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.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

HEALTHY LIVING WITH JANICE - BLUES OR BLUEGRASS FOR THE BLUES

Feeling blue? Health editor Janice Kerr has a suggestion. -- AP

Many people suffer from depression during the holidays. There’s even a name for it: the holiday blues. Often this depression is caused by the increased stress that is associated with the holidays -- all those things you feel you need to get done in order to have a perfect holiday.

There are many remedies to holiday blues. This time of year you’ll find articles in just about every magazine, in the newspaper, and reports on TV, offering suggestions for dealing with holiday blues. Here’s a new one I’ve come across: listen to music you enjoy.

I’m not talking Christmas carols here. Some people do find Christmas music cheerful, but if you’re suffering from holiday induced stress and depression, listening to music of the season might just increase your stress and depression.

Instead, listen to your favorite music, songs you love, tunes that make you feel happy. Music triggers the brain to release dopamine, the happy chemical. And that will give a boost to your mood.

So whether it’s blues or bluegrass, rock or raggae, folk, classical, or Broadway tunes, queue up a play list of your favorites, and download a dose of dopamine whenever you’re feeling blue.

Great advice, Janice! For me it’s Broadway show tunes. What about you, readers? What’s your favorite genre of music? Post a comment to enter the drawing for a book from our Book Club Friday guest author. -- AP

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

COOKING WITH CLORIS -- CHOCOLATE CHIP ZUCCHINI CAKE

Do you still have any frozen zucchini left over from your garden? I hope so because Cloris has a delicious Chocolate Chip Zucchini Cake recipe to share with all of you today. Enjoy! -- AP

CHOCOLATE CHIP ZUCCHINI CAKE

Ingredients:

1 cup sugar.
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla.
1-1/4 cups all purpose flour.
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 cup shredded zucchini
1/2 cup semi sweet chocolate chips.

In mixer, cream sugar and oil. Add eggs and vanilla, mix until well blended. In another bowl, stir together flour, baking powder and cinnamon. Add this and shredded zucchini to egg mixture. Blend until well combined. Mixture will be dry at first, but will thin as the liquid comes out of the zucchini. Pour into prepared 9 inch baking dish. Sprinkle with chocolate chips. Bake in 375 F oven for 25 to 30 minutes, until toothpick inserted in centre comes out clean.

I’ve been lucky enough to have sampled some of this cake. Trust me, you won’t be able to eat just one slice. Even your zucchini hating kids will wolf it down. Will you try this recipe? Post a comment to enter the drawing for a book from our Book Club Friday guest author. -- AP

Monday, November 28, 2011

CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA-- FAUX FINISHED BOX

When it comes to crafts, I’m all about transforming the ordinary into the extraordinary. Simple, inexpensive items can become elegant accessories with nothing more than a bit of time and a few common craft supplies. No talent required.

Today’s craft project is a faux finished box you’ll want to keep out on display year round. The box itself can be used to store just about anything, depending on the size you use. After all, who can’t use another storage container, right? Or use it as a container for a centerpiece. In and of itself it makes an elegant gift, but when used as a gift box, the recipient receives two gifts in one.

Materials:
chipwood box (your choice of size and style)

DecoArt walnut Americana water-based stain

DecoArt Dazzling Metallics Elegant Finish acrylic paint, Splendid Gold and Rich Espresso

DecoArt Satin Varnish

foam brush

rag

plastic lids to use as paint trays

household sponge

paper towels

3/4” wide ecru decorative lace trim, length determined by perimeter of lid and container

DecoArt American matte Decou-Page

1. Brush stain onto box and lid. While still wet, wipe off excess with rag.

2. Cut a piece of sponge approximately 1” x 2”. Wet sponge. Wring out excess water.

3. Place a small amount of the Splendid Gold paint in a tray. Dip an edge of the sponge into the paint. Tamp off excess paint on paper towel. Then randomly tamp onto box and lid.

4. Repeat Step 3 with Rich Espresso paint.

5. When paint is completely dry, brush on a coat of Satin Varnish.

6. Using the Decou-page, decoupage lace around lip of lid and base of box.

Want to line your box? It’s easy with some felt and tack glue. Measure the inside circumference of the box and the height. Cut a piece of felt to these dimensions. Place the box on a second piece of felt and trace around the bottom edge. Cut out this piece 1/16” inside the traced line.

