Category Archives: cooking

Weekend Happy

A good work week can set the stage for a happy weekend, and I’m on a roll as sunny June takes over from rainy May.
 
Kayla’s brothers went to the Ninja Turtle movie on Saturday–and she had absolutely no interest so we had our Saturday cooking day.
 
Since she hadn’t given me a direction earlier in the week–so specific ingredients could be at hand–we punted.
 
She liked the idea of pasta, and I have an easy and pretty quick one, one she’ll be able to make on her own at home. But first, she wanted to bake a cake.
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Cake is, by far, Kayla’s favorite food, and always has been. So what kind of cake? I found some fun and fancy ones, but didn’t have everything we needed. So we fell back on an old standard–a golden butter cake. She’s learned so much over the past few months, all I do, mostly, is read off the recipe as she goes. We decide to make it a sheet cake–that’s plenty easy–and before long, that’s in the oven.
 
We take a short break, a nice walk. I see I’ll be weeding and deadheading on Sunday.
 
She’s decided she’s hungry, so we should start the pasta.
 
On goes the big pot of water, as we’ll make a full pound so she can take plenty home. Out comes the cake, and it smells just yum.
 
I peel the garlic–have to teach her to do that–and she chops it up with my little tool. This sautes in olive oil she measures and pours into my biggest skillet. Add a dash of crushed red pepper.
 
Spaghetti into the salted, boiling water–I show her how to break the long noodles in half, use the pasta fork to stir them up. When they’re close to done, I take a couple of cups of the pasta water, add it to the olive oil and garlic. She likes the smell. I show her how to pinch a noodle to see if it’s done. Not quite.
 
I go out, harvest some herbs–parsley, basil (and my little potted ones are coming back nicely) rosemary, oregano, thyme. Show her how I chop them up.IMG_1452
 
Drain the pasta, pour it into the skillet, toss in the herbs, some black pepper, a little onion salt. She stirs it, turns it, stirs it until the pasta’s absorbed all the liquid.
 
She must have some immediately! Judges it delicious. And it must be, because before she left for home she ate three helpings. Good thing I went for the whole pound.
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Now it’s time to frost the cake, with an old, reliable buttercream frosting. She wants to color it–and why not? Goes with green, and mixes and stirs–and I take over as she says her arm’s really tired! Mix and stir until we have a pretty minty green and creamy frosting she spreads over the cake. Then decides to add some red sugar. Again, why not?
 
Then must have a piece–and this is also proclaimed delicious. She eats two before the end of her day–and Grandda has some himself.
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Through the cooking, the baking, the couple of nice walks, she’s full of talk about our upcoming girl trip to New York. I’m pretty juiced about it myself.
 
I send her home after the most pleasant of days with most of the cake and a tub of pasta.
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Today, as yesterday, I got the workout in early. I gathered my tub, my pruners, my gloves and headed out to do that weeding and deadheading. My roses are so happy! And the deer repellent’s working as my first lilies are cheerfully blooming. Now I’m happy as the roses.
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I also see the first little tomato blossom on the vine–and where some insects have nibbled on the leaves. Go in, make up some soapy water–with a dash of tobasco–in a spray bottle. If it doesn’t work, I’ll buy something at the garden center.
 
Must do my weekend shoveling out of the house, which won’t take long. Then find myself a pretty spot and read. I believe it’s a fine day to make myself a couple of bellinis. They’d go well with Cake by Kayla.  
Nora

Back In The Kitchen With Kayla

But before that I spent all day Friday doing a photo shoot. Sounds glam, right?
 
It so isn’t.
 
Now it’s certainly cool to get your hair and makeup done by professionals, especially pros you know and trust. You provide naked face and undone hair, and they transform you so you look glam. And they have such nifty toys.
 
It’s really nice to have a photographer you know and trust–in this case my husband. And it’s comfortable to do the shoot in his studio, so there’s all that.
 
And Laura’s there to help, and to weigh in on the couple of choices I brought for accessories. Three different set ups, three different outfits, three different hairstyles and three different makeup looks.
 
And you spend your day smiling/not smiling/smiling less or more. Turning this way or that way, hands/arms here or there. The first time I did a shoot I gained considerable respect for those who do so for a living. Having all these pros I know and trust–and really like on a personal level–makes a big difference for a woman who makes her living at the keyboard, mostly in pjs, with no makeup and bed hair.
 

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The team: BW, Tereza, Laura and Harold
Plus, it was a gorgeous day. Sunny, warm, wonderful.
 
Saturday, not so much.
 
But I’d already planned to spend much of it in the kitchen, especially after I got my 18 10 stainless steel flatware. Kayla’s schedule and mine haven’t meshed in the last few weeks, but we earmarked Saturday for cooking together. When I asked her about menu choices earlier in the week, Logan vigorously suggested deviled eggs. She wanted to do my mother’s pound cake again–and since nobody had an idea for a main, I suggested lasagna. Menu set.
 
She arrives early afternoon on raw, rainy Saturday, and we get down to it. Red sauce first–and she’s done this once, so only needs a little prompting. And only a bit on the cake batter. It’s fun to get back to this weekend duet with her, to watch her handle the measuring and stirring. I’d say she learned a lot of the basics over the winter.
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Cake’s in the oven, red sauce is simmering. A little break, then it’s time to boil a dozen eggs. Tip found by BW for easy peeling:
 
For eight eggs (so math is involved for more) six cups of water, one tablespoon salt, a quarter cup of white vinegar. Bring to a boil, then carefully add eggs one at a time. Lower the heat a bit so it doesn’t boil too fast, boil for fourteen minutes. Immediately put eggs in an ice bath until cool. It really works.
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Kayla comments, as she and her Grandda get to peeling, that it’s not so bad–as she’s used to the three or four dozen required to peel for our parties. I show her how you slice them lengthwise, take out the yolk. She puts the yolks through the mill, adds the mayo, the mustard, the herbs–she has a good hand with this.
 
