Monday, July 23, 2012

Tasty Way to Deal With Overflowing Summer Veggies

I belong to a CSA, which means that every week we get a big basket of farm fresh veggies.  Nice...but sometimes overwhelming.  Friends with gardens say the same thing - by the time mid-summer hits, dealing with vegetable bounty can tax a cook's imagination.  So I'm grateful to FarmGirl Fare for posting this recipe.  Quick tip - instead of measuring, just use an entire bunch of Swiss Chard.  Yummy and healthy lunch or dinner!

Susan's Swiss Chard Tuna Salad
Serves 2 to 4

If you have a chance, mix up your tuna salad and let it sit in the refrigerator at least a few hours before serving; it'll be even tastier.  Feeding a crowd? Just double the recipe.

1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar (I like white balsamic)
1/4 cup chopped kalamata olives (about 10 olives)
2 teaspoons brine from the olives (or more balsamic vinegar)
2 6-ounce cans tuna (oil or water packed), drained
3/4 cups chopped Swiss chard stems
2 to 3 cups chopped Swiss chard leaves
1/4 cup loosely packed chopped fresh parsley, preferably Italian flat leaf
1 cup (or more) chopped scallions (green onions), white and green parts (about 10 small)
Salt & pepper to taste

Few handfuls of canned kidney beans, drained and rinsed

Combine mayonnaise, dijon mustard, balsamic vinegar and olive brine in a medium bowl and mix well. Stir in olives, tuna, chopped Swiss chard stems and leaves, parsley, and scallions. Add salt and pepper to taste and more mayonnaise and/or vinegar if desired. Stir in kidney beans if using. Tuna salad will keep for three days in the refrigerator.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Maximize Your RWA Experience

Many writers are headed to the Romance Writers of America Convention in the next few days.  It is a magical span of sharing, support and celebration of our craft and genre.  For those of you who are just venturing to a convention for the first time, I thought I'd share some nuggets of wisdom I've gleaned over the years.
Maryland Romance Writers at RWA 2011
~ Always wear color to a conference. In a sea of 2,143 attendees at RWA last year, black was the predominant color. But I wore a ruffly purple shirt one day, and an apple green dress the next. Can't begin to tell you how many people approached me to compliment me on the color of my clothes. Why does this matter, you may ask? Because it opened a conversation. Standing in line for 15 minutes at a book signing is a perfect opportunity to chat - but sometimes it can be difficult to engage a total stranger. I had lovely chats with soooo many different people, at all different stages in their career. People opened up to me in the bathroom line, the coffee line, the book signing get the picture.
~ We deserve a huge round of applause. Why? Because I learned a shocking statistic. 80% of Americans say they'd like to write a book. 2% of that 80% actually start to write. And only 5% of that 2% finish writing a book. Makes us sound rather special and elite, doesn't it? Go writers!

~ Don't hang out with our chapter buddies all the time (picture above notwithstanding).  At every breakfast and lunch, aside from a friendly 'hello', I steer away from people I already know.  After all, we can catch up at next month's meeting.  I purposefully sit down at tables where I know NOBODY.  The amount of networking you will get over the span of each meal is phenomonal.  Then, the last night of the conference after the awards, you can congregate with all your chapter besties and share the tales of how many wonderful people you met.
~ Hang out at the bar. No matter how overpriced the drinks. Everyone who is anyone congregates there. Example: I had a great evening with a group of women I'd never met before. Imagine my surprise the next morning when I discovered one of them was a multi-pubbed author leading my session. You are there to network, so don't hold back!

~ Everyone is approachable. Authors, agents and editors don't care if you've only written your first chapter, or if you're on the NYT bestseller list. They respect your passion for the genre, and are happy to chat. Romance writing doesn't have the clear cut cliques or power divisions as other professions. We are an empowering, friendly sisterhood. So don't be intimidated, whether in person or on a blog post - get out there and get engaged!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Doublefisting Your Writing - Good, Bad, or Just Plain Necessary?

So you're at a wedding reception, and you've waited in line for twenty minutes to get a drink (totally missing out on the platters of stuffed mushrooms and cocktail shrimp that swing through the rest of the room).  When you finally place you order, you decide to be strategic and order two drinks, thereby avoiding the hell of standing in line again.  Smart, huh?  But then all your friends make fun of you for 'doublefisting' it as you are stuck carrying two wineglasses (and thereby still can't snag a stuffed mushroom).

