So this week has been one of time to write. A bit of baking. And that quiet sense of waiting that happens just before the rush of the holidays begins next week. I like to dip my toe into the holidays before it turns into a rush and I have few things this week to ease you into that and happy mayhem.
Let the Christmas cookie recipe exchange commence! The first one I am sharing with you is an old family recipe, Chocolate Cookie Bars. My mom always made these at Christmastime and occasionally when we’d talk her into making them out of season. I love these cookies so much and they are are nice addition if you gifting cookies or making a mixed cookie place.
I love Bookbub because they always send me alerts when a favorite author has a new book coming out.
So thank you very much for the email or I might have missed the new book by Sabaa Tahir, Sky Beyond the Storm. This is the last book in the An Ember in the Ashes series that I have loved so much. I even blogged about it here.
I adore YA fantasy and this has been a great series. Can’t wait until it downloads on December 1st. If you haven’t read it, you have time to get through the other three books before then. I’m helpful like that.
Also, this series would make a great Christmas gift to the YA reader in your life, or you.
Small confession: I have been crocheting this Tree Garland from Crochet Today magazine off and on since 2012. It’s one of those projects that you pull out and think you are going to finish for Christmas and then all your Christmas gift crafting takes precedence and you set it aside and then in January the last thing you want to look at is an unfinished Christmas project and back in the drawer it goes.
Am I right?
So this year I swore I was going to finish them, and realized the only way to do that was to make them for friends. So I am making little mini three tree garlands to give away. And I finished enough trees last night. Actually they are quick and fun to crochet, and really, you won’t need eight years to get them done.
Here is something that is just perfect for watching while baking cookies or when you just need a bit of light romance to escape. Holidate–about a pair of singles who decide to be each other’s plus one for a year of holidays. It isn’t perfect, but when is dating ever perfect? Available on Netflix.
The Seattle Times ran an article last week about old family recipes and when I saw this one, Aunt Rosemarie’s Pumpkin Bread, I knew I wanted to try it. Besides, I am sucker for pumpkin bread and this is best recipe ever. It has been declared a Keeper by my household of eaters.
Notes: the recipe doesn’t say so, but you need a small can of pumpkin–not that big honkin’ can of Libby’s. Just the small one. Or get the big one and split it–half for your pumpkin pie and the other half for the best pumpkin bread ever. The family will love you twice as much.
Also, I was totally out of ground cloves–who knew you could run out of ground cloves, but there you are–and so I used a teaspoon of ground ginger instead of cloves.
“Aunt Rosemarie’s Pumpkin Bread” is photographed at Ellen Peterson’s home in Brier, Wash, Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2020. (Erika Schultz / The Seattle Times)
There you have it. A Friday’s worth of great things. Dive in. Bake. Watch. Read. Mask up. Stay safe.
Welcome to Friday. Hope your week has been a calm spot in all the currents of our world. My mother is in lockdown at her assisted living (again) and Thanksgiving is off the table. Well, it will be on the table, just not the table with all the leaves and the card tables tucked around the living room.
Things will not be easy in the weeks to come, but if we are all careful, all masked, all taking precautions, (not hoarding toilet paper!) we’ll ensure full tables for all next Thanksgiving.
Also, when I recommend books, if they are just out of the budget or your reach, please try your public library. I’m a huge fan of mine, which is doing curbside pickup right now. I tend to try new to me authors first via the public library. I figure that’s what my tax dollars are for. More books.
Have a safe and blessed week.
Reading: I’m currently halfway through All the Ways We Said Goodbye by the dynamic writing trio of Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig and Karen White. I read one of the other books they’ve co-written, The Forgotten Room and loved it, and am devouring this most recent addition.
Set in the 60s, World War II and World War around the famous Ritz Hotel in Paris, All the Ways We Said Goodbye is an engaging twined story of love, mystery and betrayal. Add it to the TBR.
Dinner: I love dinners that are quick and easy and fills up the boys in the house. Ree Drummond’s Pioneer Woman recipes often fit the bill. I love this one for Simple Fried Porkchops from her Dinnertime cookbook (it can also be found on her website.) Nummy and easy.
