Cooking Around the World Fijian Style

So this week we visited Fiji. When I was in 5th grade, I took a trip with my family to the islands and that trip is still one of my favorites. Fiji wasn’t so developed then and the hotels were few and far between—to get to where we stayed we flew from San Francisco to Sydney, Sydney back to Fiji, then drove across the island to the local airport where we caught a small plane to Taveuni. Once on Taveuni we took a van to the other side of the island where we caught a boat to the island we were staying at. It was an adventure, especially when Cyclone Gavin decided to make an appearance.

Here are some styling pics from the 80s:

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Our hut

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Visiting the local school (admit it, you dig my 80s hair and shorts)

 

 

 

 

Cyclone Gavin doing its best to blow us away

Cyclone Gavin doing its best to blow us away

Anyway, Liam picked Fiji on his own and selected Ginger Fish to make. The dish is easy (not as easy as Seswaa, but still easy) and fairly healthy. We had it with snapper and next time we’d probably pick a different (less boney) fish and serve in the summer since it’s a pretty light dish.

First we marinated 3 lbs of fish in the juice of one lemon for about an hour. While that was marinating, Liam made the cooking sauce which consisted of soy sauce, oil, garlic, ginger, white wine, and sugar. You can find the exact recipe on Tastebook.

After the fish marinated, he rubbed it with a little oil, put it on a cookie tray (one with deeper sides), and poured the cooking sauce over it. When it was ready to go in the over, it looked like this:
GF 1

We cooked it at 350 degrees for about 35 minutes (I think this would vary depending on the thickness of the fish. Our snapper fillets were quite thin). It smelled amazing while it was cooking, very ginger-y.

We served it with rice and salad (staples in our house). Here’s mine plated with a glass of wine (also a staple) and Liam looking very serious with his dinner.

Would go really well with a white wine too

Would go really well with a white wine too

That's not beer, if you were wondering

That’s not beer, if you were wondering

All in all, yet another good recipe. Not sure where we will head to next week, he was thinking he’d go back to Asia and maybe to Afghanistan, but we’ll see!

Happy cooking/eating.

Seswaa – Yes!

This week’s meal from Liam’s Cooking Around the World journey, hails from Botswana and is called Seswaa. It is hands down one of the easiest, yummiest, beef dishes we’ve had in LONG time!

 Basically we used about 3.5lbs of beef (served 6 but we also had leftovers), two yellow onions, salt, pepper, and two bay leaves. We cut the meat into big chunks (like 2 inches by 2 inches) and browned them in a Dutch oven. Then, we removed it from the heat, threw in the onion (cut into large chunks too), added salt, pepper, bay leaves, and enough water to cover it all and then stuck the whole thing in the oven at 400 degrees.

After about an hour and forty-five minutes, we removed it from the oven and put it back on the stove to boil off the rest of the water. Here it is, boiling away.

boiling seswaa

When most of the water was boiled off, we used a potato masher to mash up the meat as the last of the water evaporated, making it look like this (traditionally, the meat is supposed to be beaten, but we improvised):

 mashed seswaa 

We also made creamy polenta (with a little bit of cheese) to go with it all. We read that, traditionally, it’s served with a corn meal dish called pap, but that polenta was an acceptable substitute (we also had a salad to add some greens to our diet). Here’s him with my food plated:

 my seswaa 

And here’s his food plated:

Liam Seswaa 

It was big hit in the house with most people going back for seconds. If you want something easy and delicious, I would DEFINITELY try this!

Open Book Blog Hop’s Favorite Holiday Songs!

OBBH

On Open Book Blog Hop this week we’re talking Christmas Songs!! I love Christmas music, I really do. Usually my younger son and I start playing it the day after Thanksgiving (I think part of the reason we like it so much is because we don’t start playing it until after Tday).

I grew up in California and I’m a California girl through and through (though, yes, parts of my heart are with the Northeast). I also grew up in the seventies and the era of John Denver. When my brother and I were little, my parents bought the John Denver and the Muppets Christmas album. I’m pretty sure we listened to it non-stop during the Christmas season. And I have to admit, it’s still one of my favorites (though we have streaming version now…a little different than the tape we played over and over).

