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Halloween treat - Pumpkin Polenta w/Italian Sausage & Fennel

I couldn't let October close out without posting one more pumpkin recipe. Today's is from Rachael Ray, and is a DELICIOUS way to get more use out of a can of pumpkin. Enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 1 pound bulk sweet Italian
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO), 1 turn of the pan
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 large fennel bulbquartered, cored and thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 14 ounce can pumpkin puree
  • 1 cup quick-cooking or instant polenta
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (eyeball it)
  • 1 cup shredded Pecorino Romano
  • 1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley (a generous handful)

Directions

  1. Heat a medium nonstick skillet over medium-high heat and brown the sausage. Transfer the sausage to a paper towellined plate. Add 1 tablespoon of EVOO (1 turn of the pan) to the skillet and then the onion and fennel. Cook the vegetables over moderate heat until tender but not brown. Add the wine and return the sausage to the skillet. Cook the wine away, a minute or so.
  2. In a large saucepan, cook the polenta as directed in the main recipe and stir in the nutmeg when you add the thyme, salt, pepper and Pecorino Romano cheese. Top the pumpkin polenta with the sausage and fennel. Garnish with the chopped parsley and serve.

Six Sentences That Lead To Sex

Welcome to Six Sentence Sunday! There's one heck of a storm barrelling up the East Coast. So I'm going to do my part to raise your temperature a little bit. Planning for Love, the first book in my Chicago wedding Aisle Bound series starts with a hook-up pretty early on in the story. My hero, Ben attempts to talk Ivy into coming up to his hotel room. Read this--and see if you think he was successful....


“Sweet talker.”

“Tell me you’re not interested. Tell me you don’t want to slide between the sheets, skin to skin with me, and I’ll order you that drink. We’ll chat about whatever you want, and go our separate ways.” Her mouth opened slowly, but before she could form words, he continued in the same, matter of fact tone. “Or I could make your panties—which I’m betting match your dress—damp in less than five minutes.”

Pork & Pumpkin Chili - Seasonal Yumminess!

I love seasonal dishes. Things that the moment they hit your tongue, you know signal a particular month. October is for all things pumpkin in my house. So today I'm sharing a slightly unusual use for pumpkin, in a chili. I've served this at my book club and received rave reviews. You can vary the heat level according to your palate, and substitute spinach or any sort of leafy green you prefer for the mustard greens. Thanks to the brilliant chefs at Food Network for this recipe.

Ingredients

  • 3 pounds boneless pork shoulder, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 12-ounce bottle Mexican lager
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 to 3 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, finely chopped
  • 3 teaspoons dried oregano, preferably Mexican
  • 1 15-ounce can pure pumpkin (about 1 3/4 cups)
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 medium tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 1 poblano pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 2 medium white onions, diced
  • 1/4 cup chili powder, plus more for sprinkling
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 bunch mustard greens, stems removed, leaves roughly chopped
  • Lime wedges, for serving

Directions

Combine the pork, beer, 3 cups water and 2 teaspoons salt in a large pot and bring to a simmer over medium heat, skimming the foam off the surface. Add the chipotles and 1 1/2 teaspoons oregano, cover and cook about 30 minutes.

Mix 3 tablespoons pumpkin, the sour cream and salt to taste in a bowl; cover and chill.

Heat the vegetable oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the tomatoes, poblano, onions and 2 teaspoons salt; cook until soft, 15 minutes. Add the remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons oregano, the chili powder and garlic; cook 5 minutes. Add the remaining pumpkin and cook 5 minutes.

Add the tomato mixture to the pork and simmer until the meat is tender, about 30 minutes. Add the greens and cook 10 more minutes. Season with salt. Ladle the chili into bowls; top with the pumpkin cream and more chili powder. Serve with lime wedges.

Small or Big, Writing Conferences are a Must!

I'm a big fan of writing conferences. Love being surrounded by 2,000 people who eat, sleep and breathe romance just like I do. But last weekend I discovered the joy of the intimate conference.

New Jersey's Put Your Heart In A Book conference is on a much smaller scale (I'm horrible at estimating people, but I'd guess 200-400 attendees). And that is exactly what makes it so darn awesome.

I had lunch with NYT bestselling author Sabrina Jeffries.  How, you might ask?  By just sitting down at her table. Because that's the beauty of this conference - unfiltered access to authors, agents and editors. Went to an editor panel where they all invited attendees to pitch to them anytime during the weekend (except in the bathroom - they were pretty specific about that). So if you hadn't signed up for a pitch with one of them, a writer could hang around the hallway and wait to pitch without being seen as a stalker. For once.

I was able to have dinner with my editor, as well as a perfectly delightful fellow Carina Press author, K.A. Mitchell. I rubbed elbows/schmoozed/chatted with umpteen other big name authors, including Jade Lee and Mary Jo Putney. Was introduced to HQN senior editor Tara Parsons. Maybe one of these morsels of goodness would've happened at a big conference, but definitely not all of them.

