Sunday, September 30, 2012

Six Sentence Sunday 9-30-12: An Infamous Marriage

Here's excerpt #4 from my upcoming release, An Infamous Marriage. This week we're in February 1815, and our hero and heroine are seeing each other again for the first time in five years. (They've been married all that time, but Jack has been in Canada with the army.)

“Is Lady Armstrong at home?” Jack asked with careful carelessness. 
“I’m right here.” 
Jack spun on his heel and almost tumbled on his backside into the wintry muck. So much for the element of surprise. She’d got the advantage of him after all. 
The woman who stood ten feet away at the edge of the stable yard was nothing at all like he’d spent the last five years imagining.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Books read the past two weeks

78) A political book. And that's all I'm going to say, since I try to keep my politics out of my author world, though they've been known to creep out on Twitter from time to time.

79) Love Thy Rival: What Sports' Greatest Rivalries Teach Us About Loving Our Enemies, by Chad Gibbs. As in God and Football, Gibbs writes a humorous travelogue of sports fandom with a light touch of Christian inspiration. At the end of the book he talks about rivalry at its best--the Army-Navy football rivalry between two schools dedicated to the common cause of sacrificial service to their country--and at its worse--the Alabama fan who poisoned Auburn's Toomer Oaks. The latter incident still makes me shake with rage, even though I'm not truly part of the Auburn Family myself. (My oldest brother is an alum, so I guess I'm family of the family?) What kind of evil person murders TREES, beautiful, hundred-year-old liveoak TREES, over football?

As you see, I'm having trouble loving that particular enemy. And when you suggest I ought to love my political or ideological enemies, it gets even harder. Heck, it even raised my hackles a bit that Gibbs closed the book with a challenge for rival fans to compete by giving to a nonprofit I'd personally never donate to for political reasons. (You will note I didn't name the nonprofit here. I'm biting my tongue hard, because if I named names, I wouldn't be able to resist explaining WHY I'm against them, complete with links and sputtering outrage. I really don't want to go there in my writer space.)

80) 45 Master Characters, by Victoria Schmidt. A writer's guide to archetypes and the hero's journey. I like that she described a masculine and feminine version of the journey--and then stated that sometimes female characters follow the masculine journey pattern and vice versa. I tend to get frustrated with gender essentialist approaches to such things.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Random Cookbook of the Week - Good Eats: The Early Years

This week I drew Good Eats: The Early Years, the first of a trio of cookbooks, all of which we own, from Alton Brown's popular and long-running show. So far I've had universal good luck with every Good Eats recipe I've tried, though I've yet to attempt any of the truly complex, gadget-heavy, and time-consuming projects.

My recipe selection this time around was a no-brainer. I picked Southern Biscuits, because Alton's grandmother, Ma Mae, who taught him how to make them, reminds me of my own Mamaw, and because my mother used to make homemade buttermilk biscuits from scratch almost every day, without a recipe. I never learned, unfortunately, because by the time I'd outgrown trying to be as different from my mother as I possibly could, she'd gone to using a local brand of frozen biscuit she thought almost as good as homemade.

I followed the recipe (linked above) closely, including the book's advice to use three parts regular all-purpose flour to one part cake flour if you don't have access to a Southern flour brand like White Lily. The results looked like this:

They smelled like my mom's biscuits, to the point I was carried off on a wave of memories just from the scent of the dough. They tasted like them, too, pretty much. Unfortunately, they were also heavy. Bricklike, even, though Mr Fraser ate them happily enough and Miss Fraser the Finicky wants to know when I'm making them again.

I think my mistake was letting the butter and shortening get too warm and melty as I was working them into the dry ingredients. Next time I'm not pulling them from the fridge till the very last minute, and I might use a pastry cutter instead of my fingertips to cut them in.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Where I've been of late

I've been posting a bit less than usual of late, for three reasons:

1) I just finished a novella manuscript and sent it off to my editor. It isn't contracted, so I'm now in a limbo period awaiting response.

2) To reward myself for finishing said manuscript, I went in for a massage, with a new-to-me massage therapist, since my regular therapist had no openings last week. The new therapist gave me such a painful massage I was sure I'd feel wonderful the next day. I mean, if a massage doesn't hurt at all, it doesn't help. So I thought more pain = more gain, especially since it felt like she was really digging into the tightest muscles. Not so much, as it turns out. Somehow what she did made all my shoulder muscles that had been only slightly sore from the push to finish the manuscript seize up so much I missed two days of work last week. It hurt just to sit at my desk and type, despite all the ergonomic accommodations they've made for me, and I learned the hard way from my pinched nerve experience that it's not the kind of pain you want to ignore or try to push through.

Suffice it to say next time I'll wait till my regular therapist has space on her calendar.

3) Mr. Fraser turned 40 on Saturday, so we threw him a shindig.

