Friday, May 31, 2013

Friday Features - Citrus Couscous Salad

There's more to salads than iceberg and romaine. I like to experiment with different ingredients, and this couscous salad has ingredients I like, so I've put it on the menu for this weekend. I use pickled beets often in salads. Sometimes I just dice them and mix them with some diced onion and a little mayo. BTW, the Corn and Black Bean Salsa from last Friday was a hit at my Memorial Day cookout. I'm going to make more this weekend as I didn't get very much last weekend. ~Christy

Un-Beetable Citrus Couscous Medley

Preparation time: 20 minutes
Makes: 6 servings

  • teaspoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1/2 cup chopped red onion
  • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat or plain couscous
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 3/4 cup orange juice
  • 1/3 cup golden raisins
  • jar (16 ounces) Aunt Nellie’s Sliced Pickled Beets, drained and chopped
  • 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts or slivered almonds, toasted

In medium saucepan, heat 2 teaspoons oil over medium heat. Sauté onions 5 minutes then add couscous and stir 1 minute more. Pour in water and orange juice, bringing to slight boil. Remove from heat, sprinkle raisins over top and cover with lid. Let stand until all liquid is absorbed, about 8 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat remaining oil in large non-stick skillet. Add beets and warm over medium-low heat.

To serve, fluff couscous into large serving bowl. Gently stir in warmed beets, feta cheese and pine nuts or almonds.

Trending Mediterranean

(Family Features) Just what is all the excitement about the Mediterranean diet? Simply put, it’s based on the healthy cooking and eating styles of the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. Experts say it can help reduce the risk of diseases, such as cardiovascular, cancer, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. 

It’s not difficult to do. Basically, it’s based on predominantly plant-based foods. A few simple techniques can get you on your way to embracing the Mediterranean diet. Focus on several servings of fruits and vegetables each day. Add whole grains, beans and nuts to meals. Use olive oil in place of butter. Hold back on the salt; try seasoning foods with herbs and spices instead. Choose fish and poultry more often, and cut back on red meat consumption. 

Un-Beetable Citrus Couscous Medley is a quick, great-tasting side dish that showcases many of these choices. First, the couscous. Make sure the package says whole wheat couscous. Sauté the onions in olive oil instead of butter. Replace part of the water with vitamin C-rich orange juice to add more flavor and nutrients to the couscous. Enhance the antioxidant level with golden raisins and red pickled beets. Aunt Nellie’s beets are picked at the peak of ripeness and perfectly pickled so all you have to do is open the jar, drain and chop them. Using pickled beets adds unique taste and extra texture to the dish, too.

Add crumbled feta cheese. A little of this highly-flavored cheese goes a long way. Finish the dish with toasted pine nuts. The toasting adds more intense flavor, so you can use fewer with the same results. Toss in a handful of chopped fresh herbs if you like – more  color, more nutritional benefits.

Serve this couscous creation with grilled or broiled chicken or fish and a glass of wine if you wish. It could even be enjoyed as a light, meatless main dish. Fresh seasonal fruits make a good dessert.

For additional recipes and more information about Aunt Nellie’s beets, visit

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Wednesday Writers Tips - Finding the core of your story

For me, and maybe for some of you, I jump into a story not really knowing what it's about. I guess that's a casualty of being a pantster (someone who writes by the seat of their pants), which is why I'm trying to edge my way toward the potter end of the scale. Somewhere in between would be fine with me. And probably good for my books.

In her book Novel Shortcuts - Ten Techniques That Ensure A Great First Draft, Laura Whitcomb starts right off with in Chapter 1 with Finding the Core of Your Novel

This chapter includes Clarifying the Premise, Who, Where and What's Wrong. What's Wrong is the central problem of the story. The problem needs to be real and not confused with the character's drive or goal, though they are connected. Whitcomb gives the following example:

Scarlett wants Ashely is a goal. Scarlet wants Ashely, but he's happily married is a problem. A character's goal is only a problem if something is blocking her success. 

A Problem Checklist includes the following guidelines (each with a generous paragraph of explaniations and examples):
  • Make your problem serious
  • Make sure the problem doesn't have a logical solution that your character is ignoring.
  • Make sure your problem can be streteched over a whole manuscript
  • Make sure your problem fits your character.
  • Make sure your subplots are connected to your problem. 
Following is: Beefing Up Your Problem (also with explanations and examples):
  • Add an additional obstacle.
  • Raise the stakes.
  • Make the protagonist more emotionally vulnerable about the situation.
  • Give your antagonist a boost.
  • Provide the situation with a ticking clock.
Just this far into the book (I've actually read it through and am now going back making notes with a specific WIP in mind) gets me excited about my story and how many ways I can make it stronger.