Glue the side piece to the inside of the box. Fit the bottom piece into the box. If it’s a bit tight, trim to fit. Glue in place.



Anyone going to try this craft? Post a comment to enter the drawing for a book from our Book Club Friday guest author. -- AP

Sunday, November 27, 2011

THIS WEEK'S BOOK GIVEAWAY WINNER

Thanks to everyone who stopped by this week and a special thank you to author Linda Lovely for being our Book Club Friday guest and offering a copy of Dear Killer to one of our readers. The winner this week is Ellis Vidler. Ellis, please email your mailing address to anastasiapollack@gmail.com. I'll forward it to Alice.

Friday, November 25, 2011

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY -- GUEST AUTHOR LINDA LOVELY


Today we welcome debut mystery author Linda Lovely. DEAR KILLER, set in South Carolina’s Low Country, is the first book in a new series featuring Marley Clark, a 52-year-old retired military intelligence officer who now works security for a gated island community. NO WAKE ZONE, the second book in the series, will be released the second quarter of 2012. To learn more about Linda and her books, visit her website.

Linda is offering a copy DEAR KILLER of  to one of our readers who posts a comment this week. -- AP


Black Friday & The First Draft of a Novel

Today, Black Friday, is the busiest retail shopping day of the year. Or so I’ve heard. Me, I eat turkey sandwiches and treat myself to a good book. I MIGHT venture as far as my backyard. While I’m not BFF with Wal-Mart or Toys-R-Us, I have relatives (we all claim crazy kin, right?) who begin shopping sprees Thanksgiving eve and continue the wallet Olympics for 24 hours straight. Waiting in the freezing predawn, they stamp their feet to ward off frostbite then elbow through crowds to snatch up bargains—even if said merchandise fits no one on their Christmas lists. The purchases are “too” something—cute, funny, clever, chic, warm, cool—to pass up. In no time, the marathon shoppers have stuffed their car trunks to capacity.

I empathize. I amass words in my first drafts faster than holiday shoppers can max out their credit cards. Word counts beyond 110,000? Yup. When I’m in an idea-gathering mode or writing frenzy, I find adverbs and back story irresistible. A twenty-year-old heroine may have so many internal conflicts she’ll experience menopause before she sorts them out. My description of a sunset may wax poetic for a solid page. In other words, I fill up my mystery novel “trunk” with so much extra baggage I don’t even try to close the lid.

That’s fine. Just like my Black Friday warrior kin, I know at least some of my word purchases will be perfect, and the others are “returnable.” Perhaps writing an overweight (okay, obese) first draft isn’t the most efficient way to pen a novel, but I find editing easier than attempting to strategically pad a puny manuscript.

So how do I eliminate my impulse buys? First comes a sentence-by-sentence hunt for adverbs that add no zip, back story that bores, unnecessary “she saids” and pretty, but irrelevant, descriptions. This first pass trims perhaps 10,000 words. Now it’s time for critique partners to make their hatchet recommendations. My cruel but wise CPs have no qualms about identifying slow sections that don’t contribute to plot. If I can’t bring myself to hit the “delete” key, I pack up my prose and copy it to a “scrap file” for future use. Mind you, I’ve never actually mined this scrap heap for a new novel, but the “exchange” policy lessens the sting.

I actually enjoy editing, and I never worry about backsliding. Once words are cut, I feel no urge to search out replacements. Just like my relatives return to penny-pinching after Black Friday, I limit my word splurges to my first drafts. And isn’t everyone entitled to a splurge now and then if there’s a happy ever after ending—like a story that keeps its svelte, target-length shape in print forever?

Okay, readers, do you feel even some of your favorite authors could benefit from tighter editing? What types of passages do you tend to skim to get on with the story? What are your pet “word splurge” peeves? Or do you feel some authors are so driven to meet publisher-dictated word counts that they leave you too few gifts to unwrap?

Thanks for spending time with us today, Linda. Personally, I skip over the sex scenes in books, but that might have something to do with my bitterness over my dead louse of a spouse. What about you, readers? Post a comment to enter the drawing for a copy of DEAR KILLER. -- AP

Thursday, November 24, 2011

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!


Anastasia and the rest of the American Woman editors are spending the day with their families, but they all wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving and will be back tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

HEALTHY LIVING WITH JANICE - DO YOU HARA HACHI BU?