More Dinner: Well, since I mentioned it, this is about the most used cookbook in my cupboard, The Pioneer Woman, Dinnertime. The Porkchops, the Chicken Potpies, the potatoes. Oh, the Breakfast Potatoes!! Salads, desserts, sides. I haven’t hit anything in here that the family didn’t love. If you love cookbooks and cookng, this is one to add to the collection.
Craft: Are you looking for a quick and easy gift for a baby? I’ve lost count of how many of these Baby Surprise Jackets by Elizabeth Zimmerman, I’ve knit, but quite a few. I love this pattern and am almost more excited when someone announces a baby coming that I get to knit another one. (No, I am excited about the baby, but I do adore knitting these.)
Personally, I just think it is cute as the dickens. And now off to a brand new 2020 baby.
Reading: If you live in Seattle, November is reading season. Dark days, early nights, and cold and wet outside. Perfect reading weather. So when I saw, A Lady’s Guide to Mischief and Mayhem by Manda Collins arriving on the shelves this week, I ordered a copy. Manda is a delightful and witty romance writer, so I know I’ll enjoy it, and the premise looks great—a Victorian murder mystery and romance—an adult Enola Holmes.
Don’t we all need some wonderful things to curl into right now?
Call it distractions, call it self-care, call it soothing, but I am all about finding the things that make me feel contentedly at home.
Books, baking, and a few shows to binge while knitting. Join me where it’s cozy.
Yes, I am breaking my own rules and wading into Christmas prior to Thanksgiving. (I so envy Canada that they celebrate Thanksgiving in October and then can dive into Christmas!) But I was thinking, who’s up for a Cookie Recipe Exchange? I’m going to look into how we can do this–Google Docs maybe?
If you have ideas or thoughts, please drop me a note and I’ll get this organized next week and we can start baking.
Who doesn’t love having a few dozen cookies tucked in the freezer for quick gifts?
Speaking of baking, have you been watching this season of the Great British Bake Off? If you haven’t, dive in. It is worth it just for the Brownie competition. I am still laughing. Hint: I think I could have won it with an unbaked box of generic brownie mix. Yeah, it was that bad.
Nummiest cover ever and a lovely story about friendship and love. Did I tell you it’s out November 17th? But between now and then, Melissa has a contest on her blog for an Amazon or Starbucks gift card, which I really had to share because she’s also talking about my Brazen books.
What we really should be talking about is all the wonderful work Melissa does every year for Fisher House Foundation, a program that provides military families housing while a loved one is receiving medical care. Her annual project is to make sure that moms who are doing all the things AND taking care of a loved one receive a lovely Mother’s Day gift. When you support Melissa, you support her hard work and dedication to this cause.
With the weather here in Seattle finally turning dark, cold and wet, I am all about curling up with my knitting in the evening and watching something with the husband. Right now we are engrossed with The Right Stuff and The Mandolorian on Disney+, The Great British Bake Off on Netflix, and the return of This is Us.
As you can see we like: space, food, and a good cry. In no particular order.
What are you watching these days? I love finding new shows since going to the movies is completely on hold for the time being.
Yikes! I’ve been “gone” for the last two weeks “at” conferences. All at home and on Zoom, as one does these days, but that doesn’t mean I had a minute to spare. Because, as every woman juggling home, family and life right now knows, being home just complicates it all. Sigh.
But my conference season is now over and I have nothing, as in NOTHING on the calendar, except for writing for the next few months.
Which fills me with joy.
And joy, these days, isn’t always easy to find, so I’ll take every bit I can gather up–and then pass it along to you.
So let’s find something to make you smile:
This one is for everyone who loves Halloween and cats. Because this pair of pumpkin hatted competitive kitties cracks me up. Watch this.
Speaking of things that crack me up–have you heard–Lenora Bell has a new book out? She is such a funny writer. And don’t we need laughter and some lighthearted romance? If you haven’t tried her, give her new book, Love is a Rogue, a read.
And if you have read her already, you know exactly what I mean.
Just a quick update for all of you who have been following my pandemic follies (read: sourdough starter, baking to excess, mad hunts for graham crackers) and finally, budding avocado farmer.
