Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas!!

I am home from NYC, happily settling in with hubby and both boys for a wonderful country Christmas. Life is good.

I wanted to share some pictures I took last year in New York. As you will see, that amazing city can offer it's own kind of magic this time of the year.

A tiny surprise near MoMA (Museum of Modern Art)

Mr. George M. Cohan looks out over a snowy Times Square

George & Ozzie...

At the top of the distant tower is the New Year's "Ball" just under "2009"

The famous tree at Rockefeller Plaza

From our home to yours, 
warmest wishes for a wonderful Holiday

Friday, December 10, 2010

Kill your darlings...

Part 3 of: From Blank Screen to Printed Book OR Writing the Book was the Fun Part...

It was William Faulkner who advised, "In writing, you must kill your darlings." I now know exactly what he meant.

Usually putting together a thought on paper - or screen - is, for me, painfully difficult. The words must be dragged from my brain, cursing, kicking and screaming. I type, I delete. Pause. Type and delete again (which, by the way, I have just done here - several times). But on very rare occasions, the perfect phrase or sentence or even entire paragraph flows out of my brain, through my fingers and onto the screen. Those moments are what I imagine a runner's high must be like. I feel breathless and brilliant. I want to grab that sentence and hug it. I want to protect the words and I can't believe I would ever delete them. 

Then comes REVISION. And, no matter how much you adore those words, if they are extraneous to what you are trying to share with your reader, you must ruthlessly hit the delete key. And it hurts. 
In the late summer of 2009, I met with my editor Suzanne and we talked about what I wanted the finished book to be.

"Is this a business how-to for entrepreneurs or a personal memoir that's about what you experienced?" she asked. 

I laughed"You kidding?? No one would want to start a business the way I did!" This was a no-brainer"A personal memoir about what I experienced."

"Then ditch as much of the business stuff as you can and focus on you. That's what your reader wants - she wants to know what you were feeling, not how you calculated gross margin. How what you were doing affected the rest of your life." 

I found myself squirming - suddenly feeling extremely uncomfortable. Suzanne leaned toward me. "You're like most women - you find it hard to think in terms of "me". Focusing on yourself is difficult, foreign. It makes you uncomfortable. But that's why readers will love this book. They will identify with you and the issues you faced. They will care about you and will want you to succeed. They don't care about the numbers and the business details." She sat back in her chair and smiled. "You want to write a how-to book? We'll do that next."

And so began the revision process that would last close to a year. I would review a chapter, completely rewriting in some places, fine tuning in others, and cutting, cutting, cutting. All the cuts would be pasted onto the end of the chapter so Suzanne could review them. I found it hard to focus on myself and in the early chapters she would patiently point out that I was cutting the wrong stuff. I would go back and rewrite again. We settled into a pattern where, when she felt something needed work, she would say things like "Show me, don't tell me" or "I can't see this" or "Put this into scene” or “This phrase/word is overused” and I would go back and often struggle to completely redo a paragraph, a page, a section. The early chapters took three to four rewrites, but slowly I began to hear her in my mind as I typed and the rewrites dropped to two or three per chapter. But more importantly, her comments now were more targeted, more advanced – making my writing better. And I knew it. It was an amazing feeling. 

When the revision was complete, she congratulated me again. “Now put it away for a month or so, then start at the beginning and do it again.”

It wasn’t what I wanted to hear especially, but this time I wasn’t taken by surprise and I knew she was right. I put it away for a few weeks, then opened the word doc that was the first chapter and started again. This was when I realized just how much I had learned. I saw things I hadn’t seen before. I deleted, I rewrote, I added scene and I made it better. By the last chapters, the changes were minimal. When I was done, I had cut the manuscript from 150,000 words to 73,000 words.

“Alright, now print it out and send it to me,” Suzanne said when I told her I was done. “It’s my turn.”

To be continued...

This will be end of the saga until after the Holidays. I need to step away from the blog for a couple of weeks to work on formatting the book. Oh yeah - and to shop, wrap, decorate, bake and spend a wonderful week in NYC with my family and some close friends (I may post a photo or two).  Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Just Get the Story Down

Part 2 of:  From Blank Screen to Printed Book OR Writing the Book was the Fun Part...

Writing a book sounds like a wonderful - and rather romantic - thing to do. Imagine sitting surrounded by nature at some wilderness writer's retreat, or maybe looking out the window of an fabulous NY brownstone channeling Carrie Bradshaw, tapping furiously at the keys of your laptop as the perfect words fill the blank screen. I mean, James Patterson publishes three or four (or more) books a year - how hard could it be? 

Hard. I tried it and after several months of start and stop, I stopped for good. Or until my friend Steve asked me to please talk to this independent editor he knew...

