December 15, 2013

Gearing up for the holiday!

      With only one gift still in the hands of the USPS, but tracking showing it is close by, I am shopped and wrapped and ready for the holiday. We've had plenty of snow and ice here, right outside of Philadelphia, and I am loving online shopping.
      I made lots of handmade gifts this year, scarves and hats and socks and jewelry. I will post a few of those pictures once the gifts are given. In the meantime I'm looking forward to getting my tatting shuttle out just for the love of tatting and I have at least two books I want to read before I begin writing my next book in the coming new year. Book six will begin in the present day, not the usual kind of thing I write, and travel back to a simpler time. I'm really eager to get started writing again, but I must say that I have enjoyed the break I have taken for December.
      My serenity kitchen is working wonderfully! I have turned out cookies and puddings and hearty soups and of course plenty of artisan bread. I have not once stood cooking in my kitchen swearing like a sailor since I made the changes. With so much baking time I decided to treat myself to some new aprons. I found this great tutorial for Japanese aprons and had to make a couple. I love them! They not only save the front of your clothes, they save your behind. Alas, I admit I am sometimes guilty of putting my floury hands on my hips or backside. This apron covers it all, and without those damn ties that always seem to come undone on me. These slip over your head. I made two of them, so I can have a fresh one while the other is in the wash. At the end of this post I will put up the link in case you want to make your own.

 Here are a few pictures from holidays past...

Last Christmas morning at my house with grandchildren:

Love Park Philadelphia 2012:


My grandson Michael:

Grandson Thomas makes a new friend:

Grandpa and Michael turn it up to eleven:






Here is a picture of some of the goodies I have made.
Here's the link for the apron pattern:
Thanks for visiting!

November 26, 2013

It Could Be Worse - Being Thankful

      Again I am stealing... er um... borrowing, a title from one of my husband's songs, not for a book today, but for my blog posting. I have been doing some organizing in my tiny kitchen and some browsing online for ideas.
     First, my kitchen is small. If I had several thousand dollars to spare I would take out the wall to the breakfast/dining room and make it big, but since I can't I have adapted the new attitude. I'm calling it the Serenity Kitchen. Based on the Serenity Prayer I am trying to accept the things I cannot change... etc. I am focusing on the things that make my kitchen aggravating. Things like the fact that I buy a new trash can twice a year. Evidently the Rubber Maid and I don't see eye to eye. If the can has a spring lid I break the springs. If you are supposed to lift the lid mine falls into the can. So I have ordered a really good metal trash can. I did tons of research and I'm actually excited about a new trashcan. I also have no workspace. Yes, I have a bunch of stuff on my counters. I use all of it regularly and my counter is covered in a creative finish and not marble or butcher block or any other work friendly surface. This year Santa gets to bring me a small, but needed, butcher block work table. I want to bake more bread, roll out more pie crusts and bake more cookies. I have also moved all the heavy, dangerous, constantly-falling-from-high-cabinet cans down and sorted and tossed bunches of stuff. I hope it helps. When I put up the spice jars it helped a lot, but not enough. Here's a few pictures:

      The watermelon basket on the left holds seasoning packets. The basket on the lower shelf has spices that wouldn't fit underneath the cabinets:
All of my baking supplies are in the breakfast room hutch:
The counters:

      Alright I don't use everything... but close! I don't use the wooden tulips, except to make me happy. I do use the Mrs. Tea, the paper towels, the lamps, the red trashcan for veggie scraps that go into my composter, and the food processer and tools. The net basket has the butter dish and bowls of cookies and snacks. I can set them all aside easily that way and it keeps out gnats and tiny fingers.
      While surfing the web for kitchen ideas I found several things that made me see my tiny kitchen from a different perspective. Yeah, it's small, but it's mine and filled with things I do love and it's adorable. Since you have come to visit via my blog, I am going to share a couple of postings from others that have made me thankful. I hope they make you feel thankful about your kitchen, and your home, as well as give you a good laugh! Remember, it could be worse!
Have a great Thanksgiving!
~ Nanette
Feel better about your home...
I found this in 2002 when I had a very bad neighbor. It's still worth a look, make sure you click on the links for the pictures!

