Thursday, April 10, 2014

Easter Brunch Made Easy


This is just the kind of recipe that Sandy Archer, in my sweet romance A DADDY FOR LUKE, would like to make. She's a busy single mom with the added challenge of being legally blind. She likes to make casseroles so she can freeze leftovers for another day. When she asks David Winston to dinner, and invites him to help in the kitchen, it is a casserole she chooses to make. She wants to impress him and finds an opportunity for a steamy kiss at the same time. Read an excerpt of A DADDY FOR LUKE here

I like making casseroles, too. There's the benefit of fewer dishes to wash, and the leftovers are often tastier the next day. I'm making this dish this coming weekend because my nephew will be visiting next Monday and Tuesday and I know he'll like it. ~ Christy

Delicious Make-Ahead Egg Casserole

(Family Features) Plan an Easter gathering everyone can enjoy with a make-ahead menu that includes crowd-pleasing brunch casseroles packed with everyone’s favorite flavors – and leaves you plenty of time to spend with the family.

“Combine all-star breakfast ingredients like eggs, bacon and cheese into a single dish in this Cheesy Bacon & Egg Brunch Casserole, seasoned with ground mustard and nutmeg,” said Chef Kevan Vetter of the McCormick Kitchens. “The best part about this recipe is you can assemble it the night before – just add an additional 1/2 cup of milk – chill it in the refrigerator and bake it off in the morning.”

Serve a spring-inspired dessert topped with an array of fresh fruit to complement your brunch casserole.

Find everything you need to create a complete brunch menu and more easy Easter-themed recipes at www.McCormick.com, www.Facebook.com/McCormickSpices and www.Pinterest.com/mccormickspices.

Cheesy Bacon & Egg Brunch Casserole
Serves: 12

8          slices bacon
1          medium onion, chopped (1 cup)
1          loaf (8 ounces) Italian bread, cut into 1-inch cubes (5 cups)
2          cups (8 ounces) shredded Cheddar cheese
1          cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1          cup cottage cheese
5          eggs
1 1/2    cups milk*
2          teaspoons McCormick® Mustard, Ground
1          teaspoon McCormick® Black Pepper, Ground
1/2       teaspoon McCormick® Nutmeg, Ground

Preheat oven to 350°F. Cook bacon in large skillet until crisp. Drain bacon on paper towels; crumble and set aside. Remove all but 2 tablespoons drippings from skillet. Add onion to skillet; cook and stir 3 minutes or until softened.

Spread 1/2 of the bread cubes in 13x9-inch baking dish. Layer with 1/2 each of the onion, bacon, Cheddar cheese and mozzarella cheese. Spread evenly with cottage cheese. Top with remaining bread cubes, onion, bacon, Cheddar cheese and mozzarella cheese.

Beat eggs in medium bowl with wire whisk. Add milk, mustard, pepper and nutmeg; mix well. Gradually pour into baking dish. Press bread cubes lightly into egg mixture until completely covered. Let stand 10 minutes. (*To prep the night before, add an extra 1/2 cup of milk and refrigerate overnight.)

Bake 40 to 50 minutes or until center is set and top is golden brown.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Wednesday Writers Tip - The business of writing

This will be short and sweet because I'm busy working on the business of writing.

I officially started my writing business last November so I didn't have too much to report on my taxes, which I just completed yesterday. I realized though, that I need to buckle down and keep very good records so I'll be ready for the 2014 taxes.

I searched out some online, free business forms to download to get started.
These are two sites I found so far that have a bunch of free forms.

Office Depot free downloadable business forms

Entrepreneur.com business forms and templates

Please share any links you've found that help you build and run your writing business.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Wednesday Writers - Distractions & Links

As writers we're supposed to write. As authors we need to be a business. One becomes a distraction for the other. Lately I've been very distracted by the latter. I've been studying every thing from blogging to branding, building a platform to taxes.

All the while holding back on a new story that has me excited to write. So how do I schedule, shuffle, juggle all these elements of my business? I took a class on goal setting and time scheduling. I got it all down on paper, but I'm having trouble sticking to it. Whatever I'm working on or studying at the moment seems to be the most important; I have to figure it out, I have to learn how to do it.

