Lazy Days Blog Tour

Today I’m taking part in the blog tour kicking off the release of Lazy Days, a novella detailing two women’s experience  on a holiday together over forty years ago. They kept a notebook of their experiences during the vacation and have talked for many years of writing a book about their trip.

And that book is now a reality! Congratulations to Anita Dawes and Jaye Marie on the release of Lazy Days. I haven’t read it yet, but I’m hoping to get to it before another month has come and gone.

Today on Reade and Write I’m delighted to share two essays–one by each of the authors.

First, from Anita:

“Hi, my name is Anita and although I am 71, I am by no means a ‘silver surfer.’ I have been writing fiction novels for a while now, but never managed to be picked up by any of the mainstream publishers. They all said they loved what I wrote, but found it hard to slot them into a category!  It came tantalisingly close, but no cigar, as they say.

I realised I would have to try something else. I saved all of the rejection letters, because most of them had very encouraging comments. If my mother had slapped me as gently when I was a child, it wouldn’t have hurt half as much!

I even wrote to James Herbert once in desperation and he was so kind and supportive, it gave me the inspiration to continue writing.

Now I am retired and with the help of my sister-in-law Jaye, (who has learnt to be a ‘surfer’) we decided to dust off some of my manuscripts and try to achieve the impossible with a second chance to find out if anyone out there likes the kind of books I write…

How do I write?

I am a paper and pencil girl. You could chain me to a computer for years and nothing would happen! Jaye, on the other hand is managing to cope with all the editing and marketing, but then she has far more patience than I do.  (And she is as stubborn as a mule which helps a lot!)

They say you are never too old to learn, but in my case never is another word for infinity!

 What made me want to write?

I love music, especially country music. It always seems to take me to where my own hurt lives. Songs about heartache help my pen run along the paper, almost as though the pain writes the words.

How do I find my characters?

They tend to find me. I was listening to ‘Ruby, don’t take your love to town’  sung by Kenny Rogers and a few days later the characters for Bad Moon popped into my head and just took over. I seem to have an affinity with West Virginia and the people who live there. Just hearing the way they talk makes a connection in my head, maybe I lived there once in another life.

It was the same with The Scarlet Ribbon. The words of that song put the characters in my head and they pulled me in.

Not so sure where the idea for Simple came from, even though it is a similar story to Bad Moon, but there was a girl at school when I was eleven who had a bad stammer, and I often wonder what became of her.

The books I like to read…

I love the stories of Merlin and Arthur, but my reading list covers a wide range of genres. One of my all-time favourites is River God by Wilbur Smith; the character of Taita really spoke to me.”

And now from Jaye:

“I had no intention of becoming a writer. I loved to read, and for most of my life, that was enough for me. More than enough really, for I am a compulsive reader and will read anything I can lay my hands on. Give me a bookshelf full of books and I will start at one end and read my way to the other.

Then I offered to edit my sister Anita’s books. She hates computers, so I offered to type them up too. Before I knew it, my brain began to explore what other things I could be doing.

I tried to ignore that inner voice, for I was busy enough already. Anita was writing faster than I could format, and there were all my other interests too. Gardening, DIY, dressmaking and a host of craft projects. I love to be busy, but it came to the point where something had to give, never mind add something else to the list.

I considered myself a writer when I held my first paperback copy of my book Nine Lives in my hand for the first time. Up until that magic moment, I doubted I would ever feel like a writer. But holding that paperback copy finally convinced me.

My favourite character didn’t really appear until book two, The Last Life, and his name is Detective Inspector David Snow. The fact that my detective looks a lot like Tom Selleck should indicate how fond I am of him. I just love writing about him.

That was then, and I have now finished writing The Broken Life, the third book in my mystery thriller series.  The characters just turned up in my head, one by one, nagged me for weeks until I gave in, and listened. So you can never say never.

This genre came as a surprise, for I lean towards the supernatural, spooky kind of book, so I have no idea where the idea came from. If anything, I should have expected to write medical stories, as I always wanted to be a doctor, and these are some of my favourite television programmes.