I emailed Suzanne Kingsbury, author and free-lance editor, told her my tale and asked if she'd be willing to read the eighty-odd pages I'd managed - in seven months - to get down. She requested a phone call first and we stayed on the phone for an hour and a half, laughing and chatting like old friends. "Now you can send me your pages," she announced as our call wrapped up. 

I sent her an email with my pages attached then sat back and waited. Two days later, we talked again. She loved what I'd written and asked me to put in an email exactly why I'd found writing so difficult. What about it wasn't fun? What did I feel when I sat down to write that made it so hard? It turned out to be an eye-opening exercise. I discovered that my primary de-motivator was fear. I was afraid that what I'd written was awful, that I had no talent whatsoever. And I was afraid I'd put months and months into writing it, only to produce something no one would want to read. I'd been so afraid, I had told almost no one I was writing a book. 

"Classic writer's block," she said. "Just get the story down. This is your first draft, so don't worry about anything but getting the story down. We'll turn it into a book later."

It turned out to be exactly what I needed to hear. I set myself a goal of writing for at least two hours, three days a week. It wasn't long before I was sitting down to write at every opportunity and the words flowed. Suzanne read each chapter and returned only positive feedback, which was hard to take at first. What about all the stuff I was doing wrong? She assured me I would learn this way and that I should just keep doing what I was doing. 

In May 2009, nine months after I started working with her, I finished my first draft. It was almost 500 double-spaced pages and 150,000 words. I figured I'd be ready to publish before Christmas. I knew the manuscript needed some adjustments, but honestly didn't think it would need much.

"Congratulations!" Suzanne emailed when she finished reading the Epilogue. "Now comes the fun part. We get to cut it in half!"


To be continued...

Friday, November 19, 2010

Odds and Ends

Last week Hubby had a bad cold that became bronchitis. Being the tightly knit couple that we are, he shared it with me and I have spent the last week bravely fighting the same damn cold and yucky cough. Ugh. So if this post makes no sense whatsoever or there are missing words or really bad grammar, I blame my fuzzy head and achy body.

First, some rather exciting news about my book... I finally have a title!! It is:

Discovering Me

Tired of hearing "you can't", one woman sets out with a pan of brownies 
and a skinny pink pig to prove that she can - and then some. 

I like it, my family likes it, it received the seal of approval from my editor and, most importantly, it's not a favorite of ten other authors who've already published books, so I think it's a done deal. Yippee! I've also completed the re-write of the Epilogue and sent it off to the copy editor. With these critical pieces in place, the end feels like it may actually be in sight. Now it's on to cover design and getting the manuscript formatted. It won't be done by Christmas but hopefully soon thereafter. I'm trying hard to be patient because I want to do this right. Although I'm self-publishing, I want this book to be as polished and professional as if it had come right from Scribner or Little Brown. 

I did promise a family Thanksgiving recipe, but due to flu fuzziness, I totally zipped right past the part that, since I only make this dish once a year, I have no photos to share. I will pass on the recipe anyway, just in case anyone is eager for a great, yet decadent Sweet Potato Pudding (which isn't really a pudding...) to serve at their Thanksgiving feast.

One last thing - I'm tossing in a few random photos that I took a week ago. It had been a gray day and as so often happens, the sky began to clear just as the sun was low in the sky, leaving our lower field in shadow. All the leaves left on the trees were a dull brown, but the reflection of the sunset turned them flame red. Took my breathe away... Recipe follows pictures.  :-)

As promised...
Sweet Potato Pudding
Serves 8 or more depending on how much food you load your table up with!

You can put this dish together a day or two in advance. Cover and refrigerate. Remove from refrigerator early enough for it to come to room temp before baking as directed.

½ cup raisins
3 15-ounce cans yams, drained and mashed
2/3 cup (10 2/3 tablespoons) melted butter
½ cup (3 ½ ounces) white sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
½ cup evaporated milk
mini marshmallows

1.     Preheat oven to 400 degrees. 
2.     If raisins are dry, soak in hot tap water to plump
3.     Mix rest of ingredients, except the marshmallows. Drain the raisins and mix in.
4.     Pour into greased casserole or soufflĂ© dish and bake, uncovered, until hot – about 30 minutes. If you are cooking other things in the same oven, which often happens at the Holidays, feel free to adjust temp and time accordingly.
5.     Remove from oven and cover top with marshmallows. Return to oven until marshmallows are puffed and slightly browned – about 3-5 minutes.

 Happy Thanksgiving!!!



Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Uncle 'Pot Belly' Billy's Foolproof Pecan Pie

Have you begun to notice how the words quick, easy and foolproof keep popping up in my recipes and titles? Are you beginning to figure out what kind of cook I am? Don't get me wrong - occasionally I like nothing better than making a long grocery list, shopping for unusual ingredients and then hunkering down in my kitchen for hours to prepare something really amazing. But most of the time I want... you got it - quick, easy and foolproof. And this Pecan Pie is all of those. 