Taste test. A little more mustard, a little more oregano–I trust her and BW on this as I don’t like deviled eggs. Fill the whites, sprinkle with paprika. She and BW test one each, and thumbs up.
 
Now we need to make the cheese mixtures for the lasagna. I use cottage cheese rather than ricotta. I prefer its texture. And I add a lot of shredded mozzarella, some basil, some pepper.
 
Kayla adamantly dislikes the look and smell of cottage cheese. While I remind her I make a lot of things I don’t even eat, she backs away from mixing the cheeses. You do it, Nana. So Nana does. Into the fridge with it until we’re ready to put the lasagna together.
 
Cake comes out, and oh boy, it looks and smells terrific.
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About that time Logan arrives with two friends, his little brother and his mom. They’re spending this rainy evening in the pool. Kayla’s earned a swim herself, and I believe I’ve earned a little sit down. I tell her 45 minutes, then we need to finish up.
 
I’m impressed she’s back in 40.
 
Noodles go on the boil. Cake comes out of the pan and onto the pretty cake plate a pal gave me recently. And she has the first slice. It’s deemed delish.
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Preakness pre-race coverage is on the kitchen TV. I’ve stuck with my Derby pick here, and had a friend who’s going to the track place an across the board bet for me. My girl’s now invested in the race, so we talk horses and racing while I show her how to drain and cool the noodles. Have her put a little scoop of sauce on the bottom of the casserole dish so they won’t stick. And she layers the noodles, layers on sauce. I layer the cheese due to teenage ick. She layers, layers, I layer.
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The horses are in the gate. We stop everything to watch. Nyquist has the early lead, and as in the Derby, Exaggerator is back in the field. Then I watch his rider weave him through, cut him to the rail. He’s moving up, moving up. And oh boy, when they hit the stretch, he’s gone. Just flying over that wet, muddy track. He takes it running away.
 
Happy dance, hoots. And back to layering. Kayla tops the casserole with slices of mozzarella, and we pop it in the oven.
 
Damp boys come up for drops in their water-clogged ears–and are reminded to hang up their wet towels. We have experience here.
 
Young Colt–whose picture I took on the pretty Friday evening with a promise I’d post it here–commandeers my iPad for games, and asks if he can have a piece of chocolate for later. His mom and I share a laugh when later turns out to be ten seconds.
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Lasagna comes out to rest. Divvy up deviled eggs and cake to go home with the cook and the boys–they’re getting pizza delivered.
 
Hug my kitchen pal–who is now a solid smidge taller than I am.
 
If the sun comes out at all today, she’ll come be my gardening pal–and have some of her own lasagna. Her grandda and I sampled it last night. Yum!
 
I hope our schedules mesh again soon. I like to cook–especially on the weekends. But cooking with Kayla is pure pleasure. 
Nora

Easter Blessings

Birds sing this morning, and the pink blossoms still fill the view out my bedroom window. When I let the dogs out–and yelled at the herd of deer all but standing on my back patio–I stepped out into cool air. But spring cool, not that bitter bite of winter.
 
I think we made it!
 
April snows happen, and I wouldn’t bet against another frost or two, but on this Easter Sunday, spring rules.
 
On Friday after work, post work-out, I poured myself a well-deserved glass of wine and took a walkabout with the dogs. That’s a definite sign of spring as I do not do walkabouts in winter. The dogs were ecstatic, and so was I when I found some candytuft blooming, then a lovely clump of lungwort in bud. Peonies sprouting up, forsythia a cheery yellow sweep on a hillside. A Bradford pear I planted from essentially a twig years ago blooming out.
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To celebrate these little treasures, I spent a good half an hour throwing sticks for deliriously happy dogs. Parker is about two and a half, all muscle, long-legged and fast as lightning. Pancho is about nine, tubbier than he was, and hampered by the doughnut around his neck.
 
Backstory. Years ago, Pancho had a little scrape on his hind leg, around the ankle area. Not a big deal, and we treated it. But he gnawed at it, made it worse. We took him to the vet–and he wore The Cone of Shame. Which he escaped with distressing regularity. BW designed The Super Cone of Shame–this involved extending it with a round from another CofS, duct tape, staples. It failed. We tried wraps, boots, none of which defeated him. Sprays, meds, lotions, vet visits. Nothing. In fact, he only made it worse.
 
Every time we managed to get it healed–which was no mean feat–BW would insist now, obviously, the dog would leave it be. I would object, but be overruled by BW’s pity for the dog. And the dog would quickly prove BW’s pity misplaced. And the whole process would start again.
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Now the doughnut–this has been successful, and is more comfortable for him, and prevents him from bruising the back of my legs with the sharp edges of the CofS. He looks ridiculous, but it works. He has an impressive scar, but the wound’s healed. My edict was–over soft-hearted BW–the doughnut stayed on for the rest of Pancho’s life. If BW took it off for a short period, fine, as long as he was right there to catch it if Pancho started licking and gnawing.
 
A few weeks ago, I walked out to the living room to see the doughnut-less Pancho enthusiastically gnawing, the wound opened again, and blood on my rug. Where was BW? Down in his office. Just for a minute!
 
Well, they both learned their lesson.
 
