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, September 27, 2016

#COOKING WITH CLORIS--GUEST AUTHOR MOLLY MACRAE #BAKES SPICY CHEESE BREAD

Mystery author Molly MacRae, author of the award-winning Haunted Yarn Shop Mysteries, is debuting a new series--the Highland Bookshop Mysteries. Plaid and Plagiarism, the first book in the series is now available for pre-order and will be released the end of November. Learn more about Molly and her books at her website. She also blogs at Killer Characters and Amy Alessio's blog.

Baking My Way Through Books

I’ve been cooking for my family and cooking up stories for a long time. These days I do both fairly well, but the chops haven’t always been there (pun intended, although these days, chops are never there because I’ve been cooking vegetarian for about a dozen years).

My first bake set, which I received before I could read, came with a child-size rolling pin, little pie and cake tins and cookie sheets, and small boxes with mixes for making tiny desserts (that didn’t go far in a family of eight). This was pre-Easy Bake Oven days. My cakes, cookies, and pies were baked in miniature splendor in the middle of my mother’s grown-up oven.

When I learned to read and was given my first cookbook, I thought I had it made. Except, when I decided to make sugar cookies for a brother’s birthday, I discovered we had the wrong kind of flour in the house. The cookbook called for Gold Medal and we had Pillsbury. My college-age sister came to the rescue, explaining what brand names are. Applying that knowledge, when the recipe called for confectioner’s sugar, I proudly guessed that was another brand name and I could use granulated sugar. The resulting cookies were awful little lumps, and discouraging, but not for long. I went right back to my mixing bowl. And burned the next batch.

“Awful little lumps” might describe my early attempts at stories, too, and some of them probably should have been burned. But we learn by doing, don’t we? And by having relatives and friends who gamely taste what we’ve baked, and who try to swallow the preposterous stories we concoct. The good thing is that through all my experiments, I’ve only killed people in my stories and no one at all with my cooking.

I love putting food in my stories. It gives me a chance to trot out favorite recipes. Also, by showing how my characters interact with food, I have another way of showing what they’re like without giving a clothing, hairstyle, and personal philosophy tour of them. There’s talk of food or kitchens or visits to favorite restaurants and cafĂ©s in most of my stories and novels. (I’m very sorry that Mel’s on Main, in the Haunted Yarn Shop Mysteries, doesn’t really exist, because I want to eat lunch there.) 

But now, for the first time, my main characters don’t just visit their favorite establishment; they run it. In my new Highland Bookshop Mysteries, the titular bookshop has an adjoining teashop and a B&B upstairs. This arrangement is giving me a chance to think about and tinker with recipes for scones and shortbread and the like. How’s that working out? So far, yum! Here’s a recipe for Spicy Herb Cheese Bread for you to try. If you do, let me know what you think.

Spicy Cheese Bread

Ingredients
1 cup unbleached, all-purpose flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
2-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
heaping 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
heaping 1/2 teaspoon oregano
1-1/2 cups shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
1 cup nonfat dry milk (⅓ cup dry milk powder dissolved in 1 cup water)
1/4 cup canola or olive oil

Preheat an oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Lightly grease a 9x5 inch loaf pan and set aside.

Mix flour, baking powder, salt, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, Italian seasoning, and Cheddar cheese together in a large bowl. Whisk in half-and-half cream, milk, and vegetable just until blended. Pour batter into the prepared pan.

Bake in the preheated oven until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool in the pans for 10 minutes before removing to cool completely on a wire rack.

Plaid and Plagiarism
A murder in a garden turns the four new owners of Yon Bonnie Books into amateur detectives, in a captivating new cozy mystery novel from Molly MacRae.

Set in the weeks before the annual Inversgail Literature Festival in Scotland, Plaid and Plagiarism begins on a morning shortly after the four women take possession of their bookshop in the Highlands. Unfortunately, the move to Inversgail hasn’t gone as smoothly as they’d planned.

First, Janet Marsh is told she’ll have to wait before moving into her new home. Then she finds out the house has been vandalized. Again. The chief suspect? Una Graham, an advice columnist for the local paper—who’s trying to make a name for herself as an investigative reporter. When Janet and her business partners go looking for clues at the house, they find a body—it’s Una, in the garden shed, with a sickle in her neck. Janet never did like that garden shed.

Who wanted Una dead? After discovering a cache of nasty letters, Janet and her friends are beginning to wonder who didn’t, including Janet’s ex-husband. Surrounded by a cast of characters with whom readers will fall in love, the new owners of Yon Bonnie Books set out to solve Una’s murder so they can get back to business.