If you're feeling uncertain about your story, or experiencing a mid-story slump, you may find answers in this How To book.

I own a paperback version of this book, which I bought with an armload of writers' craft books when Borders closed. I miss Borders. Other than a used book store in town, the next big book store is 45 miles away. Although I buy most of my book online nowadays, I do miss browsing a brick and mortar store.

Do you shop mostly on line or in a store? 

More books on my How To Bookshelf, some with reviews.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Friday Features - Memorial Day and Cookout recipes

Yeah! It's Memorial Day Weekend and time for a cookout. Cookout, Barbecue, Grilling. However you prepare it, the All American Hot Dog was made for a holiday cookout. We're having a few relatives and friends over and the hot dogs are waiting in the fridge. 

Below are some great hot dog, link, kielbasa, wurst ideas along with some great toppings. I'm planning on making the Corn Black Bean Salsa, for sure. My mouth is already watering. The ingredients fit in the Nutritarian program I'm trying -- keyword: trying -- to follow. My standby favorite is a plain dog with mustard and dill pickle relish. But hey, I'm willing to try something different, and these recipes look very appetizing. If you love hot dogs, what's your favorite way to prepare them?

But let's not forget the reason we have the holiday. It's not really a celebration. It's a remembrance, originally called Decoration Day as a remembrance for those who have died in our nation's service. The exact origins are not clear. During and after the Civil War spontaneous gatherings to honor the dead happened in the South and the North. Memorial Day is not about division, it is about reconciliation, coming together to honor those who gave their all. It was officially proclaimed on May 5, 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, and was first observed on Many 30 that same year. After World War I the holiday adopted honoring all Americans who died fighting any war. For more on the history of Memorial Day visit Memorial Day History.

Now for the food...
Enjoy, Christy

Cheddar Wurst with Corn Black Bean Salsa
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes
Serves: 6
  • cup frozen corn, cooked, drained, cooled
  • cup black beans, drained, rinsed
  • 1/4 cup chopped red bell pepper
  •  tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • tablespoons chopped cilantro
  • jalapeno pepper, seeded, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 package Hillshire Farm Cheddar Wurst Sausage Links
  • French bread rolls or hot dog buns, split

Combine corn, black beans, bell pepper, lime juice, cilantro, jalapeno pepper and cumin. Grill or heat sausages according to package directions, turning frequently. Place sausage in each roll, generously top with corn black bean salsa.

Grilled Beef Hot Links with Mango Salsa

Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes
Serves: 6
  • cups chopped fresh mango
  • can (15 ounces) black beans, rinsed, drained
  • 1/4 cup chopped red onion
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
  • tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • Salt to taste
  • package Hillshire Farm Beef Hot Links
  • sausage buns, split

Combine mango, black beans, red onion, cilantro, lime juice and salt in medium bowl. Grill links over medium-low heat according to package directions. Place grilled sausages in buns; top generously with mango salsa. Serve any remaining salsa with tortilla chips.
Tip: Substitute links with any flavor of smoked sausage or substitute 1 ripe avocado, peeled and chopped, for black beans.

Caprese Salad Topped Smoked Sausage Sandwiches

Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes
Serves: 6
  • package Hillshire Farm Polska Kielbasa Smoked Sausage Links
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • tablespoon olive oil
  • cups grape tomatoes, halved
  • package (8 ounces) fresh small mozzarella balls (cherry or ciliegine-sized), quartered
  • tablespoon chopped red onion
  • tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  •  French bread rolls, split

Brush sausages with balsamic vinegar; set aside. Heat olive oil over medium heat in small skillet. Add tomatoes and cook until soft, about 3 to 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. In small bowl, combine tomatoes, mozzarella, red onion, basil and salt. Grill sausages according to package directions, turning frequently and brushing with balsamic vinegar. Place grilled sausage in each roll, generously top with tomato-mozzarella mixture.

Cheddar Wurst and Apple Kabobs

Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 12 minutes
Serves: 6
  • package Hillshire Farm Cheddar Wurst Sausage Links
  • large tart green apple, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • medium red bell pepper, cut into 1-inch chunks
  • small red onion, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1/4 cup apple jelly
  •  tablespoon Dijon mustard

Cut sausage into 18 slices. Thread sausage, apple, pepper and red onion onto 6 skewers, leaving small space between each item. Melt apple jelly in small saucepan over low heat. Add mustard, mixing until well blended. Grill kabobs over medium heat, turning frequently for 10 minutes. Brush kabobs with apple jelly mixture and grill 2 minutes longer, or until apple and vegetables are crisp-tender.
Variation: Substitute peach, zucchini and apricot preserves for apple, red bell pepper and apple preserves.
Tip: Rewarm jelly/preserves mixture briefly before brushing on kabobs if it has become too thick.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Wednesday Writers Tips - Point of View and Head Hopping

Point of View (POV) and Head Hopping can challenge new authors. It did me. I'd be so caught up in writing that I didn't realize I was switching POV several times in one scene, which can confuse the heck out of your reader. As a reader it bothers me when I come to a change in POV that is not obvious. I go back a paragraph or two wondering when the switch was made and how come I didn't see it. It takes me out of the story for a few seconds.

