featuring guest mystery 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.

Monday, October 31, 2011

CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA-- DECORATIVE CHRISTMAS JAR

Giving a gift of homemade cookies or candies? Here’s a quick, no-sew way to make the container into a gift as well. I made a Christmas gift jar, but you can decorate yours for any holiday or theme. -- AP

DECORATIVE CHRISTMAS JAR
Materials:
glass jar
small piece of print fabric
small piece of contrasting felt
2 Velcro dot fasteners
double-stick permanent no-sew fabric adhesive
fabric glue
pinking shears

1. Measure the circumference of the jar. Add 3” to that measurement. Measure the height of the jar. Add 1”. Cut a piece of fabric as wide as the first measurement and as tall as the second measurement. (For the sample, a jar that measures 12” in circumference x 6” tall, I cut a piece of fabric 15” x 7”.)

2. Press under short ends 1/2”. Glue. Press under long ends 1/2”. Glue. Fold fabric, wrong sides together, lengthwise. Press. Glue along two short and one long edge.

3. Using pinking shears, cut a piece of coordinating color felt 1” taller than height of the folded fabric and desired width for front of jar. (Sample is 3-1/4” wide x 4” tall.)

4. Peel off paper backing and apply adhesive to wrong side of printed fabric.

5. Cut out fabric to fit within felt.

6. Peel off second sheet of paper. Position fabric centered on felt. Cover with pressing cloth. Following manufacturer’s directions for temperature and time, iron fabric to secure to felt.

7. Position Velco dots on short ends of wrap to fit around jar. Glue dots to fabric.

8. Fill jar with treats.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

THIS WEEK'S BOOK WINNERS

Thanks to all who stopped by Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers this week. We really appreciate all of our readers, and so do our guest authors. This week we had three guest authors who generously offered copies of their books as giveaways. Special thanks to Lisa Black, Barbara Quinn, and Mia Marlowe for joining us.

The winner of TRAIL OF BLOOD by Lisa Black is Rebecca Butler. The winner of SPEED OF DARK by Barbara Quinn is Liz V. And the winner of IMPROPER GENTLEMEN by Mia Marlowe is GayleC. Ladies, please contact me at anastasiapollack@gmail.com to make arrangements to receive your books.

Friday, October 28, 2011

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY -- GUEST AUTHOR MIA MARLOWE


Author Mia Marlowe is our Book Club Friday guest today. Mia writes historical romance with a pinch of paranormal magic for Kensington and Sourcebooks. Her work was featured in the Best of 2010 edition of PEOPLE magazine and one of her books is on display at the Museum of London Docklands alongside memorabilia from Johnny Depp and Errol Flynn. A classically trained soprano, Mia describes her stories as a cross between Grand Opera and Gilbert & Sullivan...with sex! Learn more about Mia and her books at her website. -- AP

Romance with Mysterious Heart…

First of all, thanks for having me here today, Anastasia. Now I know all of you are probably asking yourself why an historical author is visiting a mystery blog, but I promise there's a good reason. You see, I like to tuck a little mystery into my love stories as a secondary plot.
In my Victorian-set Touch of a Thief, my hero and heroine are on the trail of a malevolent red diamond that's on its way to the Royal Collection. There are multiple couriers bearing fakes to protect the rare stone, but my heroine uses her special ability to "hear" gemstones in order to find the right one.

In my novella A Knack for Trouble in the anthology Improper Gentlemen, there is a true murder mystery, but the trail has gone cold. You see, my hero confessed to murdering the upstairs maid in order to protect someone else. Now he's out to clear his name. And make sure another strangled corpse isn't found in the grotto in the center of the maze.

In my newest e-novella, A Duke for All Seasons, Arabella and Sebastian don't have much reason to trust each other, but they must work together to rescue her daughter from the French assassin who's kidnapped her.

In each case, the mystery is one of many threads in my story, but I love weaving that texture into the backdrop of a romance. The basic premise of all romance is: Boy Meets Girl, Boy messes things up with Girl, Boy gets Girl. In my stories part of the messing up and eventual getting is tied up in how the hero and heroine work together to unravel the mystery. It's a chance for them to use all their abilities and confront their fears. A chance for my characters to grow individually as well as together.

One of my favorite romances with a mystery component is Nora Roberts’ Carolina Moon. Share your favorite romance with a mystery tucked into it, and you'll be entered in my random drawing to receive a copy of Improper Gentlemen.