My favourite fiction book just happens to be The Scarlet Ribbon, Anita’s supernatural mystery romance. I was the editor for this one and fell in love with it. And no, she didn’t have to pay me to say this!

My life has not been easy by anyone’s standards, and now I am growing old, I sometimes look back and wonder how I managed to get through it all. So, the perfect epitaph for me would be… “She did her best…” Even though I made a pig’s ear out of most of it!”

Here’s a blurb of Lazy Days:

This novella is the true story of our family’s first proper holiday back in the Seventies. Looking back, I wonder what made us think it was a good idea, but despite all the things that could have gone wrong, we had a fantastic time. I was the Skipper most of the time, and for some reason decided to record our adventures in a small notebook. We were young and without husbands, Anita was a widow, and I was glad to be rid of mine. (and that is another story) Money was precious and scarce back then, but all the saving and sacrifice turned out to be worth every single memory we all cherish.

This notebook has been treasured and kept safe, despite numerous house moves and family disasters, as a symbol of our courage and determination. Renting a boat on the Norfolk Broads could so easily have been one of the stupidest things we had ever done, but even after 40 years, we have such good memories of that time.

Over the years, we often thought of making it into a proper book, but along with everything else in our often-complicated family life, it was something we never got around to. Until just recently, when we were looking for some old photographs, found the now fragile notebook and knew it was time.

It wasn’t as easy as we imagined it would be either, for our logbook writing skills leave a lot to be desired, but there was just enough information entered on those pages to get us started.

Where you can find the book and more information from each of the authors:

Website: http://jenanita01.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/jaydawes2/media

Facebook: http://facebook.com/anita.dawes.37

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/8638857.Jaye_Marie

Anita’s Author Page/Amazon Link : https://Author.to/AnitaLink

Jaye’s Author Page/Amazon Link: https://Author.to/JayeLink

Thank you, ladies, for joining us today on Reade and Write! Good luck with your new book!

Until next time,

Amy

A Tradition is Born

What I’m about to share with you, combined with last week’s post about a chocolate tasting, is going to give you the impression that I indulge my food fantasies every weekend.

But let me assure you of two things:

First, date nights are pretty rare around here; and

second, when my husband and I do have a date night, you’re far more likely to find us at Home Depot or cleaning the garage than at any restaurant.

But two Friday nights ago was an exception. We attended an annual Holiday Wine dinner featuring Dueling Sommeliers–it was so much fun that I wanted to share it with all of you (I will spare you the account of our most recent trip to Home Depot). It was the first such wine dinner we’ve attended, and I certainly hope it won’t be the last. As the title suggests, I hope we can do this every Christmas from now on.

The premise of the evening was simple: the restaurant (The Mad Batter in Cape May, New Jersey) provided a five-course menu to each of two sommeliers. They didn’t taste the food–they only saw the menu. Based on the descriptions of the dishes to be served, each sommelier decided on a wine for each course. Each of the guests was then provided with two glasses of wine with every course.

Yes, that’s ten glasses of wine. Not huge glasses, but much more than a taste. And yes, my husband drove. That means he didn’t drink all his wine.

And yes, it means that I finished what he didn’t drink.

So here’s what the menu looked like:

The first course was oysters. I looked at my husband and said, “Oysters? Eww. And beets? What are they thinking?”

But fried oysters? Hmm. I figured I could manage a teeny bite of those because…fried.

And they were so good. I got thinking, “If they can make oysters this good, I wonder how those beets taste.”

Let me explain something about beets. I am the person who, as a child, cried at the prospect of eating beets, insisting to anyone who would listen that I would throw up if made to eat them. But grated beets with horseradish? I don’t know if it was the heady atmosphere in the restaurant, or the two glasses of wine I was enjoying while I ate them, or simply that I have grown up, but those were the best darn beets in the world. I would eat beets all the time if they always tasted like that.