A delightful and deadly new novel about recognizing one’s strengths and weakness—while also trying to open a new book shop—Plaid and Plagiarism is the start of an entertaining new Scottish mystery series.

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Monday, September 26, 2016

#CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA--GUEST AUTHOR KIMBRA KASCH #DECORATES FOR #HALLOWEEN

 Kimbra Kasch grew up in a family with nine kids and only one TV. She became a voracious reader, possibly because she never got to pick the shows her family watched. And that led her later on to writing. When she’s not doing either, she loves to decorate for Halloween. Learn more about Kimbra at her website and blog. 

Spooktacular Arts and Crafts and Characters
I love creating stories because I love working with characters. With Halloween right around the corner, I thought I’d share a few of the projects around my house at this time of year.


Even though I’m not a talented pumpkin carver, I can think of other ways to decorate colorful and shapely gourds to create fun eye-catching characters. All it takes is a little paint and a few googly eyes.

Different shapes or stories help inspire me to create certain characters, like ghosts (top photo).


And my Halloween crafting doesn’t stop there. If I find special shapes, I “see” other characters just asking to be created. Like when I saw this gourd at the Farmer’s Market, I knew what I had to do. I had to start painting.




And using those googly eyes and a little craft paper.

 

It didn’t take long to create a Snuffleupagus and a few other characters.


I just love finding ways to make interesting characters come to life, just like in the stories I write.

Morgaine Le Fay and the Viking
Everyone has heard of King Arthur and his magical sword, Excalibur, but there’s another legendary hero who received a magical sword from the Norse Goddess known as The Lady of the Lake. Meet Holger Danske and his sword “Cortana”.

The Vikings, led by Holger Danske, invaded England. Yet somehow, even as enemies, Holger and King Arthur’s half-sister, Morgaine Le Fay, shared a forbidden love.

Morgaine Le Fay and the Viking is the secret Denmark never shares...until now.

Travel across oceans, continents and countries to discover the story of legendary Viking hero, Holger Danske, and his magical romance with King Arthur’s half-sister in Morgaine Le Fay.

This is the story of two warriors who never thought they’d find love, especially on the battlefield, yet standing poised against each other Morgaine and Holger face an attraction more powerful than any sword, stronger than any warrior and more magical than all the powers of Merlin.

Friday, September 23, 2016

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY--AUTHOR LOIS WINSTON ON THE BIRTH OF A SLEUTH

USA Today bestselling and award-winning author Lois Winston is Anastasia's creator and sometimes Doppelgänger. Along with writing humorous amateur sleuth mysteries, she writes romance, romantic suspense, chick lit, women’s fiction, children’s chapter books, and nonfiction under her own name and her Emma Carlyle pen name. Learn more about Lois and her books at her website and by following this blog.

Birth of a Sleuth

A few years ago Turner Classic Movies featured all the Thin Man movies, starring William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora Charles. I wound up binge watching the series, fascinated by the chemistry between the two main characters. At the same time I was reading a book about George Burns and Gracie Allen, one of Hollywood’s great love stories.

In the Thin Man movies, Nora is Nick’s anchor, the common sense partner. With George and Gracie, George played the straight man to Gracie’s ditzy personality. However, in real life Gracie Allen was nothing like the ditzy character she played in the movies and on television. She was actually quite brilliant and an astute businesswoman.

Meanwhile, when I wasn’t reading or watching television, I was mulling over ideas for a new mystery series. Mash-ups have been all the rage in music for a few years now, and I began to think about mash-ups in terms of characters. What if I combined the characters of Nora Charles and Gracie Allen?

Thus was born Gracie Elliott, the amateur sleuth of my Empty Nest mystery series. The series is a wink and a nod to the characters of Nick and Nora Charles but with a modern day twist: this time the wife is the sleuth and her husband is her sidekick. On the outside Gracie is a bit of a ditz (okay, maybe more than a bit.) But like the real Gracie Allen, she’s actually quite smart. She just sees the world through her own unique, totally right-brained perspective which always makes perfect sense to her, even if it doesn’t to her college professor husband Blake.

The series is called The Empty Nest Mysteries, and like my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries, it’s a humorous amateur sleuth series that takes place in a suburb of New York City. As a matter of fact, I’ve placed Gracie and Blake in the same town where Anastasia lives. Who knows? At some point the two amateur sleuths might even cross paths!