My youngest son has autism and he was fascinated by the avocado seed I started to sprout. Before I knew it, we had six of them going. One met with an unfortunate accident, but the others are faring well. Just this week we planted the two with leaves–fingers crossed for their futures.
The others are finally starting to grow. Just really S.L.O.W.L.Y
Don’t worry. I’m not going to abandon my writing for the joys of an avocado orchard. Which, would have to grow in my front room, given the temps here in Seattle.
Speaking of dropping temperatures, are you starting to crave those warm homey comfort foods? I know I am. And one that I love to make is Martha Stewart’s Spaghetti and Meatballs. Nothing fancy here, but it easy to put together, and if you double up the meatball portions, then you can bake them off and have them in the freezer for a really quick meal later.
Nothing I like more than a double duty meal plan.
Finally, if you are looking for something a little dark and a little bit scary, might I suggest S.J. Parris’s mystery novel, Heresy? I rather liked it and have the second one on my TBR. For anyone who loves the Elizabethean era.
Did I hear doublets? Check!!
Have a great weekend. And to all my readers in the US–if you haven’t already, make sure to cast your vote. Every voice deserves to be heard. And please, mask up–the rising numbers have me worried for all of you.
I am in a mad dash currently. I am speaking at two writers conferences in the next two weeks, so I am up to my neck in preparing workshops, figuring out how to present them online, and learning all the bells and whistles of Zoom.
As. We. All. Are.
So I shall just get the “things” going.
~ One ~
First, let me apologize for repeating myself last week. I knew it was going to happen eventually. And it finally did.
One of last week’s Things was a repeat from an earlier week.
Now I am not going to point fingers –because I would have to point them at myself–but the Peach and Pepper Jam is just, well, The Jam. And I had to share it. Apparently twice. So to save you from my over enthusiasm for all things Peach and Pepper, I have come up with, ahem, a hopefully full proof method for avoiding repeats.
And if you do decide that I am not insane and that Peach and Pepper Jam might be, your, well, jam, here are my notes on the recipe:
Now you will see that this is not a canning recipe, but I tweak it just a bit to make it canning friendly and so can you–even if you haven’t canned all that much. Just up the cider vinegar to 2/3 cup, and then follow the hot water canning instructions on the sheet that comes with the pectin box for “Peach Jam.” Easy Peasy.
And see, I promised I wouldn’t repeat myself, and here I am, repeating myself.
~ Two ~
As we move indoors, (at least those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, thank you for the wonderful reminder from a reader in the Southern parts) I try to find a challenging craft project.
I found this Fall’s challenge by taking on a test knit of this Winden Cardigan for Laura Chau, one of my favorite knitting designers. And while a project might look really, really hard, remember, if you do it one step at a time, one stitch at a time, you will find your way to the finish and learn some things along the way.
Rather like writing a book, one word at a time.
Like that these very complicated looking cables are actually quite easy. What are you going to learn?
~ Three ~
Speaking of Fall, one of my favorite cozy foods is Popovers. Another thing that looks so tricky and yet is just easy peasy. And so good. I love them–you guessed it–with jam. Here is one of my favorite recipes for Popovers.
Ever wanted to pack it all up and live somewhere else? Somewhere far, far away? Here is the newsletter for you. Cheap Old Houses. For a subscription fee you get four newsletters a month with listings of your choice–Old Houses, Old Farm Houses, and Old Houses in Europe and Canada–or splurge and get all three newsletters.
I assure you all of them are just made for daydreaming. And talk about learning new skills–like lathe and plaster, roman plumbing, ancient electricity …..
However, if free is more your speed, their Instagram feed is a delight.
Alexain, here I come. Though, note to self: the nearby church bells start at 7:30 AM daily.
~ Five ~
Since I know a number of you also write or aspire to write or dream of writing, I thought this week I would share with you a link to a blog post I wrote some time ago, 21 Essential Books on Writing, which is a great place to find a number of books that I’ve loved through the years and I consider some of the best instruction out there.
See a theme here?
Writing, like life, is a craft. Never stop learning.