And what of the wines? I’m not going to describe them in detail here because I have a wines section on my website where I discuss my favorite wines (and I haven’t updated it since before this dinner), but I will tell you that, though I liked both, the Relax Bubbles were the clear winner in my opinion.

The second course was a truffled wild mushroom soup that was life-changing in a good way. I don’t like to throw around phrases like “life-changing,” but this soups fits the bill (FYI, the last time I said a food was life-changing, I was referring to Brown Cow whole milk maple yogurt and chocolate yogurt). The soup wasn’t entirely creamy–there was a little bit of texture and you can see the larger pieces of mushroom on the top.  It was earthy and salty-smoky, and just perfect for a snowy evening in Cape May.

The wine: I preferred the wine from Sardegna, though both were good. Also, I love to say the word “Sardegna.”

For the third course, we enjoyed a salad. And when I say “enjoyed,” what I really mean is that I’m pretty sure I heard angels singing while I ate it. It was absolutely delicious, and as a result of eating that salad I have requested that everything I eat from now on be wrapped in pancetta. And bonus: my husband hates bleu cheese, so I got his (hence the obscene amount of bleu cheese in the photo).

Wines: I actually couldn’t choose. They were both wonderful. I love pinot gris and I also love rose, so I didn’t force myself to pick a winner for the salad course.

The fourth course, the entree, was rabbit. I have had rabbit once before and it was delicious. Normally I am not a rabbit-eater (I got home and my daughter asked, “You ate Thumper??”). The couple next to me were vegetarians and they got salmon. Had I known salmon was an option, I would have chosen that. The rabbit was disappointing. It was tough and overcooked and one lady at my table couldn’t eat hers (my theory is this: I paid for it; I’m eating it whether I like it or not).  The saving grace of this course was the amazing fennel-celery puree on which the rabbit sat. If you had asked me three weeks ago if I wanted a fennel-celery puree or beets, I would have chosen to starve to death. But, like I said, I paid for it and I was going to eat it. And I’m so glad I did. The carrots were good, too. And who doesn’t love eating purple carrots?

Of the two wines, I preferred the one from Bordeaux. As a rule, I am not a Merlot drinker (I find it too heavy).

And finally, dessert. It was French toast (apparently, it’s not just for breakfast anymore). And though I had no earthly idea what “strawsling” was, I was game for anything at that point in the dinner. Turns out it’s a strawberry-infused Riesling. Makes sense when you look at the word “strawsling,” doesn’t it? But I have to be honest, not a lot was making sense to me by that time. I had enjoyed a lot of wine. The dessert was good, though if I had the opportunity to order it in the same restaurant again, I wouldn’t. I like my desserts to consist of some kind of chocolate.

And the wines were both delicious, though I preferred the German wine because it was sweeter. I’m not even going to attempt to say the name because I’ll butcher it, but if I ever see it in a wine store, you can bet I’ll get a bottle. Or two. Or four–whatever.

I hope you’ve enjoyed date night, though vicariously. One of the nice things about the evening was that the sommeliers chose wines that weren’t too expensive. They weren’t Two-Buck-Chuck (I’ve heard it’s now Three-Buck-Chuck), but they weren’t over-the-top, either. Any of them would be a great host or hostess gift, particularly at this time of year.

And speaking of this time of year, I will try to post next Tuesday, but no promises! I wish all of you health, happiness, and, if you celebrate, a merry Christmas!

Until next time,

Amy

The Forgotten Food Group

Anyone who knows me well also knows that I consider chocolate to be a food group unto itself.

And as many of you also know, I live near Cape May, New Jersey. Each December, Cape May’s Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts & Humanities (MAC) sponsors a spectacular array of events including everything from a Christmas traditions lecture – to evening Yuletide trolley tours to see the lights on the Victorian homes and inns in Cape May – to walking tours of historic Cape May inns – to something called a “Dickens Christmas Extravaganza” – to various and unforgettable food and wine events. If you want to see some of the things the MAC has to offer during the holiday season, you can check out their website here.