Looking forward to hearing from YOU!

So readers, what’s your favorite romance with a mystery or maybe your favorite romantic mystery? My favorite is Envy by Sandra Brown. Let’s hear from you. And as always, either include your email address or don’t forget to check back on Sunday to learn if you’re the lucky winner. Remember, we need to be able to contact the winner in order to ship the book. -- AP

Thursday, October 27, 2011

TRAVEL WITH SERENA -- GUEST AUTHOR, BARBARA QUINN

Barbara Quinn is a novelist and award-winning short story writer. Along with being the founder and former publisher of The Rose & Thorn, she’s the author of four novels: Speed of Dark, 36C, Slings and Arrows, and the forthcoming Hard Head. She practiced law for ten years and held many jobs from lingerie sales clerk to postal worker, cocktail waitress to process server. Her love of travel has taken her to four continents and 47 states. She splits her time between Bradley Beach on the Jersey shore and Montebello, New York. She and her husband have one son, Bret, and a grandson, Ammo. Barbara welcomes email at BAQuinn@aol.com  and would love to keep in touch via twitter.com/BarbaraQuinn. 


Barbara has a free copy, either pdf or mobi/Kindle version, of Speed of Dark to give to one of our readers. To enter the drawing, post a comment to the blog. -- AP


The Other New York

I set my novel, Speed of Dark, in a fictional town north of New York City. One of the areas I drew on in crafting the locale was northern Westchester County in New York State, where I did a stint as the town attorney for North Salem. Besides living in North Salem, I also resided in neighboring Lewisboro for a time. The scenic area crops up periodically in my stories.

Like many small towns, North Salem has its share of town tales including the haunting story of The Leatherman. The Leatherman was an itinerant wanderer known for tramping about many towns in New York and Connecticut in the late 19th century in tattered leather body wear. I make reference to one of the versions of the Leatherman’s tale in Speed of Dark. In that version the Leatherman wandered the region because he had a broken heart. While the reason for his wandering is unknown, he was a real and colorful character who covered many miles on foot each year, rarely talked, though he could converse in French, and who subsisted on handouts, and lived in caves. You can visit one of the caves that the Leatherman stayed in during his travels at Ward Pound Ridge Reservation in Cross River.

The Leatherman
Another spot that influenced my crafting of Speed of Dark is the Herkimer Diamond Mines in Herkimer, New York. Many people are familiar with Herkimer cheddar cheese, but this area of upstate New York is also known for Herkimer diamonds, gorgeous double-terminated quartz crystals that anyone can find with a little elbow grease. The atmosphere of the mines and the surrounding area lingered and carried over into the feel of what happens when my main character, Luke, and the girl he has a crush on, Celeste, meet up in a cave much like the caves that dot the hills of upstate New York, and much like the caves that the Leatherman used for refuge.

At the Herkimer Diamond Mines you can pay a small fee and wander through the bucolic and rocky area to search for your own bed of crystals. The mines rent out hammers or you can bring your own tools such as chisels and screens. It’s really a lot of fun to take out all your frustrations by hammering on the soft rock in hopes of unveiling a pocket of crystals. I went with my husband and son and we had a terrific time smacking the rock. We were thrilled when we found some of the perfectly formed crystals. You keep what you find. Not only is it great therapy, but you bring home pretty shiny crystals that are valued by many for their holistic traits.

When people think of New York, the city comes to mind: Wall Street, Broadway, the Statue of Liberty, and the World Trade Center Memorial. But outside of the City, there are any number of places of incredible beauty, inspiration, and fascination such as the Leatherman’s Cave and the Herkimer Diamond Mines.

Thanks for visiting with us today, Barbara. I know I’ll be putting these areas of upstate NY on my list of places to visit. What about the rest of you? Leave a comment to enter the drawing for a copy of Barbara's book. Don't forget to either include an email address or check back on Sunday to see if you've won. We can't send you your book if we can't get in touch with you. -- AP

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

HEALTHY LIVING WITH JANICE - CSI LISA BLACK

Normally when health editor Janice Kerr discusses health issues here on Wednesdays, it’s in the context of staying healthy. Today we have a guest with a slightly different agenda. Lisa Black is a full time latent print examiner and CSI for a police department in Florida. Her fourth book Defensive Wounds was released by Harper Collins on September 27. In it, forensic scientist Theresa MacLean battles a serial killer operating at an attorney’s convention. Read more about Lisa and her books at her website. 