Or am I using it to postpone doing other thinks I should be doing? Like the lists and steps on my goal chart.

This is the place where I ask, "Is there another me to do this clerical stuff that I don't really want to do, so I can write my new story, or better yet, finish a half dozen others?"

Well, she doesn't exist, except in me and how I manage my time.

That aside, in my search to build my business I've found some interesting sites that are of use to authors who want to learn more about promotion, platform, and building a business.

Here are a few links you might find interesting. They all have something to sell but they also give freely advice based on their own experiences. Some are authors, all are entrepreneurs. Some have built amazingly successful business from next to nothing. Explore and see if there are answers to some of your questions. But don't get distracted!

Michael Hyatt
Backlink
Cobyblogger
EnchantingMarketing
LewisHowes

Can you recommend some sites that have helped you with the business side of writing?

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Sandy’s EZ Chicken & Rice Casserole Recipe and an Excerpt


In my book, A DADDY FOR LUKE, the heroine, Sandy, is a single mom and legally blind because of a birth defect known as Optic Nerve Hypoplasia. She can see color and objects but not detail. Reading is difficult for her. When the hero, David, a mystery writer, comes to her home to finish reading his book to her she wants to impress him, to show him that she is capable of doing everyday tasks. And she wants him to stay longer.

She invites him to dinner and, because he is a bachelor and she assumes he doesn’t do a lot of cooking for himself, she offers to show him how to make the easy dish. Together they fix her standby recipe, Chicken & Rice Casserole.

This is a recipe I have made several times when I want something that is quick to put together. If you have children who don’t eat their veg, this recipe “hides” 1 c of broccoli or any other veg you want to try.

Here is an excerpt from A DADDY FOR LUKE, the scene starts with David and Sandy on the sofa. Sandy is fishing for information about David's past loves. She thinks he's talking about a girlfriend when in fact he's talking about her. It starts in David's point of view. The recipe follows the excerpt.