In any case, Pancho is older, fatter and wearing a stupid tire around his neck. But his fierce love of fetching trumps all. Not once did the younger, faster, unhampered Parker get to the stick first. Doughnut Dog is canny, so I had to start throwing two at once, in opposite directions.
 
I could probably have done that for hours if my arm held up as they never tire of running after a stick or a ball. ButFriday was egg dying and hunting evening.
 
With my kitchen counter covered by an old plastic cloth, eggs already hard boiled, dye kits ready–pizza delivered and wine for the grownups, the kids dived in.FullSizeRender (1) - Copy FullSizeRender (2) - Copy FullSizeRender (3) - Copy FullSizeRender (4) - Copy FullSizeRender (5) - Copy
 
It’s sweet to watch a girl quickly approaching fourteen, a boy on the edge of twelve decorate eggs as enthusiastically as their five-year-old brother. All those cups of color to play with, and glitter and gloss to add. I had plenty of dippers, but they all preferred their fingers. So we had colorful digits by the end as well. And really pretty Easter eggs.
 
I have plastic eggs as well–I think I’ve had this bag of plastic eggs since Kayla was a toddler. I used to fill them with a little candy, a little change. But the older kids (and the younger who takes his cues from his sibs) like the folding stuff. I had to hunt the house for dollar bills earlier in the day before I stashed eggs around the living room. Dogs and cooler weather keep the hunt indoors.
 
And there are Easter bags–or in Kayla’s case a box. The box we dub Kayla’s Kitchen as she asked for kitchen tools. Logan gets his Under Armour (really all he wears) and the Nike basketball shoes he designed. I swore they’d be too big when I opened the box, but no. The boy has big feet. Colt’s got his Under Armour, too, and Wii games his sibs selected for him.
 
The pizza may be cold by this time, but it’s delicious.
 
We box and bag up the haul, we hug and end what’s been a pretty perfect day for me. Good work, awakening gardens, happy dogs, and kids who really are the brightest blossoms in my life.FullSizeRender (6)
 
And today the birds sing, and the deer are–for the moment–dispatched. After my workout, I’m going to settle down in the quiet with a book, enjoy the quiet and the blissful lack of chores.
 
When I count my blessings on this day of hope and color and rebirth, they are legion. So I wish the same for all of you.
Nora

Marching In

It’s dull here on this first weekend in March. The trees are bare, and the sky’s unfinished drywall. With the snow melted away–not that I’m complaining–the world outside my windows is brown and gray.
 
Right now feels like a holding pattern before the hopes (so often dashed) of April.
 
But I don’t wish time away, unless I’m in the dentist’s chair. I need March as it provides a few more weeks of hibernation for me. In fact, the last time I was out of the house, I WAS in the dentist’s chair, and barring unforeseen events or needs, I have no plans to leave my perch until March is in the rear view.
 
Winter’s a trade-off for me. I find it cold, wet and inconvenient–when I have to venture out into it. But since I rarely venture out into it, it provides me with a long stretch of solid at-home and at-work time.
 
It’s a pretty good deal.
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However, seeing this pretty little sign of coming spring pleases me enormously. Bulbs are starting to poke their way up out of the ground. Undoubtedly snow will fall on them before it’s done with us, but I love that sweet little reminder of things to come, and weekends of planting, weeding, throwing balls for the dogs and just being out in the warm air.
 
But I’ll take March and my winter routines.
 
Yesterday, at BW’s request, I made tortilla soup. Not only yummy, but leftovers mean no cooking for me today.IMG_1354 My house is in reasonable order–also addressed yesterday–so no need for me to spend time on that. Nice. I plan to spend the bulk of the day lolling around reading, and that is very, very nice indeed.
 
But before the lolling, comes another part of my daily routine. My gym. I workout every day–rarely miss. I love my little gym, and have taught myself to love (mostly) the workout. Yesterday I tried out a new ab DVD, and am torn between annoyance and satisfaction that my abs ache some this morning. I do not, and never will, have a six pack. I have maybe a three pack, but am fully aware I’d have a zero pack if I didn’t keep at it.IMG_1358
 
Even with my winter purging, I still own about 100 workout DVDs. This is no more excessive for me than my shoe collection. I need the variety to stay engaged, to talk myself–every day–into going out there and doing it. If I didn’t mix it up, I’d bore myself within a week.
 
Not so different from writing for me, as I have a process or routine, but ray out for variety from the suspense, the long-running series and the more fantasy or paranormal-based trilogies. Probably not so different from my approach to cooking where it’s let’s try some of this, or how about adding some of that. Just to mix it up.
 
Maybe that’s why I can embrace and seriously value routine without feeling I’m bogged down in a rut.
 
And that routine I embrace keeps me sitting on my butt for hours daily. Without the routine of hitting the gym, that butt would be the size of Utah. Plus, I like carbs! I am not giving them up! I’d rather sweat for an hour than deny myself french fries. And I want to fit into my clothes, I heard that a flex belt is one of the best home exercise tool for people like me. I really like my clothes even though when happily in routine I’m mostly wearing pjs, sweats or workout gear. But the clothes are there when I need them, and they need me to keep my butt in line.
 
So I’ll be hitting the gym shortly, aching abs and all. Pick out a couple of DVDs so I can sweat my way toward my 10,000 steps, maintain my three pack, maybe soothe the spirit with some yoga, then reward myself with an afternoon of reading.
 
