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Chocolate Banana Shortcakes - Sunday Treat!

My husband and I love dessert.  The thought of baking - and eating - a four layer cake, oozing with gooey chocolate and carmel and richness sets my mouth watering.  But sometimes that's a little much for a week night.  What's the alternative that still satisfies a rampant sweet tooth?  These chocolate shortcakes with banana and carmel sauce.  The recipe is from Cooking Light magazine, so it is (essentially) guilt free, and super easy to make.  Enjoy!

Ingredients

  • Shortcakes:
    • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (about 6 3/4 ounces)
    • 1/2 cup sugar
    • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
    • 1 teaspoon baking soda
    • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
    • 1/4 teaspoon salt
    • 1/4 cup chilled butter, cut into small pieces
    • 1/2 cup fat-free buttermilk
  • Filling:
    • 1/4 cup sugar
    • 2 tablespoons water
    • 2 tablespoons whipping cream
    • 1 teaspoon butter
    • 1 cup frozen reduced-calorie whipped topping, thawed
    • 1/8 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa
    • 2 medium bananas, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices (about 2 cups)

Preparation

Preheat oven to 375°.
To prepare the shortcakes, lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour, sugar, unsweetened cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl, stirring with a whisk. Cut in 1/4 cup butter with a pastry blender or 2 knives until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add buttermilk; stir just until moist. Knead lightly in bowl 5 to 6 times. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface; pat dough into an 8-inch circle on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Cut dough into 8 wedges, cutting into, but not through, dough. Bake at 375° for 18 minutes or until just firm to the touch. Remove from pan; cool on a wire rack. Place shortcake on a cutting board or work surface; cut along score lines with a serrated knife to form 8 wedges.

To prepare filling, combine 1/4 cup sugar and 2 tablespoons water in a small saucepan over medium-high heat; stir gently just until sugar dissolves. Cook, without stirring, until pale golden (about 4 minutes), gently swirling pan if needed to cook sugar evenly. Remove from heat; add cream and 1 teaspoon butter, stirring with a whisk until smooth. Cool 5 minutes.

Place whipped topping and 1/8 teaspoon cocoa in a medium bowl; fold just until combined. Split shortcakes in half horizontally using a serrated knife. Arrange about 1/4 cup bananas over bottom half of each shortcake; top each serving with about 1 teaspoon caramel sauce, about 2 tablespoons whipped topping mixture, and top of shortcake. Drizzle 1/2 teaspoon caramel sauce over top of each shortcake.

Celebrate the Chines New Year with a Spellbinding Book!

In honor of the Chinese New Year, today's recommendation is a terrific look at life in 19th century China.

First and foremost, this is a story of friendship.  It is also an incredibly detailed snapshot of a culture.   The four pages that portray the agony of her first footbinding session will shock you to your core.  The writing is impeccable , rich and layered and overflowing with emotional depth.  The lives of the two main characters were all together normal for the time and the region, and yet so wholly out of the norm for today's reader.  It is both a must-read on the small scale of watching someone's life unfold, and on the grand scale of watching the Chinese culture evolve. 

Football, Romance, and What the Heck to Write

As I mentioned previously, I live in Baltimore. This town is football crazy. People wear purple on a daily basis, and all the nurses at a blood drive were wearing fake Joe Flacco mustaches. It is disconcerting to have a woman with an oversized fu manchu stache stick a needle in your arm. All this fan nuttiness is due to the big, make it or skip the Superbowl game this weekend.

But I have to admit that football just doesn't do it for me. I'm not a sports fan. In the interest of full disclosure, I'll be at the symphone during the game on Sunday.  However, it is clear there are many, many romance readers out there who are HUGE sports fans. Deirdre Martin, Carly Phillips, Kate Angell, Lori Foster, Susan Mallery, and of course Susan Elizabeth Phillips all have entire series based around athletes. Harelquin Blaze puts out several, in addition to their Nascar line of books. If you aren't writing about vampires, then sports is the next big trend.

