featuring guest authors; crafting tips and projects; recipes from food editor and sleuthing sidekick Cloris McWerther; and decorating, travel, fashion, health, beauty, and finance tips from the rest of the American Woman editors.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

#COOKING WITH CLORIS--GUEST AUTHOR VINNIE HANSEN ON CUBA AND BLACK BEANS

Vinnie Hansen is the author of the Carol Sabala Mystery Series, the stand-alone novel Lostart Street, and numerous short stories. Still sane after 27 years of teaching high-school English, Vinnie has retired and lives in Santa Cruz, California, with her husband and the requisite cat. Learn more about her and her books at her website. 

For those who want all the creature comforts of home, Cuba may not be the travel destination for you. The long-standing embargo has created many shortages, including a lack of basic staples like salt. The Cuban people compensate for the dearth of supplies with great resourcefulness—nothing goes to waste. But the island is better suited as a destination for those who like locations precisely because they don’t have a Starbuck’s on every corner. People like my husband and me.  

While my husband and I enjoy cultures that are different than ours, we don’t necessarily relish the arduous process of getting there. Cuba beckoned us—a non-stop flight to Cancun and then a simple hour hop to Havana. Fairly simple travel to be in one of only two places in the world without Coca-Cola.

We ventured (illegally) to Cuba in 2010, where we traveled for a month, staying in casas particulares, private homes that rent out rooms and provide breakfast. The typical breakfast is white bread, possibly jam and honey, coffee, eggs, juice, and fresh fruit. Because of the embargo, the fruit includes choices from what grows in Cuba—guavas, pineapple, mangos, watermelon, and small, firm bananas. There is a good chance what you eat will be organically grown. But don’t expect variety!

While the menu items may not vary, the quality can vary widely. We were served everything from rotten bananas and instant coffee with powdered milk, to sweet fresh fruit and strong, delicious Cuban coffee.

Danny and I were on our own to scout out other meals. According to a billboard, Cubans eat Cuban pork. As non-meat eaters, we never tried Cuba’s famous pulled pork. A standard meal for us was fish with cristianos and moros—white rice (imported from Vietnam) and black beans.
Woman cooking black beans in Cuba

This is a typical meal for the locals, as well, although Cubans don’t eat in the same restaurants as tourists, unless, by some miracle they can afford it. Cubans have their own eating establishments where tourists are not allowed, and the food is a tenth of the price. We had a connection to a Cuban citizen who snuck us into one of these out-of-sight diners. We rapped on a door behind the tourist restaurant and were admitted to a galley-room with about four tables and no windows. The food, though, was no doubt the same fare that was being eaten in the restaurant in front.  

Although Americans have been restricted in their travel to Cuba, that doesn’t mean the country lacks tourists. We met people from all over the world. The Cuban government has started to allow privately owned and operated restaurants to serve these visitors. Some of them are quite good. We even managed to eat pizza one night!

But even in these spots, one has two choices for beer—light or dark. Steak is practically unheard of. Even with chicken, expect only dark meat. White meat is reserved for mucky-mucks, or so we were told.

The colorful culture of Cuba provides the backdrop for Black Beans & Venom, the seventh book in my Carol Sabala Mystery Series.

Because Cuban people lack resources, Cuban black beans can be bland. My friend Huve Rivas supplied the following recipe. He hails from Puerto Rico and this is an adaptation of a recipe from his mother, Carmen Olmeda Rivas. The people of Puerto Rico like their black beans a little soupier than the people of Cuba. These are truly delicious!

Black Beans
Serves 8

2 tsp. olive oil
1 pound of black beans
8 oz. can tomato sauce
sofrito (sautéed onion, cilantro, clove of garlic, 1 bell pepper, lots of cilantro in olive oil)
10-12 olives (pimiento stuffed)
1 T. capers
2 cubed medium-sized potatoes
Enough water to keep an inch or two above beans while cooking
salt to taste
1 tsp. ground cumin (optional)

Rinse beans and let them soak in a pot of water overnight to soften. (Use whatever water is not absorbed for cooking.)

Lightly sauté sofrito.

In a large pot place beans, cover with water, and bring to a boil. Lower flame to bring beans to simmer.

