September 05, 2011

Tropical Storm Lee


This is Lee, gasping his last out over the Gulf of Mexico. To be honest, I didn't take this video myself. I was back in the van with the grandkids. One of my completely insane kids took these pictures. They would both argue that the apples didn't fall far from the tree. 

June 24, 2011

I've been on the road for the past two weeks, and I don't mind telling you I'm exhausted. It's been physically and emotionally draining, but it's also been physically and emotionally stimulating.

My daughter made this cross-country trip so she could attend the wedding of a brother she's never met and, at the same time, reunite with her biological father whom she hasn't seen since she was 2 years old. Since her husband is deployed and she didn't want to make the trip alone, I agreed to come along as moral support.

Our original plans were to take the train -- a plan that would have allowed me time to work while my grandkids slept. We agreed that, when possible, I'd move into the quiet car and write, and when that wasn't possible, I'd re-read the manuscript I just turned in to see if I could find any plot holes I'd previously missed. It was a perfect plan.

Two days before we were supposed to drive to New Orleans to board the train, we got a phone call -- at 10:30 at night, no less -- telling us the trip was off because the tracks were flooded. We scrambled, searching for flights (WAY too expensive), other routes on the train (no such thing. You can't get from east to west without going through Chicago and that, apparently, is where the trouble was). About one in the morning, we finally decided to throw everything into suitcases and take a road trip -- but to get here on time we had to leave two days ahead of schedule.

It's been a great journey so far. We got to spend the night with my daughter's in-laws on the way, took the grandkids swimming in the hotels where we stayed, hung out at Graceland for a few hours, and watched the country change with every passing mile.

We've reconnected with friends and family that we left in Utah when we moved. We've eaten in most of our favorite restaurants -- places that don't exist in Florida. And we've connected with family I knew in the past, but my daughter has only heard about until now.

Our time here is winding down. We have a few more dinners with friends, a few more family get-togethers to attend, and then it will be time to hit the road again.

It's been a rare experience for both of us. My daughter has been introduced to a whole new family and I've shared meals and laughter with people I never thought I'd see again. It's been kind of experience books are made of.

Maybe. Some day. When the dust has had time to settle.

March 22, 2011

Got My Cover!

And I love it! 

Sweet Success can be a motive for murder.

There aren't many things pastry chef Rita Lucero hates more than losing. But two years after her marriage to fellow baker Philippe Renier fell apart, she's still trying to get him to sign the divorce papers. Exasperated, Rita visits Philippe's high-end New Orleans shop, Zydeco Cakes, to get his signature--and discovers that her marriage is already over when she finds Philippe dead with a chef's knife in his chest.

Rita is shocked to discover the body, and overwhelmed to learn that since the divorce wasn't final, she now inherits part ownership in Zydeco Cakes. But it's a mixed blessing: the gorgeous shop is actually in financial trouble, and Rita's windfall sets her up as a prime suspect in Philippe's murder. Her former mother-in-law demands that Rita find out who killed her son, and his former employees don't know whether to trust her. The feeling is mutual--especially since the real culprit is still out there, and Rita may be the next victim served.

Coming to your favorite book store August 2, 2011!

March 17, 2011

Happy St. Paddy's Day

I found this Shamrock Cake Recipe online while I was clicking around today. Though she uses a boxed mix in this recipe, those who make cakes from scratch can easily adapt the decorating ideas. Today is this blogger's anniversary and it's also my parents' wedding anniversary. They would have been married 64 years today. The mind boggles.

So Happy St. Patrick's Day, everyone, and Happy Anniversary to anyone celebrating today!

May the road rise to meet you. May the wind be always at your back.May the sun shine warm upon your face, the rains fall soft upon the fields. And, Until we meet again, May God hold you in the palm of his hand.

March 11, 2011

Dishin' DVDs: Days of Wine and Roses

The other night while looking for a great old movie to watch, I came across Days of Wine and Roses starring Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick. I'd never seen the movie before, but I've long been a fan of Jack Lemmon so I decided to watch it. I had no idea what it was about, and that's probably a good thing. I might not have watched it if I'd known.

Jack Lemmon plays Joe Clay, an alcoholic public relations man who hates what he does for a living. From the very first scene, we're pretty clear on how Joe feels about his life and his career. He mistakes Kirsten Arnasen (Remick) for a call-girl he's arranged to attend a party for clients, and the two of them develop an immediate dislike for each other. Joe later apologizes for his mistake and the two eventually fall in love and get married.

In the beginning Kirsten prefers chocolate to booze, an inconvenience Joe manages to overcome by introducing her to the Brandy Alexander, which is made with brandy and creme de cocoa.