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, also known as the start of the Great American Pig Out. Beginning tomorrow and continuing through Christmas, New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day, and culminating with Superbowl Sunday, we Americans will eat and eat and eat. Most of us will gain weight, hence the New Year’s resolution most often made (and unfortunately, most often broken) to lose weight. Health editor Janice Kerr says we should all Hara Hachi Bu over the next three months and beyond to avoid the need to make that resolution we’ll all break anyway. -- AP

Hara hachi bu is Japanese for “eat until you are eight parts full.” It’s the philosophy of the people who live on the island of Okinawa, where the residents enjoy exceptionally long and healthy lives. Okinawans have the longest life expectancy in the world with 29% living to 100. This is roughly four times the average in western countries.

Hara hachi bu works because your brain needs about twenty minutes to realize that your stomach is full. If you eat until you feel full, twenty minutes later you’ll be about 20% over capacity. Keep this up at every meal, and you’ll continually stretch your stomach larger and larger, which in turn will require you to eat more and more food at each meal in order to feel sated.

Hara hachi bu is the basis for the traditional Okinawa diet, which emphasizes vegetables, whole grains, fruits, soy, and fish. Such a diet, high in antioxidants and with limited amounts of lean meats, has been proven to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease and minimize free radical production.

Heart disease rates in Okinawa are 80% lower than in the U.S., and cholesterol levels are typically under 180, Rates of cancer are 50-80% lower. Hip fractures are 20% lower than those on mainland Japan and 40% lower than in the U.S. Dementia is rare. Conversely, Okinawans who adopted Western eating styles had about the same rates of heart disease as in the U.S., and a study of 100,000 Okinawans who moved to Brazil and adopted local eating habits, showed a life expectancy 17 years lower than in Okinawa.

So think about following the two main rules of the Okinawan Diet, beginning tomorrow. Your body will thank you, and you won’t have to make that yearly New Year’s resolution that we both know you won’t keep.

Rule 1. Eat to 80% full.

Rule 2: Eat healthy, non-processed foods as much as possible. making sure your diet is rich in veggies, whole grains, fish, and legumes.

I guess this means turning down a second slice of pumpkin pie tomorrow, readers, but why not give it a try? Who’s game? Post a comment to enter the drawing for a book from our Book Club Friday guest author. -- AP

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

COOKING WITH CLORIS -- ORANGE-CRANBERRY SHERBERT

If you have an ice cream maker (or even if you don’t,) Cloris has the perfect light ending to serve after all that turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie. -- AP

ORANGE-CRANBERRY SHERBERT
Ingredients:
1-1/2 cups cranberry juice
1/2 cup orange juice
1 cup sugar
2 cups whole milk
1 cup whipping cream
Combine all ingredients and place in ice cream maker. Follow manufacturer’s directions to make sherbert.

If you don’t have an ice cream maker, combine all ingredients and freeze for several hours, stirring several times as mixture freezes. When mixture is the consistency of sherbert, place in food processor and process until smooth. Serve immediately.



Doesn't this sound yummy, readers? Let's hear from you. Post a comment to enter the drawing for a book from our Book Club Friday guest author. -- AP

Monday, November 21, 2011

CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA-- CHRISTMAS VOTIVE GLASS CANDLE HOLDERS

The most common excuse I hear as to why people don’t craft is that they’d love to but they have no artistic talent. Artists need talent. Crafters only need desire. You can craft even if you can’t draw a straight line. Today’s project proves that.

I recently discovered DecoArt Glass Paint Markers. As the name implies, these are markers designed to be used on glass. They come in a variety of rainbow colors as well as gold, silver, and white. I was immediately intrigued with the possibilities. 

To test out these markers, I purchased a couple of inexpensive glass votive holders that I found at a local fabric and craft store. All you need in addition to the markers and a piece of glassware is some alcohol for cleaning the glass prior to painting and a small piece of white or light colored paper.

Once I cleaned the glass, I rolled up the paper and placed it inside the votive holder. This was just to help me see as I worked. Using the green marker, I made vertical lines around the votive holder, not worrying about keeping the lines evenly spaced or straight. I just freehanded it for a contemporary look I’d recently seen on some high-end vases.

After my lines were drawn all around, I took a red marker and made rows of dots in the spaces between the lines.