Anyway, hand and shoulder willing, I should start getting back to a regular blog schedule this week.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Six Sentence Sunday 9-23-12 - An Infamous Marriage

Here's Six Sentence Sunday excerpt #3 from my upcoming historical romance, An Infamous Marriage. This week our heroine, Elizabeth, having married the hero, Jack, to fulfill a deathbed promise to her first husband, is at home in Northumberland taking care of Jack's elderly mother and his lands while he serves with his regiment in Canada. His uncle and mentor, Sir Richard Armstrong, has arrived seeking an explanation for his favorite nephew's surprise marriage:

“Ah, now it all becomes clear. Jack has always been persuadable when it comes to his friends. So you gained a settled home, which I daresay you needed, for it isn’t as though a curate would’ve married a woman with a fortune or had one of his own to leave her. And Jack gained both a caretaker for his mother and a comfortable sense of his own heroism and generosity to his friend.” 
It was so accurate Elizabeth wanted to smash something. Possibly the jasperware vase on the mantel, and probably over Sir Richard’s head.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Six Sentence Sunday 9-16-12 - An Infamous Marriage

Here's another Six Sentence Sunday excerpt from An Infamous Marriage, my November 5 release, which is now available for preorder at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

This week we flash back five years from the prologue to visit our hero and heroine during their first meal as husband and wife in February 1810. They marry to fulfill a deathbed promise to Elizabeth's first husband, who was Jack's childhood best friend. Because Jack has to rejoin his regiment almost immediately, their wedding is a hasty, unromantic elopement just over the border from their Northumberland home to Scotland:

“Was there someone else?” she asked. “Someone you wanted to carry to Scotland?” 
“What would be the point of telling you if there was?” he snapped. “It can’t be, now.” 
She sighed. None of this was his fault, but she couldn’t help envisioning some perfect, golden-haired young beauty, perhaps a general’s daughter, who had danced with Colonel Armstrong and dreamed of becoming his bride.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012


An Infamous Marriage is now available for preorder at both Amazon and Barnes & Noble. And also at the UK Amazon site, though not yet on the Carina homepage or at Powell's. (I haven't checked all the other possibilities yet--I have to write my next book, after all!)

So if you have a Kindle or Nook and want my book to be waiting for you sometime around midnight on November 5, you may now go forth and preorder.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Book read, week of 9-11

Because I've been busy finishing up the first draft of a novella, I only finished one book this past week:

77) Among Others, by Jo Walton. A coming-of-age fantasy boarding school tale that's not quite what you expect any of those things to be. The magic is ambiguous--I read it as real, but from what I could tell from other people's reviews, about half the readers took it for the first-person narrator protagonist's coping mechanism to deal with all the trauma she's experienced. I think it works either way, which is unusual. And unusual is a good description for the book as a whole. I'm glad I read it, but I wouldn't want to read books like it as a steady diet necessarily. The heroine's head was often an uncomfortable place to be.

The heroine is an avid SF reader who becomes involved in a SF reading club at her library, and the book is packed with references to the genre. I got maybe half of them, mostly the obvious ones like Narnia, LOTR, Thomas Covenant, and Hitchhiker's Guide, because the story is set in the late 70's, while most of the SF I read is from 1990 and later. I expect I would've gotten more out of the book if I'd known more of the references.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Random Cookbook of the Week - How to Cook Everything

This week's random cookbook draw was Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything, which lately is my go-to everyday cookbook. It's pretty comprehensive, and it's more in tune with how I like to cook and eat than something like The Joy of Cooking or the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook. But above all, it's available as a handy, searchable, cross-referenced smartphone and tablet app.

Since the whole point of this challenge is to try something new, I settled on one of the few quick pasta sauces I'd yet to attempt:

Thirty-Minute Ragu (a variation on Meat Sauce, Bolognese Style)

- 2 T extra virgin olive oil
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 8-12 oz. ground lamb or other meat
- 28 oz. can tomatoes (I used diced rather than whole)
- 1/2 c. cream

(I added some chopped garlic and crushed red pepper flakes, since the one flaw with Bittman's recipes, IMHO, is that they run a little bland.)

Put the olive oil in a large, deep skillet or saucepan over medium-low heat. When hot, add the onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, until tender. Add the ground lamb and cook, stirring and breaking up clumps, until all traces of red are gone. Add the tomatoes, raise the heat a bit, and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes. Add the cream and cook for another 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook and drain pasta, then toss with the ragu. Garnish with freshly grated pecorino Romano and serve. (I used parmesan, since I had some on hand.)

Looks like a reasonably tasty traditional pasta, right? I suppose it would've been if I'd liked the flavor of the lamb, but I didn't. I've had a mixed reaction to lamb in the past, depending on the quality of the lamb and how well it was prepared. This? Just tasted kinda off and funky. I know it wasn't spoiled--I trust my grocer, my fridge, and my own sense of food's freshness enough for that. Plus, it's been over 24 hours, and no one at House Fraser has food poisoning. 

I guess I'm just being an American, who thinks of meat as coming in three flavors only: cow, pig, and chicken. (Well, I've had duck and rabbit in restaurants and liked them, and since I come of a rural Southern family where most of the men hunt, I've had venison and quail, and they are DELICIOUS.)  But I didn't finish my plate this time, and I won't be taking the leftovers for lunch this week. Maybe I'll try the recipe again someday with beef or pork. 