Lisa is also offering a copy of Trail of Blood to one of our readers. To enter the drawing, just post a comment to the blog this week. And be sure to include your email address or check back on Sunday to see if you've won. We have no way of contacting winners if you don't, and we've had a lot of books go unclaimed lately. -- AP

Mystery Writers and the Search for an Undetectable Poison

If there were such a thing as a truly undetectable poison, mystery writers would use it in every book. There are, however, poisons that stand a good chance of not being detected. Whether or not your killer is willing to take the chance is, of course, up to them.

The average autopsy will check for alcohol, narcotics and illegal drugs. That’s all. The average crime lab will not have the equipment or reagents to check for every possible poison. The investigator would have to know what they are looking for. If they do, and there is not currently a way to detect it, a way might then be found. That’s what happened in Toledo when David Davis supposedly killed his wife Shannon with succinylcholine, which instantly breaks down into succinic acid and choline. These two chemicals are normally found in the body anyway. At the time there was no way to detect suspicious levels, but doctors in Sweden and then a doctor at the Medical College of Ohio came up with a test to do so. Davis was convicted (after going on the run for seven years,) but using a brand-new technique in a criminal trial is always a risky proposition, and the accuracy of it is still under debate. Juries—and everyone else—like their forensic science to have lots of studies and decades of time behind it before they vote to convict.

If you want to know how to kill someone without leaving a physical mark or trace, read my book Evidence of Murder. That’s exactly the question my heroine, Theresa, comes up against, and yes, there is an answer, and yes, it’s completely true. But it’s not poison.

Well, maybe not exactly.

The trick is to make the poison fit so perfectly into the victim’s situation that, even if found, it will not necessarily scream murder. Genene Ann Jones killed numerous infants in her pediatric ICU unit by overdosing them with the blood thinner heparin. But with the victims in such a fragile state to begin with, her activities went undetected for quite some time.

Dr. John Hill supposedly killed his wife by poisoning pastries with bacteria so that her death would look like a case of meningitis. It might have worked had his behavior not raised so much suspicion. This method would require a good working knowledge of, and access to, bacteria and runs great risk of not working or not working completely. On the plus side, it wouldn’t look like poison, and one could always try again.

But just because a poison is well known doesn’t mean you can’t get away with it. An older lady killing off her husband is the first thing you think of with the word arsenic, but Audrey Marie Hilley did exactly that, while her husband was in the hospital under the care of an army of competent doctors and nurses.

Thanks, Lisa. I hope you haven’t given any of our non-author readers any ideas! Readers, want to win a copy of Trail of Blood? Post a comment to enter the drawing, and as I mentioned above, don't forget to either include your contact info or check back on Sunday. If you win, and we can't contact you, you lose out. -- AP

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

COOKING WITH CLORIS -- APPLE CRANBERRY BREAD PUDDING

September is coming to a close, and the air is growing crisp. How about a yummy apple cranberry bread pudding with your next meal? Here’s Cloris’s recipe for a slow-cook version. -- AP

APPLE CRANBERRY BREAD PUDDING
Ingredients:
non-stick cooking spray
3 large cooking apples, peeled and cut up
1 cup dried cranberries
10 cups cubed brioche or challah bread
4 eggs
2-1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

Spray inside of slow cooker with non-stick spray. Divide bread into thirds. Mix apples and cranberries and divide in half. Place 1/3 of the bread cubes in the bottom of the crock pot, then half the fruit, another third of the bread, the second half of the fruit, and the last third of the bread. Place eggs in mixer and whip. Continue whipping as you add milk, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Pour over bread and fruit. Press down to submerge bread and fruit in the liquid batter. Cover and cook on high for 2 hrs.

So what’s on your menu for tonight? Bread pudding, anyone? 
Post a comment to enter the drawing for a book from our special Wednesday guest this week. -- AP

Monday, October 24, 2011

CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA-- CHRISTMAS ACCENT PILLOWS

One of the easiest ways to decorate for the holidays is to find simple projects that accent your existing d├ęcor, rather than totally making over your home. These accent pillows are just that. They’re made with fabric cocktail napkins, Christmas print fabric, and iron-on adhesive and can be made in an hour or so. Make them for yourself or as gifts for others. -- AP

CHRISTMAS ACCENT PILLOWS

Materials (for each pillow):

two fabric cocktail napkins
pre-printed Christmas fabric in a motif to coordinate with napkin and fit size
double-stick permanent no-sew fabric adhesive
iron and pressing cloth
basic sewing supplies
poly-fil
beads or other embellishments (optional)

1. Peel off paper backing and apply adhesive to wrong side of printed motif.

2. Carefully cut out motif.

3. Peel off second sheet of paper. Position motif centered on front of one napkin. Cover with pressing cloth. Following manufacturer’s directions for temperature and time, iron motif to secure.

