Thursday, April 26, 2012

In the editing cave...

I'm deep in edits for my November 2012 release, An Infamous Marriage. Once they're turned in, I'll go back to blogging--and to work on my next manuscript!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Reading report, week of April 17

I'm now over halfway to my goal of 75 books read in 2012! Hopefully I'll make 100.

38) The Seduction of the Crimson Rose, by Lauren Willig. Fourth in the Pink Carnation series of Regency romance/spy romps with a modern framing story. I enjoy Willig's voice, and I can rely on her books for a fun read. I liked this book's central couple. I don't think I'd want a steady diet of such cynical heroes and heroines, but these two seemed so very well-matched, and I'm glad they're going to go be cynical together instead of her curing him with her youthful innocence or anything of the kind.

39) White Bread: A Social History of the Store-Bought Loaf, by Andrew Bobrow-Strain. An engrossing look at how America embraced industrial white bread during the early and mid-20th century, then gradually turned away from it from the 70's onward. I was born in 1971, and when I was little we had store-bought white bread on the table every night. By the time I hit middle school, Mom was buying whole wheat bread and doing some of her own baking, and there was no bread on the table at all if we had rice or potatoes with the meal. Back then I thought she was trying to eat healthier because of specific health conditions she and Dad had or were at risk for. Now I see that she was, consciously or not, moving with the trends.

And now my 8-year-old lectures us over the whiteness of the baguettes and ciabatta loafs we occasionally eat. "Don't you know whole wheat bread is more healthy?" she proclaims in all the certainty of her youth. I wonder what our grandkids will be telling HER in 30 years or so.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

I'm on Pinterest

I'm on Pinterest now. At first I resisted. Did I really need yet another place to hang out on the internet? It's not like I have so many hours of spare time, after all. And I'm not even an especially visual thinker. Would I have anything to say in a place that's all about the pictures?

Still, I got an account and started playing around with it. To my surprise, it's strangely addictive. It's less formal than a blog post, but without the strict character limit of Twitter, so I can spend the occasional stray half hour pinning pretty book covers or places I've visited or paintings that remind me of one of my heroines. Playing, basically.

If you want to visit my virtual scrapbook, you'll find me here.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Reading report, early April 2012

I'm taking a couple weeks off before diving into edits for An Infamous Marriage and/or starting my next project, a novella with the working title Widow's Choice. I figured I'd spend those weeks doing nothing but read, read, read, but so far it hasn't turned out that way. I speed-read one book after deciding I had to find out what the fuss was about, then got caught up in something more scholarly:

36) The Hunger Games? Entirely lives up to the hype, IMHO. I read it in less than a day, and I loved Katniss for her toughness.

37) The Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen, edited by Edward Copeland and Juliet McMaster. Though I know Austen so well I've practically memorized many passages from her novels (and NOT just "It is a truth universally acknowledged..."), I came to her work after completing my formal education, so I've never analyzed it from an academic perspective. So I found this book intriguing as a different angle on a familiar author. Some of the essays confirmed what I expected based on my knowledge of Austen's era--e.g. that she chooses a middle way between the extreme conservative and liberal views of her time, advocating both the established hierarchy and the ability of worthy individuals and families to rise within it. Others brought up issues I hadn't consciously noticed and kicked myself for missing--e.g. the different way POV and dialogue are handled with the outgoing Emma for protagonist vs. the retiring Anne Elliot of Persuasion.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

52 Cookbooks - Week 23, Just Chocolate Cookbook

This week for Easter I drew a Christmas cookbook, the Christmas at Home Just Chocolate Cookbook, which I got as a stocking stuffer a couple years back.