There are a lot of fun songs on the album, but one of my favorites was always this one: “Little Saint Nick.”

So as I’ve gotten older (and maybe wiser), I realized that one of the reasons I think I liked this song so much is because it’s a California Christmas carol…the original is by the Beach Boys and really, what gets more California than the Beach Boys. Here’s their version.

I don’t think you really can take the California out of the girl—I think it’s just something we’re born with.

Check out other blogs on the Open Book Blog Hop to hear some more holiday music including Kelly Williams and her Blue Honor Blog (Seriously, she has recipes and blogs about dogs too!) or, for a little heartwarming writing, check out Traci Wooden Carlisle.

What are some of your favorites holiday songs?

Let’s Talk About Sex (and no, not the Salt-n-Pepa song)

OBBH

 

Let’s talk about Sex. I’ll admit, I have an uneasy relationship with it. In my books that is. I have this little voice inside my head, one that sounds suspiciously like the love child of an immature literary snob and a puritan, that tells me sex in books is cheap, maybe even tawdry, and definitely not good literature.

But even as I recognize and hear this voice, I also know it’s misguided, uninformed, and frankly, unrealistic. Yes, there are bad romance novels out there, just as there are bad science fiction or high literature or YA novels. There are books in all genres that are superficial, silly, and just hard to read. But it isn’t the sex that makes romance novels bad—no, the blame for a bad romance, for any bad book, falls squarely on the shoulders of bad writing or bad plotting. Of course, I understand that not everyone likes reading books with sex in them but there’s a difference between having a preference and dismissing an entire genre because it has sexual content. Falling into the trap that sex=cheap, bad, or unworthy I think says more about a reader than the book.

I recently read an article by a romance writer (forgive me but I can’t remember who) who responded to another author’s critique of the genre, a genre he admittedly never read, by simply saying “Grow up.” I love this. I love this for so many reasons not the least of which is because it states what we all know to be true, that sex is a part of life and to turn away from it, or deny its value, can seem childish. Most adults are having it, have had it, or want to have it. It’s a part of how we are made and it’s something that isn’t inherently good or bad—it is whatever the participants make of it. As a writer, to ignore this aspect of an adult relationship would feel shallow at best and just wrong at worst.

And so I try to silence that love child in my own head, the one that tries to shame me for writing sex in some of my stories, and instead I think about what it is I want to teach my two boys (one a teenager and one an almost-teenager). I don’t want them to turn away from or feel ashamed about sex and I really don’t want them to fall into the sex=cheap/bad trap. I want them to know it’s a healthy part of life and I want them to make smart choices when it comes time for them to cross that bridge.

It’s unfortunate that in so many ways society, and some influential people, would rather make sex degrading, shameful, illicit, or something unworthy of our attention. Thankfully, as part of the romance writers’ community, these aren’t my people and I couldn’t be happier about that.

You can follow the blog hop and see what other folks are saying on this endlessly entertaining topic by going here. My fellow romance writer Tracy Krimmer also has an interesting dialogue going on over at her site and if you’re looking for some lighthearted romance to warm you up this holiday season, be sure to check her out!

 

 

 

Quality vs Quantity: This is not what you think

OBBH

In addition to the “Cooking Around the World” blogs I’ve been posting, I’ve joined a group of writers called the Open Book Blog Hop – Writers Writing on Everything. I love this blog hop because the topics, like me and most of you readers, are very diverse. This week it’s “Quality vs Quantity: when it comes to things in life you value most, why do you prefer and why?” and next week it’s sex. Yes, as you can imagine, I’m kind of interested to hear what will come out of my mouth—and on to the paper—next week.

As part of the blog hop, we like to introduce readers to new/other authors, so if you’re interested in meeting a fellow romance author—and one in the throes of National Write a Novel Month—you should pop over and meet Tracy Kimmer.