Add salt and sofrito (you can add extra raw cilantro). Let it simmer 20-30 min., then add potatoes, olives, capers, and tomato sauce.

Cook for another 30-40 minutes or until beans are tender. Don’t let the water level go below beans. Gently stir every once in a while. Some people simmer beans uncovered while others cover with a lid.

Black Beans & Venom, Book 7 of the Carol Sabala Mysteries

No one wants P.I. Carol Sabala to take the case. Her boss is apprehensive about an illegal investigation in Cuba. Carol’s boyfriend worries about her physical safety. But the client is rolling in dough, the office has unpaid bills, and Carol chafes under the mundane tasks assigned to her.

In Old Havana, Carol sets off to track down Megan, the client’s missing daughter, who is battling metastasizing cancer and running from a sociopathic boyfriend. Struggling in the exotic world of the island, Carol races to find Megan, before the disease or her ex-boyfriend kills her.

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Monday, July 24, 2017

#CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA--ANYONE CAN CRAFT

I’m always amazed when people tell me they don’t craft because they have no talent. The beauty of crafting is that anyone can do it, talent or no talent, depending on the project. Just as you wouldn’t pick up a paint brush for the first time and expect to recreate the Mona Lisa, you don’t start crafting projects meant for experienced crafters. You begin at the beginning. Do that, and your confidence will grow with each project, and you’ll begin to challenge yourself, moving from beginner projects to intermediate projects to advanced project.

If you’re a frequent visitor to this blog, you know that I’m a big fan of buttons as a crafting medium. Who doesn’t have a tin or box or jar of miscellaneous buttons squirreled away somewhere in the house? Maybe you inherited them from your grandmother or mother. Maybe they’re simply all those extra buttons that are pinned to clothing you’ve purchased over the decades. I love crafting with these buttons. You can turn them into anything from jewelry to home dec items.

By the way, did you know that the button was originally created for ornamentation, not as a fastener? Primitive buttons made of shell, bone, wood, and metal have been found dating back to 2000 BC. However, evidence of buttons being used as closures is not found until sometime around 1200 AD. By the middle of the 13th century there are references to button makers in the laws governing French craftsmen guilds. (Bet you weren’t expecting a history lesson when you started reading, were you?)
 
So back to crafting…the photo of the button necklace is a project that requires a certain amount of skill. Although it’s a simple project if you know how to crochet, it’s intimidating for someone who doesn’t crochet.

Now take a look at the basket featured above. Cute, isn’t it? And you know what? It’s a project that’s easy enough for a child. So don’t be intimidated. Pull out your stash of buttons, and follow the simple directions below.

Party Favor Button Basket

Materials:
4-1/2” woven basket (available at craft stores)
acrylic paint (your choice of color)
foam paint brush
assorted buttons without shanks
glue gun or glue suitable for plastic

Note: I made a group of these baskets as party favors for a shower and filled them with candy. Because I was going for a “shabby chic” look, I dry-brushed the paint so that it didn’t entirely cover the basket. If you want an even quicker craft, leave the basket unpainted.

1.  Paint the basket with your choice of color. Allow to dry.

2.  Using a glue gun or appropiate glue, glue buttons around the rim of the basket and handle.

Could it get any easier?

Friday, July 21, 2017

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY--GUEST AUTHOR KRIS PEARSON/KERRI PEACH

 
Kris Pearson/Kerri Peach, worked first as a writer for radio, then in the wider advertising industry. She now devotes herself to romantic fiction. She enjoys sharing her beautiful country with the world, and creating stories full of real people in believable situations. Three of her many novels were finalists in New Zealand’s Clendon Award. Learn more about Kris and Kerri at their respective websites.

Split personality
Hello from New Zealand! I was quite happy just being me – and then for the strangest of reasons I became someone else as well. Here’s how it happened:

Under my own name of Kris Pearson I’ve written fourteen somewhat sexy contemporary novels. Four were translated into Spanish, and another two into Italian. I enjoyed getting to know the translators, and was interested in spreading my work further around the world.

So… should I dream big? How about China?