While I’m working out, Parker will likely be following his routine. See how handsome he is? Doesn’t he look dignified and calm?160305-parker-1000
 
Do not be fooled. He mostly has two speeds. Manic delight and excitement, and sleep. This is his routine most days when I’m in the gym. She’s in there, he thinks, I can see her! She won’t let me in there, and she’s jumping around or lying on the floor. She won’t let me jump around with her, or lie on the floor with her? I’ll show her!
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He’ll come to the glass door, stare, go to the corner of the gym, dig in the dirt and mulch like a mad thing, come back, stare. Go dig some more. Too bad, he’s still not coming in.
 
So Parker and I (and Pancho who glances hopefully in the door, then wanders off to wait) will embrace our Sunday routine. After the workout, the dogs (yet another routine) will come in with me and get a much-desired Milk Bone. I’ll get a book, and maybe some carbs.
 
Sounds good.  
Nora

The Road to Discovery

The keyboard and the stove are both major tools in my world. I literally burn through multiple keyboards a year. Fortunately the stove holds up a lot longer.
 
However, I approach both pretty much the same way.
 
There’s a reason I don’t teach writing. Well, first, I don’t wanna. But over and above? I can’t tell you. I can’t analyze the process, break it down into parts and steps because I run on instinct.
 
I don’t write from an outline, or have a board filled with sticky notes, character points, photographs. I don’t have a notebook where I sketch out the ebb and flow of a story in chapter blocks. I don’t use colored index cards to track plot, setting, dialogue. And seriously, I can’t tell you about POV shifts, scene transitions, pace and rhythm. They just happen. I do scribble notes along the way, then often go back and scratch my head over them.
 
What the hell does that MEAN?
 
I start with a basic concept, a setting, character types. I ask myself who are these people anyway? If she’s a photographer like the female protagonist in the upcoming The Obsession, I know I’m going to be researching that area, and in researching (which is why I do my own) I’m going to discover something that ends up weaving into the story, often in a major way. But I also need to know–or find out–why she chose that profession. Why isn’t she a lawyer instead, or a musician? WHY photography?
 
I have to give her a name, have a mental sketch of what she looks like, how she speaks. I need to know why she lives where she lives–and what it looks like there. Smells like there, feels like. And in researching the where, I’m going to stumble on something else that ends up being important to the story.
 
I only know the bare bones when I begin, so I sit down with those bones and start writing. I discover as I go. That’s why the first draft of a story is called the discovery draft. It’s a process that works well for me–my temperament, my skill sets, my instincts.
 
Other’s mileage not only may but does vary. No right way, no wrong way to approach the art and science and mystery of storytelling. What works for any individual writer is absolutely correct for that individual writer. Anyone says otherwise? Bullshit. And arrogant bullshit at that.
 
I cook pretty much as I write, which is why I not only don’t but can’t answer the calls for recipes after I post a blog on cooking. Please, please, don’t ask me!
 
When I cook, I generally have a baseline. Yesterday my Kayla and I spent a long day in the kitchen. She wanted to make pretzel bread, ham and potato soup, and my mother’s famed pound cake. Okay, kid, let’s see what we’ve got.
 
I have a launch point for the bread and soup, but I spring off that. It’s more fun, more creative. And I like to think it teaches a young girl to be creative, that everything doesn’t have to be precise and exact and set in stone. I substitute. Don’t have any of that, use this. Or I don’t like that anyway, we’ll use this.
 
Like writing, some is trial and error, some is layer as you go, then go back and tweak. Some is experience.
 
For the bread, Kayla uses the baseline recipe with the tweaks or changes or the what-the-hells I’ve added in or taken out. And I watch her learn, enjoy. I loved showing her how to knead the dough, watching her discover how it changes texture under her hands. How she gets the feel, rather than the precise recipe direction of ‘knead for ten minutes.’IMG_1339
 
Then, while the dough rises, it’s onto the cake batter. How long do you mix the butter and sugar together? Until it looks right–and since she’s been learning under my process, she gets this. A little vanilla, a little lemon extract–and she’s pleased with the scent, notices, comments. This is no whimpy cake, so I’ll tell you recipe hounds it calls for a half pound of butter and three cups of sugar. I think the extracts were a teaspoon each. Maybe there’s two of the vanilla. Then it’s six eggs–one at a time–which she likes cracking (and no shells in the batter). It might be three cups of flour–unsifted. My mother called for cake flour, but I didn’t have any, so I used standard. Some salt, some baking soda, mixed together. And a cup of sour cream.IMG_1340
 
Kayla diligently alternates adding the dry mix with the sour cream, and mixing, mixing, mixing. How long? Until it looks right.
 
She’s charmed by the angel food cake pan. I don’t know if that tool is standard for pound cake, but it’s what my mother used. So we use it. Spraying it with Pam, lining the bottom (again, fascinating my girl) with waxed paper. It bakes at 325 for thirty minutes, then at 300 for another 60 or in our case about 65 until a toothpick comes out clean. That’s the closest I can tell you. I’m marginally more precise with baking than cooking.
 
While the cake’s in the oven, we start on the soup. Though there was a break in there for a pb&j for a hungry girl. And a beater and bowl to lick. I had a lick myself, and my mother was right there with us. That’s as sweet and real as cake batter on the tongue.
 
Again, I have a baseline for the soup, but there’s nothing remotely precise about it once we start. How many potatoes? I don’t know. I do know I’ll be sending about half the finished product home with Kayla, so a lot of potatoes need to be peeled, washed, chopped. Some carrots. Some garlic sauted in olive oil. Some water, some bullion, some wine. How much? Until it looks right. Herbs and spices. Stir it up, let it simmer.IMG_1343
 
Years ago, when our Kat married our Jason, she asked me for a book of my recipes. I did my best, typing them out, adding little notes, compiling them in a pretty book. One day shortly after, she sat in my kitchen and said she didn’t get it. She’d wanted to make my deviled eggs (a crowd favorite) but it didn’t say how much mustard, mayo, various herbs and spices. And neither, she’d discovered, did the vast majority of the other recipes (using the term loosely) have precise measurements. How much???? she asked.
 