So now, on to the topic at hand. Ambiguity is one of the things I like about writing fiction—I suppose the same could be said for some non-fiction these days but I think fiction gives me the opportunity to play with ambiguity in a way that sometimes reality doesn’t. And really, what is more ambiguous than the terms “Quality” and “Quantity”? I know, you’re probably thinking there are a lot of things more ambiguous than age old question of quality vs quantity and while I can’t really argue the point (or I could, but probably not effectively) I do think that question is significantly more ambiguous—and interesting—than we give it credit for. Because though ambiguity can be fun in fiction, real life has its fair share too.

For example, what do I value most in life? Family is the first thing that comes to mind. But do I appreciate quality more than quantity? I don’t know. My instinct is to say quality, but we moved back to California in order to be closer to more family—we had none in Seattle (that were blood related) and we have a fair bit here in Northern California. So maybe quantity wins? But really, what is quantity when it comes to family if you don’t have quality too? And while there are some members of the family I’m really close to and the quality of our relationship is great, others not so much. Not that the relationship is bad by any means, it’s just there because we’re family and we have a shared history and shared roots and we enjoy each others company even if we don’t always seek each other out.

Hhmm…and that begs the question of just what makes a relationship a quality relationship? Is it the quality of the persons involved? Certainly that’s part of it, but is it everything? Like all families, we’re filled with people and people are inherently flawed. And let’s be honest, some probably more so than others (I’m not excluding myself from that category). But does that make them (or me) any less important or cherished? I don’t really think so. I may value a relationship with someone, or them me, even if we believe (or in our own ego know) the other is deeply flawed. And so I’d argue that it isn’t always the quality of the person that determines the quality of a relationship—what does determine the quality of a relationship I can’t really say and I’d really only suggest that it is different for each person and for each relationship. Which brings me back to why fiction is so fun to write (because we get to explore all that psychology even if it isn’t present in our own reality), and why I’m glad I joined this blog hop (because really, there is very little a philosophy major likes more than waxing poetic on ambiguity!).

And so I’ll conclude by acknowledging that my philosophy professors would be very proud of me today. I have left you with more questions than answers but maybe also just a little something to ponder—when it comes to family what do you think about quality vs quantity?

If you want to check out some of the other authors on the blog hop (or join in) check us out here!

Rendang? Rendo!

We visited Indonesia via our kitchen this week and Liam picked Beef Rendang, a beef curry cooked in spices and coconut milk. Since it has to cook for three hours, he prepared the spice paste and coconut milk mix the night before and I then seared the meat in the spice paste he’d made, added the milk mix, and put the whole thing in the oven while he was at school the next day. We pulled it out three hours later and the meat was fall apart yummy and rich. Really rich.

I’m not a big fan of coconut, but that flavor wasn’t too strong in this recipe. I should have known though that the coconut flavor would have a hard time holding its own with the strength of the other spices added which included chilies, tamarind, star anise, cinnamon, cloves, and ginger to name a few. At the end of the day, I think it added a depth of flavor without being overwhelming.

Here it is on the table, it doesn’t look as good here as it does in real life—it’s actually a rich dark brown that reminds you of cold nights and comfort food. The rice was a great addition—it was made with coconut milk as well and that recipe also included lime, salt, and a little bit of sugar (which I have never added to a rice dish that wasn’t a dessert).

rendang

Here is Liam tasting the fruits of his labor (with grandma behind him).

yummy rendang

All in all, while we liked the subtly of the dish, it was way richer than we thought it would be—probably due to the cut of meat we used (short ribs) than the recipe itself. Liam decided he was glad he tried it, but he probably wouldn’t make it again, at least not exactly the same way.

Next week we’ll be visiting Sweden and we’ll be giving dinners a rest and trying a breakfast. He’s the best pancake maker I know so we’re all looking forward to whatever lands on our table—it could open up a whole new world of breakfast options!

Here’s to cooking around the world…

thumbs up rendang

Cooking Around the World

A few months ago, my youngest son decided he wanted to cook food from around the world. If you follow me on Facebook, you would have seen pictures of the Chinese dumpling soup he made as well as the Turkish pizza and Irish lamb stew. Well, I’ve moved my pictures and comments to my blog as it looks like this cooking thing will be an ongoing adventure and I thought it would be more fun here where I can add some of the backstory, our experience, and of course, the recipes. So, welcome to the first Cooking Around the World blog post – our first stop is Ecuador.