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Six Sentence Sunday 9-9-12 - An Infamous Marriage

An Infamous Marriage releases November 5 from Carina Press, so between now and then I'm posting weekly Six Sentence Sunday excerpts. This week, the last six sentences of the prologue:

He would close his eyes, think of Sarah or Marie-Rose or Hannah, and get Elizabeth with child. With any luck she’d bear a son on the first attempt and they could go back to avoiding each other. He’d wager Elizabeth would be as glad to see the back of him as he would to be quit of her. 
He’d been a fool to marry her on such a slight acquaintance. A deathbed promise was no way to choose a wife, and he had been ten thousand kinds of a fool to agree to it. Yet it had seemed such an excellent notion at the time…

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Random Cookbook of the Week - Ruhlman's Twenty

(No pictures with this week's effort, since they all turned out blurry.)

Ruhlman's Twenty is an unusual cookbook. Rather than being organized by ingredient or course, each of its chapters features a technique (e.g. braise, poach, fry) or building-block ingredient (e.g. butter, onion, egg), each beginning with a discussion of its importance and how to work with it.

The recipe I chose to make was a two-parter, beginning in Chapter 2 (Salt: Your Most Important Tool) and winding up in Chapter 19 (Fry: The Hottest Heat).

I began with...

Sage-Garlic-Brined Pork Chops

- 1 1/2 T kosher salt in 3 3/4 c. water
- 1 large shallot, diced
- 10 cloves garlic, smashed with the flat side of a knife
- 1 lemon, halved
- 1 packed T fresh sage leaves
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 T black peppercorns, cracked in a mortar with a pestle or on a cutting board with the bottom of a heavy pan

- 4 bone-in pork chops, each about 8 oz (I used 6 smaller boneless pork chops)

In a medium saucepan over high heat, combine the salt water, shallot, garlic, lemon, sage, bay leaves, and peppercorns and bring to a simmer. Remove from the heat and allow the brine to come to room temperature. Refrigerate until cold.

Submerge the chops in the brine and refrigerate 6-8 hours.

(I had problems with this step because I didn't quite have enough brine. I kept shifting the chops around during the brining process in hopes they'd each get enough salt, but they didn't turn out quite as tender and juicy as brined meat usually does. I'd thought since my chops were smaller it wouldn't matter, but if I do more than 4 again, I'll double the recipe.)

Remove the chops from the brine, discarding the brine. Rinse the chops and pat dry with paper towels. Let them sit at room temperature for about 1 hour before you cook them. They can be sauteed, breaded and panfried, pan-roasted, or grilled.

At Ruhlman's recommendation that pan frying was best, I then went to...

Panfried Pork Chops with Lemon-Caper Sauce

- 4 bone-in pork chops
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- About 1 c. plain flour
- 1 large egg, beaten with a couple of tablespoons of water
- 1 1/2 c. panko bread crumbs
- Oil for panfrying

Lemon-Caper Sauce
- 6 T butter
- 4 lemon slices, each about 1/8 inch thick
- 3 T capers
- 1 T finely chopped parsley

About 1 hour before cooking the pork chops, remove them from the refrigerator and season liberally on both sides with salt and pepper.

Put the flour, beaten egg, and panko in separate dishes. Dredge each chop in the flour and shake off any excess. Dip in the egg and then dredge in the panko.

Heat 1/4 to 1/2 inch oil in a pan over high heat. When the oil is hot and ripply, lay the pork chops in the pan and cook until golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Turn the pork chops and cook until golden brown, about 3 to 4 more minutes. Remove to a rack while you make the sauce. (The chops can be put in a 200 F oven for 30 minutes if you want to hold them or need to cook them in batches; if holding them for this long, cook them rare to medium-rare, so that they finish in the oven.)

Make the sauce: Put the butter in a small saute pan over low heat. When it begins to melt, add the lemon slices in a single layer and the capers. Raise the heat to medium-high and swirl the ingredients in the pan. When the butter is piping hot and frothing, add the parsley. Remove from the heat and stir. 

Serve, topping each chop with some of the sauce, including a lemon slice and some capers.

This is an excellent recipe. It made a delicious dinner, along with mashed potatoes and salad, and the leftover chops were still good in my lunch the next two days. I'll definitely make again.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Books read, week of 9/4

Finally made it to 75 on the year! Next goal, 100 by December 31.

75) 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created, by Charles C. Mann. A wide-ranging, anecdotal, and fascinating look at how our modern globalized world came to be. It's at once an often-appalling tale of environmental degradation and an inspiring look at human resilience and inventiveness. And now I want to go back and read 1491.

76) Some Like It Hot, by Louisa Edwards. Second in a trilogy about a team of chefs in a fictional cooking competition. It didn't have quite the same resonance for me as the first book, Too Hot to Touch, but I liked it a lot. I'm rarely a fan of small-town contemporary romances, so I love that Edwards bucks the trend and writes books that are love letters to city life. And since good food is one of my favorite splurges and I love shows like Chopped and Iron Chef, these books are even more up my alley.