I don’t know, I told her.
 
Her solution, as Kat is a very clever girl, was to watch me make deviled eggs, and to figure out it’s–for me–about how it looks, smells, tastes. And so she can (and does) use my recipes as her baseline, to make them her own. It’s how I taught both my boys to cook. It’s how I’m teaching Kayla.
 
Kayla’s interest and enthusiasm are strong right now, so I’m taking full advantage.
 
When it’s time to punch down the dough, I let her go for it. I show her how to pull some off, make it into a tight ball, then let her go for that. She’s a little bummed the dough has to rise yet again, but we have more to do elsewhere.
 
The ham has to be diced and added to the soup, and given some time to cook. The cake’s looking like a cake in the oven, and it smells fabulous. Butter needs melting, then flour added to thicken it, then milk to that. Whisked, whisked, whisked until it thickens enough to add to the soup. Precise measurements? Nope. And you know I think more wine wouldn’t hurt that soup at all.
 
A glass wouldn’t hurt me either.
 
The cake comes out to cool. The dough balls have risen. It’s time for more fun. Boiling water, baking soda. I give her my big slotted spoon, so we can drop the balls in–and Grandda, who’s joined us, sits at the counter and times them with his phone. About thirty seconds, flip the balls over, another thirty, take them out, put them on the parchment-lined baking sheet, drop in the next batch.IMG_1349
 
Stir the soup, drop the balls.
 
We first, use our knife sharpener to get our blade perfectly sharp, then we make crosses on the puffy balls with the knife, sprinkle on some sesame seeds, some sea salt, and pop them in the oven. It’s about 12-15 minutes mostly. I set a timer, but I keep an eye. They’re done when they look done, when they’re a nice golden brown.
 
And the smells in the kitchen are incredible. Fresh bread, creamy soup, lemony cake. The top of the cake’s crackly, and Kayla and Grandda decide they should sort of peel that off and eat it. After all, when we take it out of the pan, turning it over, shouldn’t it be more even on what will be the bottom?
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Why would I argue when they’re having such a good time? And making yummy noises? Plus, the kid baked the cake. She baked it by following her great-grandmother’s baseline, learning, discovering, and making it her own.
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She baked the bread–I was barely sous chef on that–the same way. And the soup was a partnership of whatever works.IMG_1350
 
I know the bread worked as she snagged a roll off the cooling rack so quickly I worried she’d burn her tongue. She didn’t. And had a second one.
 
I sent her home with a tub of soup, a bag of rolls, and half a pound cake. Her family will enjoy the bounty of her labor. More, she spent the day learning, creating, experimenting. As she goes, she may decide her process works better with the precise. But I have a feeling she’ll continue on the road, discovering as she goes.
 
Like the first draft of a book, it’s the joy and effort of that discovery that draws the–we’ll say organic–writer and what’s-in-the-pantry cook to create the unique to them with the hope it pleases others.
 
I’m here to tell you, when it was time for me to sample the day’s labor, it pleased me.
 
Tomorrow, I go back to the keyboard and my scribbled notes to see what’s cooking there.
Nora

How to Survive February

What is up with this month? It can never seem to make up its mind. How many days should I have? it wonders. And every four years it decides to toss in one more. Should I dump two or three feet of snow–yeah, why not. And why not follow that with temperatures in the 60s, just to tease everybody before I throw out some ice, more snow and drop that temp to freeze butts off.
 
February’s a sociopath.
 
I deal with it by staying home, out of its chuckling way. And if I have to go out, I simply count down the time until I’ll be back inside. And in that way, I use February’s mad ego to get lots of stuff done.
 
I write, I cook, I workout, I finish my full-house purge, I read, I watch TV. While I might think wistfully of spring, of digging in the dirt, throwing open the windows, I remind myself I don’t have to go out there to get things done. I’m thinking that right now as the chilly rain’s pounding outside in the dull, gray February gloom.
 
When I finish this blog, I’ll go out to my little gym and for about 90 minutes, I’ll be too focused on me–the sweat, the doing–to care about the stupid rain or the lumps of snow that have yet to melt.
 
I did the same yesterday–I run on routine–then (as Laura predicted) I spent a big chunk of the day in the kitchen. If it’s got to be winter, you might as well spend some of your Sunday making a good, rich beef stew–and drop in some dumplings. [Note from Laura — there’s no recipe, Nora just went with the flow on this one.] I had, for some reason, a surplus of eggs, so made my man very happy by deviling some.
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Stew with dumplings
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Deviled eggs
 
Today, I may fuss around the house. I might bake some bread. Since a rainy day provides the perfect backdrop, I may sit in front of the fire and read. February, for all its smirking smugness gives us all the opportunity to reflect on what we like to do in our own snug spaces. Surviving it just means allowing ourselves to do just that before spring comes and we throw open the windows again.
 