For many of the past years, we haven’t had the time to enjoy MAC holiday events. But my husband and I were finally able to attend the Chocolate Lovers’ Feast at The Blue Rose Inn about a week and a half ago. For about 90 minutes, we sat in one of the small Victorian dining rooms at the Inn and enjoyed learning about chocolate and sampling gourmet treats made with chocolate the restaurant sources from Europe.

I thought the menu would make a good blog post, so I’m sharing it with you here. Most of the seven courses featured a different type of chocolate, classified by both cocoa content and the plantation where the chocolate originated in France.

First, a look at the menu:

So here’s what the first course looked like:

It was one of the most unusual ways I’ve ever seen chocolate presented–with both sweet and savory elements included. Each of two crispy pieces of Honey & Chocolate Porter crostini were topped with a drizzle of Concord grape jam, watercress, three dollops of mascarpone, duck prosciutto, and dark (72% cocoa) chocolate shavings.

In a thousand years I would never think to put those ingredients together, but somehow they worked. I was impressed.

Second course:

Of the seven courses, this was my favorite. It was a white chocolate and Bailey’s Irish Cream pot de creme with a frothy topping of milk and tiny crumbles of dark chocolate cookies. We ate it with dainty little spoons that forced us to take small bites to savor and enjoy the dessert. If I had been at home, I’m embarrassed to say that I would have eaten the pot de creme in two bites, licked out the bowl, and gone for seconds.

Third course:

The mascarpone at The Blue Rose Inn is made in-house, as is everything else in the scratch kitchen. On its own, it is sublime. When combined with milk chocolate (47% cocoa) and made into a cheesecake that is paired with Bourbon cherries and a creme Anglaise, it is nothing short of heavenly. There was a kerfuffle at a nearby table because one of the guests didn’t want cherries soaked in alcohol; I would gladly have eaten her portion. Those little crumbles you see in the photo are bits of the cocoa Amaretti crust.

Fourth course:

Palate cleansers are not a thing at my house. If someone asked for a palate cleanser, I would laugh at them. But as part of a chocolatey Victorian experience, it is a must. And this sorbet, made with white chocolate and citrus, was perfect. It was tangy and not too sweet. I don’t know why I expected a sorbet to be room temperature, but it wasn’t. The rest of you probably would have known that already, but I can be a bit dense sometimes.

Fifth course:

This is going to sound like Francophobic vitriol and I hereby apologize to everyone in France, but I do not care for macarons. I know, Mon dieu! But it is the truth. This was one course I did not enjoy. The macarons I have tasted lack strength of flavor, and this one was no different (please note, these should not be confused with macaroons, which I could eat all day). And of all the nuts on earth, peanuts are perhaps my least favorite, so the macaron paired with frozen peanut semifreddo was lackluster. I could see, though, that I was one of the only ones in the room who did not find the dish delectable. P.S. the cranberry coulis was delicious and I would top every Thanksgiving food with it if I could.

Sixth course:

This was an interesting addition to the feast. I know coffee and chocolate are traditional pairings, and I also know that a bit of strong coffee or espresso will bring out the chocolate flavor of a dessert. But I don’t add coffee to my chocolate desserts for a reason: I do not like the taste of strong coffee (I have coffee on most days, and I add enough sugar and half-and-half so that it tastes something like ice cream). This offering was not what I would have chosen, as the coffee was pretty strong. But the cake itself was dense and tasty and the mascarpone, as I already mentioned, was wonderful.

Seventh and final course:

The Blue Rose Inn was brilliant to send us off with a holiday classic–hot chocolate. It was the perfect way to fend off the afternoon chill and the wind that greeted us when we left to return to our normal lives. And this hot chocolate was something special. Made with dark (72% cocoa) chocolate and topped with Chantilly cream, it wasn’t too hot, too cold, too sweet, or too strong. It was, in a word, perfect. I have used sweetened whipped cream a million times in my own kitchen and never knew there was another name for it. From now on I shall call it “Chantilly Cream” and make people think I was trained in Paris. And the meringue and ginger cookie that accompanied the drink? Magnifique.

