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Staying Off Sugar by Taylor Stevens

It’s been said that sugar is harder to quit than cocaine. I don’t know anything about cocaine, but I do know more than I should about trying—and failing—to quit that empty calorie metabolic-disrupting, appetite-triggering, energy-rollercoaster-producing but oh so delicious drug known as sugar. There are, I hear, people quite capable of handling sugar in moderation. The, “well, maybe I’ll have just one,” types. Me, I’ve always been more on the “I’ll just have just one bag,” end of the spectrum. Sugar withdrawal has, on occasion, sent me seeking salad dressings or barbeque sauces when more legitimate options weren’t available and I’m pretty sure that alone disqualifies me from any attempt at claiming to be a recreational user.

All those empty calories combined with the outsized number of hours I spend sitting each day, plus some otherwise poor eating habits came with a weighty price that culminated in a moment of desperation earlier this year. That was it, I said. I’d had enough. I was quitting all sugar starting right that very second. Not that I hadn’t made that exact same decision at least once a month for the past three years and failed spectacularly each time.

But this was desperation-desperation. And also really bad timing. This was Easter, the only time of year that Starburst jellybeans, god among jellybeans and most favorite of chewy sweet things, are readily available.

Not only did I have several bags of this fruity goodness in my secret candy stash, one of those bags was already opened, half-gone, and screaming to be finished before any drastic decisions were made. I couldn’t bring myself to throw them away. Instead, I rolled that open bag closed tight and before the urge to reopen it for “just a few more” changed my mind, I posted a video update to Patreon and an explanation in the Facebook Fan Club Group announcing that I was going off sugar and carbs completely for a month. I figured the humiliation of having to publicly admit I couldn’t even make thirty days might get me through what willpower alone couldn’t. Sheer lunacy is what that was. Continue reading “Staying Off Sugar by Taylor Stevens”

Cookbooks and a Cook of Convenience by Debra H. Goldstein

My mother was a wonder in the kitchen. Whether cooking or baking, she was a natural. I didn’t inherit her skills. If I make dinner two nights in a row, my husband suggests going out. When my son was six, he was given a reading comprehension test. All he had to do was tell the story from four pictures the examiner showed him. He flunked. He got the first three right – a family sitting down to dinner, a family eating together, and a family finishing eating, but instead of saying, “The family clears the table,” he said, “Now, they pay the bill.” I compensate for being a cook of convenience by collecting cookbooks.

Although I have staples like The Joy of Cooking, many of the cookbooks I collect stress speed and ease in the kitchen. Like Sarah Blair in One Taste Too Many, the first book in my new cozy mystery series from Kensington, I tend to select recipes incorporating pre-prepared ingredients. One that I make often is spinach pie featuring Stouffers spinach souffle. Some of my favorite cookbooks in this category include: So You Think You Can Cook, Come for Cocktails, Stay for Supper, Rachael Ray – 365: No Repeats (30-minute meals), and Better Homes and Gardens Skinny Slow Cooker. Simply because of their names, I keep Peg Bracken’s The I Hate to Cook Book and her Appendix to The I Hate to Cook Book in a prominent place in my hardly used kitchen.

 

When I am forced to cook, I prefer to make recipes that have good pictures. It is much easier in the grocery store to match a picture with the produce while deciding which ingredients to buy. Who knew there were so many types of squash, potatoes, beans and peppers to choose from? Almost every Betty Crocker and Better Homes and Gardens cookbook has excellent pictures.

Sometimes, I purchase a cookbook because of the story it tells. For example, the Bounty of Biltmore Cookbook contains the traditional recipes served at the Biltmore through the years, but it also references the history and workings of the Biltmore House. Other cookbooks reflect the history of the people who wrote them. To me, the food is secondary to the life stories of the cooks in books like The way to a man’s heart – The Settlement Cook Book.

In my last house, when we remodeled the kitchen to give me a pleasant path from the garage to the den, I had special shelving built to exhibit my unopened cookbooks. I thought it was only fair. My couch potato husband uses the den shelves for sports paraphernalia.