November 16, 2013

It's always a good time for pie!

Hello Dear Readers!

      Thanks again for visiting! It's great to see that so many are reading and following this blog! I have had a very busy week. The love of my life had a birthday, I thought I had broken a rib, I am booked for a book signing Thanksgiving week and I'm working on my next novel! No folks, I cannot be stopped!
      It was a very nice birthday for my husband. He's tough to shop for, but I think I did okay and we went out an had a very nice dinner and a great weekend! I baked his favorite, lemon meringue pie, and we ate it right up! He's turned 61 this year and since I'm having a few head trips over turning 60 myself he's been sweet and encouraging.

The pie!

      Although I've made bunches of pies in the past it was especially interesting making this one because my head is in such a pie place of sorts. The novel I am writing now, that hopefully will be out in February, Piecrust Promise, is about the 1889 Oklahoma Land Rush and the heroine is a pie maker. The pie turned out delicious and I think the book will be too!
      I certainly feel as if I'm juggling these days. I have a book signing on November 26th for Ill Repute, the book about the Yukon Gold Rush, several birthdays and of course the holidays. It's wonderful. I love being busy and one nice thing about getting older is that I feel less guilty about making choices to enjoy the things that are more important to me and passing up the others.
      Of course life is always filled with those little reminders and last week I pulled something in my chest. This meant getting practically no sleep for seven nights and yesterday I decided I had had enough and visited the doctor. Bottom line was that the rib was not broken, as I had begun to fear, but that it was a muscle strain. A night on a muscle relaxer has helped greatly.
      Now that I feel a bit caught up I will post again, soon!  Thanks so much for reading!


November 7, 2013

Book Signing!

If you live in Pennsylvania, or will be visiting for Thanksgiving please come out!

November 4, 2013

Saving no daylight

      It's dark. It's been dark for several hours now, this first day of the time change. One hour makes such a huge difference. When I finished writing this afternoon it felt like the middle of the night. Interesting. This will be the first winter I'll be writing novels as a professional. I find myself wondering if the winter will pass as quickly as the summer did.
      When my first novel was published it certainly changed my life. I suspected it would, but though it did change in ways I had anticipated, it also changed in ways I never would have imagined. Now I do love to write but before it was always a guilty pleasure. When I was published that all changed. Now other things have become guilty pleasures and writing is a priority. That certainly required an attitude adjustment. Now when I sit down to write I feel free to take the time I need to pour out a story. It still feels naughty but I am very much allowed now.
      Lately I have been in that in-between space. I have a book finished that will be coming out in just a couple of weeks. It is in final editing and basically it is finished and I am ready to move on. During the heavy editing I need to keep my mind on that story and be ready for changes or adjustments. I'm learning that it's a challenge to do that while trying to focus on the next story. At this point I can now move onto the next adventure. Goodbye to the Klondike Gold Rush and hello to the Land Rush of 1889!
      I love writing! I love the research, the outlines, the promise and the turns that sometimes a book takes when the characters come to life in my imagination. But most of all I love it when I can write it all down and someone else takes that journey as well. When someone talks to me about an event or character in my book and sees them the way I do, real and alive, that's just about as good as it gets. It's not about praise or success or ego. It's about understanding. When someone tells me they couldn't put the book down it means they get it. That's pretty damn nice.

~ Nanette

October 30, 2013

Bread... the final results

      Before I move on from baking the five minute bread I wanted to take a moment to put down my overall thoughts. Now that it's becoming routine the way I make this bread I want to describe how it works day-to-day.
      I make up one bucket of bread by mixing flour, water, salt and yeast. That's it. It takes about ten or fifteen minutes, including washing up, getting out and putting away ingredients. Three days later I made another batch in another container. That's it for making the dough. Seriously.
      Every day at about 4 P.M. I flour my hands and bread board and take out about 1/4 of the dough and shape it quickly into a loaf. Two minutes. No kneading or rolling, just shape gently.
      At  about 5:15 I preheat my oven and slash the bread. At 5:30ish I put the bread in the oven and it takes about 20 minutes to bake. I have a beautiful loaf of fresh bread for dinner. That's it. No kneading, no flour everywhere, no hours of waiting for dough to rise.
      If you don't get home from work until later you can cut down the time you let the dough rest before baking to about 30 minutes. It's that easy and I would think rather foolproof.