My mom picked Ecuador and Liam found a recipe for Hornado, a slow roasted pork dish with potatoes. The recipe we used came from a site called Laylita and can be found here. There are a lot of recipes on her site that sound amazing so don’t be surprised if you see it crop up again the future.

The pork has to be stuffed with garlic, cumin, salt and pepper and marinated for a day or so in beer….if you don’t like meat, don’t read any further as there will be pictures with big slabs of meat as the centerpiece. Here is the meat-post prep, just before it went into the beer:

liam raw

And another….

Liam face

We marinated it for two days then cooked it for close to seven hours. Here is the outcome:

cooked

Liam isn’t sure

hmmm

But it looks pretty on the table

on the table

All in all, it got the thumbs up from us and while the pork was good, the potatoes were amazing. If we cooked it again (and I think we will), we’d probably use a little less butter but that is really the only thing we might play with.

We are on to Indonesia next week…I have no idea what he recipes he will find or what’s in store for us but at the very least, we’re having fun cooking together!

 

 

 

Confessions of 41 Year Old Virgin

*Reprinted from a guest blog I wrote for Unabridged Andra*

No, not that kind of virgin. That would be pretty remarkable since I have two kids…I’m spiritual and all, but two virgin births would be a bit much to digest. So just what kind of virgin am I? I’m an RWA virgin. Yes, I’ve been writing romantic suspense novels for nearly ten years (published for three) and I’ve never been to an RWA conference.

But that’s changing now and by the time you read this, I will no longer hold that status. As I write, I’m on a train into New York City to attend a few events….well, I guess I’m really just getting to first base, maybe second, as I’m not attending the entire conference, but I’m well on my way to being a fallen (and fulfilled) romance writer. So why now? Was New York City just too attractive to resist? Or maybe it was the city’s unique personality that drew me?

I’ll admit, it was something a bit more selfish than that. One of my books, “What Echoes Render” (the book released just prior to “The Frailty of Things”) is a finalist in the Daphne Du Maurier Excellence in Mystery and Suspense contest. What other reason to take the jump than having someone tell you they like you? (Did that sound needy?) Anyway, I’ll be enjoying the Death by Chocolate reception and awards ceremony, hosted by the Kiss of Death Chapter, as well as meeting a few readers and fellow authors.

Like a good date, I’m preparing (and you know what they say, preparation is 90% of the battle, not that I view this as war or anything). I’ve had my nails done, picked out a cute dress, and am bringing a close friend from college as a wingman, or woman, as the case may be. But also like a date, I have to admit, I’m nervous. I’m sure you’ve all heard how introverted many writers are and I’m no different. I’m pretty good at talking with people one on one (my preference) and in small groups. In fact I ADORE hosting and attending small dinner parties and get togethers. But put me in a room with hundreds of people and well, does the term wallflower ring a bell? Which doesn’t necessarily make a good first date. And so I’m nervous.

Will there be those awkward silences and pauses where, instead of sitting across the table from someone wondering what to say, I will just be wandering aimlessly around the conference? Will I find (and keep) the balance between just enough liquid courage to have fun and the kind of overindulgence that happens at conferences (and on dates) that might leave me taking the mental walk of shame the next day, wondering why I said some of the things I said or if I offended anyone? Or maybe I can just be the one to ask all the questions of others—I’m good at that—and never reveal anything of who I am. Does anyone know what the balance is between learning and sharing in order to create a good foundation for a relationship?

I’ve been married almost seventeen years, it’s been a long time since I’ve had to think about these early-relationship kinds of things.

But truth be told, a good relationship is what I’m looking for. Whether you read or write erotica to Christian romance (or like me, write mysteries with a bit of romance in them), the romance writers community is one of the most supportive, fun, and engaged group of writers I’ve floated around the periphery of. Like eyeing that person across the room for an entire party and then finally getting the nerve to go talk to them….yep, that’s me for the next few days.