That’s all there was to it. Within minutes I’d created a pair of stemmed votive holders that will look great during my holiday entertaining. Could it get any easier? I doubt it. So don’t let me hear any of you saying you can’t craft because you have no artistic talent.

So who will give this project a try? Post a comment to enter the drawing for a book from our Book Club Friday guest author. -- AP

Sunday, November 20, 2011

THIS WEEK'S BOOK GIVEAWAY WINNERS

Thanks to everyone who stopped by this week and a special thank you to author Alice Loweecey for being our Book Club Friday guest and offering copies of Force of Habit to two of our readers. The winners this week are Jane R. and Connie Haskell (who posted her comment to the blog from the Creating the Hive feed.) Ladies, please email your mailing addresses to anastasiapollack@gmail.com. I'll forward them to Alice.

Friday, November 18, 2011

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY -- GUEST AUTHOR ALICE LOWEECEY

Mystery author Alice Loweecey is a former nun who went from the convent to playing prostitutes on stage to accepting her husband’s marriage proposal on the second date. Her teenage sons clamor for dramatic roles in her next book, but she keeps threatening them with Redshirt cameos. Force of Habit is her first book in her Falcone and Driscoll Investigation series. The second, Back in the Habit, is already available for preorder at Amazon, and arrives in stores on Feb. 8, 2012. Learn more about Alice and her books at her website.

Alice has generously offered copies of Force of Habit to two lucky readers who post comments this week.
-- AP

Italian women + food = Enough to feed an army. It’s not a cliché if it’s true, right? I come from a long line of Italian women who bring new meaning to the words, “Eat! There’s plenty more!”

I also write a mystery series starring Giulia Falcone, ex-nun, private investigator at Driscoll Investigations, and Italian woman who cooks. In the convent, Giulia had no problem cooking for a dozen nuns. Now that she’s on her own, she’s had to learn how to cook small.

The thing is, cooking is one way we show our families how much we love them. My maternal grandmother used to make homemade manicotti for Christmas. My mother has a way with chicken cutlets. My paternal grandmother taught me how to make sausage bread. And of course we all make sauce.

Like Giulia, I grow my own tomatoes, garlic, and herbs for my cooking. Giulia’s on-again, off-again romance with her boss (Frank Driscoll of Driscoll Investigations) doesn’t lend itself to cozy suppers over spaghetti and garlic bread. Because (she says) making a scratch meal for a man is a sign that the relationship is intimate. I agree. One of the first gifts I presented to my future husband was homemade chocolate chip cookies.

In my first book, Force of Habit, Giulia and Frank had just begun a tentative romance. In my second, Back in the Habit, Giulia goes undercover in her old convent, and Frank has trouble seeing the Giulia he knows under the habit and veil. But she pushes this potential issue to the back burner as she goes back behind the wall and finds power-mongering, suicide, drugs, and lousy institutional food. (In the interest of fairness, I will say that I encountered no drugs or suicides during my years in the convent.)

But lousy institutional food? Plenty of it. Fake eggs in particular are a crime against humanity. Thus Giulia, now that she’s out in the world again, makes it a point to cook real food that people want to eat, despite her tight budget. People angle for weeks to be the recipient of one of her home-baked or home-canned Christmas gifts.

Back in the Habit won’t feature any of Giulia’s cooking, just longing for food that doesn’t taste like cardboard. And intrigue, backstabbing, catfights, and gratuitous pawing of lacy underwear. (This isn’t your great-grandmother’s convent!)

But in the spirit of all Italian women everywhere, here’s one of Giulia’s family recipes. She—and I—hope you enjoy it:

Sausage Bread

Oven 375o
45 minutes

1 lb pizza dough
1 lb cooked, crumbled sausage
2 C shredded mozzarella

Divide dough in half. Roll the first half in a rectangle with a rolling pin. Sprinkle half the sausage over the dough, then sprinkle half the cheese over the sausage. Roll up like a jelly roll; seal. Repeat for second half of dough.  Bake till nicely browned, 35-45 minutes. (The "tap on the bottom for the hollow sound" test does not work for this.)