      Good luck with your own experiments, and as always all comments here or in my email are very welcome. Thanks again for following my journey and enjoy your dinner!


October 29, 2013

Taking a Moment for Bread

      While working on my next book, which I hope to have out in late winter of 2014, I am taking a break for bread. The next book is about a woman in the great Oklahoma Land Rush of 1889. I  love to use the homemaking skills I have learned over my lifetime to give my heroines special skills. In Stavewood, Rebecca sure loves to knit. The women in the rest of the saga have their own skills. In Sweet New England, Taffy Jamison has her quilting to ease her mind. In Ill Repute, Alice makes a lovely bonnet and has other skills as well, but she is unusual. In the book I am writing now, Corrine is a pie maker.
      Since I become so immersed in my books, if I write about food I'm just dying to bake when I walk away from the keyboard. The experiment of the Five-Minute Artisan bread is perfect!

      It has been two days with no fresh bread in the oven and I've missed it terribly. After a rather tasty split pea and ham in the crockpot and no fresh bread I am good and ready for another loaf. The buckets I ordered arrived and they are perfect! They fit into the refrigerator well, and although I thought they were a bit big I was plainly wrong. This picture was taken before the dough had completely risen to nearly the top. The attractive piece of painter's tape on the lid is my addition, it has a date on it. I knew that the yeast I had used in the first batch was a bit outdated but this fresh yeast is really busy! Now I wonder if the big bowl I had used originally would have been big enough.

      My plan is to start a second batch in the other tub tomorrow and have ripened bread dough available almost all the time. It's a good time for this experiment, I think, because if I have too much bread a nice loaf of artisan bread would be perfect to bring to those upcoming holiday gatherings or for hungry grandsons.
      If you look up on the empty tub you can see the dough mixer I got as well. I thought I was being frivolous ordering it with the tubs. Nope. It mixed the dough up so easily I was amazed. Tonight: pasta with a nice sauce and fresh bread!

Thanks for visiting! Please feel free to post your own bread adventures!

October Observations

      Fall has certainly arrived and the weather seems to be hanging in a lovely balance. My rosebushes continue to bloom, as are other flowers in the yard. I find the mix between the pinks of spring and summer and the earthy tones of autumn often make me thoughtful.
      I have brought in nearly all of my summer things now. The lawn chairs are tucked away in the garage and the pumps from all the fountains have been gathered. When I put them away I was already making a promise to myself that spring would arrive next year and my pretty things would all be there waiting to be pulled out into the sunlight.
      I feel more thoughtful than ever this year, it seems. It's no mystery why. This fall I will reach the landmark of being sixty years old. I have always had thoughts about growing old and the passing of time. Partly, I think, because my grandmother made it seem wonderful. I love the east coast and its weather because it so clearly marks the years. I miss things about my childhood home in southern California, the weather, or lack thereof, is not one of them. I like to know that I cannot stop the sand running through the hourglass, and I am reminded by the changing seasons.
      Now, part of me is embracing being older. It's easy I suppose because my life is good, far better than it was in my childhood. I have battled for that and protect it fiercely. I've earned it and I treasure it. I've cultivated a good marriage, worked hard to make a comfortable home and struggled to learn the skills and tolerances I needed to get those and many other things. I'm still at it.
      On the other hand, however, it makes knowing that one day it will fade away even harder. So, I have tried to learn from others. I see my friends that are also growing older, or are far ahead of me in the emptying of the hourglass, and I see which ones are happy. Some are living the fullest lives they can, and some are letting it all slip away, or worse are embittered by growing older. I think that life is a gift. Each grain of sand is given to be used wisely and can easily be taken away. I have consciously decided that I will not lie down whenever my sands run out and say I did not live, that I let any of it slip away. No matter what responsibilities life brings I have always made sure that when all needs are met I wrung every bit of joy I could out of what time was left in each day.
      The story of two bios come clearly to mind. One story is of actress Carolyn Jones. Most people likely know her as Morticia Addams from the original Addams Family TV series. It was a role she came to hate. She loathed people remembering her as a comedy actress. She wanted to be known as a serious actress and spent her last years bitter with regrets. She passed away at 53. The other actress is Barbara Eden. Eden so greatly embraced and appreciated her role as Jeannie in the show I Dream of Jeannie that at 82 she still gets into her Jeannie costume with a broad smile on her face. She has always held that her dreams of being a famous actress were completely fulfilled. She has great appreciation. They are two women with two minds. I'm saying right now, even at sixty I won't get into a Jeannie costume, but I want that spirit all the rest of my days.
      My young cat, Secret has found something at the window completely fascinating. I suspect it's another squirrel preparing for winter. We named her that because she never revealed her real name. Any pet I've ever had seemed to lend themselves quickly to an appropriate thing to be called. Miss Secret never has. She is a feral rescue with the scars of a hard kittenhood. Since she would not give up her name, then Secret it is.