Not being in the mood for Christmassy cookies or cakes, I turned to the breakfast section at the very back. I rejected pumpkin and banana breads with chocolate chips as things I already make all the time and tried my hand at this:

Chocolate Apple Bread

1 c and 2 tsp sugar, divided
3/4 tsp cinnamon, divided
3/4 c walnuts, finely chopped and divided
2 c flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 c butter, softened
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2 T buttermilk
2 c apples, peeled, cored, and coarsely chopped
1 c semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350. In a small bowl, combine 2 tsp sugar, 1/4 tsp cinnamon, and 1/4 c walnuts; set aside. In a medium bowl, mix flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, remaining cinnamon, and nutmeg, set aside. In a large bowl, cream butter and remaining sugar together; add eggs and vanilla. Gradually add the flour mixture and buttermilk. Fold in apples, remaining walnuts, and chocolate chips. Pour mixture into a greased 9x5 inch loaf pan. Sprinkle with the sugar, cinnamon, and walnut mixture. Bake for 55 to 60 minutes. Allow to cool for 20 minutes before removing from the pan.

I cooked it for more like 75 minutes, since when I tested for doneness at 1 hour it was still runny. It came out like this:

Apples and chocolate may sound like a strange combo, but this made for a tasty Easter breakfast and a worthy addition to my cookbook repertoire.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Too many anniversaries

Had I won the Mega Millions lottery last week, I would've spent a large part of the next few years on battlefields. If you're interested in military history, as I am, our time is filled with anniversaries. We're 200 years out of the later parts of the Napoleonic Wars, a year into the American Civil War's 150th, and World War I is coming back into public consciousness as we approach its 100 year mark.

Tomorrow (April 6) my hypothetical rich self would need to be two places at once. It's the 200th anniversary of the Storming of Badajoz, which plays a significant role in my first book, The Sergeant's Lady.

Badajoz was an unusually gruesome battle for its time--the elite Light Division lost 40% of its fighting strength. The aftermath was even worse, as the victorious British sacked the city in a rampage of looting, rape, and murder.

It's also the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Shiloh, which at the time was the bloodiest battle in American history.

Badajoz and Shiloh are both grim enough to make me stop and question my own fascination with military history. I'm by no means a pacifist, because I think there are some evils that can't be stopped short of a war. World War II and the Civil War, viewed from the Union side, both strike me as just and unavoidable. But I'm also by no means unthinkingly militaristic. Few things make me angrier than seeing good men and women sacrificed for no worthy purpose in an unjust, unnecessary war. I find World War I all but unbearable to contemplate precisely because it was so damn pointless, and if it served any purpose beyond decimating Europe and making World War II all but inevitable, I've never been able to find it. And even the most just of wars...well, I'll quote William Tecumseh Sherman in May 1865:

I confess, without shame, that I am sick and tired of fighting — its glory is all moonshine; even success the most brilliant is over dead and mangled bodies, with the anguish and lamentations of distant families, appealing to me for sons, husbands, and fathers ... it is only those who have never heard a shot, never heard the shriek and groans of the wounded and lacerated ... that cry aloud for more blood, more vengeance, more desolation.

So, I don't love war, but I can't look away from its history. Maybe it's in the blood--though I'm not an Army brat, I've got a lot of soldiers in my family, both in the present and living memory and at least as far back as the American Revolution. (Though, as noted above, I firmly believe the Union had all the right on its side in the Civil War, my roots in Alabama go deep enough that I'm the great-great-granddaughter of a Confederate soldier. I'm neither proud nor ashamed of that fact--it simply is what it is. He was a product of his place and time. If anything, my eligibility for the Daughters of the Confederacy, which I would never, ever join, is a useful reminder to occasionally ask myself what injustices I condone unthinkingly because they're normal for where and when I live.)

Whatever the cause, I expect I'll continue studying military history and writing about soldiers--the glory, moonshine though it be, and the horror, and the courage, honor, and sacrifice. And there's one anniversary I intend to make. Barring catastrophe, I'll be at Waterloo on June 18, 2015.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

52 Cookbooks - Week 22, Mariners Cookie Book

(Yes, I skipped a few weeks. I was too busy to blog while working toward my deadline on An Infamous Marriage, so I'm going to re-do the cookbooks I experimented with those weeks, when I drew a run of challenging, chef-y cookbooks that deserve proper blog attention. Maybe next time I won't have to deliberately choose the easiest recipes because I'm so busy, either.)