Thanks, Alice. Sounds yummy! What do you think, readers? Post a comment to enter the drawing for one of two copies of Force of Habit. Include your email address or check back on Sunday to see if you’re the winner. -- AP

Thursday, November 17, 2011

TRAVEL WITH SERENA -- THANKSGIVING

Thanksgiving is next week, and travel editor Serena Brower knows that many of you will be heading out by car, train, or plane to spend the holiday with relatives. Once upon a time, our ancestors traveled by another mode of transportation. How many of you remember this song from your childhoods? -- AP

Over the river and through the woods,

To grandmother's house we go;

The horse knows the way to carry the sleigh,

Through the white and drifted snow, O!
Over the river and through the woods,

Oh how the wind does blow!

It stings the toes, and bites the nose,

As over the ground we go.

Over the river and through the woods,

To have a first-rate play;

Oh hear the bells ring, "Ting-a-ling-ling!"

Hurrah for Thanksgiving Day, Hey!
Over the river and through the woods,

Trot fast my dapple gray!

Spring over the ground, like a hunting hound!

For this is Thanksgiving Day, Hey!

Over the river and through the woods,

And straight through the barnyard gate,

We seem to go extremely slow.

It is so hard to wait!
Over the river and through the woods,

Now grandmother's cap I spy!

Hurrah for the fun! Is the pudding done?

Hurrah for the pumpkin pie!



I'll bet that brought back some memories! Tell us about your Thanksgiving memories for a chance to win a book from our Book Club Friday guest author. -- AP

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

HEALTHY LIVING WITH JANICE - TURKEY SAFETY

Thanksgiving is next Thursday, and most of you will be cooking turkey. Health editor Janice Kerr is here today with safety tips to make sure your Thanksgiving is happy and healthy and free of salmonella. -- AP

Thanks, Anastasia! Too many people wind up sick because they don’t cook their poultry properly. The information below is from the USDA. Following these simple rules will ensure your bird is cooked properly.

A food thermometer should be used to ensure a safe minimum internal temperature of 165°F has been reached to destroy bacteria and prevent foodborne illness.

Many variables can affect the roasting time of a whole turkey:

A partially frozen turkey requires longer cooking.

A stuffed turkey takes longer to cook.

The oven may heat food unevenly.

Temperature of the oven may be inaccurate.

Dark roasting pans cook faster than shiny metals.

The depth and size of the pan can reduce heat circulation to all areas of the turkey.

The use of a foil tent for the entire time can slow cooking.

Use of the roasting pan’s lid speeds cooking.

An oven cooking bag can accelerate cooking time.

The rack position can have an affect on even cooking and heat circulation.

A turkey or its pan may be too large for the oven, thus blocking heat circulation.

ROASTING INSTRUCTIONS

1. Set the oven temperature no lower than 325 °F. Preheating is not necessary.

2. Be sure the turkey is completely thawed. Times are based on fresh or thawed birds at a refrigerator temperature of 40 °F or below.

3. Place turkey breast-side up on a flat wire rack in a shallow roasting pan 2 to 2- 1/2 inches deep.

Optional steps:
Tuck wing tips back under shoulders of bird (called “akimbo”). Add one-half cup water to the bottom of the pan. In the beginning, a tent of aluminum foil may be placed loosely over the breast of the turkey for the first 1 to 1-1/2 hours, then removed for brown-
ing. Or a tent of foil may be placed over the turkey after the turkey has reached the desired golden brown color.

4. For optimum safety, cook stuffing in a casserole. If stuffing your turkey, mix ingredients just before stuffing it; stuff loosely. Additional time is required for the turkey and stuffing to reach a safe minimum internal temperature (see chart below.)

5. For safety and doneness, the internal temperature should be checked with a food thermometer.
The temperature of the turkey and the center of the stuffing must reach a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 °F. Check the temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast.

6. Let the bird stand 20 minutes before removing stuffing and carving.

APPROXIMATE COOKING TIMES (325 °F oven temperature)
UNSTUFFED
4 to 6 lb breast........ ..1-1/2 to 2-1/4 hrs.
6 to 8 lb breast....... ...2-1/4 to 3-1/4 hrs.
8 to 12 lbs........................2-3/4 to 3 hrs.
12 to 14 lbs......................3 to 3-3/4 hrs.
14 to 18 lbs................3-3/4 to 4-1/4 hrs.
18 to 20 lbs................4-1/4 to 4-1/2 hrs.
20 to 24 lbs......................4-1/2 to 5 hrs.