Uncle Billy was a spinner of long yarns and the creator of this wonderful pie. So, wherever you are Uncle Billy, we say "Thank you!!"

Uncle 'Pot Belly' Billy's Foolproof Pecan Pie
Serves 6-8

1 cup corn syrup (either light or dark)
½ cup (3 ½ ounces) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 eggs, beaten well
2 cups coarsely chopped pecans

1 9-inch unbaked pie crust  I use the Pillsbury pre-made ones. People often compliment me on my flaky pie crust. I simply say "Thank you". :-)

1.    Preheat oven to 350.
2. Follow package directions for rolling out and lightly flouring pie crust.

2.   In large bowl, whisk together 1st 3 ingredients.  Add eggs and blend well. 

3.  Then add pecans.

4.   Pour mixture into pie crust 

5.  Bake in preheated oven for 50 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

 Tomorrow I'm sharing an old family recipe that gets hauled out only once a year - the third Thursday of November. Which is a good thing since it's incredibly unhealthy! But hey - it's the holidays!!!

Happy Thanksgiving!!!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Quick & Easy Guacamole

This guacamole recipe entails a bit of "cheating" - using store-bought, fresh salsa - but because of that, it takes less than five minutes to throw together.  There are no measurements in this recipe - this one is make-by-taste.

Quick & Easy Guacamole
4 servings per avocado

1 fresh, ripe avocado
1 clove garlic, or to taste, minced fine
Fresh cilantro, minced
Juice of 1/2 lime
Ground cumin, to taste
Fresh, tomato salsa  I use medium heat. Choose whatever heat suits your tastes.
Salt and freshly ground pepper

1. Put avocado into bowl and rough mash with a fork.  I make criss-crosses in the pulp with a sharp knife before scooping it out - it makes it easier to mash.

2. Using a fork or slotted spoon, add some salsa to the mashed avocado. Mix. Add the rest of the ingredients.

 3. Taste, adjust seasonings. Refrigerate 30 minutes to let flavors blend. Before serving, taste and adjust seasonings again if necessary.

A bit blurry... but you get the idea.  :-)

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Hearty Black Bean Soup

I was going to share my recipe for easy, foolproof and awesome guacamole today, but it is so cold and rainy and miserable, that I decided it was a Hearty Black Bean Soup day!  This is a recipe I created by combining the best parts of other recipes I'd tried.  Enjoy!!

Hearty Black Bean Soup
4 servings
Soup freezes beautifully.  I always double!

1 tsp olive oil
1 small red or yellow onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp each ground coriander and ground cumin
1 ¾ cups chicken broth - this is an estimate. Add more or less to make it the consistency you want. I don't measure, I just pour. :-)
1 can diced tomatoes, undrained
2 19-ounce cans black beans, drained and rinsed
¼ cup minced cilantro - or one good handful. I add more because I love the taste of cilantro.

1 pd boneless chicken breast, cut into bite sized pieces, sprinkled with salt and pepper and sautéed in olive oil.

Optional garnishes: sour cream, chopped avocado

1.  Heat oil in large saucepan over medium heat.  Add onion and cook 5 minutes stirring occasionally.
2.  Add garlic, cumin & coriander and cook for one minute.

3.  Add tomatoes.

4.  While onions are cooking, drain and rinse 1 can of the beans and transfer them to the bowl of a small food processor or blender (when doubling the recipe, I use my full-sized food processor).  Add enough of the broth to the processor so that when you puree the beans they become nice and creamy (it doesn’t matter how much as it all gets added back to the soup anyway).   

Add to the soup.   

5.  Drain and rinse the 2nd can and add all the whole beans to the soup.

6.  Add rest of broth (or enough to make the soup the consistency you like).
7.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the chicken and simmer for an additional 5 minutes to heat the chicken through.

8.  Remove from the heat and add the cilantro.  

9.  Stir and ladle into warmed bowls. Top with sour cream and chopped avocado, if desired.

Yes, these last two photos are a bit out of focus. Not sure how it happened, but if you squint just a bit...

Stay warm and have a great weekend!!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

This morning's sunrise - plus a book update

This morning's sunrise wasn't spectacular - just simple and beautiful. This may be one of those "had to be there" scenarios - but I'll try to set the stage as best I can. The newly mown field below the house was white with frost, the air was crisp and crystal clear, yet the lake was almost invisible beneath a layer of fog. And then the sun just peeked over the clouds...

Had to stop there as my camera isn't happy when I shoot directly into the sun...

Now that the sun is up and my day is underway, I thought it was time to give you a quick update on where I am with my hopefully soon-to-be-published book.

A few weeks ago, I sent the manuscript to a copy editor - this is the guy who checks it over for grammar and clarity, then hands it back with all his changes. I'm now in the process of doing ONE MORE read-through (hopefully the last one - I'm getting really sick of myself...) and determining whether I'm okay with the changes (all minor as it turns out) he made. I have recently re-written the epilogue to reflect the changes in our lives this past year and that section is now with my original editor for feedback.