From Chapter Seven

“And she’s waiting for you?” She fiddled nervously with a simple gold chain at her neck. He hadn’t noticed it before. She pulled a small heart-shaped locket out from under her dress and fingered it. 
“She’s never been to Flagstaff as far as I know,” he said.
Sandy’s expression grew puzzled. “Oh. Then you met her on the tour? So you haven’t known her very long.”
“Is this twenty questions? Are you sure you’re not an investigative reporter?”
She laughed, then became serious. “Will you go to her when you leave here?”
“Sometime in the future, maybe.”
“Can you see into the future?”
“Not as well as you can see into me,” he said with a smile.
A bright smile lit her face, her eyes sparkled. “I can, can’t I?”
“What exactly do you see in me?” He never saw much himself, but he hoped she saw more.
She gave him a teasing smile. Her face was so open, so expressive. He wondered if, because she couldn’t see others’ expressions, she didn’t realize her own expressions were so candid.
“Would you like to stay for dinner?” She changed the subject. “I don’t have a large repertoire of dishes, but what I do cook is good.” She sounded so hopeful. She probably had no idea he’d been waiting for her to ask. She put her feet to the floor. “I was planning to make a chicken and rice casserole.”
She was nervous. He wanted to reassure her. He reached out and stroked her cheek. She didn’t flinch. Her skin was soft, pale, but still blushed. His dove, his white dove. Had he predicted his own future when he’d written Hindsight“Sounds great. I’d love to stay. Thanks.” He moved his hand to her hair, letting the silky curls wrap around his fingers. He leaned closer and looked into her eyes, not seeing the recognition he was used to seeing in other women, not seeing the focus. Just beautiful, trusting, wide-open hazel-green eyes.
“Couldn’t you have laser surgery or something? I had it a couple of years ago. It’s incredible how...” He was going to say how well he could see without glasses. But luckily the words had been stopped by the lump forming in his Adam’s apple. He cleared his throat. “I read about this new type of lens transplant that’s having great results. If it’s the cost, I could help.” This was something worthwhile that he could do with the money Nick Blain was earning him. He wanted to do this for Sandy.
“I appreciate the offer, but there’s nothing wrong with my eyes or my lenses. I have a birth defect of the optic nerve. Nothing can change that.”
David felt his lungs freeze up. “Nothing? I don’t understand.” He dropped his hand and took one of hers in both of his.
“A few weeks before a baby is born the optic nerve makes its final connections. Millions of connections. Mine didn’t make millions. I’m luckier than some. I see shapes and colors, but no detail, unless it’s enlarged. A lot. My peripheral vision and depth perception are weak. And bright lights bother me. Some optic nerve hypoplasia patients are born with abnormalities of the brain in the same area as the optic nerve. I have a small one affecting gross and fine motor function. In other words, I’m a klutz.” She laughed, but he wasn’t amused.
She listed her symptoms as if she’d said them a thousand times, as though she were used to it. Of course she was used to it. She’d never known anything different. He was the one trying to comprehend it. Trying to accept it. Trying to justify it. There was no justification. It was just a quirk of nature, like Marc being born with cystic fibrosis. A misplaced gene, the chance of two minuscule, defective genes coming together to pass sentence on the embryo just starting to form. “Luke?”
“It’s not hereditary. He’s nearsighted. When he’s grown, he can have laser surgery, if he wants.” She scooted to the edge of the sofa, ready to pop up, out of his reach.
“It won’t get better, your sight?” He reached for any hope.
“I prefer to be optimistic. It won’t get any worse.” She stood and changed the subject again. “Would you like to help me make the casserole? Do you cook? It’s an easy dish for a bachelor. I’ll show you.”
“I barbecue, and I make the odd Italian dish, but I don’t think I’ve ever made a casserole.” It was one of the few types of dishes his mother had ever made. Something about tossing everything in one pan, putting it in the oven and forgetting it until the timer dinged. But with Sandy he was sure it had to do with her ability to see what she was doing. And he wanted to watch her in her own environment, where she was comfortable and knew her way around.
She was already crouched at a low cupboard pulling out a glass dish when he reached the kitchen. “Take this and put it on the counter. Thanks. The lid is in here somewhere.” She moved to her knees and reached in the back of the cupboard. He could hear glass and metal clinking as her head disappeared into the cupboard. “There it is. Must have slipped back.”
David was far more interested in his view of her backside and bare feet, toes curled.
***
Sandy emerged from the cupboard with the top to her favorite casserole dish. This was going to be fun, cooking with David. She could show off, not be the klutz, because she was in her own home, her own kitchen. She knew her way around.
Unfortunately, when she rose to her feet, she misjudged the distance to the counter and dropped the lid on the floor. Thank God for tempered glass! It bounced and rolled in ever smaller circles and then she lost it. Transparent glass against a white floor. She put on her glasses, but before she could get on her hands and knees David swooped down, grabbed it and handed it to her.
“Thanks.” Losing the lid was almost as embarrassing as listening to David read the passage in Hindsight where Bradley and Chenoa made love for the first time, because she’d pictured herself with David rather than the characters of the book.
She took the lid to the sink to rinse it off. “First, we spray the dish. You can do that.” She usually sprayed the oil all over her hands. She found the can and held it out to David.
“Should I turn on the oven?” he asked. “What temp?”
Oh dear, she’d forgotten the most important first step. So much for impressing him. “Three-fifty.” She was flustered, as if on a first date or something. She so much wanted to prove herself capable. Prove that she was like any other woman.
“Then rice, one cup.” She went to the small pantry and brought out a container of rice and found the measuring cup. They worked together. She handed him the chicken stock and spices, he measured and poured them into the dish. “Here’s the chicken. Lay it on top and cover. We put it in covered for thirty-five minutes, then take the lid off for ten.” She opened the oven door and he slid the dish in. The heat from the oven steamed her glasses and she took them off and placed them on her head. When David closed the door, then straightened, he was so close. She felt rather than saw him lift his hand to her cheek. Its warmth was so welcome. Her heart threatened to leap out of her chest.
“You’re beautiful. You know that?”
“I’ve been told, but it’s hard to believe when—” His lips on hers stopped her self-deprecation. And she knew that was one reason why he did it. But that thought dissipated like steam as his warm soft lips caressed hers, searching. She wrapped her arms around his waist and pulled herself closer, her hands caressing the taut muscles of his back. He cupped the back of her head with one hand and pulled her even closer with a hand on her bottom. Could they get any closer? Not in the kitchen . . .
“Mom-mee!”
David pulled away, leaving Sandy swaying in the middle of the kitchen. She placed a hand on his chest to steady herself. His heart beat as fast as hers, his chest expanding with each quick breath. They’d barely started the kiss and it felt more powerful than any she’d experienced before. “Be right there, Luke.”
“Sandy, I’m sorry—”
“Don’t apologize. Bookmark it. I’ll be right back.”
David was leaving tomorrow and she was falling even more in love with him. Real love. Mature love like real adults, not the young infatuations that had broken her heart years ago. No, this time it would shatter her. If she could just see him properly. Some said you could see it “in his eyes,” if he truly loved you. She wanted his attention to be love, not pity, not misguided protectiveness for the poor little blind girl. But didn’t the old song say it was in his kiss? But their kiss had been interrupted. She sat on the side of Luke’s bed. “Mommy’s here.”
“My nose is all stubbed up.”
Sandy helped her little boy blow his nose, then debated if she should give him children’s decongestant. She went to the bathroom medicine cabinet and pulled out a bottle. It was the bottle with the purple label. To be sure she took it to the living room, found one of her hand-held magnifiers, held the bottle to the lamplight and tried to read the tiny type.
“Can I help?” David spoke from over her shoulder.
She jumped and straightened.
“I didn’t mean to startle you.” David put his hand on her shoulder. The warmth of it penetrated the thin fabric of her dress and comforted her.
“If you could let me know you’re approaching it would help. I don’t have much peripheral vision.” Her frustration came out in her tone. But she was too concerned about Luke to add that to her worries. She held the bottle to the light again and moved the magnifier up and down. Then, with a sigh, she gave up and handed it to David. “Is this the decongestant? And can I give it to Luke so he can breathe easier?”
“It won’t make him better any sooner but it will make him more comfortable. He’ll be able to sleep better and that’s what he needs. One teaspoon every four to six hours.”
“I worry about giving him medicines.”
“It’s all right, but it’s your decision.”
She wasn’t alone; he was there to help her make the decision. He wouldn’t make it for her, but he would help her. That’s what she wanted.
“This is mild compared to what some children have to take.” His gentle voice held an edge of pain. She knew he was talking about his own son.
“You’re right. It’s just a cold. I shouldn’t obsess.”
***