Well, I think the term is apropos in the writing world as well.  Right now I am dutifully writing the next contracted book in my trilogy.  But.....(drum roll, please) I am also writing a category novel.  This is a challenge and a stretch to my time, my creativity, and my exasperation levels as I keep flipping between a book set in the dead of a Chicago winter, and a beach fling book highlighting sun, sand, sex and suspense.

Why would anyone do that to themselves?  Because the pace of the publishing world has changed.  Significantly.  The days of putting out one book a year - at least in the romance genre - are gone.  Some brave authors even do back to back releases, with three books coming out in three consecutive months.  I can't begin to imagine how hard core their writing schedules must be.

Churning out a full length trilogy is a big undertaking.  So much backstory, interwoven plots and massive character arcs to pull together.  So for my simultaneous writing project, I chose to go with something shorter - as in half the length.  This winter I managed to churn out a 28,000 word novella while concurrently writing book two in my trilogy.  At least I've overcome the hump of not even thinking it is possible to write more than one book at a time.  Right now I'm on Chapter Five of both books.  In other words, I've just crossed the 23,000 and 12,000 word mark.  So good, so far!

Readers clamor for back list.  I'm a reader too, so I completely understand their desire.  Selling more books brings a bigger following and (hopefully) a much bigger paycheck.  So I think the only downside to doublefisting your writing is the strain on your sanity.  How many of you do it?  Want to but are scared to try?  Or perhaps even write three at a time?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A Trip To the Beach Without Leaving Your Couch

In case last week's 100+ temps weren't enough to convince you, let me state that we are deep in summer now.  When the mercury soars, my thoughts turn to the beach.  Turquoise water, palm trees, fruity rum drinks....too bad I'm stuck at my desk for another 31 days until my beach vacation.  But there is a solution - take a virtual vacation.  And this week's pick - An Embarrassment of Mangoes -will absolutely transport you.

Ann Vanderhoof and her husband decided to take a break from their careers and move onto a 42' sailboat.  Even though Ann wasn't a sailor at all.  For two years they sailed around the Caribbean.  They stopped at 47 different islands, and you get to read every sun-drenched, rum punch-soaked description.  You'll get into the rhythm of island life, shopping each day at the local markets for fish.  I dare you not to laugh at loud at her description of trying to prepare conch (which ended up with conch and shells covering the walls and ceiling of their tiny galley).  And if her descriptions of Caribbean cuisine have your mouth watering, she even included recipes in the back of the book.  Their are a few harrowing storms, and some adjusting to leaving their lives behind, not to mention living in such a confined space.  You'll experience festivals and parades, the realities of life on a boat and the rich traditions of the Caribbean islands.

The amazing openness of islanders to visitors, they way they welcomed these Candians into their homes or onto their boats without a second thought, is heart-warming.  This is the perfect beach read - or the perfect book to sustain you until you get to a beach.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Summer Garden Salad w/Chili-Garlic Shrimp

Out here in the Mid-Atlantic, we've been sweltering for a week.  It is hot, humid, and miserable.  Every decision of the day is colored by the heat, and how to avoid it.  So this delightful salad from Bon Appetit was a great dinner to throw together.  It uses the best of summer produce, requires only a quick turn at the barbeque grill, and produces an outstandingly flavorful meal.  By using a frying pan on our grill burner to cook the shrimp, we completely avoided heating the kitchen.
  • 1 teaspoon chili-garlic sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon plus 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 2 pounds uncooked large shrimp, peeled, deveined
  • 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 2 ears of corn, husked
  • 3 small tomatoes, cut into 1/2-inch-thick wedges
  • 1/3 English hothouse cucumber, halved lengthwise, thinly sliced crosswise
  • 4 teaspoons fresh lime juice
  • 2 teaspoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil 
  • 1 large avocado, halved, peeled, pitted, cut into thin slices
  • 8 cups (loosely packed) mixed baby greens  I used arugula)
  • 2 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh mint leaves
Mix chili-garlic sauce, cumin, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in large bowl. Add shrimp and toss to coat. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in heavy large nonstick skillet over high heat until hot. Add half of shrimp and sauté until cooked through, about 3 minutes. Using tongs, transfer shrimp to plate. Add 1 tablespoon oil to same skillet. Add remaining shrimp and sauté until cooked through, about 3 minutes. Transfer shrimp to plate and cool.

Cook corn in pot of boiling salted water until almost tender, about 5 minutes. Drain and cool. Cut corn kernels off cobs. Mix corn, tomatoes, and cucumber into shrimp.