Thank you for reading. Please feel free to comment any time!

October 28, 2013

One good man

      I am often asked by my readers, "Do you know that man you wrote about in your book?". I write historical romance so of course the heroes in my books are always tasty. I try for that nice, romantic ideal women look for in a man. First those elusive things, like someone who always listens or takes note of what you enjoy. And of course that they are respectful, attentive and always appreciative lovers. (One of the reasons I like to keep my love scenes more love than scene.) But, I also like my heroes to be men, real men. Real men can be forgetful and distracted and enjoy doing things women don't always appreciate and understand. They get dirty, in sexy ways of course, and their approach to everything in life is more physical. Liberation is fine but men and women are undeniably different and I love writing about a time when romance was not free love. About a time when sex was less open and seasoned with a bit of naughtiness.
      Today I am not writing about bare tanned shoulders and well-to-do landowners. Today I am going to write about my man. The man I really do know. Like a woman, a man can have a million facets, and so does mine. He is intelligent, creative, and imaginative and he possesses the best sense of humor of any person I know. For me he's just about perfect. Is he the man in the books? No, he is not. When I told him that a reader asked if she might meet him one time after talking in length about how delicious Timothy Elgerson was in my book Stavewood, my husband's response was, "No good will come of this." I think he's wonderful, he thinks he is who he is.
      We have been married since 1980, and would have been longer, I think, had we met earlier. Even when he drives me crazy, and yes, he does, he is my best friend and a wonderful partner. When I am asked if there is a secret to a long marriage those are the things I think are most important. You cannot last for years if you cannot be best friends to one another. Best friends are partners and so are good mates. They never talk with malice about one another behind each other's back. Never! They handle life as a team and balance each other out when one or the other falters. Like real friends. A real friend listens when you're going nuts and then tells you when you begin to wallow and helps you back onto your feet. They never pretend to support you, they do. Of course an aspect in that ideal partnership is that there is enough faith that when your mate tells you that you're wallowing you have enough respect for them and yourself to listen and stand up for yourself.

      Gibran said about marriage:

                                         "And stand together, yet not too near together
                                         For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
                                         And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each
                                         other's shadow."
        I always thought that covered it well. So today I am sharing a few pictures of my dear Patrick. He's the real man that fires my imagination and helps me define what makes a great hero, as well as an equally appreciative heroine.  
    Circa 1970 - Just my type!

I know I am crazy about a sharp dressed man!

My man is now a grandfather. He's good it at. After all he was a wonderful father.

When the picture was grey, but we were not.

I love a man who can dance!

And who loves music!

And it of course it's wonderful when you find one another again and again over time.

Thank you for joining my little journey...

October 25, 2013

Why it's Five Minute Bread (Part Four)

It's is the last day of trying different methods of baking the five minute bread with batch one. Tonight I made the bread in loaf pans. Again the bread came out amazing, even more delicious and I broke down and ordered the 6 qt. tubs from Amazon. I will be keeping dough in my refrigerator from now on.