After contact from a publisher who liked my stories, I received an unusual request. Could I please make them less sexy? To say this came as a surprise is putting it mildly. However, it seems that sexy love scenes are not culturally acceptable in Chinese books. Fair enough – each to their own – even if all those Chinese people no doubt turned up as a result of a sexy love scene!

I really didn’t think it would be possible to keep the stories viable, but you know how things can niggle at you? Over the last Christmas break I thought I’d see what I could manage. To my pleasure my bestselling The Boat Builder’s Bed gave in and became The Boat Builder’s Bargain with not too much of a struggle. Then The Wrong Sister became The Other Sister. In fact the stories held up so well that I completed five new editions with lower heat and clean language.

These are the first five books of my Wellington series, so-called because they take place around the harbour in my home city. There are two others in this series – Ravishing Rose and Hot for You – and they’re both so spicy that I won’t be attempting to cool them down. Wouldn’t have much book left!

This gave me five good prospects for China, so off they went. They’re now in the hands of a project manager, and she has so far recruited three translators. It’s getting exciting. Whether I sell three copies or three billion remains to be seen.

It’s also given me another opportunity. My five (so far) much sweeter editions have been launched in English by an author called Kerri Peach. She looks and sounds a lot like me – even has the same initials. Peach happens to be a family name, and Peaches was our last and most beautiful cat. Funny where these things come from. So now I’m sexy Kris and sweeter Kerri, and waiting to see which way my writing should go in the future. Not wanting to mislead anyone, there’s a stripe across the base of each new cover stating, “Kerri is the sweeter side of Kris Pearson.”

So there you go – a choice of heat levels from the same author. I know it’s not a new idea, but in this case it certainly came about for an interesting reason.

The Other Sister
In this tender ‘second chances’ story of family relationships and long-time unrequited love, attraction simmers between Fiona and Christian when they met on the day he marries Jan, her beloved sister. The only way Fiona copes is by hiding on the far side of the world. The only way Christian copes is by leaving on business whenever she visits her family back home in New Zealand.

Five years later, Fiona has the heart-wrenching six-week assignment of caring for newly widowed Christian and his tiny daughter. Billionaire Christian would rather spend time with anyone except the tempting woman who reminds him so much of his cherished wife, but Fiona has leave from her cruise-liner job and seems determined to do her family duty.

Their mutual love and respect for Jan have held them apart. Will their lost love be given a second chance now they’re forced together again?

Buy Link (The Other Sister)
Buy Link (The Wrong Sister)

Thursday, July 20, 2017

GUEST AUTHOR KAREN McCULLOUGH'S FAVORITE FICTIONAL HEROINES

Award-winning author Karen McCullough is the author of more than a dozen mystery, romantic suspense, and fantasy novels. Her short science fiction, fantasy, and romance fiction has also appeared in several anthologies and numerous small press publications. Learn more about Karen and her books at her website and blog.

My Favorite Fictional Heroines

I’m a female reader and author with broad taste in fiction. I grew up reading mysteries because that was what my Dad read, so we had plenty of them around. I cut my teeth on Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, and Rex Stout. In my early teens I discovered fantasy and science fiction when a friend lent me a stack of books by Heinlein, Poul Anderson, Arthur C. Clarke, Andre Norton, and James Tiptree. I tore through them, bowled over by all the new worlds opening up to me on those pages. (And just as an aside, it wasn’t until years later that I discovered the last two were both female authors writing under male names.)

In my later teens I began reading gothic romances and enjoyed the combination of interesting relationships and eerie suspense. Somewhere in there I picked up a couple of books by Mary Stewart and landed in the thrilling territory of romantic suspense. By my twenties I was dipping into a lot of genres but beginning to get more discriminating in my taste.

One of the things I found I wanted, even craved, in my stories was a strong, capable heroine. In too many of the mysteries or gothic romances I read, the heroine was a wilting flower, wimpy and far too dependent on the hero to rescue her from all her troubles. Those books always annoyed me. I wanted smart, capable, strong heroines who might share danger with a man but didn’t depend on him. I liked heroines who could make their own decisions, didn’t do stupid things, and didn’t rely on others to get them out of trouble.

