On the morning of March 25, I got a fabulous phone call: Secrets of a Scandalous Heiress was named a finalist in the Short Historical category of the RITA® awards! The RITAs are the most distinguished award in romance writing, and for the rest of the day (and, ok, more time than that) I alternated between disbelief and happy freaking out.
My husband, Mr. R, has heard enough about romance writing over the years to know about the RITAs. So he suggested a celebration. “Whatever you want,” he kindly and perhaps unwisely suggested.
Me: Really? Like, I could buy a thing?
Mr. R: I was thinking dinner out, but…yeah, sure.
Because I had an idea in mind. And it was this.
The cotton candy maker promised to turn my house into the sort of candy paradise that Hansel and Gretel found in the woods (minus the evil witch, of course). We–meaning Little Miss R and me, though Mr. R was soon led by curiosity to investigate–began that evening with plain sugar, honing our craft.
Just kidding. There’s not really a craft to it. You try not to smack the cone against the heating element, that’s all.
Anyway, we had a good time making these little twirls of cotton candy. Not bad, I thought. It’s not exactly professional-grade floss, but then again this machine is the size of a toaster.
Then I invited some friends over for cotton candy, and for fun they pulled up a YouTube video featuring a cotton candy artist. Um, it was pretty amazing. And what we discovered? If you hold the cone horizontally, it doesn’t matter how little your machine is. You can make some big, fluffy treats. Behold: me looking like a goofball while making an impressive twist of cherry.
What did we learn from all this? Well, first, Mr. R probably learned not to give me carte blanche on celebrations, or I will turn our house into a carnival. But I also learned that making cotton candy is just as much fun as eating it. (Seriously. I made like five batches in a row.) I also learned that it’s good to have smart, curious friends who actually, y’know, try to figure out the best way to do things.
Tell me, what are your feelings on cotton candy? Or is there something else that makes you feel like a kid again? To one random commenter, I’ll send a print copy of my RITA-finaling book, Secrets of a Scandalous Heiress. International entries welcome. Winner announced on Sunday.
For the past several months, I’ve been cooking at home more. Maybe that’s why I’m also noticing more foods in the books I’m reading.
Not long ago I read Darcy Burke’s The Idea of You. In a short scene, characters have oatmeal for breakfast. But not just any oatmeal! They made it in a slow-cooker. I didn’t even know this was possible, and naturally I had to try it THAT DAY. I started with Alton Brown’s recipe, but since I had quick oats instead of steel-cut, I went poking around for other recipes to help me with the proportions. In went chopped, peeled Granny Smiths, some brown sugar, and pie spices too.
In the morning, the kitchen smelled SO good. My daughter asked for a big bowlful of the oatmeal. But when she tasted it, her face fell. “It tastes like nothing.”
Whatever. This kid eats plain oats out of the canister, so I don’t know what she was talking about. It was GOOD. If you make this, don’t skimp on the brown sugar, and you’ll be so happy.
A surefire book-recipe is Laura Florand’s chocolat chaud, printed in the back of her ah-may-zing The Chocolate Kiss. I checked for the recipe on her website, and I couldn’t find it, but I went down a rabbit hole of other delicious pictures. Anyway, get The Chocolate Kiss and roll around iin its gorgeousness, then make the hot chocolate. It’s about as rich and sweet and tasty as anything you can imagine.
Sometimes a recipe is more for fun than for practicality. In my historical romance Season for Desire, the characters make Yorkshire Christmas pie. Here’s the recipe, taken from a 1788 cookbook.
The TL;DR on that is “ten pounds of butter” and “pigeon inside partridge inside fowl inside goose inside turkey.” The Georgians were Not Messing Around with their holiday recipes. There was no way I was going to try this recipe myself, but it sure was entertaining to learn about.
What’s your favorite story with food in it? Or a new food you learned about from a book? (I guess cookbooks count…ish.) To one random commenter, I’ll send a print copy of Season for Desire. Open internationally; winner announced on Sunday.
To most people, eggnog is a seasonal treat, to be savored occasionally. To me, it’s so much more. It is the best coffee additive possible—cream, sugar, spices–and it makes mornings at least 25% better to know that I have eggnog coffee to look forward to.
Sadly, it’s only available 3 months of the year. For the months in between Eggnog Seasons, I’ve tried to find substitutes, like flavored syrup or (this was a mistake) eggnog powder. It’s just not the same.