Here's pictures of the loaves before I give my overview:

     My overall opinion of the Five Minute Artisan Bread is that the five minutes not only refers to the time it takes to make bread from this dough but that five minutes is about how long it lasts. This bread is wonderful! It is easy to make. Mix together the ingredients of flour, water, salt and yeast with a spoon and put the mixture in the refrigerator. About an hour or so before you want bread pull out a glob, shape it a bit and let it sit around for about 40 minutes. Bake it for about 20 minutes and then try not to eat only bread for dinner every night. The book that tells you how to do it all and has the recipe for this and other types of breads is worth every penny. I will be making up another batch tomorrow, but I'm going to take a break so that the dough can 'ripen' a bit. The bread was much better the second and third day. When I get the buckets I will stagger batches so I always have dough and it has sat for a day or two.
     Thanks to everyone who emailed me with questions and kind feedback. It's great to hear from folks!
     Thanks for sharing my bread baking experience!

Breaking from Bread to Knit

While my next bread is rising I thought I'd share some of my holiday knitting. Thanks to Elizabeth Zimmerman's lovely gull stitch baby sweater I am working with a lace pattern that is easy enough to pay attention to other things and still look fancy when done. It would also be a great first lace project. Here's some of the scarves:

The pattern:

      Cast on 56 stitches. I am using a size six straight bamboo. Any size 6 or so needle should do fine. Knit 7 rows in garter stitch. Continue to knit 7 stitches on both sides with the following gull stitch pattern in between:

Row 1: K1, K2 tog, yo, K1, yo, ssk, K1.
Row 2 and every wrong side row: K7, purl all other stitches, K7.
Row 3: K2 tog, yo, K3, yo, ssk.

Work until desired length (I used three balls of DK weight yarn - Capra from Knit Picks is pretty).
Knit 7 rows in garter stitch and cast off.

Here are some closer pictures of the pattern. Yell if you have any questions. I'll be posting later on tonight's bread experience.

October 24, 2013

5 Minute Bread (Part 3) or Hot Damn that bread is good!

I am now in day three of the artisan bread experiment and I could not be happier. Tonight I made the bread in my old French bread pan. I made it thin, like Baguettes. I took it out of the bowl in the refrigerator and cut it into two balls and stretched them gently to fit the pan.

Tonight instead of corn meal, since the book says it will impact the taste, I used parchment paper.

     I let the dough rest for about 45 minutes and baked it for 15 minutes. The taste of the bread was much more sour. The crust was soft and chewy (I rubbed it with a light coat of butter right out of the oven.)
     I have to say that I have made my own bread off and on for years using all kinds of methods and I have NEVER made a tastier loaf of bread than tonight. It is clear that the days spent in the refrigerator impacted the flavor. With one batch that I mixed originally, tomorrow will be the last of the pre-made dough and I wish I had made more. The huge bowl I used was full and I am seriously considering getting the buckets that are recommended on Amazon so that I can keep two batches of dough going. Not only will I bake bread almost every night now, but I would like to leave the dough for at least three days before I use it. The book cover says that this method revolutionizes home baking and I have to say that it is not an exaggeration.
     Anyone who knows me knows I can cook but not great, and I am not compelled to live in the kitchen like a really good cook would be. But I like good food without a lot of labor and so far these recipes are all they claim to be. The book has sweet bread recipes and those for rolls, pretzels (look out grandsons!) and fancy breads. I'll keep posting on this.

      Thanks for visiting!

October 23, 2013

Yes! Five Minute Bread! (Part Two)

      It's day two of the five minute bread experiment and today I'm very happy... and filled with bread. I did not try anything fancy with the dough yet. Knitting has taught me to get down the basics well and then get fancy. After spending the night in the refrigerator the dough was much yeastier and thus the bread was really tasty tonight. At about 4:30 I pulled another grapefruit sized ball off from the main dough and set it again to rise on the bread board on the cornmeal. At about 5:40 I put it in the oven, again on the cast iron skillet. I did not put the bowl of water in the oven when I pre-heated it in order to control the crust. I cooked it a bit less tonight, about fifteen minutes and pulled it out as soon as the bread sounded hollow when tapped with a wooden spoon. This time the center slash kind of popped opened, although I cut the slashes less deeply tonight.