4. If desired, glue or hand stitch beads or other embellishments to pillow top.

5. With wrong sides together, pin pillow top to remaining napkin. With a 1/2” seam allowance, machine stitch around outer edges, leaving small opening for stuffing. Stuff pillow with poly-fil. Pin opening closed and machine stitch.



How many of you make holiday gifts? Let's hear from you. Post a comment to enter the drawing for a book from our special Wednesday guest this week. -- AP

Sunday, October 23, 2011

THIS WEEK'S BOOK WINNER

Thanks to all who stopped by Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers this week and special thanks to our Book Club Friday guest, author Sandra Cody. Sandra has offered a copy of LEFT AT OZ to one of our readers. The winner this week is Caroline. Caroline, please send your mailing address to anastasiapollack@gmail.com. I'll pass it along to Sandra.

Friday, October 21, 2011

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY -- GUEST AUTHOR SANDRA CAREY CODY


Author Sandra Carey Cody makes a return visit today. Sandra is the author of the Jennie Connors mystery series, published by Avalon Books. Left at Oz is the fourth and latest book in the series. Learn more about Sandra and her series at her website.

Sandra has graciously offered a copy of
Left at Oz to one lucky reader who posts a comment this week. -- AP

A Creative Potpourri

(potpourri - medley, miscellany, assortment, hodgepodge)

One of the things I like about Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers is its variety, the way it gives voice to people who create in all sorts of different ways. When I say create, I don't just mean making something. I include individuals who look at ordinary things in a different way and encourage the rest of us to take a fresh look at the world - like the tips and tidbits that appear here some days. Very creative.

If you do want to make something, there are plenty of ideas to get you started.  I don't know how many recipes I've printed out from this site. I made a few of them; others are tucked away, waiting for me to find time or be in the right mood. The same holds true for the craft ideas; most get filed under "some day." That's OK. I like having a long "some day" list, and if that list includes a few things I haven't done before - so much the better. I'm convinced that taking my creative urges down a different path not only keeps them alive, it makes them stronger.

Writing will always be my first love, but I also make quilts. I am fascinated by color, by the way the mood of a color changes according to other colors near it. I enjoy playing with different shapes, curved or straight lines and the texture of fabric. Choosing the fabric, the colors and pattern of a quilt is very like choosing the attributes of a fictional character. Combining dark and light shades is like working out the details of a storyline: main color, accent color; main plot, sub plot. Writing is almost completely intellectual; quilting is very tactile. I find that working in these two different mediums enhances perception and, thus, creativity, in both.

Sometimes, working in the same medium, but looking at it from a slightly different perspective, produces a needed creative jolt. Left at Oz, the latest release in my Jennie Connors mystery series, is a prequel. In the previously published books, Jennie is a single mom with an ex-husband she doesn't hate - most of the time. In Left at Oz, I show her still married and what happened to break up the marriage. I had a great time doing it and readers have told me that they enjoyed seeing Jennie in a different light.

So, to all the creative folks who contribute to and read this blog, let your imaginations run wild. Try your hand at something you haven't done before. Maybe you'll hate it and do a terrible job, but maybe you'll love it and create a masterpiece. Either way, you'll learn something about yourself.

Thanks, Anastasia (and Lois), for letting me add my bit to this potpourri of ideas.

 And thank you, Sandra! Always a pleasure to have you spend some time with us. Readers, if you’d like to read more of Jennie’s pre-divorce life, post a comment. You could be the lucky person who wins a copy of Left at Oz. And don’t forget to check back on Sunday to see if you won. -- AP

Thursday, October 20, 2011

FASHION WITH ERICA -- POM-POM FASHION FAUX PAS


It isn’t often that assistant fashion editor Erica Milano and I team up with fashion advice, but neither of us could resist commenting on the outfit worn by singer Nicki Minaj at the Carolina Herrara show last month during Fashion Week in New York. We both agree that Nicki’s shirt can be summed up in four words: WHAT WAS SHE THINKING?