Sarah’s Spinach Pie

Ingredients

1 prepared pie crust (deep dish)

1 can or jar of diced or sliced mushrooms, drained

2 pkgs. Stouffer’s frozen spinach soufflé

1 c. shredded Cheddar cheese

1 package Durkee’s French Fried Onions

 

Instructions for Cooks of Convenience

Spread a layer of cheese in the bottom of the raw pie crust. Spread onions and mushrooms next. Repeat. Retain some cheese and onions to top off the pie. Place thawed soufflé in pie crust and mush it around to cover the layer below. Bake 50 minutes at 350◦ and then sprinkle remaining cheese and onions on top and finish for 7-10 minutes. Check for firmness with a toothpick. For best results, let stand for 10 minutes before cutting. Delicious as a leftover.

 

For culinary challenged Sarah Blair, there’s only one thing scarier than cooking from scratch—murder!

Married at eighteen, divorced at twenty eight, Sarah Blair reluctantly swaps her luxury lifestyle for a cramped studio apartment and a law firm receptionist job in the tired hometown she never left. With nothing much to show for the last decade but her feisty Siamese cat, RahRah, and some clumsy domestic skills, she’s the polar opposite of her bubbly twin, Emily—an ambitious chef determined to take her culinary ambitions to the top at a local gourmet restaurant . . .

Sarah knew starting over would be messy. But things fall apart completely when her ex drops dead, seemingly poisoned by Emily’s award-winning rhubarb crisp. Now, with RahRah wanted by the woman who broke up her marriage and Emily wanted by the police for murder, Sarah needs to figure out the right recipe to crack the case before time runs out. Unfortunately, for a gal whose idea of good china is floral paper plates, catching the real killer and living to tell about it could mean facing a fate worse than death—being in the kitchen!

Includes quick and easy recipes!

Advance praise for One Taste Too Many

“Debra Goldstein whets our appetite for murder in this series debut. Scarf down a full serving of this tasty mystery as soon as you can.” —Maddie Day, bestselling author of the Country Store Mysteries

“A cozy mystery loaded with humor and heart.” —Linda Rodriguez, author of Every Hidden Fear

“Twins, murder, and mouthwatering descriptions of delicious food. One Taste Too Many is a page-turner debut of a cozy mystery that leaves you wanting more.” —Barbara Ross, author of Steamed Open

Feminist Thrillers by Taylor Stevens

It’s fair to say I’ve lived an unusual life. I was born into a nomadic apocalyptic cult and raised in a belief system that eschewed connections to “worldly things” such as education, gainful employment, property ownership, and personal belongings. I grew up in communes, moving often from one to the next in a trek that crisscrossed the globe. Those nearly thirty transient years, plus the culture shock of walking away from everything I knew for the foreignness of the real world, means that no matter where I go or how long I live in any one place, there’s always a part of me that will feel like a stranger. That outsider status and the sense of not quite belonging finds its way into many of my characters—that, together with independence, fierce intelligence, and a high level of  kickassery—and also seems to be what most draws me to the stories I love to read. In no particular order, I share with you a few of my favorite femme fatales:

 

  1. Thea Paris, in SKYJACK by KJ Howe: Thea, a hostage rescue specialist, is strong-willed, stubborn, independent, and perfectly capable of saving herself as well as those she’s contracted to save. She also happens to be diabetic, which means she’s a kickass heroine dealing with everyday real life health issues most characters get to skip. But what makes her especially appealing to me and sets her apart in the world of fantastic fictional women is the uniqueness of her job and the authentic international childhood that informs her relationships and career choices.

 

  1. Charlie Fox, in KLLER INSTINCT, by Zoë Sharp: Charlie doesn’t fit into placid suburbia any better than I do—although for different reasons. Combine a slightly shady military background and a fair share of baggage with some serious combat skills and a rough-around-the-edges take-no-prisoners attitude, put it all into a brawler biker chick who might just be borderline insane and you get a fantastic good bad girl vicarious binge fest.

 

  1. Mercy Kilpatrick in A MERCIFUL DEATH, by Kendra Elliot: Mercy is an FBI agent who grew up in a family of survivalists and who, in wanting a different path in life, left them to attend college. She is determined, honest, and still something of a survivalist herself. Normally FBI agents are too “traditional” as characters to appeal to me, but the way Mercy was raised and the estrangement she faced from turning her back on the life she grew up in is something I relate to on so many levels and that draws me to her.