This past weekend, I finally got the idea of trying to make some myself. I found a cooked-eggnog recipe (thanks, Alton Brown!) since raw-egg beverages make me uneasy. With a few adjustments—no booze, no raw egg whites on top, and a dash of vanilla–my intrepid sous chef, Little Miss R, and I got to work.
She whipped the yolks and sugar beautifully, while I stirred the half and half until it boiled. (Oh, yeah—that’s another substitution we made, since we didn’t have heavy cream or whole milk. But really, what’s half and half but a mixture of the two?.) We folded the two halves of the recipe together, inhaling the heavenly scent. The eggs did not scramble! We were culinary geniuses! Then back onto the burner it went for a final cooking.
Isn’t that gorgeous?
However. Here’s where it all went wrong. See, I don’t have a candy thermometer, so I wasn’t sure when it reached the magical 160 degrees and needed to be pulled off the heat. Silly me, I thought I could eyeball it.
Note to self: if you have never made a recipe before, you don’t know what it’s supposed to look like, and therefore you are unlikely to achieve optimal results by “eyeballing it.”
Always one to err on the side of caution, I stirred it until it began to bubble at the edges. Oh, good! It was getting nice and thick! I took it off the heat, and it got thicker. I put it in the refrigerator, and it got thicker. Maybe it will separate overnight, I thought—but nope, it got even thicker.
So. As it turned out, Little Miss R and I made an eggnog-y custard. It doesn’t work as a coffee creamer (I tried, and ew), but it’s quite nice on its own. Of course, we’re going to try this recipe again…once I get a candy thermometer.
Do any of you share my feelings about eggnog? Do you have a successful recipe for it? My morning coffee and I would be so grateful for your tips. And if you’ve never tried eggnog in coffee, give it a go once eggnog shows up in stores again. It’s the best. You’re welcome.
As Kristan and I have pointed out recently, some of us simply don’t have the talent for crafts. This was brought home to me anew this past weekend, when I was over at my parents’ house helping them decorate their tree.
I’m not sure which is the finest example of my work. The marker-dotted piece of paper? The wood with three pompons glued to it? The snowman who had to have a scarf when I messed up the paint? Or the one-eyed glue-encrusted clothespin reindeer?
By contrast, my sister made this at the age of 7. I KNOW.
But! I have other gifts. One of them is extreme suggestibility when it comes to new recipes for sweets. Recently at a Facebook party, author Kate Noble mentioned that peppermint bark was her favorite holiday food. She said this with so much emphasis that I had to try making a batch. And when that didn’t quite turn out right, making another.
I hadn’t made anything else holiday-ish yet. Then on Sunday morning I saw a blog comment about Christmas cookies. Instantly I developed an Extreme Urge to make Christmas cookies. My daughter and I made the dough in the afternoon, and in the evening we rolled them out and decorated them.
Now our kitchen counter looks like this.
I have no idea who’s going to eat all this. (Just kidding. I’m probably going to eat all this.)
Anyone else out there have the “I have to try this” urge when it comes to recipes? Or do you have a favorite recipe you always break out this time of year? This is a risky question for me to ask, since I’m probably going to want to make everything you discuss.
But hey, it’ll keep me away from the ornaments.
1. Cookies! I’m not even going to pretend that Christmas is about anything other than family, food and gift giving. But cookies are my absolute favorite. I bake often and eat frequently. I know that in January I will be exercising a lot to make up for it but somehow I’m okay with that. My favorite cookies (in no particular order) are: cranberry and pistachio biscotti, chocolate chip hazelnut cookies, and sugar cookies with frosting and sprinkles.
2. Cuddling in front of the Christmas tree. During December we only use the Christmas tree for light in our living room, it’s cozy and pretty. Sometimes we just sit in there with Christmas music playing, quietly cuddling close under a blanket. It is the best!
3. Watching holiday specials. I like them all. I love the Christmas movies that I’ve watched since I was a kid especially Santa Claus Is Coming To Town and the newer ones like ELF. I’m also a huge fan of the Strictly Come Dancing Christmas Special.
4. Secret Gift Giving. I love to grab those angels off the tree at the mall and help to make Christmas special for someone who might be struggling.
5. Reading holiday books. I have to be honest here, I’m reading all year long but at the holidays I like something more inspiring. I’m looking for the miracle type stories that will leave me crying but in a good way. I’m reading Nancy Robards Thompson’s HIS TEXAS CHRISTMAS BRIDE right now!
What are you top five for December?