Heroines that could be strong, smart, competent, capable, and still likeable aren’t as common as I would like, although the trend is going my way in this. With that in mind, I picked out a few of my favorite fictional heroines to talk about. Most are from ongoing series, just because I’ve had more exposure to them as a result. They’re very different characters but all fit my criteria and I always enjoy reading about them.

Kinsey Milhone – The private detective lead in Sue Grafton’s Alphabet mystery series that started with A is for Alibi. She’s smart and tough in many ways and has faced some of the deepest darkness in people, but she hasn’t let it destroy her humanity. Her independence is hard-won but the struggle has given her tremendous insight. There are other female detectives who also fit the profile but Kinsey is the one I relate to most closely. I loved her from the moment she mentioned that she cut her own hair with nail scissors.

Sookie Stackhouse – The heroine of Charlaine Harris’s Southern Vampire Mysteries. Some people are more familiar with the stories in their television incarnation as “True Blood,” but I like the books better. Sookie has fae blood but her human side dominates for the most part. Growing up with the ability to hear other peoples’ thoughts has caused her to be a bit withdrawn and nervous, but she is drawn into the world of vampires and shapeshifters when she discovers she can’t hear them, making them easier for her to deal with. Though the supernatural politics are rough and tumble, her abilities make her a very capable detective, able to maneuver in both worlds.

Kate Daniels – The protagonist of Ilona Andrews’ Magic series, Kate is a mercenary with a bad-ass attitude and some super-human powers. Independent, strong, and mouthy, she is willing to work with her lover Curran and his pack of shifters, but she still goes her own way and makes her own decisions, particularly when it comes to her complicated family entanglements.

Eowyn – One of the few female characters in The Lord of the Rings, Eowyn is one of the strongest and most honorable in its cast. The niece of the king has been frustrated watching her uncle waste away, unable to do anything about it. And when the troops muster for battle, she’s there, even though she has to disguise herself in armor to go along. Not really a spoiler: she acquits herself well in battle, winning an important victory.

Diana Prince (Wonder Woman) – So maybe this one is too easy because she is a goddess and superhero, and my choice is certainly influenced by the recent, wonderful movie. She’s almost the archetype of the strong, capable heroine. If you haven’t seen the movie, give yourself a treat and go. The scene where Diana walks across a no-man’s land (love the very deliberate irony of that!), deflecting bullets, is absolutely stunning.

Heather McNeill – You’ve probably never heard of her, but I hope you will eventually. Heather is the heroine/amateur detective in my ongoing series of Market Center Mysteries. She’s the assistant to the director of the market center and the person who handles complaints from and disagreements among the exhibitors and attendees at the events held there. I introduced her in A Gift for Murder, which was first published by Five Star/Cengage before they cut their mystery line, picked up by Harlequin’s Worldwide Mystery line for mass market paperback, and finally also released as an ebook. Her adventures continued in Wired for Murder, which I initially self-published, but which will also be published in paperback by Harlequin. And I’m now in the midst of writing the third book.

Wired for Murder
Most of the time, Heather McNeil loves her job as assistant to the director of the Washington DC Market Show Center. Because she’s a good listener and even better at solving problems, her boss assigns her to handle a lot of the day to day issues that arise during the shows, exhibits, and conferences being held there. When Heather becomes an unwilling audience to murder during the Business Technology Expo and later finds the body, she’s willing to let the police take care of it. But she soon learns more than she wanted to know about the victim and all the people who really didn’t like him very much.

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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

GUEST AUTHOR AUTUMN JORDAN'S CONFESSION

Award-winning author Autumn Jordon writes romantic suspense, romantic mystery, romantic thrillers, contemporary romance and romantic comedies. She is known for writing compelling emotional stories with characters so realistic you’d swear you knew them. She writes both sweet reads and steamy reads. Learn more about Jordan and her books at her website. 

I CONFESS
Most people don’t ever meet an FBI agent and a good percentage of them who do, don’t want to. So, which one do you think I am?

I’m one who has met several agents under circumstances that I wish had never happened. I’m an ordinary Jane Doe, just like you, but at the time of the (cough) incidents I was also a budding writer. Was it Twain or Aristotle or some other author/philosopher who said Write what you know?  Whomever, I had the message in my head, the situation in front of me, and boldness coursing through my veins. I seized the opportunity to gather information for my plots and started asking the government agents with fancy suits and credentials what if questions.