Continue reading “Feminist Thrillers by Taylor Stevens”

Butternut Squash Cake by Debra Sennefelder

When I set out to write Kelly Quinn and her series, The Resale Boutique Mysteries, I knew the twenty-something fashionista wasn’t a cook. While living in the city, she was far more apt to stop at the diner across from her apartment building or grab take-out for dinner after leaving the buying offices of the department store where she worked. Cooking a meal and baking a cake weren’t things she was interested in doing.

Since moving back to her hometown of Lucky Cove, New York, not much has changed except the dining establishments. She’s still not much of a cook but thankfully her best friend, Liv, works in her family’s bakery and her employee, Pepper, loves to cook and feed Kelly. So she’s eating well these days. Maybe too good. Her skinny jeans have gotten a little tight since moving out of the city where she walked everywhere. I can relate to Kelly, thanks to the holidays. So much good food!

Now that’s it’s January, it’s time to buckle down and make smarter choices. But, this gal loves chocolate cake and it’s my birthday month (and it’s also my release month, but I’m sure you’ve heard that already) and I love to celebrate with cake. This is quite a dilemma for me. But, I think I have a solution that will make my skinny jeans happy and allow me to savor the special moments in this month.

Chocolate cake with a healthy twist.

If you enjoy not-too-sweet, moist, decadent chocolate cake this is the recipe for you. But, I warn you, make sure you have a tall glass of milk when you serve up a slice of this cake for yourself because there’s no better way to enjoy it. Trust me.

What’s the healthy twist? Butternut squash. That’s right. Typically we serve butternut squash as a side dish or as a soup, but in a cake? I know, weird but so yummy. I prefer to make my own butternut squash by roasting first and then pureeing in my blender. But there is frozen butternut squash puree and also canned available. There’s also some unsweetened applesauce so you know this cake is moist beyond belief. And it’s a little less guilty indulgence which I know we all can appreciate.

Happy Baking!

Chocolate Butternut Squash Cake recipe

Ingredients:

½ cup butternut squash puree

2 egg whites

½ cup unsweetened applesauce

1/3 cup non-fat plain Greek yogurt

1/3 cup sugar

¼ cup Canola oil Continue reading “Butternut Squash Cake by Debra Sennefelder”

Original Fantasy Fudge by Krista Davis

When I was growing up, a neighbor always made this fudge for Christmas. She insisted that it came off the back of a marshmallow creme jar. That neighbor has passed on now, so I tried the recipe on the back of the jar but it just wasn’t the same. It took a lot of searching but I finally found the original recipe, which I think came from Kraft. Don’t lose the recipe! It’s hard to find. I prefer my fudge without nuts, but feel free to add nuts if you like them.

 

Original Fantasy Fudge

Ingredients

  • 3 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup margarine or unsalted butter
  • 2/3 cup evaporated milk
  • 1 12-oz. (340 g) package semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 7-oz. (198 g) jar Kraft Marshmallow crème
  • 1 cup chopped nuts (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Continue reading “Original Fantasy Fudge by Krista Davis”

Wicked Wednesday: Neighbors

via Wicked Wednesday: Neighbors

Florentine Cookies by Krista Davis

It wouldn’t be Christmas without Florentine cookies in my household.

If you hate dried fruit or chocolate, then they are not for you! But if you love the richness of chocolate with the chewiness of dried fruit (think dried cherries, apricots, and/or raisins), then you’ll love these. Use your favorite chocolate chips (not coating wafers).

They aren’t hard to make at all, but they do require patience and counter space. After all, the chocolate has to set before you can store them. I pack them in layers with wax paper in between each layer of cookies. Be sure to refrigerate them!

This recipe makes approximately 45 cookies. Continue reading “Florentine Cookies by Krista Davis”

Knitting a Mystery by Sally Goldenbaum

Have you ever wondered why so many cozy mysteries revolve around food or knitting or gardening or bookstores? Why isn’t a plain old murder enough? Who needs herbs or bamboo needles or a trowel when you have a dead body?

I explored the question with the four protagonists in the seaside knitters society mysteries, Izzy, Cass, Birdie and Nell, and I wondered how they’d be different if they didn’t knit, if they were simply “the seaside women.”

Here’s what I think:

I think the knitting provides a centering for their friendship, and has been instrumental in how it has grown. Izzy’s yarn shop is a place to bring Nell, Cass, and Birdie together regularly. It gives them a ready-made place to interact, to gossip, to develop their friendship in new ways. In How to Knit a Murder, the knitting room even provides a place to welcome a newcomer to town. To knit her into their lives. And to help her when she is accused of a horrible murder.