STUFFED  
8 to 12 lbs........................3 to 3-1/2 hrs.
12 to 14 lbs......................3-1/2 to 4 hrs.
14 to 18 lbs......................4 to 4-1/4 hrs.
18 to 20 lbs................4-1/4 to 4-3/4 hrs.
20 to 24 lbs................4-3/4 to 5-1/4 hrs.

Finally, when it comes to leftovers, always store turkey and stuffing in separate containers and make sure you refrigerate leftovers as soon as the meal is over.

Thanks, Janice! And a tip from me as well: make sure you buy a big enough turkey to have leftovers. That turkey sandwich the next day is always so delicious! 



What are your plans for Thanksgiving? Tell us for a chance to win a book from our Book Club Friday guest author.  -- AP

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

COOKING WITH CLORIS -- MERLOT CARROTS

Today Cloris serves up a side dish that’s the perfect accompaniment for your Thanksgiving or Christmas turkey. -- AP

MERLOT CARROTS

Ingredients:
1/3 cup Merlot
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1 Tablespoon butter
1-1/2 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 cup cranberry jam
2-1/2 lbs. carrots, sliced

Combine Merlot and cranberries in a small bowl. Cover and let stand at room temperature overnight.

Drain the cranberries, reserving the Merlot. Melt butter in a Dutch oven.  Sauté carrots in butter for about 5 minutes. Add sugar. Cook over medium heat until sugar melts. Add the Merlot, lemon juice, and jam. Cook, stirring frequently, until mixture thickens. Stir in the cranberries. Cook for an additional ten minutes or until carrots are desired tenderness.



What do you always serve on Thanksgiving? Tell us for a chance to win a book from our Book Club Friday guest author. -- AP

Monday, November 14, 2011

CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA-- CHRISTMAS CARD ORNAMENTS

Gold braid and a white snowflake charm were used to decorate this ornament.


Do you keep Christmas cards each year because they’re too pretty to toss? Many people do, but they never do anything with them. So over the years they wind up with huge stacks of old Christmas cards. Here’s an easy, fun way to make use of those cards by turning them into ornaments or package tags. Even little kids can take part in this craft, so consider making it a family project for a rainy afternoon.


Red rick-rack, a round red gemstone, and three buttons were used to decorate this ornament.

Materials:
Christmas cards
patterned scrapbook paper
index stock
ribbon
buttons
rick-rack and other assorted trims
pompoms
charms
flat-backed acrylic gemstones
buttons
scissors
glue stick, tacky glue, gem glue


There’s no one right way to make these ornaments. Use craft materials you have on hand for decorating. Be creative. Have fun.

Red pompoms were glued over the holly berries on this photo card ornament.

Trim the front from the back of the card, then trim the card to the desired size. Cut a piece of printed scrapbook paper slightly larger than the card. Glue the card to the scrapbook paper. Glue the scrapbook paper to the index stock. Trim the index stock to the scrapbook paper.

If desired, glue rick-rack or braid around the perimeter of the card. Glue the ribbon to the top corners of the card for a hanging loop. 

Green rick-rack and red gemstones were used to decorate this ornament.

Decorate the cards with various crafts materials. The models shown used flat-backed acrylic gemstones, charms, buttons, and pompoms.

Do you craft for the holidays? What have you made or plan to make this year? Tell us for a chance to win a book from our Book Club Friday guest author. -- AP

Friday, November 11, 2011

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY -- GUEST AUTHOR JEAN HENRY MEAD

Jean Henry Mead is the author of 15 books, half of them novels. She’s also an award-winning photojournalist who served as a news, magazine and small press editor. Her Logan & Cafferty mystery/suspense series consists of A Village Shattered, Diary of Murder, and Murder on the Interstate. Her juvenile series, the Hamilton Kids’ mysteries, are Mystery of Spider Mountain and Ghost of Crimson Dawn. She also writes historicals; her first in the series, Escape, a Wyoming Historical Novel, will be followed by No Escape: The Sweetwater Tragedy. Her books, regardless of genre, are laced with humor and light romance. To read more about Jean and her books, visit her website. -- AP 

Rebirth of a Mystery Series
How would you react if your publisher died and orphaned your mystery series? Panic? Tears? Or would you follow the trend and republish the books yourself? Few publishers will consider a mystery series after the third novel, so I decided to establish my own publishing company.

I’m electronically challenged, but my husband learned to upload the files for both ebooks and print editions. And, because the books were previously published, there was little editing to do. It wasn’t long before we had seven books online as well as local stores interested in stocking them.