Have a great week. Learn something new. Then share it.
Yikes! I usually draft this up Thursday afternoon and have it all ready to go bright and early Friday morning. But yesterday afternoon was so beautiful, I ended up enjoying a sunny afternoon instead. So you are getting the late version.
I can’t believe the fifth book in Sherry Thomas’s wonderful Lady Sherlock series, Murder on Cold Street, comes out next week.
October 6 if you don’t want to miss a moment of Charlotte’s escapades. Can you tell I’ve got a bit of Holmes thing going lately?
As you might know, I can like a crazy woman all summer. I have all these things I love to make and give as gifts. And every year I find some new recipe that turns into my MUST MAKE FOR EVERYONE.
This year, it turns out to be this Peach and Pepper Jam. Now you will see that this is not a canning recipe, but I tweak it just a bit to make it canning friendly and so can you–even if you haven’t canned all that much. Just up the cider vinegar to 2/3 cup, and then follow the hot water canning instructions on the sheet that comes with the pectin box for “Peach Jam.” Easy Peasy.
This isn’t toast jam, but crackers and cheese jam. The sort of jam you enjoy with a glass of wine and friends.
However, once family and friends discover this gold, stand back. A stampede is ensuing.
I recommend making extra batches. Because it is hard to give away.
I saw a link on Twitter the other day and I am so glad I clicked on it and discovered the work of Landartist Hannah Bullen-Ryner. All of her art is done with things she finds in nature.
Oh, these creations of hers are so exquisite. I highly recommend spending a few minutes enjoying her beautiful work.
I took a deep breath and felt at peace. So lovely.
Now that it’s October, I’m all about the comfort food!! First up is one of my favorite things to throw together: Chicken a la King. This is my go to starter recipe. I say starter, because I play around with this recipe all the time. Adding different vegetables, using roasted chicken from the store deli, leftovers from the previous night dinner. It is just one of those great, basic recipes that tailors easily to your tastes.
Also, if you want to do something different with it, we often skip the biscuits and pour it over a handful of warmed up crunchy Chow Mein noodles. Nummy.
I’ve been adding friendly reminders to the end of these posts to make sure you are registered and have a plan to vote, but it is getting down to the wire in many places, so please, if you are here in the United States, take a few moments and make sure you are registered to VOTE.
If you don’t want to fill out that form, just scroll down and you can click on a link to go directly to your State Registrar. It took me all of about 30 seconds to check and verify.
There. Cozy reads, cozy foods, something hot, and something to do. Have a great Friday.
So not the best week, right? Loss seems to be the only word to describe it.
My dear friend, Diane, who I had written about before, took a turn for the worse and passed quickly. The words my friends and I keep sharing –“We thought we had more time.” — are all we seem to say.
We were supposed to have lunch last week, but the smoke was too much for her to be outside and socially distanced, so we had to reschedule…because we thought we had more time.
So please, hug those you love. Call, text, email, send a note to a dear friend and make plans. Time with loved ones is something we should never postpone.
Call the Midwife has a new season up on Netflix. I only just discovered this show earlier this year, so I feel like I am probably trotting out old fish, because you all are probably way ahead of me on this, but I do enjoy this show. As the only female in a house of men (besides the cat), I have my own shows that I treasure and more to the point don’t have hockey, forensic files, or some disaster element to them. This is just a delightful, curl up with the knitting and have a lovely cry every so often sort of show.
As a diehard history buff, I adore a good historical mystery (Yes, my Sherlock affections from last week are showing) and the Shardlake series by C.J. Sansom is one that fits the bill when I want to dig into a meaty, well written and thoroughly engrossing story.
Set in the time of Henry the Eighth, Shardlake is an unusual lawyer for his time, a dwarf who hasn’t let society’s scorn stop him from being an astute and crafty adversary. Start with Dissolution–you’ll discover what I mean.
So from smoky skies to pouring rain, Seattle feels like it jumped with both feet into fall this week. So this morning–between downpours–I was out in the garden frantically picking everything that was being beaten down by the rain.