Hey, I’m all in favor of DIY. As the crafts editor of a woman’s magazine, my living depends on people wanting to make things for themselves, their family and friends, and their homes. However, even I wouldn’t suggest that any of our readers try this at home. And Erica suggests, should you be crazy enough to do so, only wear it out of the house on Halloween. (Hence, the reason we’ve waited until October to comment on this fashion faux pas.)

So readers, what do you think? We’re dying to hear your comments. Let us hear from you, and you're entered into the drawing for a book from Friday's guest author. -- Anastasia and Erica 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

HEALTHY LIVING WITH JANICE - BREAST CANCER AWARENESS MONTH, PART 2

Last week we told you about Ford Motor Company’s Warriors in Pink program, where 100% of the net proceeds go to support Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Another company that offers items for sale where the profits benefit breast cancer research is Avon.

Purchase Avon Nailwear Pro Nail Enamel in Pink Power, and 100% of the net profit is donated to the Avon Breast Cancer Crusade. According to their website, “Avon has donated nearly $700 million to end breast cancer and is the largest corporate supporter of the cause.”

Other products where Avon contributes 100% of the profit to the Avon Breast Cancer Crusade include the Breast Cancer Crusade Pink Water Bottle, the Breast Cancer Crusade Tennis Bracelet, Breast Cancer Crusade Foot Works Overnight Renewing Foot Cream, the Breast Cancer Crusade Strap Watch, the Breast Cancer Crusade Lips for Life Novelty Tote, the Breast Cancer Crusade Novelty Umbrella, and the Global Breast Cancer Crusade Pin. You can find all these products at the Avon website

Avon Pink Power Nail Enamel

Avon Breast Cancer Crusade Pink Water Bottle

Avon Breast Cancer Crusade Tennis Bracelet

Avon Foot Works Overnight Renewing Foot Cream

Avon Breast Cancer Crusade Watch

Avon Lips for Life Tote

Avon Lips for Life Umbrella

Global Breast Cancer Crusade Pin

Thanks, Janice! These are more great products to help the cause. Readers, which ones will you be ordering? Let us know for a chance to enter the drawing for a book from our Friday guest author. -- AP

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

COOKING WITH CLORIS -- FRENCH FINGERLING POTATO CHICKEN SALAD

Fingerling potatoes are so cute! Cloris cooked some up in a potato chicken salad that works for lunch or dinner. P.S.: You don’t peel the potatoes, another added bonus for busy working moms. -- AP

FRENCH FINGERLING POTATO CHICKEN SALAD
Serves 4

Ingredients:
2-1/2 pounds fingerling or small new potatoes, halved
salt
4 chicken breasts, cooked and chopped into bite-sized pieces
1 cup fresh chopped broccoli

1/4 cup olive oil

3 tablespoons Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons dried, minced onion

3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley


Note: If fingerlings are large, quarter them. Place potatoes in a large pot; cover with cold water and season generously with salt. Bring to a boil; reduce to a simmer and cook until potatoes are tender, about 10-12 minutes. Run under cold water to cool slightly, then drain.

Place potatoes in a large bowl. Add chicken and broccoli.

Whisk together oil, mustard, vinegar, onions, and parsley. Pour over potatoes, chicken, and broccoli. Toss to combine. Chill or serve at room temperature.

This was totally yummy! I served it over a bed of baby spinach for a bit of added nutrients. So who’s going to give it a try? Post a comment to be entered in the drawing for a book from our Book Club Friday guest author. -- AP

Monday, October 17, 2011

CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA-- COUNTRY CHRISTMAS TOPIARY

Make this easy, no-sew Christmas topiary to coordinate with the country wreath from September 5th for a great holiday gift or to decorate your own home. -- AP

COUNTRY CHRISTMAS TOPIARY
Materials:
6” Styrofoam cone
1/4 yd. green cotton print fabric
small amount of contrasting fabric
sequin pins
3” clay pot
small amount of floral foam
9” length 1/4” diameter dowel
Spanish moss
eight 1” wooden stars
tacky glue

1. Rip the green fabric into 1” strips. Press. Cut strips into 3” lengths.

2. Pin a strip over top of cone. Pin a second strip in opposite direction over top of cone.

3. Fold strip in half. Pin to bottom of cone with cut edge 1/2” above bottom edge of cone. Continue pinning strips around bottom of cone, overlapping sides slightly.