If I choose the fire and the book today, it will be To Kill A Mockingbird. We lost a literary luminary in Harper Lee. For me, Mockingbird is as close to a perfect book as ever written, and its beauty, its power, its voice lives on. I’ve read it countless times, and each time it grabs my heart, engages my mind, enlightens and entertains me.
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As does the movie adaptation. Every time I’m told: No, no movie from your books–they’ll ruin it, they always do, I think of the brilliant film based on Harper Lee’s masterpiece. Again, for me, as close to perfection as it gets. There are other adaptations that hit that mark for me, but this is the standard. Yes, it can be done, and done beautifully. In fact, I may pull out my DVD and watch the movie again, too.
 
Thanks, February, you crazy bitch, for giving me a crappy Sunday to do just exactly what I want to do.
 
Now, just a little note. As often happens when a new In Death comes out, we revisit the calls for babies, kindly grandmothers–and Brotherhood’s no exception. I’ll repeat here Eve is NOT pregnant, not getting pregnant, and will not find some loving blood relation. I won’t get into all the reasons as I’ve done so before. But I also realize there are people new to the blog and/or FB who may not have read the previous blogs where I explain those reasons.
 

Enjoy your countdown to February’s inevitable demise, and take a day to do what you most want to do.

Nora

Cooking with Kayla

We’re in a deep freeze here in my neck of the woods. Frigid temps all last week. I believe it was a ridiculous 3 degrees when I got up this morning. BW lets me know how vicious the cold every day when he gets home. Fortunately for me, I work at home, and had a good, solid, warm writing week.
 
I ain’t going out there till I have to.
 
Poor guy even had to go out on Saturday, twice. Me? I had a stellar Saturday in the kitchen, cooking with my 13-year-old granddaughter. Kayla has a fresh and fun interest in learning to cook, and I’m delighted to have the time and opportunity to tutor her. In fact, Friday night when her mom and brothers came for dinner, I served as her sous chef, and had her make the bulk of the meal. And very well, too.
 
But Saturday gave us the whole day.
 
I’d decided on chicken and dumplings. It’s really cold, and who doesn’t like some comfort food in February? Since my girl came up mid-morning we pretty much dived right into the day. After she–claiming starvation–ate a bowl of three bean and ham soup I had leftover from earlier in the week.
 
I show her an easy marinade–just Italian dressing and white wine. And while the chicken’s soaking that up, we decide we should bake something. She looks through my personal cookbook, finds my mother’s outstanding sour cream pound cake. I don’t have any sour cream in the house, it seems, but it goes on the list for next time. I think, when we make that pound cake, there will be three generations in my kitchen.
 
But today, we settle (ha!) for chocolate chip cookies.
 
I’m reminded as I now serve as the cookbook, sitting back and letting her do it all, of first guiding her little hands through the process, and the mess made when she was surely no more than two. Now she’s as tall as I am, so grown up, and I’ll just say: Now add this. She’ll measure it out, say: Is this right, Nana? As I give her the nod, I imagine her baking in her own kitchen one day, and hope she’ll remember lessons at Nana’s.
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Naturally we have to sample the cookies, warm from the oven, and I love she’s excited she’ll take a bunch of them home, surprise her family. I love she’s excited for Grandda to get home and find cookies (one of his favorite things) she baked. When he does, his reaction is just what she was after.
 
But now BW is starving, and gets out the left-overs from Friday night’s dinner. Which prompts Kayla into starvation yet again. So it’s warm up some pork loin, roasted potatoes and carrots, some herbed up steamed broccoli. She has two servings. I don’t know where she puts it. She’s my height, 5’4″ (though I have a quarter inch more than that, she’s really anxious to beat) and weighs 90 pounds.
 
The very first time I saw her, in the warmer in the hospital after birth, I thought: Oh, look at you, my long, lanky girl. That hasn’t changed. She’s all leg, slim as a wand. And eats like a stevedore.
 
Now it’s time to head into the main meal. I didn’t have a whole chicken, as I’d usually use, but am adapting to the boneless, skinless chicken breasts I do have, so I have her use my handy-dandy multi-tool (shout out to Laura for telling me about this wonder) and mince up some garlic, which she sautes in olive oil. I have her add a whole carton of chicken stock and a good dose of white wine. Then herbs–some harvested from my garden and in freezer bags. This interests her, the little cubes of frozen herbs. In they go. I’ve run out of my own rosemary, so show her how to crunch up the dried herb with her fingers. Salt, pepper, so on. Stir it up! Add the chicken. This is my job as she refuses to touch raw meat, something she’ll get over one day.
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I have her use the wonderful multi tool, dice up carrots and potatoes–let’s add some hearty to the comfort. She adds them in, and while they’re simmering along, we sit, talk, surf the web for dresses for her Eighth-Grade Formal this spring. We just hang out awhile.
 
And as she objects to touching the cooked chicken, I show her how I shred it. But she does slide it off the cutting board and back into the pot. She hangs with Grandda awhile, helps me with a couple chores as the aroma of cooking fills the kitchen.
 
I tell her how to make the slurry with flour and water for thickening the broth, how to add it, stir it. When it’s time, I sit back again, telling her how to make the dumplings. Is this right, Nana? You bet–exact measurements are not my thing when it comes to cooking. The girl loves dumplings, and gets a charge out of making them, out of just dropping them into the simmering stew in the pot. And how they change with the cooking until we have a very pretty pot of chicken and dumplings on the stove.
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She asks how the dumpling mix still on her fingers will taste. You won’t like it. (It’s not like cookie dough!) But she has to try. Then drink a very large glass of milk to get rid of the taste.
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Now I’m starving. The two of us each have a bowl of the meal we’ve made together, and we’re very happy with the results. She wants to take some home, so I tub some up, bag up a bunch of cookies.
 
When she leaves, she hugs me–she’s a champion hugger–and says: Thank you for letting me cook, Nana. Thank you for loving me.
 