So the crockpot is full of vegetable marinara and I made an extra large batch of this Basil Pesto. I freeze it for something wonderful and bright in the middle of winter, and the extra will make a lovely pasta tonight.
Tip: To keep it from turning brown in the fridge, pour a thin layer of olive oil over the top of it and it will stay lovely and bright.
My husband has been out of town–his mother is downsizing and moving and he went to help. So having this book, The Deadly Hours, has been a tonic for a hard week.
Yet having this lovely anthology in hand, has given me just the book I needed with what little free time that can be had when he’s gone, and oh, have I been happy to have this. Such lovely writing and great stories. You all know Susanna Kearsley is one of my favorite authors . . . and a dear friend. And I think I have found three more favorite authors.
As the leaves begin to fall, and there’s a chill to the evenings, I wish I was here–Aspen Alley–in the Sierra Madres Mountains on the southern border of Wyoming, between Encampment and Battle. I was doing writing research at the Encampment Museum a few years ago –in early October, and got to see it. Here is my photo, but to see some really lovely photos of this unique and beautiful spot, go visit here.
Best wishes to all of you, and take time to reach out to the ones you love.
And, don’t forget that mask. And register to vote. There. I’ll stop being bossy and let you go take another look at those glorious aspens.
I have started and restarted this week’s edition three times. I just don’t know where to start this week with so much wrong going on.
So, let me just share what I have, and my hope is that one of these things will make you smile.
Have you seen the preview for Enola Holmes on Netflix? Well, here it is:
Go ahead, watch it, I’ll wait.
It had me at Henry Cavill. Coming next week on Netflix.
I know right now that an outside fire is the furthest thing from most of our minds. But just before the entire west burst into flames, I went with a few friends to a beach and one of them had this Flatpack grill.
It is the coolest little gadget, allowing you to have a small, outside fire just about anywhere, plus it works as a nifty grill. We cooked dinner on it and then enjoyed watching the sunset with a beach fire. And then it all folds up flat and cleans up in a flash.
Might make a great gift for someone you know or yourself. For better days ahead.
Speaking of thinking toward the holidays, (I know, I can’t even believe I’m advocating Christmas before Halloween, but there it is) I found the cutest site recently, Redbubble. All kinds of neat and unique pieces done by artists–artwork, prints, phone cases, coffee mugs–that you won’t find elsewhere.
Fall is my favorite time of year for a variety of reasons but mostly because the Fall Writing Conferences are in full swing. Sadly, they’ve all gone virtual, so I won’t get to hang out with friends, but happily with them virtual, lots of people can jump into a writing conference without the added expenses of travel.
So if you’ve ever want to write, but the costs or just the idea of walking alone into a huge conference seemed too daunting, here’s a way to try it out without all the added stress.
Added bonus to these two conferences? You’ll know someone who is attending. Me.
This is a smaller conference, but packs a lot of variety into a small footprint. Experienced speakers, a variety of subjects for writers at all the stages of their careers. Take a look at the brochure here. This would be a friendly, easy place to venture into the writing world.
This is the BEST writing conference in North America. Bar none. A very well curated list of speakers and topics that reach toward writers of genre fiction, poetry, nonfiction and everything in between. I am always humbled and proud to be a part of this conference. Register and then get ready for a writing experience like no other.
So I hope you found something to smile about. I know five of you who were notified that you’d won last week’s audiobook giveaway. Never fear, I have another audiobook contest in the works. Just keep an eye out.
Hugs and love to all of you. Times are hard, but we are not alone. Not when we have books, friends and Fridays.
As I look out the window at nothing but smoke, my heart goes out to everyone affected by the wildfires on the West Coast. Prayers going out for rain and relief.
That, and four day weeks throw me. What? It’s Friday already? Hence, this is a little late this morning.
So let’s get going with something to lighten our hearts.
A few weeks ago, I told you I was diving into A Queen in Hiding by Sarah Kozloff. Since then, I’ve read all four books in the series. I have been binge reading. Leave me alone reading. Staying up too late reading. Such a fun fantasy series. So I am recommending it twice.