4. Pin a second row of folded strips above first row, staggering strips so they don’t line up with previous row, and overlapping folded edge of second row 1/2” below cut edge of first row.

5. Continue pinning rows around cone as above. For the last row, glue cut ends of fabric together with tacky glue, then glue to cone instead of using pins.

6. Glue floral foam into clay pot.

7. Glue one end of dowel into bottom center of cone and other end into floral foam.

8. Rip a piece of contrasting fabric 1” x 15”. Make a bow from the strip and pin to top of cone.

9. Glue Spanish moss over floral foam.

10. Rip another piece of contrasting fabric 1” x 13” and glue around lip of pot.

11. Glue wooden stars evenly spaced around fabric covered lip.

Make five or six topiaries, all the same or using different fabrics. Place them on a runner on your dining room table for a centerpiece or line them up on a mantle. Make three with different size cones and clay pots for a grouping on a sideboard or end table. What else could you do with them? Let’s hear from you. Post a comment to enter the drawing for a free e-book from our Book Club Friday guest author.
 -- AP

Sunday, October 16, 2011

THIS WEEK'S BOOK GIVEAWAY WINNER

Thanks to Tammy Kaehler for being our Book Club Friday guest author this past week and for generously offering a copy of DEAD MAN'S SWITCH to one of our readers who posted a comment to the blog. This week's winner is Barb Goffman. Barb, please send your mailing addresses to me at anastasiapollack@gmail.com, and I'll forward it to Tammy.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

MURDER CAN PAY!


We normally don’t post a blog entry on Saturdays, but we have some exciting news to announce. Many of our readers are aspiring writers. For those of you who write mysteries, we wanted to let you know about the annual McCloy-MWA Scholarship.

Many writing contests are bogus and charge huge entry fees. That’s not the case with the McCloy-MWA Scholarship. Applicants pay nothing. Membership in Mystery Writers of America is not required. Promising writers have a good chance of receiving one of TWO scholarships of up to $500 EACH to use toward tuition and registration fees (excluding travel or accommodations) for a writing course, workshop, or series of classes held live (not online) in the US.

Applicants can submit adult or young adult nonfiction, or the first 3 chapters of a novel, or 3 short stories, or a script in any mystery or suspense genre.

Rules and an address for FAQs and individual questions are posted on http://mysterywriters.org (click on McCloy Scholarship in the sidebar).

Postmark deadline for entries: last day in February of each year.

Friday, October 14, 2011

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY -- GUEST AUTHOR TAMMY KAEHLER


Before trying her hand at fiction, Tammy Kaehler established a career writing marketing materials, feature articles, executive speeches, and technical documentation. A fateful stint in corporate hospitality introduced her to the racing world, which inspired the first Kate Reilly racing mystery. Tammy works as a technical writer in the Los Angeles area, where she lives with her husband and many cars. Read more about Tammy and her books at her website

Tammy is giving away a copy of Dead Man’s Switch to one lucky reader. To enter the drawing, just post a comment to the blog.
-- AP

Family Members, Fictional Characters, and Zucchini Cookies

When does the eccentric or weird become charming? I should frame this in the proper context: I’m talking about well-meaning family members.

I realized, the morning of my birthday a few weeks ago, as I waited for my annual phone call conveying a dreadful rendition of the happy birthday song from my father and step-mother (I love you guys, but my father, for sure, can’t carry a tune in a bucket), that at some point in the last decade I’d started looking forward to that call. More, that my birthday wouldn’t be complete if it didn’t come.

Similarly, I am more amused than frustrated these days by my grandmother and the weird desserts she used to bake—which might be partially due to the fact that I no longer have to eat them. You see, my grandmother, who passed away in 2005, had some strange ideas about food. The interesting fact to note is that wasn’t always the case; at some point in my life that I can’t pinpoint, Grandma’s food got weird. I remember arriving to Grandma’s as a kid and finding fresh chocolate chip cookies in the cookie jar. Then suddenly there were zucchini cookies or persimmon bars that had just been taken out of the freezer. Really? What child wants cookies with no chocolate chips but flecks of green vegetables in them?

And yet, when my mother, her siblings, and all the grandchildren got together to clean out my grandmother’s house after her death, what did I tuck in my box among the other keepsakes? That’s right, her recipe box and an antique recipe stand that now sits on my desk. At least once a week I catch sight of it, read the title of the recipe displayed, and smile in fondness tinged with disbelief. Lemon Zucchini Cookies.