Sandy’s EZ Chicken & Rice Casserole
Serves 6


This is the kind of recipe that's a little different each time I make it, depensing on what I have on hand.

cooking spray
1 can cream of brocolli soup (ubdiluted) or chicken stock
1 c. water (maybe 1/2 cup more if using condensed soup)
1 c. white Jasmine rice (uncooked) or rice of your choice
1 c. chopped broccoli (or similar veg)
2 boneless chicken breasts, trimmed. Whole or cubbed.
1/2 jar Tostinos Salsa con Queso (if you like it spicy), or 1/2 c. shreaded cheddar cheese.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Spray 1 qt. covered casserole dish with cooking spray.
Add water, soup, rice and broccoli. Stir. Broccoli will tend to float on the top.
Lay chicken on top. Chicken will tend to sink.
Cook covered for 45 minutes. Check rice for doneness.
Spoon con queso or cheddar over top, uncover and cook an additional 5-15 min. as needed.



***Do you have a go-to, quick recipe that saves you time in the kitchen?

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Cats, Calories & Weight Watching

What do cats have to do with calories and weight watching?

Back story
Last summer my cat, Cheetah, got ill and lost weight. The illness started with Cheetah's tilting his head to the left, then he was walking like he was drunk. He missed trying to jump up on the couch. He kept scratching his left ear and I was sure he had a bad ear infection. However, the vet exam was negative. A run of antibiotics helped, then a couple of weeks later he was worse. Another antibiotic and some steroids helped. But again he had a relapse. During this time he went from a normal 15 pounds to 11 pounds, a 27% body weight loss.

Recovery
With dedicated thoroughness, the vet discovered that Cheetah had a severe infection in his left sinus that had migrated to his brain. With one final push of a third antibiotic for the infection and steroids to give him stamina  and an appetite, three months after the first symptoms, Cheetah recovered. His left eye, which had dilated during the 8th week, is still dilated and he drinks and passes so much water that the vet checked him for diabetes. That test was negative, thank goodness.