Knitting also provides a metaphor for the way Nell, Birdie, Cass, and Izzy think. As they knit a pattern, they carefully and methodically knit together the pieces of a puzzle—a body in a mansion, a new woman in town, scandals reborn in an online newsletter, high school secrets, once buried, brought to life: all pieces knit together to solve a murder.

And lastly, yarn is simply so tangible and visceral and sensual that it provides a feeling that can soften the harshness of murder and at the same time heighten and stimulate the senses. It injects a sensuousness into the mystery, just like writing about food does. Sinking ones fingers into a basketful of Izzy’s buttercup yellow cashmere yarn, for example, or savoring Nell’s garlic grilled shrimp salad with fresh flakes of basil sprinkled on top—and clinking together four glasses of Birdie’s chilled pinot gris—are sure ways to stimulate and sharpen the senses and help the knitters of Sea Harbor explore the intricacies of murder. Continue reading “Knitting a Mystery by Sally Goldenbaum”

Rules for knitting by Sally Goldenbaum

People often ask me about knitting, assuming, I think, that I know a lot about it because my mysteries revolve around a group of women whose deep friendship was knit together over. . .well, over knitting.

But the truth is, I don’t know much about knitting. Accept that I can barely sit down to watch television or go on a long car trip or meeting without my stash beside me—unfinished mittens and baby hats and sweater sleeves just waiting for a cuff.

I’m a passionate knitter, rather than the expert kind. And that’s why I have my own rules for knitting, really simple ones that somehow will take care of any other rules you need. And there’re only two.

  1. Find a cozy yarn shop

One just like Izzy’s (in the Seaside Knitters Society mysteries) in which friendly wonderful people work, and will sit with you patiently while you rip out rows and knit them back again and again or explain nicely that casting on isn’t the same as fly fishing. A person who will help you line up a sleeve with a sweater, and one who can make you smile when your cat uses an almost-finished sock as a miniature soccer ball.

  1. Find a knitting group

Online? A church? Or a group that meets every Tuesday morning in a yarn shop over coffee and shared patterns and caring bodies gathered around a table.  Or start one yourself. There are knitting groups everywhere and they make the art and craft of knitting a wondrous, sometimes therapeutic, and always fun adventure.

I discovered one on Cape Ann recently, a group of women sitting in comfortable chairs near a window. I watched from a distance while they laughed and chatted and passed around yarn to feel and patterns to look at. The saleswoman said that they’d been meeting for years—women of different ages — mostly strangers in the beginning. But as the months and years flew (and finished sweaters and hats and prayer shawls and chemo hats flew off their needles), the bonds grew. Now if a member doesn’t show up for a week or two, someone calls and checks on her, and when a birthday is revealed, it’s celebrated over needles and yarn and chocolate cake. And when someone is sick, chicken soup magically appears at that knitter’s door.

Community of the best sort. And all around needles and yarn, knitting and purling. And good caring people.

A mysterious woman arrives in picturesque Sea Harbor, Massachusetts, and the Seaside Knitters welcome her into their cozy world of intricate patterns and colorful skeins. Unfortunately, nothing frays a warm introduction like cold-blooded murder . . .

With her shy manner and baggy jeans, Rose Chopra becomes an unlikely superhero the night she stumbles into Izzy Perry’s shop and inadvertently saves a shipment of yarn from water damage. When the Seaside Knitters help the enigmatic handywoman settle into town and find work at a popular real estate company, Rose proves she can fix just about anything—until a potential homebuyer is killed and she becomes entangled in murder . . .

The moment controversial entrepreneur Spencer Paxton is found dead in a pricey ocean-side house, accusations fly at the last person on the property—Rose. But the Seaside Knitters have their doubts. After all, Spencer’s political aspirations as well as his company’s plans to pave over Sea Harbor’s historic art district with luxury apartments earned him some very real enemies . . .

Now, Izzy, Birdie, Nell, and Cass must swap knitting for sleuthing as they struggle to move the needle on a twisted homicide case causing turmoil across town. As tensions build in the sleepy New England community and Rose’s secret past unravels, the ladies face an unsettling realization—true victims aren’t always the ones buried six feet under . . .

Includes a knitting pattern

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