That’s my long, lanky girl, and I’m honored, truly, to know I’m not just teaching her to cook, but showing her cooking is love.
Nora

The Cranky Publicist answers a question

Cranky PublicistCostumes are always part of the TTP signing near Halloween.  Last year, Nora dressed as a cowgirl but I’m not really into costumes.   I said I’d dress as what I am, a cranky publicist.  Kat kindly made me a button that said just that.  I was very happy.

So I thought I might use The Cranky Publicist moniker from time to time to answer questions or address comments, starting with this:

For nearly 11 years, I’ve watched trends in reader questions come and go.   Usually the top three are:

  1. Can you add another book to the [fill in the blank] series?
  2. Why do we have to wait so long for the next book [In Death or trilogy]?
  3. The dread In Death baby question (applied to nearly every character except Anna Whitney and Sheila Feeney).

But the question currently trending with a bullet (as Billboard magazine used to say) is:

Can you share your recipe? 

For soup (after a Nora-at-home blog) or pancakes, bread, stew (after reading a book).   Most recently it’s for Mr. Mira’s Hot Chocolate.

hot choc

Nora and I have explained quite a bit that she doesn’t actually have the recipes she creates in books.  She imagines food as the characters would create them and charts the ingredients, some of the prep, usually amid conversation that’s propelling the story.

But still there are the requests —  pleading, straightforward, sarcastic — to share a recipe so a reader can really feel like she/he is living in the book.

In the seven days since Brotherhood in Death hit the shelves, the Mr. Mira Hot Chocolate requests have escalated to the point where I decided to refresh my memory of the scene.  I grabbed the book, a notebook and started reading chapter 6 when Dennis first puts a pot on top of a pot, then adds chocolate.

Ok, I thought, melt the chocolate in a double boiler.   Wrote that down.

He puts a bowl into the freezer, to Eve’s confusion.  Ahh, I thought, the cold bowl for homemade whipped cream.  (Side note for those interested:  Nora and I have long discussed how homemade whipped cream is both delicious and easy to make.)

Eve questions, Dennis answers and as he does, he adds milk to the melted chocolate.  Then puts a bean in a bowl and crushes with a wooden dowel.  I’m going to go with vanilla on that one, which he adds with sugar to the milk.

Then he gets the frozen bowl, pours cream in it, adds some sugar and then beats it until — to Eve’s utter amazement — he has whipped cream.

I finished the scene and thought — OK we have the process, not the amounts.  What would I do if I were curious about that?

I googled “double boiler hot chocolate recipe” and there were five immediate results — the first was pretty much the same steps I’d read.

(Which set this Cranky Publicist to wondering if I somehow am magic with the Google searches or if people really just want things handed to them.  That’s an entirely different post.)

If you’re itching to try your hand at creating something akin to Dennis Mira’s Hot Chocolate here are a couple fun ways to do it.  But really, the best part is that you can take the basic recipe and add dark chocolate or a little chili or some mint or coffee — to make it suit your tastes to a T.

Fancy-Ass Hot Chocolate via A Cozy Kitchen (this recipe has the chocolate going into the milk instead of Dennis’ method).

This one just has chocolate added to hot milk: Ina Garten Hot Chocolate Recipe 

Belgian Hot Chocolate (via David Lebovitz)

Since there may be questions on other techniques, you might enjoy these two links:

How to melt Chocolate in a double boiler (video)

How to make Whipped Cream via The Kitch’n blog

Enjoy!

Laura

 

Snowzilla

Here, at least, the weather guys nailed it. They told us it was coming, be prepared, and so it came. We’ve been there, done that many times before, so being prepared is winter routine.
 
We have a plow for the lane, and usually that’ll do the trick. However, Snowzilla mostly came at night, (and laughed and laughed) started late enough so plowing at dusk or dark wasn’t wise.
 

I woke to about sixteen inches and still coming hard. BW had put out his dad’s old, kitschy snowman snow gauge, so I could basically judge the amount without using my old standard, a yardstick.

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Stalwart Snowman gauge
 
By the time my own personal Mr. Plow got himself geared up, we had about 18″. Which proved too much for Mr. Plow. Jeep now stuck. Snowblower’s enough to clear some paths, and the dogs frolic.
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Stuck Jeep, happy Parker
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The narrow driveway path
 
We have a guy–my landscape guy–who does snow removal and asphalt parking lot surfacing in Houston TX. We get on the list, knowing he’s got plenty ahead of us. Doesn’t worry me–I’m not going anywhere.
 
I’m still into my January purge. Hit what I think of as the kids’ room as they use it when they sleep over. Hit the bathroom–the linen closet needs attention, hit the library. Then decide I can sit right down in there and read a book in front of the fire as my reward.
 
Snow’s now up to two feet, and still coming. My guy has decided to grill steaks for dinner later. Not odd for us as we grill year-round, so I figure I’ll make soup on Sunday.
 

I talk myself into a workout. No reason I can’t step outside, walk two feet to the gym. I put on my Uggs for the trip. BW’s cleared the path again, so no big. After my righteous workout, I’m grateful for the boots. Path has a good two or three inches on it again. I can hear all you boot nerds saying “wear real boots for winter from shoesfella.com!” but I dont care.

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The roof of the house (left), the roof of the gym (right)
 
It’s gorgeous out there, no question, and a little spooky. On the deck, the snow’s just below the top of the rail. We’re heading toward three feet. But unlike my first experience living here with three feet of snow, I have plenty of provisions, I have a generator if power goes out, and I don’t have two little boys who need time and attention.
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Post storm, snow on the deck
 
I eat steak, I watch a movie. We have that three feet by the time the snow stops–well after dark.
 