Gracie is a fledgling romance writer, bound and determined to become a bestselling author. She’s absolutely convinced this will happen relatively soon.
In the first book, Definitely Dead, Gracie hadn’t yet completed a manuscript. At the beginning of Literally Dead, the second book in the series and my newest release, Gracie has spent the past year crafting her first novel. Her hard work and determination pay off when her manuscript wins the Cream of the Crop award, a contest for unpublished writers, sponsored by the Society of American Romance Authors. First place entitles her to attend the organization’s annual conference, normally open only to published authors.

With husband Blake in tow, a starry-eyed Gracie experiences the ultimate fan-girl moment upon entering the hotel. Her favorite authors are everywhere. However, within minutes she learns Lovinia Darling, the Queen of Romance, is hardly the embodiment of the sweet heroines she creates. Gracie realizes she’s stepped into a romance vipers’ den of backstabbing, deceit, and plagiarism, but she finds a friend and mentor in bestselling author Paisley Prentiss.

Hours later, when Gracie discovers Lovinia’s body in the hotel stairwell, a victim of an apparent fall, Gracie is not convinced her death was an accident. Too many other authors had reason to want Lovinia dead. Ignoring Blake’s advice to “let the police handle it,” Gracie, aided by Paisley, begins her own investigation into the death. Romance has never been so deadly.

LiterallyDead is currently available for pre-order at Amazon, iTunes, and Kobo. It will be available as a paperback and through Nook October 1st.

Pre-Order Links
Kobo 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

#TRAVEL TO MONTANA WITH AUTHOR JAN SCARBROUGH

Jan Scarbrough writes heartwarming contemporary romances with a touch of spice. Her favorite topics are families and second chances and if the plot allows, she adds another passion—horses. That’s why she sets her books in the Bluegrass of Kentucky and her second favorite setting, Montana. Learn more about Jan and her books at her website. 

Cowboy Up! Montana is a perfect place to visit!

When my husband and I began to discuss summer vacation, I suggested Montana. I wanted to see the state where I’d set four books with author Maddie James. We have collaborated on a contemporary Western series called The Montana Ranchers. Maddie wrote some of the books, and I wrote others. We worked together on writing the series Prequel.

Internet research revealed The Covered Wagon Ranch in Gallatin Gateway, Montana. They offer a non-rider rate, perfect for my husband. So we made reservations for July and planned our trip. OMG! It was fun—two days on horseback riding into the mountains, gourmet meals prepared by a chef and eaten in a rustic dinning room with other friendly “dudes.” The owners, wranglers and staff were just as friendly. We felt like we’d come home.

On the trip, I saw firsthand the mountains, canyons, and valleys that make that part of Southwestern Montana so beautiful. Sagebrush is real. And so are lodgepole pine trees and aspens with their silver leaves shimmering in the wind.

I took notes for any future books, things that being a city dude I didn’t know:

~Cowboys hang hats on antlers or posts when they come in for dinner.

~The dude ranch is family-oriented with many returning guests.

~Fishing is a big thing in Montana.

~One wrangler is hired only to break and train young horses.

~Some horses are allowed out at night to graze around the cabins. All of the ranch is fenced in with log fencing.

~Horses are run up to high pasture for two days a week to allow them to graze and be horses.

~Special attention is given to the care of horses so they won’t sour. Horses have a long season. Horses go in the winter to lower pastures.

~Rides are arranged every morning depending upon what guests want to do.

~Sack lunches are provided for daylong rides.

~One female wrangler came from Oklahoma and got the job via the Internet.

~Before a ride, horses are sprayed with fly spray.

~Besides the saddle, a horse carries a saddlebag for water bottles and lunch and a rain slicker. Wranglers put a rope halter on the horses and leave it on.

~Wranglers carry bear spray.

~Horses are branded with the ranch brand.

Brody: The Montana McKennas
Montana Ranchers, Book 2

Home...it's where you go when your past, present, and future collide.

When rancher James McKenna is critically injured in a riding accident, his wife calls his daughter and stepson home for a family meeting. Ironically, home is where stepson Brody Caldera wants to be. He’s taking stock of his life—past, present, and future. Can the champion bull rider turn his life around and make up for past mistakes?

Single mom Stephanie Chambers hopes to keep her daughter away from the man who deserted them years ago. But the spunky ten-year-old is enamored with the famous cowboy, and Stef’s best intentions are sidetracked from day one. She’s made a life for herself and her daughter, but Brody’s return challenges what Stef knows about herself and that life she’s created.

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Wednesday, September 21, 2016

THIS DAY IN HISTORY

Girl Power Rules

On this day in 1981 the Senate confirmed Sandra Day O’Connor as the first woman justice of the Supreme Court. No longer would the judicial branch of our government be composed solely of “nine old men.”

