear The Husband must change clothes half-a-dozen times a day, but as I see him regularly I know that’s not true. As I work at home, more often than not I end up wearing my jammies all day long unless I have some place to go, and that is rare.

So where do all these clothes come from? If I had the money and the expertise, I would put GPS trackers on them just to find out where they go and what they have been doing… and with whom.

Another problem is facial tissues. You know, like Kle… those tissues with the name that’s copyrighted and we’re not supposed to use, but let’s face it – a facial tissue by any name is a laundry menace. Like a good wife I go through The Husband’s pockets when sorting the wash, where I find a fair number of wadded up tissues. Those are disposed of and explained easily; other things seem to have no explanation. There are coins, of course, which I promptly confiscate and put in my own private rathole bank. Every year or two I’ve saved enough to take us out for a fairly nice dinner as a special, unexpected treat. Less felicitous finds are a drill bit (he is not in the least handy), an Allen wrench, all kinds of indecipherable notes scribbled on odd scraps of paper, mints and empty mint wrappers, odd little chunks of metal that have no identifiable purpose, once in a rare while a loose key… you know, the kind of detritus that is both commonplace and unexplainable.

At least we had no children. Girls are notorious for leaving cosmetics and candy in pockets, and boys… oh, law, what don’t they leave in pockets, including things like beetles and frogs that are still living. Or not. Ick!

I try to practice what I preach. I have a box of facial tissues on my desk and by my seat on the couch in the TV room – and a wastebasket close by each. None ever go into a pocket. For any other situation, I use handkerchiefs. Yes, old fashioned fabric handkerchiefs. Hankies. Not because I am a swooning romantic, or because I occasionally write historical romance, or because I am a fussy old lady (those of you who know me well BE QUIET!), but because if you leave a hankie in your pocket, after it comes out of the wash you only have a knotted lump of fabric, still in that same pocket. A tissue… well, you have little bits of tissue ‘dandruff’ over everything and anything, and it can take a wash or two to get rid of it. Either that or a long, boring time spent with a lint brush or strips of tape.

My beloved mother-in-law and sister-in-law, truly two of God’s blessings on me, jumped for joy when they found I liked handkerchiefs. I will admit that I am picky and hard to buy for, so they delight in finding me handkerchiefs. My last birthday I received eight exquisite lace/drawn work/embroidered antique hankies, all handmade in Europe and in perfect condition. They are so gorgeous I am going to have to force myself to use them; I’ve already decided that they will be held back for special occasions only. Normally hankies live a hard life with me, but I don’t worry about running out – thanks to my wonderful mother-in-law and sister-in-law, I have enough hankies to last me at least two lifetimes.

And none will ever pill up and leave little white bits all over a load of laundry!

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Social Media

When it comes to Facebook, the world seems to be divided into two camps: those who love it and those who think it’s an intrusive time-waster. I’m of the former group.  I love Facebook fun, think it’s diverting and a great way to connect with people and find out what they’re thinking about any issue.  It’s also a wonderful source of recipes if you’re friends with me, but more on that later.

A few years ago I went to my high school reunion.  For the most part we women (I went to an all girls school), hadn’t seen each other in over forty years.  The reunion was a great success.  We all spoke to old friends, made new ones and tearfully (in a good way) shared memories and remembered those no longer with us. 

When the reunion was over many of us “friended” each other on Facebook.  By doing so, we continue to be in touch.  Now, when I have a new book coming out, have a book that’s being promoted, or write a blog, these old and new friends from high school are the first ones to like and share my page and urge others to read the blog or the book.  More significantly, they’re also the ones who reach out when someone is sick or in need.  A grandchild needs a specialist?  My classmates and I are on the problem and making it our own to solve.  Someone is sick and needs prayers and good thoughts?  We’re there for that too. Because of that reunion I’ve acquired new friends and Facebook has kept those friendships alive.

Facebook also helps me with keep up with our large and widespread family.  As I’ve posted before, I am part of a very large family. My children have 30 first cousins.  To make it even more interesting those cousins and the second cousins and sometimes even the third and fourth cousins keep in touch.  But how can that be managed? Last Saturday night I was at a wedding party and was talking to one of my husband’s cousins.  We were able to quickly move from greeting one another to real conversation, avoiding politics when we realized we didn’t agree.  But we didn’t need small talk to get reacquainted or dwell on what was new.  I already knew one of her sons just got married, the other recently started business school, and her daughter graduated from college this summer summa cum laude. I know that all from Facebook.  Even though I hadn’t seen this cousin in several years, it didn’t feel like that.  We’re regularly in touch because of social media.