Whisk remaining 2 tablespoons oil, 1/8 teaspoon pepper, lime juice, soy sauce, and sesame oil in medium bowl. (Shrimp mixture and dressing can be made 4 hours ahead. Cover separately and refrigerate.)

Combine shrimp mixture with any accumulated juices, avocado, greens, and mint in large bowl. Add dressing and toss to coat.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Peer Pressure is a Writer's Friend

Sure, we were raised that peer pressure is bad.  Everyone in my junior high wore makeup - except me.  I heard many variations on the whole if all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you?  Of course, those lectures extended to driving too fast, drinking, smoking, drugs, staying out late, seeing R-rated mother was extraordinarily frightened that I might succumb to peer pressure.

But as a writer, I embrace peer pressure.  I welcome it.  I seek it out.  Peer pressure can keep us going.  Just last night I was on Twitter.  A very famous author put out a call for people who wanted to do 1K1HR.  For anyone not familiar, this stands for 1,000 words in 1 hour.  It is a way to force yourself-via peer pressure-to sit down and bang out those words for an hour.  Knowing that you'll have to report in on your progress at the end of that hour really helps keep your fingers tethered to the keyboard.

I also belong to an online group where we report our progress weekly.  That is the ultimate peer pressure - not just the need to broadcast what you've accomplished, but to see how much more other people may have done?  Great motivation.

And then there's my critique group.  They 'pressure' me to submit pages every month.  Good ones.  All these tools were helpful to me when I wrote on spec, but are even more important now that I'm writing to contracted deadlines.  No matter how much I love to write, there are plenty of times when I'd rather be seduced by reading a book, or watching TV, or just about anything besides writing.  Peer pressure gives me the structure this very unstructured career would otherwise lack.  Do your peers help you stay on track?

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Best Burger Ever!

The Food Network used to broadcast the annual Sutter Home Winery Build a Better Burger Contest.  There was wine, the excitement of a competition in the blazing sun, and the fun of watching celebrity chefs have to squeeze their mouths around enormous burgers on camera.  But most of all, there were fantastic burger recipes.  Thankfully, Sutter Home posts the recipes of the finalists and grand prize winners for several years running on their website.  My husband and I have eagerly tried several, and with the 4th of July (aka national hamburger eating day) right around the corner, I wanted to share one of their fantastic recipes.  Sooo amazingly delicious - worth all the prep to enjoy the most flavorful patty EVER! (And congrats to 2002 grand prize winner Annelle Williams for coming up with this one.)

Vitello Focaccia Burger


Caprese Topping

12 tomato slices
12 fresh basil leaves
6 slices fresh mozzarella cheese
6 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 1/2 tablespoons dried Italian seasoning herb blend
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 sweet yellow onion, chopped
1 1/2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 ounces hard salami, cubed
2 ounces prosciutto, sliced
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 1/2 pounds ground veal
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons Sauvignon Blanc
Vegetable oil, for brushing on the grill rack
6 bun-sized focaccia bread sections, sliced horizontally
2 tablespoons butter, melted


Prepare a medium-hot fire in a charcoal grill with a cover, or preheat a gas grill to medium-high.
To make the topping, combine the tomatoes, basil, and mozzarella in a shallow bowl. Combine the oil, vinegar, and mustard in a small bowl and whisk to blend well. Add the herb blend and pepper and whisk again. Pour the mixture over the tomato mixture and set aside to marinate.
To make the patties, heat the olive oil in small fire-proof skillet on the grill rack. Add the onion and garlic and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.
Combine the salami, prosciutto, Parmesan, and parsley in a food processor and process just until coarsely ground. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and add the veal, onion mixture, egg, and Sauvignon Blanc. Handling the meat as little as possible to avoid compacting it, mix well. Divide the mixture into 6 equal portions and form the portions into patties to fit the focaccia sections.
When the grill is ready, brush the grill rack with vegetable oil. Place the patties on the rack, cover, and cook, turning once, just until done to preference, 3 to 5 minutes on each side for medium. Remove from the heat and let rest while grilling the bread. Brush the cut sides of the focaccia with the butter and place, cut side down, on the outer edges of the rack to toast lightly.
To assemble the burgers, remove the tomatoes, basil, and mozzarella from the marinade. On each bottom focaccia, place a veal patty, 2 tomato slices, 2 basil leaves, and a slice of mozzarella. Add the focaccia tops and serve.
Makes 6 burgers