Counting calories
I'm what some people might call a life-long dieter, with occasional success but not the result I'd like, I confess. However, I've gained a bit of knowledge about body weight and calories. I did some research and found that a cat's calorie requirement is 25 calories per pound. A little more research and I found that his kibble (Purina Complete) has 300 calories per cup. His canned food (Friskies Pâté, various flavors) runs 165 to 185 calories per 5.5 oz can. So an average of 175.

The formula
To raise his weight back to 15 pounds, he needed to eat 375 calories/day. 25 cal x 15 lbs = 375.
I set out 1 cup kibble each morning and gave him 1/3 can of food two to three times a day as he wanted it. A little over the 375 cal/day. Now, almost four months later he weighs 16 pounds, one over his best weight. Since his illness I don't want to let him out. And being winter he doesn't want to stay out long on the few occasions I have let him out. So he doesn't get as much exercise as he did before being ill. Now he gets 1 cup kibble as usual, but only 1/3 can in the morning and evening. Hopefully, he'll be back to his best weight in a month or so.

Conclusion
So that's cats, calories and weight watching.

Do you know how many calories your cat or dog needs to maintain a healthy weight?

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

There's always something in the wings to challenge us

On Valentine's Day morning I got a call. "I'm on my way to emergency." "Oh, no. What happened?" "I tripped on a curb and fell." "Oh, no..."
To make a long story short, the call was from my mother and so I've been spending most of my time at the hospital where she had surgery for a broken hip. It's almost cliché. Yesterday she was moved to a rehab center.
My goal, and hers, is to get her confident on her feet so she can come home. But she's not just recovering from a broken hip, there's the bruises and strained muscles from the fall, and the shock of it.
Close friends and family have been a great support and help so that I am able to keep my hours at work. Luckily, I semi-retired last summer so I only have to work 20 hrs.
Then there's all the writing stuff I want to do. I'm working through the line edits of "A Russian Immigrant's Story, a Memoir". And a novela I struggled with early last year fell into place when I wasn't even trying to solve the problem, now I'm chomping at the bit to work on it. However, too many other projects must be done first.
I need to get back to my schedule, which, of course, will have to change when Mom is ready to go home.
Life is challenges.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Wednesday Writers Tips... Writer know thyself

Have you always wanted to be a writer? As a little kid did you make up stories, make your own books with construction paper and pictures torn from magazines? If you didn't, were there other things you did that pointed to you being a creative adult?

Many years ago my mother came across a test to give children. The point being that it would be saved and given to the child when they grew up.

She first gave the test to my brother when he was seven years old (and I was two). Seven years later, when I was nine, she pulled the test out and asked me the questions.

Looking back over it now I so see my brother's personality and future. He was a good scholar, went on to earn a Ph.D., but was not a nerd or overly studious. He loves to explore wilderness and cities, and shares that interest with his wife and children. Reading his answers to the test you can see that even at seven, he knew it was important to do what needed to be done.

Me? I was the dreamer, the right-brained student in a left-brained curriculum. It took me nearly 15 years to earn my A.A. as I took all the art class I wanted instead of the academics I needed. And you can see that in my answers to the questions.

The test has 50 questions but I won't bore you with all of them, for reasons you'll see at question 16.
I have also added current [comments] in brackets.


Test: For Children  
Answers by Jackie, age 7 and seven years later by Chrissie, age 9 

1. What is your favorite food?
J. Bacon and Eggs [Still true.]
C. Oranges [ditto.]

2. What day follows Wednesday?
J. Thursday
C. Thursday         


3. If you were going to the moon for a week, what 10 things would you take with you, besides food and clothing?           
J. Gray doggie (stuffed toy), games, Tony Tiger (inflatable punching toy), hobbies to look at (shells and butterflies), Daddy, Mommy, spelling papers, arithmetic book, pencil and paper and eraser, school reading books, a drum. [Really? He wants to take school work to the moon?]           
C. TV, air tank, radio, my stuffed tiger, record player, Scrabble for Juniors, books, paints, flashlight, camera. [Hey, that's good planning.]         