Facebook is also an interesting forum for topical discussions.  I’m not going to touch politics.  In this climate and with the election on the near horizon, that’s too sensitive.  But what about all the issues that we discuss with our family and friends and chew on trying to figure out what is right and where we stand. I read a post on Facebook criticizing all day kindergarten and the fact that kindergarten programs have become so academic.  When I shared the post I got a deluge of responses on both sides of the argument.  Those responses and observations kept me thinking for days. 

Finally, there are those recipes.  If you are my friend on Facebook, you know I share recipes. I started sharing them because I couldn’t figure out a better way to have access to them later.  Then I found that people liked them as much as I did, like me, they were looking for healthy and delicious food.  I also like the videos.  I’m an amateur cook who has taken a few cooking classes. These cooking videos are, in my opinion, just as helpful in learning techniques. 

So yes, Facebook can be a time sponge and time waster, but I think the benefits of Facebook far outweigh its disadvantages.  To be able to connect with friends and loved ones no matter where they live, being the most positive of them.

Deborah Nolan is the author of SUDDENLY LILY and CONFLICT OF INTEREST, published by Montlake.  She is also the author of SECOND ACT FOR CARRIE ARMSTRONG, published by Desert Breeze Publishing.  Her latest romance, HELLO AGAIN, will be coming out in January, 2017 through Desert Breeze Publishing.  In addition to writing and cooking, Deborah paints, visits her children and travels to the weddings of her many nieces and nephews

Saturday, October 1, 2016

It's Pumpkin Season!

by Victoria M. Johnson

At last my favorite time of the year has arrived.  I always wait patiently though summer for fall to arrive.  Sure summer has its benefits, but I prefer walking on the beach, hiking on trails in nature, and entertaining family and friends in the fall. 

In California, summer weather is pretty much the same day in and day out.  I find it boring.  Here's what I most look forward to on those monotonously sunshiny summer days.

Fall is here.

1. Wearing sweaters, hats, scarves, and boots.

2. Rain.  Running in it, walking in it, and observing it through a window from inside.

3. Sitting by a cozy fire.  Appreciating it while reading, or sipping a glass of wine, or contemplating life.

4. Bringing out thick socks and tights.  It's time for crazy combinations to warm the legs while being fashionably unfashionable.

5. Stepping on dry leaves.  A walk on brisk autumn mornings become more pleasant when dry leaves of gold, orange, red and brown are scattered on the sidewalk just waiting to be crunched.

6. Enjoying the fun holidays.  Halloween, Day of the Dead, and Thanksgiving are special and amazing around the Johnson household.  Costumes, decorations, lots of food and lots of beverages... What's not to like about that?

pumpkin quiche by Victoria M. Johnson
Victoria's famous pumpkin quiche.

7. Pumpkins!  My list would not be complete without praising my all-time favorite vegetable, the pumpkin.  I love to bake with them and I love sampling new ways of eating them.  I'm known for my mini pumpkin pies, quiche, empanadas, and soup.  And who doesn't like pumpkin spiced coffee and tea; or pumpkin bagels, ice cream, seeds, and cheesecake?  But have you tried pumpkin pancakes, pumpkin spaghetti, or pumpkin wine? 

Victoria's tasty pumpkin soup. Yummy.

As you may have guessed, I love pumpkins and I love pumpkin season.  I think I need to grow my own.  In the meantime, fall means I'm out and about, dressed warmly if not crazily, in search of pumpkin festivals and pumpkin patches. 

Wishing you a pleasant fall.  May you encounter plenty of pumpkins!

Victoria M. Johnson knew by the time she was ten that she wanted to be a writer.  She loves telling stories and she's happiest when creating new characters and new plots.  Avalon Books and Montlake Romance published Victoria's fiction debut, The Doctor’s Dilemma, (A 2012 Bookseller’s Best double finalist).  Her other fiction book is a collection of romance short stories titled, The Substitute Bride and a novella, Hot Hawaiian Christmas. She is also the writer and director of four short films and two micro documentaries.   Visit Victoria's website at for inspiration and tips and find her Amazon author page or connect with her on Pinterest and Twitter.