Many of us take our right to vote for granted, but women only obtained this right a mere 96 years ago, even though 144 years earlier Abigail Adams urged her husband John to “remember the ladies.” In a letter dated March 31, 1776 she wrote, “I long to hear that you have declared an independency. And, by the way, in the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make, I desire you would remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands. Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.”

John may have agreed with his wife, but too many other Founding Fathers didn’t consider women equals. Hence, we have a Declaration of Independence that states, “All men are created equal.” Men. Not people. And thus, women had to "foment a rebellion" to gain the right to vote, though it certainly didn't happen in Abigail's lifetime. We women had to wait until the passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution to gain the right to vote for those who represent us, a write bestowed on men back in 1776.

Imagine how differently history might have unfolded had Abigail prevailed. We’ve come a long way, putting many cracks in that glass ceiling since then, but we haven’t yet shattered that glass ceiling. Maybe soon...

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

#COOKING WITH CLORIS--BLUEBERRY BANANACHINI BREAD

For those of you who were lucky enough to have an abundant crop of zucchini this year, you’re probably swimming in it by now and wondering what else you can make with it. Before you start sneaking out in the middle of the night to depositing veggies in your neighbors’ mailboxes, try this bread recipe. Make as many loaves as your freezer will hold.

Blueberry Bananachini Bread

Ingredients:
3 eggs
3/4 cup canola oil
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 cup grated zucchini
2 over-ripe bananas, mashed
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 T. ground cinnamon
1-1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 cup fresh blueberries

Mix together all dry ingredients.

In mixing bowl beat eggs until light yellow and frothy. Mix in oil, sugars, and vanilla. Add dry ingredients, mixing until incorporated. Mix in zucchini and bananas. Fold in blueberries.

Divide mixture into two greased 8”x4” loaf pans. Bake in preheated 325 degree oven approximately 50 minutes. Bread is done baking when toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Cool on wire rack before removing and serving.

Variations:
Omit the blueberries and substitute chopped nuts (walnuts, almonds, or pistachios), dried fruit (cherries, cranberries or apricots), chocolate chips, or any combination of these ingredients.

Monday, September 19, 2016

#CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA--GUEST AUTHOR AND KNITAHOLIC MEGAN RYDER

Ever since Megan Ryder discovered Jude Deveraux and Judith McNaught while sneaking around the “forbidden” romance section of the library one day after school, she has been voraciously devouring romance novels of all types. Now a romance author in her own right, Megan pens sexy contemporary novels all about family and hot lovin’ with the boy next door. She spends her days as a technical writer and her spare time divided between her addiction to knitting and reading. Learn more about Megan and her books at her website. 

My name is Megan Ryder, and I am a knitaholic.

I believe there should be support groups for us to stop us from buying more yarn, more patterns, and more accessories than we could ever use in a mortal lifetime. I started knitting when I was nine years old. No one in my family knitted so I got a book from the library (my true happy place back then) and got to work. I think I still have my first needle somewhere around here. Only one because I lost the other in the sea of knitting supplies in my house.

Knitting is not only a form of meditation for me but a true plotting technique. If I’m stuck or not sure where to go, I pick up my needles and start knitting. I empty my mind, and the ideas just flow. It’s not unheard of for me to suddenly drop the knitting and grab the computer or a pad of paper or even start speaking lines of dialogue.

For every book, I pick out a project to work on. Usually, it’s a fairly simple project. My heart and soul belong to lace knitting but that’s too complex when I am working on a book. So I stick to shawls, socks, or even the occasional sweater with a simple pattern. For me, the goal is not the knitting project but how it keeps me on track with the book.

My all-time favorite project (and one I’m known for in my family) are felted hedgehogs. Aren’t they the cutest things ever?

After every writing session or plotting session, I put the writing down and pick up the needles, letting the day’s writing and brainstorming settle into my subconscious. Inevitably, when I wake up the next morning or finish knitting for a while, my brain is calm and quiet and the writing ideas just float to the surface.
  
Love From Left Field
The Georgia Knights are drowning in debt, and when her father has a heart attack, it's up to Miranda Callahan to save them. Too bad the man with the life preserver is Lucas Wainright, her father's sworn enemy - and her childhood crush. Lucas is walking a tightrope, torn between his desire for revenge against the man who stole his father's baseball team and his desire for the man's daughter. Can Lucas and Miranda let go of old grudges, hold on to their new love and save the Knights… and each other?