I should note that on the way home, my husband and I each got a free Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup from the gas station/convenience store down the road from our house. We didn’t eat them that day, but they’re gone now and they were delicious, too. To be honest, they’re really more our speed. But our afternoon in Cape May was a great memory and we’re glad we experienced it.

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about my brief culinary adventure. Next week I’m going to take you on a vicarious wine dinner that we also enjoyed as part of the Cape May MAC festivities.

Until next time,

Amy

The Holidays are Upon Us…

…so what better way to celebrate than talking about FOOD?

It doesn’t matter whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or some other holiday at this time of year. We happen to celebrate Christmas at our house, but it doesn’t matter what you celebrate or where in the world you live. Part of what makes the holidays special is the food that we eat during our celebrations. I love learning about the ways different cultures celebrate, and a big part of a culture is its food.

Cooking is a passion of mine, and I especially like to cook during the holidays. Each year I have a repertoire of recipes that I haul out, and each year I try to add a few new things. This year, in an attempt to bring more of an international flavor to our holiday season, I made a batch of cookies called “Austrian Chocolate Balls.” Now, I don’t know how chocolate balls came about or what’s Austrian about them, but I’ll tell you this: they were a big hit and now I want to go to Austria even more than I did before I made the cookies.

Anyone else eat stollen at Christmastime? My mom’s side of the family is German, and stollen is a German sweet bread filled with dried fruits. My aunt makes it every year. I think it’s actually called “Christmas stollen” or “Christstollen,” but we take the simple route and just call it stollen. I like it best when it’s toasted and slathered with butter.

I also make Russian tea cakes. There are about a million other names for the same recipe (including “Spanish Wedding Cookies,” “Mexican Wedding Cakes,” “Snowballs,” “Ponda Polvas,” etc.), but I find “Russian tea cakes” to be the most exotic and exciting. Fortunately or not, I am the only one in my household that really likes them (everyone says they’re too dry…um, hello? That’s why we have eggnog), so I usually eat more than my fair share of them during the holidays. I could just stop making them, but why?

In a nod to the country of France, every Christmas Eve I melt a round of brie and top it with raspberry preserves, apricot preserves, or other sweet mixture. I don’t know how French the toppings are, but I feel beaucoup francais when eating my brie on December 24th. Do I even have to note that it’s wrapped in puff pastry? I think not.

There are so many foods out there that the rest of the world associates with Christmas, Hanuakkah, and Kwanzaa, and I’d love to learn more about them. I recently took out a library book called Holidays of the World: Cookbook for Students. It’s an overwhelming list of foods and recipes that are prepared for countless holidays, all over the world, all year ’round. I have enjoyed looking through it, though I am finding it almost too exhaustive.

There are other foods I make at Christmastime, of course, that are tradition and I have no idea where the recipes originate. One is my grandmother’s party mix. It has two pounds of butter in it.

Yes, you read that right. Here’s a picture:

party mix

Another is crab bisque, and caramel-fudge shortbread, and pumpkin roll, and mulled cider, and cutout cookies, and lots and lots of other delicious and heavy-on-the-saturated-fat foods that I associate with Christmas. And I know they’re not good for us–that’s why I don’t cook like this during the rest of the year.

And the best part of making all those things? Sharing them. Are there any special foods you associate with the holidays this time of year? I’d love to hear about them!

Until next week,

Amy

P.S. Here are examples of some of the recipes I’ve listed above:

http://germanfood.about.com/od/baking/r/weihstollen.htm

http://allrecipes.com/recipe/austrian-chocolate-balls/

http://www.bettycrocker.com/recipes/russian-tea-cakes/3af8664b-6c3e-4022-b686-cd961521e59b

http://www.hgtv.com/design/make-and-celebrate/entertaining/baked-brie-with-raspberry-preserves-recipe