      The cookbook had nothing that I found (I haven't read it all yet) that said how to make the crust softer and less crunchy, but I found hints online. One hint was to eliminate the steaming water in the oven, another was to rub the loaf with a tiny bit of butter as soon as the bread came out of the oven, which I did. The third hint suggested covering the bread with a towel while it cooled. I realized I had something better! A few years ago my knitting group all made biscuit blankets for our Thanksgiving rolls. It's a tiny knit blanket with a gathering string. This little loaf fit inside perfectly. I put my bread stone in the oven for a minute, put it in the bottom of the biscuit blanket and wrapped up the bread for about fifteen minutes until dinner.

The bread was perfect! Five minutes, seriously. No kneading. The crust was soft and chewy, just what I was after. I pulled a ball of dough out of the bowl and tucked it into a loaf. Other than putting it in and pulling it out of the oven I did practically nothing. Love it! Now I'm on to the next attempt. I have a French bread pan that's just dying for a pair of loaves in it.
Thanks again for visiting!
Here's the link to the biscuit basket in case you want to whip one up! (I know I'm way out of control!)

October 22, 2013

Five minute bread?

     I got a copy of the new artisan bread book today and I'm giving it a go. I love baking bread and with just my husband and myself, I have more time to bake, but it seems I never do. The old-fashioned way requires regular kneading throughout the day. So far this method (day one) is already more efficient. I do own a bread machine. I had a sweetie that baked great bread and I used it constantly. My squirrels were so fat in the yard they waddled. The bread was acceptable but the machine died. I got another machine and hated it. The bread came out like a brick and the racket the machine made far overpowered the lovely scent of freshly baking bread. I gave it away and tried my daughter's machine but it is no better. I am willing and eager to try this method.
     I have not bought all the tubs and mixing devices that Amazon recommended with the book. I might down the road but not until the bread proves itself.
     I am using bread machine yeast. It is what I had on hand but it has recently expired. I don't think it will kill anyone, and the dough is rising, but I did toss the jar. The flour is King Arthur (love it). I did not use my big monster mixer, though I might in the future. I stirred the ingredients with a wooden spoon and my hands a bit (no kneading) and put it in a huge bowl for a couple of hours, then two more hours in the refrigerator.
     The book says the dough is best when it's been around a bit. The rest of the dough mix can wait for another day. This baking method has you keeping pre-made dough in the fridge. You grab a ball about the size of a grapefruit as you need it. No baking every day for bread that night.

     Next I took out some dough as the recipe said and made it into a nice ball. It is now rising on a good dusting of corn meal. This all obviously took more than five minutes. It did however not take long at all to mix up the dough and shape the loaf, maybe fifteen including cleaning up the flour. Once the dough is made I'm sure you can get bread into the oven really quickly (not including rising time).

After about a half-hour I dusted the loaf with flour and slashed it with the great bread knife I have.

     Next it went into a pre-heated oven. In the oven I also put a stainless bowl of water to keep the air moist on the rack below the bread. I am baking the bread on a heated cast-iron skillet. I used the cutting board like a pizza board and, because of the corn meal, the loaf slid off pretty easily onto the hot skillet in the oven.
Forty minutes later the bread is done!
     Of course I had to try it hot out of the oven. It's really very good! The crust is very crisp and crunchy, the bread inside very moist and tasty and with my good knife it sliced easily and cleanly. I will read more of the book to see if there are instructions on controlling the crust. I'd like to be able to make it with a softer crust, although this is great. The bread is not very 'yeasty' or sour, as expected. I will bake another loaf in a few days to see how much the mixture has changed flavor. I'm very pleased! Watch for a posting about future loaves and other types of bread using this same method.
Thanks for reading! 

Here is a link to the book (This is not a paid endorsement) :