So I’ll let you know how it goes. I’m sure I’ll have posted pictures and updates on my Facebook feed if you want to see for yourself how it went (or if you just want to see the cute dress I wore ). But this date is looking good and despite my nerves, I have my hopes up—after all, I already know we have a lot in common.

***UPDATE***

So I had a great time during my short intro to the RWA National Conference – maybe it was like that dating agency “It’s just Lunch.” But I had dinner…with my publisher and some wonderful Booktrope authors and ladies of the Long Island RWA chapter.

BT Diiner

Here’s me and my wing-woman at the reception. I didn’t win, but was so glad I went.

Daphne 2015

And I even got to meet one of my favorite readers!

SKD at RWA

So there it is, the date worked out well. Well enough to make a second date for San Diego next year!

The Town that Built Windsor

For the past two weeks I missed posting about places I love to travel to (or would love to travel to) because they inspire wonder. But I’m back! And I’m back with vengeance since I’m currently staying in Chatham, NY which is the town that inspired Windsor, NY where four of my five book as set (and why yes, it does follow nicely with my alphabet theme!).

I’ll be posting pictures over the next few weeks of actual places that inspired fictional places, but I thought I would write a little about the area first. The first people in the Hudson Valley were, to my understanding, Mohican Native Americans. In the 1600s, the Dutch began settling in the area followed by Quakers and folks from (New) England. It became a county of the state of New York in 1786, after the revolutionary war. It’s pretty small now (about 4500 people) but back in the day, it was a major railroad line. Here’s a picture of the rail crossroads and the rail station which still stands today.

 Old Chatham rail station

The station is now a bank (and is one of my favorite buildings in town) and while the town no longer has passenger service, there are still a number of trains that pass through here everyday.

Here’s another old picture of Chatham looking North up Main Street.

Chatham Ny Main Street 

The clock tower (on the right) is still there as are most of the buildings. Along the right side of the street is where I placed Julie’s quilt shop, the health food store, and further up (out of sight in the picture) Megan’s ice cream store and the police station. On the left is Frank’s.

So just a little teaser of what’s to come over the next several weeks. Remember my books are fictional even if I’m inspired by this real life place!

 

Thursday Round Up

Here’s my round up of interesting items I came across this week…hope you enjoy!

Science:

It’s crazy what we don’t know until we do. And then sometimes we think we know and we don’t. How about a new body part?

Nature:

On Monday I posted a blog about my travels in Bayou Teche and I talked about how much I like the landscape in the South—I really do think it’s some of the most beautiful in the country. The next day, an article on the Neversink Cave in Alabama popped up on feed. In addition to my love of swamps and bayous, I’m also a little obsessed with caves—the Son Doong cave in Vietnam is in the top five of my bucket list. I’m not sure if I’ll make it to Vietnam or back to the South first, but now I have one more place to visit.

Humor/lifestyle

Back in April, I went to Vegas with some girlfriends and saw Amy Schummer live. Yes, I was living under a rock and didn’t know who she was until my much more with it friend told me all about her. Since then, my husband and I have watched most, if not all, of her shows. I love her. I love her honesty and I love that she goes places most people don’t in a way that is real and humorous. A few weeks after I saw her live, a colleague wrote this article about mommy-hood and Amy Schummer…I hadn’t thought of things quite like Jordan, but after reading this, I definitely agree. Now if someone could just convince Amy that Jordan and I should be her new best friends.

History:

Francis Perkins was the first woman cabinet member in US history. She was also a graduate of my alma mater, Mount Holyoke. She’s being considered as one of the potential new faces of the $10 bill. I think it’s about time we started honoring some of the extraordinary women the US has been lucky enough to call their own and while I’ll be happy to just see a woman on the bill, I’d love to see Ms. Perkins’ image.

Literature

And since we’re talking about new faces on money, did you hear the announcement made recently by the Bank of England? Jane Austen will be the new face of the £10 note. Think what you may about her writing, but there’s no denying her influence on literature.