But I guess this is what they mean when they say “write what you know,” because when it came time to create the grandmother of Kate Reilly, my racecar-driving protagonist in Dead Man’s Switch, I thought about someone like my grandmother, with a strong commitment to doing what she feels is correct and appropriate, even if that’s not what everyone else thinks should be done. Plus a penchant for weird desserts.

Though Kate’s grandmother was only mentioned in the first Kate Reilly Racing Mystery, she’ll make more of an appearance in future books as Kate’s family story is explored. But her character is fully formed in my mind: a woman with firm ideas and a story in her background of doing what needed to be done. Much like mine was.

I’m guessing some lemon zucchini cookies will also show up. For sure I’ll pick those over the persimmon bars.

So my question is, what eccentric foods or behaviors do you find in your family? And how would they make great characters in a novel? A commenter to this blog this week will win a copy of Dead Man’s Switch!

Since I know readers of this blog enjoy new recipes, I’ve copied my grandmother’s down for you:

Lemon Zucchini Cookies
3/4c margarine
3/4c sugar
1 egg
1t ground lemon peel
2c flour
1t baking powder
1/2t salt
1c shredded zucchini
1c chopped walnuts

Cream the first four ingredients until light. Sift flour, baking powder, and sale together and mix in. Stir in the zucchini and walnuts. Bake at 375 degrees for 15 minutes or until lightly browned. Frost, if desired, with 1c powdered sugar mixed with 1 ½T lemon juice.

Thanks, for joining us today, Tammy. Our readers are used to seeing zucchini in all sorts of recipes, so I don’t think they’ll find your grandmother’s lemon zucchini cookies odd in the least. As a matter of fact, I’ll bet quite a few of them bake up a batch. Right, readers? Post a comment to enter the drawing for a copy of Dead Man’s Switch. -- AP

Thursday, October 13, 2011

FASHION WITH ERICA -- WARRIORS IN PINK

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and once again, many companies are offering items for sale where all or some of the profits benefit cancer research. One of the biggest supporters of Breast Cancer Awareness Month is the Ford Motor Co. They offer a line of Warriors in Pink apparel and gear. And the best part? 100% of the net proceeds of the sales of these items goes to support Susan G. Komen for the Cure. To date Warriors in Pink has raised close to 2 million dollars.

Here are a few of my favorite Warriors in Pink products. You can check out the full line at the Warriors in Pink website


2011 Warriors in Pink Scarf


2011 Warriors in Pink Tie

Power of Pink Hoodie

Sweet Dreams PJ Pants

Toddler Pink Tee

Warriors in Pink Cap

Warriors in Pink Getaway Tote
Become a Warrior in Pink and help to wipe out breast cancer! Post a comment to enter the drawing for a copy of a book from our Book Club Friday guest author. -- AP

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

HEALTHY LIVING WITH JANICE - GERMS ON CLOTHING

Health editor Janice Kerr has something for all of us to think about today and keep in mind the next time we go clothes shopping. -- AP

Thanks, Anastasia!

Do you launder new clothing, towels, and linens before you use them? Frankly, I never thought to do so until I read a recent article, and it got me thinking about all those items I purchase off the rack at clothing and department stores. How many people have touched those items, leaving all sorts of nasty germs on them? Studies have shown that germs are lurking on those piles of silk panties and stacks of T-shirts at your favorite stores.

Have I made you uncomfortable? I made myself uncomfortable. There’s a certain ick factor here we just don’t think about but should. Common sense dictates that anything not sold in a sealed package should be laundered first before wearing. Keep that in mind the next time you purchase anything from undergarments to pj’s to bathing suits to T-shirts. Or just about any piece of clothing for yourself and your family. Towels, too.

Well, that certainly creeped me out! What about you, readers? Have you ever laundered new clothing items before wearing them? Will you now? 
Post a comment to enter the drawing for a copy of a book from our Book Club Friday guest author. -- AP

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

COOKING WITH CLORIS -- CHOCOLATE CHIP ZUCCHINI BUNDT CAKE


Forget the zucchini bread. Today Cloris offers up something much more chocolaty and a whole lot sweeter for some of that zucchini you’re still harvesting or froze. -- AP

CHOCOLATE CHIP ZUCCHINI BUNDT CAKE

6 Tbsp. cocoa

2 Tbsp. butter, softened

2 cups granulated sugar

3 large eggs 

1 cup vegetable oil

2 cups grated zucchini, packed

1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. salt

1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
confectioner’s sugar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Spray bundt pan with non-stick baking spray with flour.
Set aside 1/8 cup flour. Combine remaining flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Set aside. Mix together cocoa, butter, and sugar. Beat in eggs, oil, and vanilla. Blend in grated zucchini. Add flour mixture.
Toss chocolate chips with remaining flour. This helps keep chocolate chips from all sinking to the bottom of the cake batter once the cake is in the oven. Fold chocolate chips into batter.  Pour batter into prepared bundt pan.