Of course there were also fascinating workshops (3 hours with Susan Wiggs, behind-the-scenes tips from USA Today's Joyce Lamb), celebrations when three of my chapter mates won first place in the NJRWA contest, and the fun of a book signing. The late night pajama party gabfest with my friends, to be honest, would happen at any conference, big or small. My point is that even if you do attend the big romance cons like RT or RWA, put a smaller, local-ish conference on your calendar as well. The opportunities will astound you.

Research Road Trips - Work or Fun?

This weekend was a blur of note and picture taking. I jumped in the car and went on a research road trip to the Finger Lakes. In past blogs I've mentioned that I get lots of story ideas when I travel. But then I'm in the middle of enjoying my vacation, so I just scribble them down and go back to lazing about. Once I decide to hunker down and craft the story, I need more.

Okay, I want more. With the plethora of information available on the Internet these days, a writer doesn't have to leave the couch to glean plenty of information about a setting. The idea for my first book, Carolina Heat, sprang from a two day trip to Charleston. Did I go back there once I started writing? Heck, no. I used travel guides and maps and brochures. And almost every review I received mentioned how well I portrayed the setting. So I'm wholly aware that I don't have to go anywhere to write a good book. My very good friend who writes books about Cleopatra's daughter doesn't have the luxury of traveling to Mauretania. And yet, her Song of the Nile absolutely transports you to that ancient court.

Last year I embarked on my first research road trip. I gleaned things that I never would've put together from the comfort of my couch. Came up with a sensational ending that only occurred because I was right there, in the moment. So now that I've finished the proposal for my Finger Lakes trilogy (working series title of Shore Secrets), I needed to soak up some atmosphere.

You're probably wondering - was it worth it? Or was it merely an indulgent, wine-tasting long weekend with my hubby? I'll admit to a couple of stops at wineries. Of course, one of my heroines owns a winery. I can finish up that research at a local winery here in Maryland once I get to her book. Her hero, however, singlehandedly runs a distillery.  Which, I found out, is exactly how Finger Lakes Distilling got its start. Did I sample delicious rum and cassis liquer?  Yup.  But did I also spend a solid half hour peppering the poor server with questions about the business. Oh, yeah. She gave me soooo much great background material.

My hubby spent the day golfing, so he was happy. I spent it touring Hobart and William Smith Colleges. Traipsed through a cemetary where the heroine's parents in book one will be buried. Decided that she'll walk there for a visit every week, and take the hero there for a kleenex-worthy moment of sharing. I never would've come up with that twist if I hadn't driven by the cemetary. Had an in-depth talk at the State Park that completely changes a character in book 2. The character who I, completely incorrectly, had decided would be a forest ranger. Except....Watkins Glen State Park doesn't have forest rangers. They have patrollers. Little details like that make a book glisten and pop with accuracy.

Then I finished the day with one of the best massages EVER. The talented Mollie VanBuskirk patiently answered every question I threw at her, no matter how weird or personal. She's a wonderful masseuse and a very sweet person. Thanks to her, the heroine of my first book will be so much more well rounded and, well, authentic!

I wrote on the front porch of my inn, staring out over Seneca Lake and the beautiful fall colors. I listened to the innkeeper tell me the story of how she and her husband started it on a whim. We ate at two restaurants that were so fantastic they are absolutely being featured in the books. I breathed in the essence of the community, and hopefully that will be reflected in my series. So yes, if you are able to visit your setting, I encourage it. It will definitely fall more on the side of work than fun. My brain ran in overdrive for three days straight, capturing images and people and flitting through a million ideas. And my books will be all the richer for it.

Why Book Festivals Are So Fantastic

I spent all weekend (seriously - I logged a total of 21 hours between Friday night and Sunday) at the Baltimore Book Festival, ensconsed in our Maryland Romance Writers' tent. (Here's photographic proof - the awesome Stephanie Draven and I getting ready for our panel on Writing Funny Contemporaries.)

As an author, it was a terrific experience because:
  • You get to energize readers who already like your genre;
  • You get to snag new readers. Being part of a panel with some heavy hitters is a great way to raise awareness of your book.  Whether by doing readings, and/or perhaps managing to sell it on personality alone. Readers and authors rarely get to interact, so when we do, it is a happy thing.
  • You get to network with soooo many amazing authors (thrilled to meet Caridad Pineiro, Robin Covington, Kimberly Kincaid, Jennifer Armentrout, just to name a few!). Sharing panels with authors you respect and enjoy is such a perk....and hanging out with them at dinner afterwards is even better!
My chapter managed to keep our tent packed by offering informative, fun, and of course, sexy panels and readings and open forums. Pretty sure we touched on every possible romance topic.  On a purely selfish level, it was great to have the luxury of extended time with my chapter mates - and to be reminded all over again how talented they are.

And, taking off my author hat for a moment, as a reader I was able to go all fan-girl over some of my favorite authors. I discovered new must-have books, as well. Three solid days devoted to all things book - what could be better? So if you are an author, I highly recommend you find a festival near you and sign up to participate (or, if you are in the mid-Atlantic, let me know that you'd like to be a guest with us next year!).  If you are a reader, run, don't walk, to your nearest festival, and revel in a day all about reading.