As the interviews grew in length and both the agents and I relaxed somewhat, I asked a few personal questions. Heck. They’d asked me personal questions about myself and my family. Tit for tat, right?

I was surprised they answered my questions, however. Who knew FBI Agent So-Tall-He-Nearly-Had-to-Duck-Coming-Through-The-Door and S. A. Could-Be-Tom-Cruise’s-Twin were regular guys with families and pets? Don’t get me wrong, these guys were always professional, but they were also willing to be Average Joes. Maybe acting like an Average Joe was their tactic to get more information from me. Shrug.

To make our stories believable, getting to the source is what us writers do. I got those agents cards before they left my office with the invite to call them anytime—which I have.

On a flight to Arizona I sat next to a U.S. Marshal who guards our boarders. It was the best flight ever, and I have his number on speed dial since I’m writing a series involving an elite undercover U.S. Marshal team.

I’ve spoken to national guardsman, military personal from all branches, fireman, police officers—both large cities and small town—fireman, national park guardsman, college professors, surgeons, journalists, politicians, the woman who lost everything she owned in a fire, and the list goes on and on. Through those conversations, I’ve learned so much about the world and the passionate hearts that live in it, and I write stories about everyday Janes and Joes whose ordinary worlds are turned upside down in a moment.

My characters need to learn a lesson about life to make everything okay again in the world, and in the process, they also find the love of their lives, which makes their world better than it was before.

So, do you want to know why the agents came to see me?  If you read the blurb for His Witness To Evil, you’ll get an idea. Pick-up any of my books, and you’ll step into my world, including my newest release Perfect Fall.

Perfect Fall
Just when she thought love had left her behind, along came the man of her dreams

Every team wants third baseman Hudson Mitchel for his skill on the field. Every woman wants him for his bad-boy looks and money. Every fan wants his jersey. And Sport's World Magazine wants to label him their Sexiest Sports Idol. There's not a part of Hudson's life that doesn't feel toxic. Burnt out, he walks away from intense contract negotiations, dodges the paparazzi, and assumes an identity as a photojournalist in a tiny Vermont village. The last thing he expects to encounter in Black Moose, Vermont is a female who possesses all the qualities he's imagined in a life-partner. Unfortunately, she's the only woman on earth not impressed by his charms. Each time he goes to bat, she shuts him out. It's a good thing Hudson's never been afraid of a challenge.

Managing her family's golf course, planning her best friend's wedding, and fending off the takeover of the town's fall festival by a rich entrepreneur keeps Sileen Wright too busy to pursue her dreams. She's even too occupied with other's problems to notice the handsome guest in cabin twenty until she's literally pinned under the Adonis inside her pickup. The recluse chips his way into her dreams and is stealing her heart-- until his identity is revealed. Knowing a fling with the hunky sports idol would only lead to misery, she calls the game.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

#COOKING WITH CLORIS--CHERRY GARCIA VS. CHOCOLATE PEANUT BUTTER SWIRL

In case you hadn’t noticed, I’ve been a bit obsessed with ice cream lately. Food editor is my day job at American Woman, and yes, I do enjoy concocting delectable treats from my home kitchen as well. However, when I’m not baking, frying, or simmering in the kitchen, my second favorite pastime is reading. So…no recipe today. I thought I’d discuss personal taste.

I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately about how subjective taste is.  What makes one person love something that another person has a hard time swallowing, let alone enjoying?  The other night my husband and I sat down to watch a movie.  After fifteen minutes he left the room to watch a hockey game on another television.  I continued to watch the movie.  It wasn’t the best movie I’d ever seen, but it wasn’t the worst, either.  I found the character studies fascinating, even if the plot left a bit to be desired.  And I enjoyed the movie enough to want to sit through it until the end to see how the conflicts were resolved.

Sometimes that happens to me with a book.  I’ll continue reading one I don’t particularly love because I either a) find enough enjoyable about it that I want to finish it, b) am hoping it gets better, or c) am hoping that even though I figured out whodunit by chapter three, the author will prove me wrong and give me a totally different ending I didn’t see coming (and man, when that happens, I love it!)