There are famous, prolific authors who know how to change POV several times in one scene but I feel if a writer is still wading into the waters of fiction, especially romance fiction where dual POVs is advantageous, it's best to keep to one point of view per scene, or at the most switching mid scene. If you find the scene doesn't work in that character's POV, try rewriting it over in the other character's POV. 

Now comes the fun part, and you might think I'm crazy, but when I first started writing and noticed my "POV problem", I found a solution. Maybe it's because I've been an artist for many years, or because I am right brained, but color is an instant flag of recognition. So I started color-coding my manuscripts. Red for the heroine, blue for the hero. And green for the occasional third POV,  but only if absolutely necessary. 

This coding method, and I still use it a dozen mss later, keeps me mindful (pun recognized!) of whose mind I'm in. Am I out of my mind when I'm in my character's mind? That's a topic for another discussion. Back to topic, the color coding also gives me a quick way to see if my mss has POV balance. If I'm writing a story where I want to tip the balance to the heroine's side, I can see with a quick scan if I'm being too heavy with the hero's POV, and visa versa. I can see at a glance if I'm spending too much time in one POV while the other character languishes. 

Here's a short excerpt from my Summer 2013 release A DADDY FOR LUKE as an example. This is the end of one scene in the hero, David's POV and the beginning of the next scene in the heroine, Sandy's POV. 

Why couldn’t they be friends? When had his pity turned to love? Or had it ever been pity? He’d been attracted to her from the beginning. Her quirkiness, her individuality, her determined independence. Her crooked smile. He got in the car, started the engine and pulled away. He drove a few yards until he found a place to turn around and head back to Main Street. He could have gone around the block, but he wanted one last look, to be sure they were all right. As he passed Sandy’s house, she was standing on the sidewalk near the street still holding Luke. They both waved as he went by. Looking stoic, determined to give him a proper farewell. David heard Luke holler. “Goodbye, Mr. David.” And he saw the sun glint off tears on Sandy’s cheeks. 
Damn, what had he done? 
When the car was out of sight Sandy turned and carried her little boy back into the house. Now he was clinging to her, crying his little heart out and her own tears mingled with his. She sat on the sofa and murmured to him. Trying to comfort him. 
She still felt David’s lips on hers, warm, persistent, passionate. A powerful beginning, an abrupt ending. She’d only known him a week and she’d fallen harder than ever. So much for not getting involved. 
This was going to be worse than Sean, Terry and Roy put together. This was a drop into a deep dark canyon she didn’t know how to climb out of. 

 Yes, I also like scene change indicators. As a reader I like to know when I will need to shift gears with the story. 

Do you have any little tricks you've adopted as you've learned the craft of writing fiction?

Friday, May 17, 2013

Friday Features - S'More Brownies, a pot luck hit

I'm going off my usual path of healthy recipes for this pot luck favorite. I found this recipe last year and I've made it three times for work pot luck lunches. It's always a favorite. When a pot luck is scheduled, someone always asks me if I'm going to bring S'More Brownies. I like to make them for pot lucks because that way I save out one or two and don't have the whole plateful tempting me.

The first time I made this the mini marshmallows burned on top. Luckily I had plenty of marshmallows and graham crackers left. I peeled off the charred marshmallows and tried again. **Be sure to watch those marshmallows carefully when you put them under the broiler to brown.** As soon as they begin to turn golden brown, take the pan out, or they'll quickly flash and burn.

S’mores Brownies

Prep time: 25 minutes
Total time: 1 hour, 35 minutes
Serves: 16

1 box (1 lb. 2.4 oz.) Betty Crocker® Original Supreme Premium brownie mix
Water, vegetable oil and egg called for on brownie mix box
2 cups miniature marshmallows
4 graham crackers, broken into small pieces
2 milk chocolate candy bars,broken into 1-inch squares

Preheat oven to 350°F (325°F for dark or nonstick pan). Make brownies as directed. After removing pan from oven, set oven to broil. Immediately sprinkle marshmallows and graham crackers over warm brownies. Broil about 4 to 5 inches from heat 30 to 60 seconds or until marshmallows are golden brown. (Watch carefully, marshmallows and graham crackers will brown quickly.) Sprinkle with chocolate candy. To serve warm, cool about 30 minutes. Cut into 4 rows by 4 rows.