So I tried a few months ago to give it serious thought. I watched the punts, the tackles, the women hugging in sympathy/horror/excitement in the stands, and I tried to wrap my brain around an idea - any germ of an idea.  Not to be a sell out and write to a trend (very dangerous, because who knows when a trend will disappear?).  But because if that many readers enjoy it, maybe it is worth trying.  I certainly want readers to enjoy my books!

But the more I thought about it, the more I had to fall back on the backbone of writing; passion. The only way I'm going to willingly forego watching Castle  or Greys Anatomy every week in order to churn out my word count is if I'm motivated by passion. And I simply don't feel passionate about sports. I think if I put my mind to it, sure I could come up with a plot and a brief outline about a baseball player. But after the excitement of the first few chapters, my interest would wane, I wouldn't care about the characters, and my book simply wouldn't get written. So I guess that means I'm going to keep pushing the envelope and writing what I care about instead of what is guaranteed to sell. Hopefully, eventually, my passion will blaze across the pages and convince someone love happens everywhere - trendy or not.

The Book's Often BETTER Than The Movie

I watched the Golden Globes this weekend.  Perfect timing, since I'd just finished reading The Descendants for my book club.  George Clooney won for best actor in it, and the movie won for best drama.  I was...surprised.  Not that the yummy Mr. Clooney excelled, but that they'd even decided to turn this particular book into a movie.  Which led me to ponder how many books end up as movies.  So many people out there only know the big screen version of good fiction.  In some cases, there's no down side.  I've read Ian Fleming's James Bond books, and although I urge everyone to read them, there is something about watching all that action in exotic locales that just can't be beat.

However, in this season of award shows, I want to focus for a few weeks on books that MUST be read, even if you have already seen the movie.  We're kicking off with a classic.
I read Gone With the Wind probably a dozen times before I ever saw the movie.  Let me be clear - Clark Gable is amazing, and I dare any woman to feel a swoon coming on as they watch him.  In fact, you should see the movie just to admire the beautiful costumes.  But the book has a grandeur and depth of detail that simply can't be condensed into a movie. 

There are also several key plot differences.  I don't want to throw out too many spoilers and well...spoil it for you, but Scarlett has two more children in the book.  (I won't tell you by who.)  Suffice it to say that Margaret Mitchell knew her way around a plot and around descriptions, and you will be transported to the Civl War South from page one.  Yes, it is long, but it is worth it.  Next time you truly want to immerse yourself in a sweeping historical, move past the new release shelf and pick up a copy.

Bourbon Fudge Brownies - Yummy Treat!

I live in Baltimore.  You don't have to follow football to know that the Ravens are in the playoffs this weekend.  Everyone and their dog wore purple on Friday.  The Aquarium, along with half of downtown, is covered in purple lights.  So if you (or your significant other) plans to hunker down for the big game, do so with a plate of these amazing Bourbon Fudge Brownies.  They are from Cooking Light, so feel free to have more than one!

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup bourbon
  • 1/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/3 cups sugar
  • 6 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • Cooking spray

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350°.
Bring bourbon to a boil in a small saucepan; remove from heat. Add chocolate chips, stirring until smooth.
Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups, and level with a knife. Combine the flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt, stirring with a whisk.
Combine sugar and butter in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well combined. Add vanilla and eggs; beat well. Add flour mixture and bourbon mixture to sugar mixture, beating at low speed just until combined.
Spread batter into a 9-inch square baking pan coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350° for 25 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pan on wire rack.

Start the New Year in a Happy Place!

At the start of a new year, people are often looking for ways to improve their lives.  If that description fits you - or anyone you know - I've got a terrific read to pass along.  Today's book recommendation is on The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. 
It is a memoir of the year the author spent "test-driving the wisdom of the ages, current scientific studies, and lessons from popular culture about how to be happier."  Don't worry - she doesn't take herself too seriously.  Her self-deprecating wit is part of what makes this book so eminently readable. 

Each month she tackled a single resolution about happiness:  give proofs of love, find more fun, forget about results, etc.  This isn't a straight how-to book; rather it tackles the questions of should I bother, and is the result worth the effort?  All the strategies are things that can be accomplished without uprooting your life, or doing anything drastic.  It highlights subtle shifts that can be incorporated into daily life that will, truly, help make you a happier person.  In addition to being full of great tips, it is a compelling, humerous read - and that alone can make you happier!