When I first moved to Seattle, the Mariners Wives did annual fundraiser cookbooks for local nonprofits, and I bought their 2002 Cookie Book but never tried any recipes from it. Paging through it as I worked on my shopping list last weekend, I saw a lot of the same recipes I'd eaten at church potlucks and the like growing up. But I wanted to challenge myself with something new, so I picked Ichiro and Yumiko Suzuki's submission:

Sweet Potato Cookies

2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 T baking powder
1/4 c butter, softened
1/2 lb sweet potatoes, peeled and boiled
2 eggs
1/2 c milk
3 T granulated sugar
1/2 c whipping cream
confectioner's sugar

Preheat oven to 375. In a mixing bowl combine flour and baking powder. Add butter and mix well. In another bowl mash potatoes. Add eggs, milk, sugar, and whipping cream. Mix well. Add dry mixture to egg mixture. Knead dough with hands until smooth. Refrigerate for 1/2 to 1 hour. Roll out dough on a floured surface. Cut with cookie cutters. Place on a greased cookie sheet and puncture cookies with a fork to take out any air. Bake for 15 minutes. Cool. Sprinkle with confectioner's sugar.

I would've been better off sticking with chocolate-peanut butter no-bake cookies or cupcakes made from cake mix, but with chocolate chips stirred in. Because there's something wrong with that recipe. I'm wondering if something got left out, either inadvertently or by omitting rather than substituting for a Japanese ingredient. First of all, when I mixed the ingredients, I ended up with not a dough but a batter. Now, "sweet potatoes" can mean different things in different places. I used what Amazon Fresh calls yams and I call sweet potatoes. The pretty orange kind. But I don't think any of the things calling themselves sweet potatoes are so different once cooked and mashed that using the wrong one would make a dough into a batter.

Time to improvise, I thought. I tasted the batter and discovered it was nigh-flavorless, which isn't much of a surprise based on that ingredient list. I'd noticed the absence of salt, spice, and the like, but thought maybe the sweet potato would be strong enough to make up for it. Nope! So I stirred in a teaspoon each of salt and vanilla extract plus several good shakes of cinnamon. When I tasted the batter again, it was decent, though subtle, so I poured it into a loaf pan and baked.

It baked up into a pretty pale-orange quick bread with a nice texture, but even with my additions it was so bland I decided to throw it out. I'd love to taste these cookies however Yumiko Suzuki actually makes them, because what ended up in this cookbook just can't be it. As a fan of pumpkin bread I'm intrigued by sweet potato cookies...but my bread was just Bland City.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

I'm back!

Late last night I turned in the manuscript for An Infamous Marriage, so today I'm starting to catch up on everything I missed in the two weeks all my spare time was spent in the editing cave. (This afternoon it's mostly about laundry.)

Today is also the second anniversary of getting The Email from Angela James offering to buy my first book, The Sergeant's Lady. And yes, getting an offer on April Fool's Day did mess with my head. 90% of me was thrilled, while the other 10% nervously eyed the calendar and thought, "Hm, do you have any enemies or friends with cruel senses of humor who A) know you well enough to know you sent the manuscript to Carina and B) have the skills to convincingly fake an email from Angela James?"

This year Mr. Fraser did manage to catch me out just after midnight. Normally I don't much trust anything he says on April 1--if he told me it was raining I'd look out the window myself to confirm--but in my head it was still March 31. So he starts spinning this tale of a job offer from a former employer that would be a slight pay cut from his current work, but a much shorter commute. He told it so plausibly that I was seriously weighing whether the pay cut would be worth it to have him working on this side of Lake Washington again, whether going back to the former employer was a wise career decision, etc. He closed with, "And I already know what I'm going to say?" Me: "Really?" Him: "APRIL FOOL'S." Me: SNARL