But there are other times when I pick up a book and toss it aside after a chapter or two.  Often it’s a book that has gotten rave reviews.  Sometimes it’s even a book by an author I’ve read and enjoyed previously.  When this happens, one of two reactions occur.  I either a) wonder if there’s something wrong with me that I don’t get what everyone else sees in the book, or b) scratch my head, wondering why everyone else can’t see the flaws in plot and character that jump off the page at me. 

Then there are times where I fall in love with a book and recommend it to friends, only to have them question my taste.  Or worse yet, my sanity.

For many people peanut butter is the perfect food.  For me it sets off my gag reflexes.  I’m more a Cherry Garcia kind of girl.  Taste.  It’s one of the unsolved mysteries of the universe.  Why do you suppose that is? 

Monday, July 17, 2017

#CRAFTING WITH ANASTASIA--A VISIT WITH AUTHOR TARA L. AMES' HEROINE AND COMMERCIAL ARTIST SAMANTHA JACKSON

Tara L. Ames is a Michigan native with a penchant for creating highly sensual empowered stories about brave sexy men and strong-willed women. Now living in Florida, she is actively writing another series in between taking care of her family and reading and enjoying the sun. Today we’re joined by Tara’s heroine, Samantha Jackson. Learn more about Tara and her books at her website. 

Samantha Jackson here. Hi y’all. In case you haven’t noticed, I’m Southern. That’s right. Born and raised in Blowing Rock, North Carolina. I love all God’s creatures, especially horses and dogs. I saved my thoroughbred from being slaughtered and my adorable mutt named Angel, from the dog pound. I miss them both terribly.

Right now, I’m down in Key West, finishing a contract I landed through the Chamber of Commerce to refurbish local business storefronts. As a graduate of Parson’s School of Design, I’m a commercial artist and create corporate artwork, paint murals and teach art classes, part time, at Appalachian State University.

Depending on the dimensions of the wall, I can complete a mural anywhere from a day to a week. It all depends on the design, what it entails and whether it’s indoors or outdoors. The types of acrylic paints selected for an outside project should be water resistant, moist-resistant, and withstand exposure to the elements.

 JD’s Seafood Bar & Grille, a two-story eatery that has a two-dollar charm on a million-dollar beachfront, is my last project. I’m painting an outside wall with a shark about the size of an SUV, taking a bite out of a hamburger, about the size of a Mini Cooper. My problem is I’m behind on deadline and it’s not due to poor weather. You see readers, there’s this guy…

Yesterday, I was outside, working on the mural for JD’s and saw out of the corner of my eye, a half-naked hottie striding along the ocean’s edge several feet away. As much as I needed to return to work, I couldn’t tear my gaze away from the gorgeous hunk. His rock-solid chest gleamed in the low sun. And his biceps were big as melons. Whew! He was hot. So hot, it made the thermometer gauge on my Southern parts jump at least five degrees.

I couldn’t believe the way my body was reacting. Clearly, I had been overwhelmed by grief for so long that sex had been the last thing on my mind. About three years ago, I lost my fiancé. He was piloting a crop plane and it crashed. I swore no more reckless daredevils for me. That was until I met the hottie and learned he was a Naval Aviator.

Now, I’m in trouble. He’s asked me out on a date. I guess you’ll have to read The Risk Taker to find out if I went out with him or decided to finish the mural and pack up my paintbrushes and hightail it home for the mountains.

The Risk Taker, Book 1 in the Alpha Aviators Series

Top Gun Naval Aviator Michael Merrick thrives living on the edge but when he refuses to abort a mission, he is forced on leave and heads home. Missing the action, he needs a distraction and what could be better than a green-eyed blonde with a quick tongue and a hot bod made for rockin’. 

Commercial Artist Samantha James still mourns the loss of her fiancé, a reckless daredevil, and avoids getting involved with another risk taker at all costs until Mr. Aviator’s steely bod rocks her southern parts and threatens her secure world. 
~~~
The Risk Taker won’t be available until July 31. However, Tara is currently running a contest with a chance to win a $25 Amazon gift card. Sign up for her newsletter to enter. https://www.taralames.com