We have an unusual publishing website at  www.medallionbooks.com and plan to publish other writers’ work as well. Fortunately, I’ve served as an editor, and my husband is good at designing book covers. We’re both bibliophiles with a large home library, so our love of books keeps us motivated.

The next problem is how to promote our books. With so much competition from more than a million ebooks, and thousands more published each day; we need to find ways to make our books stand out. But how to do that? Too many blurbs on Facebook and other social media sites only turn readers away. So how do you let readers know about your books on a limited budget?

Besides appearing on great sites like Lois’s, I decided to take part in virtual book tours. I was asked to join the “Mystery We Write” Holiday Tour, which will run from November 25 until December 9. Fifteen mystery writers, including award-winning Tim Hallinan and Michael Orenduff, are taking part in the tour and we’ll be collectively giving away more than 60 mystery novels from our individual sites.

My own tour schedule is up at: http://jeansblogtour.blogspot.com/ (as well as the other writers’ sites) and I’ll be giving away 14 ebooks, one each day of the tour to visitors who leave comments and screen names. I’ll also draw three additional names at the conclusion of the tour for print copies of my mystery novels.

The best part of blog tours is hearing from readers who stop to say hello and comment about our books. Having someone say, “My husband grabbed your book before I had a chance to read it,” really makes a writer’s day—an entire week even. So I hope you’ll have a look at my tour schedule and choose a number of the tour sites to visit. There’s a good chance you’ll win a great mystery novel (or two) and enjoy what we all have to say.

Before I close, I’d like to ask you, the readers, how publishers attract your attention and what makes you decide to buy their books? I appreciate any comments you’d like to make.
Wishing you all the best holiday season ever!

Thanks for visiting with us today, Jean, and best of luck on your new publishing venture and blog tour. -- AP

Thursday, November 10, 2011

BEAUTY WITH NICOLE-- DIY AVOCADO/YOGURT BODY SCRUB

Beauty editor Nicole Emmerling whips up avocadoes and yogurt, but instead of eating it, she coats her body with it. Today she shares a recipe for a wonderful, natural body scrub that will leave your skin smooth and glowing. -- AP

DIY AVOCADO/YOGURT BODY SCRUB
Ingredients:
2 oz. Epsom salts
2 oz. wet coffee grounds
1 ripe, mashed avocado
2 oz. plain Greek yogurt
sunflower seed oil

Mix the avocado and yogurt in a bowl. Mix in the Epsom salts and coffee grounds. Stir in the oil a little at a time until the mixture is the consistency of paste. Step into the shower and get wet. Turn off the water. Vigorously rub the avocado/yogurt mixture all over your body from your neck down to your feet for several minutes. Rinse.

Anyone going to try this? Let's hear from you. -- AP

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

HEALTHY LIVING WITH JANICE - GUEST BLOGGER, KATIE BRIND'AMOUR


Katie Brind’Amour is a freelance writer and food aficionado eating her way through Columbus, Ohio one delicious dish at a time. When she’s not busy trying to identify the perfect combination of chocolate and wine, she writes on health, nutrition, pregnancy, and friendship for Elance clients and on her personal blog . -- AP

Eat to Beat the Winter Blues

There’s something about beef stew, chicken noodle soup, buttery golden biscuits, potatoes, cocoa, and pie (not all at once, though!) that scream “winter comfort food” to me.  I basically gravitate toward warm, delicious, fatty, starchy foods to make me feel cozy and satisfied during the long winter months, and I have a feeling this is the case for many people out there.  After all, Thanksgiving is about stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie – not carrot sticks, salad, and rye bread!

The appeal of filling and fattening foods during colder months is perhaps a biologically programmed weakness, but in modern times it would be tough to argue that this does us any sort of favor.  (At least, ever-widening hips and a bulging belly don’t exactly meet my definition of a gift from the universe…)

Luckily, Mother Nature has something in store for those of us with less desire to store fat and more interest in staying trim despite the holidays and never-ending onslaught of flavored coffees and flaky, buttery cookies.  She gave us foods to get us through winter in an entirely different way.

In fact, there are a whole slew of healthy foods that can actually improve your mood and get you through the cold months with more energy, better health, and a sharper mind (http://www.helpfordepression.com/slideshow/lifestyle-changes/10-foods-boost-your-mood).  Sign me up!