Over Labor Day weekend, my best friend invited me up to her time-share in Port Townsend, Washington, and we spent the weekend at the beach. Being so like minded, we did all the things we love: we beachcombed, hiked in the woods, read books (see #1) and played way too many games of Splendor. Have you ever played Splendor? It took me a few games to get the hang of it, but I enjoyed the ruthless, cribbage sort of strategy it demands. If you like games, give this one to try.
May you be visited by a noble. LOL
Looking for something super nummy this weekend? This is my new, I want a special dinner, way too delish recipe to trot out: Grilled Chicken with Red Pepper-Pecan Romesco Sauce from Eating Well. I love their recipes, but this one is super good. Best part–it makes A LOT of sauce, which you can repurpose for pasta later on.
And if you are like me, you might just have the tomatoes in the garden.
Photo credit: Eating Well
Time for another audiobook giveaway!
Because I can, I have lots of fruit in the house, so it is inevitable that I end up with those wretched little fruit flies in my kitchen.
But I have a fool-proof way to get rid of them.
Grab a canning jar (LOL) or glass, and put a/3 cup of apple cider vinegar in it, a few drops of dishsoap, swirl it around, then cover the jar with plastic wrap, secure the wrap with either a rubber band or canning ring, and then poke a few small holes in the plastic with a skewer.
There you have it, the perfect DIY Fruit Fly Trap. Set it on the counter, then cackle with joy as those little pesky devils go to their doom.
As always, share something special with a friend–like this newsletter. Send someone a note. Read a great book. Tell the world. My wish for you and yours is that your days and week ahead are filled with joy and kindness.
“It’s never too late change old habits.” Florence Griffith Joyner
And isn’t September about change? I’ve always thought the new year should ring in September 1st. Kids go back to school, seasons change, life shifts. There is a sense of moving forward when September rolls around. So I offer the above quote as my Autumnal prod.
Time to change.
In the vein of trying something different, have you read A Man Called Ove? It is a Swedish book that is ever so delightful–an elderly man who has to learn to live. It is his September of sorts. It was very popular a few years ago, and if you didn’t try it then, give it chance now.
I am so addicted to these minute long videos that show you a dozen life hacks that are jaw dropping smart. I love this one.
I have been canning. A lot. And having picked up 60 pds of peaches . . . Yes, you read that correctly, 60 pounds. . . I got down to the last few pounds and knew I had to make my Great Aunt Sissy’s Spiced Peach Jam. It is so easy–follow the instructions for regular old peach jam inside the pectin box, but add to the peaches and pectin a 1/2 teaspoon each of the following: cinnamon, allspice, and ground cloves. Then just cook and can as usual.
This small addition turns ordinary peach jam into something so very special. Not that homemade jam isn’t already tops in the special department, but these homey spices turn it into comfort jam. Friends and family will cheer for more.
You’ll thank me one cold January morning as you slather it onto toast and bite into sunshine and spice.
When I can, I try to remember to write at least the year on top of the jar lid, if not the contents. I hate putting labels on jars because they are such a pain to get off the jars, then I remembered that I had bought these Avery Labels #22828 a while back and realized they are the same size as canning lids.
Voila! The perfect labels for canning, because they fit on lids, they are waterproof and it is so easy to print out exactly what you need.
And since you don’t reuse canning lids, you don’t have to worry about scraping them off the jar.
Best of all, when you gift something, you will know that it actually is Raspberry Jelly and not Balsamic Pepper Jelly. Which I might have done once.
New month, new Instagram challenges for all the booklovers out there. Like you!!
I LOVE these challenges because you can do all 30 some days or just hop around to themes and prompts that make you smile. You can just follow the hashtags and see each day’s posts.
National Book Day? I’m in. Pirates? Arrgh! Yes!Cozy Reads? Curl me up!!
Come on in and dip your toes in posting some fun book shots. Never done it before? Try something easy to begin with, just a shot of a cover, then get adventurous and pull out all the stops for a gorgeous stack.
Like this one:
Here are the September challenges I found with a little bit of searching, along with their hashtags so you can check out some new to you books and book people are sharing. It is so much fun to see the books bloggers and booklovers from all over the world use as inspiration and are thrilled to share.
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