Sunday, when I get up before dawn (I just do) the world is absolutely hushed. It’s always quiet here, that’s country living, but the snow cushions all sound so the world is an empty church. I watch the birds attack the feeder for seeds and suet, watch the sun come up. The day brightens with that incredibly sharp contrast of hard blue sky against pure, untouched snow. Nothing but trees, sky, snow, birds as far as I can see. I love it–as long as I’m inside.
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Post storm Sunday look down the drive
 
More purging. The master bedroom this time, and it needs some serious work. Satisfying work. Then it’s time to make some chicken tortilla soup. Yum.
 
Quiet night, with me pleased my entire main level’s now been purged, a good bowl of soup–and the X-Files! Oh, how happy I am to see Mulder and Scully again. Now it’s time for a long, winter’s nap.
 
At about one in the morning, Parker barks like a maniac. And we hear the plow. That’s our Bryan, plowing the lane in the middle of the night. Bless his heart.
 
This morning, we have a plowed lane–but Bryan called to alert us our ‘main’ road is only plowed for one lane. I expect BW will take another day at home. How do you handle meeting another car with only one cleared lane and three feet of snow on the rest? No need to find out, at least to my way of thinking. The man, however, may think differently.
 
Me, I’m going to sit in my warm office, get to work, and look at the snowy postcard out my office window.
 
Hope everyone who got hit with Jonas stayed warm and safe.  
Nora

Winter Week

In winter, I typically take the way of the bear and hibernate. My form of hibernation equals socking in, staying home, working. And on weekends starting in January, doing my annual full-house purge.
 
Last week wasn’t at all typical for this bear.
 
Monday I played hooky. Not much can pull me out of hibernation and into the world. Star Wars is an exception. The prospect of hitting a matinee–IMax, 3D–of the new installment of one of my all time favorite franchises? No-brainer. So BW and I headed out into the cold, met up with Jason–Kat, who’d set this all up, had to work (but she’s already seen it twice)–Laura and Laura’s husband, snagged some popcorn and settled down.
 
No spoilers, so I’ll just say I loved every minute, right from the first note of the iconic opening theme to the roll of credits. I will ask why, does anyone know why, a group of people would choose to sit directly behind another group of people in a HUGE theater that’s nearly empty? And then regularly push or kick the back of my chair? I have no answer for this.  (Laura’s note:  loved, loved, loved the movie.  I was further down from the kicker so the annoyance for me was the eating/crackling of paper in the quiet moments.  Eat during galactic explosions!!! NR and I are a pair.)
 
In any case, I enjoyed my playing-hooky day tremendously.
 
Mid-week, I had a routine annual screening–the medical sort–all good there. But another venture into the cold rather than being attached to my keyboard. And that evening yet another trip out to watch my grandson’s first chorus concert. Absolutely adorable.
 
As it happened, our Logan proved to be quite a trooper, as it turned out he was running hot. So the next day, with a 101 temp, he snuggled into Nana’s bed. I know how to work around a sick boy, got plenty done while keeping him fed and entertained. Plus I had a spanking new DVD of The Martian, which made him very happy. Because it was a short school day, his sister came up mid-afternoon. So a short work day for me. Kayla agreed to help me with dinner–her little brother was coming up later, and we’d send food home to their mom, who had whatever bug Logan had.
 
I decided rather than letting her help me, I’d play sous chef and instructor. We both really enjoyed me walking her through making scalloped ham and potatoes, with a side of roasted carrots. Both dishes the gang enjoys.
 
And she did a terrific job of it.
 
It’s incredibly satisfying to pass recipes down the generations, tutor a grandchild in basic cooking skills. She has good instincts on top of it–more satisfaction. And asked if I’d make her a cookbook with my recipes. That’s a big pleasure, and something I’ll spend some Saturday putting together for her. I have many of my mother’s, and my father’s recipes in my book. Whenever I cook one of their dishes, they’re right there in the kitchen with me. I like to think when Kayla uses mine, the same holds true.
 
I freely admit, that I ended the day by conking out by ten p.m.
 
But Saturday, after my workout, the purge began. And began in earnest in my office byclearing out dozens of old research books I’ve held onto for far too long. Many were ridiculously out of date, and while I still have more dozens, I lean heavy on the internet anyway.
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Office shelves
 
My office and my one-more-room are purged and organized. And my embarrassment of a hall closet is an embarrassment no more. I confess, without shame, to being a scarf slut. I still can’t figure out how I still have three tubs full of them on my closet shelf when I filled an entire bag with what I’ll pass on.
 
Anyway.
 
A good Saturday start. BW hauled out boxes and bags of donations, and I have more bags for the annual clothes swap. And Laura and Kayla can have a grudge match over the scarves. (Laura’s note:  I can take her!)

 

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Vegetable soup
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Rosemary sourdough bread
Sunday, cold with snow flurries, means making soup and baking bread. (Note from Laura:  I know Nora cooks soup the way I do — with what’s on hand and to suit my taste — so there’s not going to be a recipe. ) A hearty vegetable soup in this case, with beans and pasta, and a couple rounds of rosemary sour dough bread. And since I was hooked to the kitchen, it was a good time to purge and organize that area. I can now open doors and drawers in the areas addressed this weekend without shuddering. That’s a good deal.
 
The better one is knowing I can now begin my hibernation. I have a clear week, intend to fully hunker down. And I’m hoping nothing and no one tries to poke the bear.
Nora