Six Sentence Sunday!

I'm going all the way back to my first book, Carolina Heat for today's six.  Annabelle and Mark have abandoned their super-fancy high tea in a historic hotel to smooch.  While this isn't a first kiss, it is a kiss before the first time they make love.  And they're more than ready to get to the good stuff!


Not just a kiss, but the steamiest, deepest, wettest, lustiest kiss of Annabelle’s life.  She pulled back from him just enough to yank his shirt over his head.

“Why haven’t you ever kissed me like that before?”

“Too dangerous,” he replied seriously.  “A kiss like that has serious ramifications.  The most serious being if I don’t get my hands on your naked body in the next two minutes, my head may explode.” 

A Hop, Skip & a Genre Jump

As a speed reader, I voraciously devour books - which means I need LOTS of them.  It also developed in me a love of almost all books.  The only genre I don't enjoy are Westerns.  If a book is good, no matter the genre, it'll satisfy me.  I like to bop between historicals, contemporaries, paranormals, memoirs and mysteries.  The contrast keeps everything fresh.  However, many readers have a strong preference to a single genre - and I certainly wouldn't fault their loyalty.

So it was with great trepidation I embarked on a genre jump.  I write contemporary romance, verging on romantic comedy.  A dash of suspense thrown in to keep the plot moving, but firmly contemporary.  However.....my current work in progress is (gasp!) a paranormal.  It maintains the light, romantic comedy feel, but with ghosts and demons and fallen angels tossed into the mix.

I don't want to pull a Nora Roberts/JD Robb or Jayne Ann Krentz/Jayne Castle just to sell it.  Pen names aren't my thing (probably due to my complete lack of modesty).  What I would like is for my current readers to to make that hop, skip & a jump over to the paranormal side to read this one.  And, of course, to introduce lovers of the paranormal to my previous releases.  Am I asking too much?  Is the divide too great to cross?  Or is it possible that, as long as I write an entertaining book, it won't matter the genre?

Auntie Mame - More, Please!

I was shocked over the holidays when the classic book/movie/musical Auntie Mame came up, and I was the only one who knew about the sequel.  First of all, if you somehow aren't familiar with the original, stop everything and go read it (but whatever you do, do NOT see the movie with Lucille Ball).
Around the World with Auntie Mame is guaranteed to make you howl with laughter.  It was re-released a few years ago, and now includes a chapter that was not in the original, due to Cold War censorship.  It is a priceless snapshot of the era, with all the slapstick humor of the original.  All the familiar characters are back as she and her nephew Patrick take a world tour. 

This is a first-rate if not always first-class voyage to intriguing locales around the world—including Paris, London, and Lebanon. Setting sail aboard the Normandie, Mame soon finds herself pursued by Interpol and rescued from seminudity by a pack of Irish wolfhounds. Next, Mame’s antics lead her to a gunrunning ship on the eve of World War II, causing luxury accommodations to be forfeited for the sake of action. But not to worry—she doesn’t rough it for long. If you thought her Manhattan parties were superb, you’ll want to put yourself on the guest list for her splashy Venice bash featured in this equally tipsy and titillating romp.Full of dry social observations as well as a delightful travelogue, this is a must read for everyone who enjoyed Auntie Mame the first time around.

Six Sentence Sunday!

I decided to stick with my theme of first kisses.  Great way to start off the New Year, right?  This excerpt is from my book Act Like We're In Love.  Shockingly, the heroine has been fighting off the advances of the hot movie star.  But a woman can only resist that much suave hotness for so long....

As first kisses went, it was one for the record books. No hesitation, no slow and steady incursion. Luke’s kiss was more of a possession, a branding. His lips settled firmly on hers, and she had no choice but to be swept along for the ride. The power of his kiss lit a long-banked fire inside her. Heat gathered somewhere behind her belly button and spread out, like light rays emanating from the sun.