For those of you who are health junkies, the fact that salmon is one of these super foods should be no surprise.  Dietitians and health nuts have long been singing the praises of its healthy fats for brain development, but its nutrients can also improve your attitude and help beat mild depression by increasing levels of serotonin and certain hormones that help regulate mood and memory. 

Eggs are another delicious food that supply a number of important vitamins for your foggy winter brain, of which Vitamin D and B12 help improve your mood – just be sure to eat the yolk, as the egg whites don’t contain equally beneficial amounts of these brain-boosting nutrients!  Unless you already have high cholesterol, there is no need to avoid the yolk, which can provide a healthy source of fat and protein to give you a slow release of energy throughout the day.

Think green!  Spinach and other dark leafy green vegetables are powerhouses of magnesium, folic acid, and antioxidants, all of which can improve energy levels, reduce fatigue, and help you better manage the stress that comes from buying exactly ten thousand holiday presents.  This protective level of magnesium is also found in bananas, which also contain high levels of potassium and tryptophan as well as many vitamins and minerals.  So instead of sugared dates, try snacking on a banana to improve oxygen flow to your brain, reduce stress, and even help you sleep.

And speaking of tryptophan and improved sleep, remember that your Thanksgiving turkey has plenty of health perks as well.  The tryptophan that helps your mind relax is paired with melatonin in turkey, which encourages your body to relax.  Even better, the tyrosine contained in turkey can help you achieve better energy levels and triggers the release of dopamine and norepinephrine in your body, which improve your reaction time and may help boost your motivation.

For those of you who love nuts, breads, and even fruitcakes, remember that whole grains and walnuts can also be lifesavers during the winter.  Whole grains – like oatmeal and whole wheat bread as well as other high-fiber foods like legumes and some vegetables – can help deliver a slow and steady dose of glucose to your brain, keeping your energy stable and giving your thyroid gland the selenium it needs to keep your mood controlled as well.  Walnuts may go one step further and help prevent mood swings by zapping away mild depression, anxiety, insomnia, and irritability (can you say, “miracle food?”) 

If anxiety and frustration are your problems, try drinking a glass of milk with those walnuts or bananas.  Milk can increase your body’s ability to absorb important vitamins and minerals from the food you eat while pumping you full of mood-boosting whey, magnesium, protein, and healthy carbohydrates. 

Last, but certainly not least, comes dark chocolate.  Hooray!  This is perhaps the best news of all for those of us searching for a healthy replacement for snicker doodles.  Besides the benefit your blood vessels get from the antioxidants found in dark chocolate, the phenylalanine delivered in bars with 70% cocoa or more are believed to boost levels of dopamine in the brain, flooding you with happy feelings and the very happy realization that winter doesn’t last forever.  

If all else fails, think positive (www.healthline.com/health/depression-alternative-treatments)!  As a chronic daydreamer, it’s comforting to know that imagining myself at the beach while eating a salmon and spinach salad is officially a healthy activity with the added perk of beating the winter blues. 

So go ahead, indulge this winter – just be sure to indulge in the feel-good foods that satisfy your natural urge to glut yourself and provide a natural and healthy dose of happiness and energy!

Thanks for the great tips, Katie! I’m off to dip a banana in melted dark chocolate and roll it in walnuts. Yum! And it’s good for me! -- AP

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

COOKING WITH CLORIS -- CHICKEN SAUSAGE AND SPINACH STUFFING


Last week Cloris featured a slow cooker stuffing. Today she’s got one that goes in the bird. -- AP
CHICKEN SAUSAGE AND SPINACH STUFFING
(for a 12-14 lb. turkey)

Ingredients:
1/2 lb. sundried chicken sausage, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 lbs. fresh spinach, washed and torn
1/2 cup butter
2 cups chopped celery
1 medium onion, chopped
6 cups crumbled cornbread
1 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup cold water
1 teaspoon poultry seasoning

In a Dutch oven brown sausage in oil. Place sausage in a bowl and set aside. Melt butter. Add celery and onion. Sauté until tender. Add spinach, continuing to cook until spinach wilts. Add sausage and remaining ingredients. Stir well. Spoon into turkey. Cook turkey as you would any stuffed turkey. Extra stuffing can be cooked in a greased baking dish at 325 degrees for 30 minutes.

We’re all heading to Cloris’s house for Thanksgiving. Want to come? -- AP