So the process is moving forward - except for one MAJOR hiccup. A title... They say that when the title for your book comes to you, you will know instantly that it's right. leap was taken from "leap and the net will appear" - a quote that I thought fit my No Pudge! journey perfectly. It was my working title from Day One. Then I read an article on self-publishing that said it was "key" your title be unique. I went onto Amazon, searched on "leap" in the book section and... Yikes!!! There are about ten books with "leap" for a title. Ugh. I am now struggling to come up with a new title and, until I decide on one, I can't move forward with cover design and the process is going to come to a grinding stall.

This process has taken far longer than I ever imagined it would. I'm learning that, like anything else in life really, if it's worth doing, it's worth doing right - and doing it right is rarely the shortest route...

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Late Fall

More pictures from the view outside my kitchen window. I simply can't help myself - the colors have been amazing this year and then this storm blew through and the sky was really dark and the clouds were amazing and then the sun...

I have to share.

Early fall is all red and bright orange. Late fall is yellow and gold.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Penne with Chicken and Veggies

Before I start rattling off the wonders of this easy, colorful and, of course, delicious recipe, I have a favor to ask. If you are enjoying the blog and the recipes I'm passing along, would you please share the link ( with a friend? Or two? I would appreciate it, and hopefully, so will they!  Thanks!!

Now, on to the important stuff. Food!

This is a recipe I have perfected over the years. One night when the boys were in high school, I suddenly had three extra male teenage stomachs to fill at dinner. I took the chicken breasts I'd been planning to bake, grabbed the red onion from the salad and a couple of boxes of pasta from the pantry and pulled together Penne with Chicken, Red Onion and Walnuts. It was a huge hit and became a family staple. Once hubby and I were empty-nesters, I was able to add a few more ingredients without garnering editorial comments such as "What's the green stuff??"or "Eewww, anchovies?!". Yes, I said anchovies! But don't worry, they melt right in with the butter and olive oil. No one will ever know they're there, except to comment on the wonderful depth of flavor. I admit I pulled this idea from Giada DeLaurentis' recipe for Farfalle with Broccoli. Thanks Giada!

The other night I added sweet red pepper and spinach to the onions and chicken, but any colorful veggie that strikes your fancy will work. Broccoli florets or green pepper or asparagus or even carrots cut in julienne would all make a wonderful pasta dish. And another wonderful thing? It's a two-pot, one dish meal.  Easy to make, easy to clean up.

Buon Appetito!

Penne with Chicken and Veggies
Serves 4 to 6

1 pound of penne or other short pasta such as farfalle (bow-tie) or rotini 
2 tbs extra virgin olive oil (that's an estimate - I just ring the bottom of the pan a few times)
1 pound boneless chicken breast or tenders, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 tbs butter (again, does NOT need to be precise)
3 garlic cloves, minced 
3-5 anchovy filets (they come in a small, flat can and can usually be found with the canned tuna)
Sprinkle of crushed red pepper flakes, to taste
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 medium to large red onion, sliced thin
1 medium to large sweet red pepper, sliced thin
1 package baby spinach (doesn't really matter what size it is)
Freshly grated parmesan or romano cheese, to taste

1. Ring a large saute pan (mine is 14 1/2 inches in diameter) with enough olive oil to coat the bottom and heat over medium heat until oil is shimmering. Salt and pepper the chicken cubes, then add to the hot pan. Cook, turning once (the chicken is ready to turn when it no longer sticks to the pan), until browned and cooked through. Remove from pan and keep warm until ready to use. 

Note: if you don't have a large, teflon-coated saute pan, go buy one. I got mine at Sam's Club and use it all the time.

2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat.
3. While water is coming to a boil, prep veggies.

4. Over medium-low heat, once again ring pan with olive oil and add butter. When the butter is sizzling, add the garlic, anchovies and red pepper flakes. Cook for five minutes, stirring occasionally (this is when the anchovy will do it's disappearing act!). Be careful not to burn either the butter or the garlic.
5. Add the red onion and red pepper to the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until veggies soften.

6. While veggies are cooking, add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until just al dente. Reserve a cup or so of the cooking water, then drain the pasta. Another Note: if using broccoli florets, toss them in with the pasta for 2 minutes, then remove with a slotted spoon and add to the saute pan.
7. Add spinach to the saute pan with the other veggies (It will look like a whole lot, but believe me, it will cook down to nothing!). Stir until spinach starts to wilt.

8. Add chicken back to pan. Drizzle with olive oil and just enough of the reserved pasta water to moisten.

9. Add the cooked pasta and a healthy grating of parmesan or romano to the pan. Stir until everything is hot. Serve!