4. What are your four best habits, or things you do best?           
J. Brushing teeth, keeping my room tidy, helping daddy when he’s sick, remembering to make my bed. [OMG, I had to live up to this?]           
C. Writing, singing, drawing, and painting. [That's me to a T.]         


5. What are your four worst habits, or things you’d like to change?           
J. Table manners, teasing sister, doing things when told.           
C. Reading, spelling, arithmetic, and social studies. [Knowing your weakness is half the battle, right?]         


6. Have you ever had a pet? What kind? What did you like about it?           
J. Yes, Guinea pigs. Yes, I enjoy them they are funny.           
C. Yes, a kitty and I like it! [I'm a kitty person through and through. Cheetah is asleep across my arms as I write this.]

7. If you had a million dollars, name 10 things you would do with it.           
J. I’d buy a bicycle, extra tires for the bike. Save some for college, about $300. Buy new books like the school has. Well, I’m too young for this, but Daddy’s been wanting a new motorcycle real bad. I’ll get him one. Can’t think of anything else, except caps and guns and things like that.
           
C. A swimming pool, a barbie doll, a new house for everybody, another swimming pool, 3 French poodles, give to church $60 grand, that means a thousand, a new car, 6 Cocker Spaniels, 11 cats, 2 Boxers, and put the rest in the bank. [A true shopper!]             

8. Which grade in school so far has been the most fun?           
J. Second grade, because there’s more work to do and more different things to do. [Really?]           
C. Kindergarten, it was the easiest. [Really!]         


9. What is your favorite sport, to watch or take part in?           
J. Bicycling, if that’s a sport.           
C. Swimming and basketball [That's backyard basketball, not sweaty, squeaky-shoes pro basketball. eek.]         


10. Do you feel like crying when your teacher or parent bawls you out?           
J. No... well, sometimes I do if my feelings get hurt. [Awe, poow widdle fella.]           
C. Yes, but I’m not a cry-baby. [U-Go-Girl!]

11. How may days does February have?           
J. I never counted them.           
C. I think maybe 30? [It's like "I think maybe $145?" when I wonder how much money I have in my check book.]

12. Do you know yet what you’d like to be when you grow up?           
 J. A dentist. [He grew up to be a chemist/salesman.]           
C. I’d like to be a store lady in a baby store. [Waa... where'd that come from?]

13. Name two things you used to be afraid of.           
J. The dark, and big bully kids at school. [Awe.]           
C. Thunder and lightning and the dark places. [I love thunder and lightning, thanks to my mom for showing me how beautiful and awe-inspiring it is.] 


14. Name two things you are still afraid of.           
 J. Space men and I guess swimming under water.           
C. Dark...no. (giggles). Someone behind me saying BOO! [More than once that someone was Jackie!]         
15. What do you dream about most?           
J. Riding bikes, especially before I learned how.           
C. Big boogie mans (giggles).         


16. What do you most enjoy drawing pictures of?           
J. Purse seiner fishing boats. [Huh? Where'd he get that?]           
C. I hate taking tests! Don’t ask me any more questions! [Well... I guess I told her (mom asking the questions).]

17. Do you have any brothers or sisters? How many?           
J. Yes, one sister. She’s very cute. [Awe, that's so sweet!]


Kid's will say the darndest things. 

Most people won't have such an enlightening glimpse into their childhood and their embryo personalities. I'm lucky that my mother was interested in child development (even taught pre school for a few years) and took the time to sit down and ask us all these questions. I do wish she had come back on another day to see if I'd answer the rest.

If you have small children you might like to try asking them a bunch of questions and see what they come up with. Tuck it away then give it to them when they're older! It's great fun. Download the questions for children doc on my bookshelf on my For Writers page. Some of the questions might be dated as they were written long ago. But most will hold up. You may be surprised by the answers you get. 

Do you have anything from your childhood, like school work or home crafts that point to you being a creative adult? I spent most of my adult creative hours doing visual art, mostly watercolor. But there was always the niggling in the back of my brain that I wanted to be a writer. It took many years for me to acknowledge that I am a writer. It doesn't matter what the teachers said about my communication skills. It held me back then, but not now. 

Writer, know thyself. Reach into yourself and own your creativity.