Bake for about 70 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of cake comes out clean.
Let cake cool for several minutes, then unmold onto cake plate to finish cooling. Dust with confectioner’s sugar.

You’ll think you’ve died and gone to chocolate heaven after tasting this recipe, readers. So who’s hauling out the mixer? Post a comment to enter the drawing for a copy of a book from our Book Club Friday guest author. -- AP

Monday, October 10, 2011

CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA-- KIDS' HOLIDAY WORKSHOP

It’s never too early to start thinking about Christmas or Hanukkah. This is the time of year when you begin to see holiday craft shows and bazaars springing up at schools, churches, malls, and street fairs. Why not organize a Children’s Holiday Gift Workshop for your local PTA, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, or Sunday school? Simply follow the steps below. -- AP

1. Present your idea to the organization. Have samples of projects to show. Choose an appropriate date two to three weeks before the holidays (either after school, an evening, or on a weekend,) and ask for parent volunteers. The number of volunteers needed will depend on the number of kids involved, but it’s essential that you have enough volunteers.

2. Discuss cost. You can either charge a minimal amount to cover the cost of supplies or slightly more to make the workshop a fundraiser for the organization.

3. Choose three to five simple craft projects which can be completed in the allotted time. Check older Monday posts at Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers. We’ve featured simple kids’ crafts in the past. You can also find kids’ craft projects online and in books at the library. Chose projects suitable to give as gifts to a mother, a father, and a sibling. If making for or five gifts, the remaining ones should be neither age nor gender specific so that they can be given to grandparents or other siblings. Refrigerator magnets for hanging school papers are a good choice as are holiday ornaments and picture frames.

Make sure the projects you choose are appropriate to the age of the children who will be attending the workshop. You want them to have an enjoyable experience and leave with both a sense of accomplishment and nice-looking presents to give to their family. A project that is too difficult will only frustrate the child and produce less than pleasing results.

Stay away from projects that require extra equipment such as ovens or ones which need excessive drying time. Ideally, you want the children to be able to wrap and label the gifts before leaving. If a project requires paint, substitute markers, crayons, or colored pencils.

4. Display a sample of each project a big poster announcing the workshop in a high traffic area of the school, library, recreation center, church, or synagogue where the workshop will take place.

5. Send a registration flyer home with the children. The registration deadline should be two weeks prior to the event. You’ll need this extra time for preparation. On the registration form, list the cost of the workshop and the gifts that will be made. Mention that each will be wrapped and labeled before the child leaves. Ask again for parent volunteers. You can also do registration through email if you prefer.

6. Once you receive all the registration forms, you’ll need to purchase supplies. Calculate how much of each material you’ll need plus colored tissue paper or wrapping paper and yarn to wrap each item. In addition, purchase small self-adhesive labels for each gift, plastic zipper bags for each gift, and a brown paper bag for each child. Place all the components for each craft project in a plastic bag. Place all the plastic bags in the paper bag.

Don’t forget any tools you’ll need, such as scissors, pencils, tape, rulers, crayons, glue etc. You should be able to borrow many of these from the school, church, etc., but make sure you have enough. Children should be encouraged to share tools, but you’ll need enough per group so that you finish in the allotted timeframe.

7. On the day of the event, give each child a paper bag. Divide the children up among the volunteers. Depending on the age of the children, you’ll want one adult for every five to eight children. Before beginning, have each child write his name on his paper bag.

The volunteers should have all the children work on the same project at the same time. As each project is completed, have the child wrap, tie with the yarn, write the recipient’s name on the label, then place the label on the gift and place the gift back in the paper bag.

8. Don’t forget to involve the children in the clean-up afterwards. All scraps need to be thrown away and tables wiped before leaving. You may want to reward the children with a cookie or some other treat as they leave.



Post a comment to enter the drawing for a copy of a book from our Book Club Friday guest author. -- AP