I started the movie expecting a light romantic comedy, but that's definitely not what I got. Note to self: pay more attention to the blurb next time.

Not surprisingly, both Lemmon and Remick are great in the movie. Is the acting occasionally over the top? Maybe. But having lived with an alcoholic in the past, maybe not as over-the-top as some people would like to believe. The heartbreaking thing to me is the fact that these two characters had a child. Watching what they put that child through is painful.

Recommended, but with a caveat. It's a movie you may want to avoid if alcoholism is part of your past.

March 08, 2011

March 07, 2011

Dishin' From the Kitchen: Crawfish Casserole

Since moving to the south, I've learned to appreciate the crawfish--words I never thought I'd say! 

Crawfish Casserole
serves 5-6


  • 1 lb. Louisiana Crawfish Tails
  • 1 stick margarine
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 bundle of green onion
  • 1-2 stalks celery
  • 1/4 bell pepper
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1/4 tsp. of cayenne pepper (more or less to taste)
  • 1/4 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 can of Cream of Mushroom or Cream of Shrimp Soup
  • 1 cup of bread crumbs

Cooking Instructions

  • Over medium heat melt margarine in a 5 quart dutch oven.
  • Add vegetables and saute about 10 minutes, until onions soften and begin to turn clear.
  • Add crawfish tails and saute an additional 5 minutes.
  • Take off the heat and stir in cayenne, black pepper, cream of mushroom soup, and bread crumbs.
  • Mix well and put into casserole dish.
  • Bake uncovered at 350 for about 30 minutes.
  • Let stand 10 minutes before serving.
Laissez le bon temps rouler

March 01, 2011

Dishin' from the Kitchen: Jacklyn's Vegetable Beef Soup

This is one of my favorite go-to meals when I'm in the mood for comfort food. I've altered it slightly over the years, omitting celery when my daughter professed a deep and abiding hatred for it, leaving out the Lima beans when I didn't have them. It's versatile and hearty and great for a cool evening.

Jacklyn's Vegetable Beef Soup

3 pounds beef stew meat
1 pint plus 2 ounces tomato juice (I like to use V-8 Juice -- gives the soup great flavor)
1/3 cup onion, diced (I've been known to just dice the whole onion rather than mess around with the leftover parts)
4 teaspoons salt (or salt to taste)
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2 bay leaves
1 pound canned tomatoes (you can use diced tomatoes if you don’t like big chunks)
1 cup diced celery
1 can corn
4-5 potatoes cut into bite-sized pieces (use more or less, to taste.)
6-8 carrots cut into bite-sized pieces (or use the little pre-peeled carrots and eyeball how many you put in.)
1 package frozen baby lima beans (optional)

Brown the stew meat -- don't cook through, just sear the outside. Combine the juice, onion, Worcestershire sauce, seasonings and 6 cups of water in a large kettle.

Add the stew meat and simmer on low heat for 2 hours.

Add vegetables and cover. Simmer for 1 more hour.

Serve with crusty rolls and butter. Yummy! and it makes enough to last for a while.

February 25, 2011

Dishin' Mocha Creole Spice Cake

Mocha Creole Spice Cake

For the Cake:

2 1/2 cups sifted cake flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon mace
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/2 cup butter
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs, unbeaten
1/3 cup molasses
3/4 cup milk

  • Sift flour once. Measure. Add baking powder, salt and spices, and sift together 3 times. 
  • Cream shortening thoroughly; add sugar gradually and cream together until fluffy. 
  • Add eggs one at a time, beating thoroughly after each one. 
  • Add molasses and blend. 
  • Add flour alternately with milk, a small amount at a time, beating after each addition until smooth. 
  •  Bake in 2 greased 9-inch layer pans at 375 degrees F for 25 to 30 minutes, or until done.
 Frost with Mocha Creole Frosting:

1/3 cup butter
4 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (use real vanilla, not vanilla flavoring)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 square unsweetened chocolate
1/3 cup strong coffee

  • Cream butter well; 
  • Add 1 cup of the sifted confectioners' sugar gradually, blending after each addition. 
  • Add vanilla extract, salt and melted unsweetened chocolate. Mix well. 
  • Add remaining 3 cups confectioners' sugar alternately with about 1/3 cup strong coffee, until frosting is of right consistency to spread.


February 24, 2011

February 22, 2011

Dishin' from the Kitchen: Crock-pot Enchiladas

This is a great recipe for those busy nights when nobody really has time to cook. Brown the hamburger before you leave for work, or even the night before and assemble in the morning. This quickly became a family favorite around my house.

Crock-pot Enchiladas

1 1/2 lbs. ground beef (You can use 1 1/2 pounds if desired, but I use just one,) 
1 small onion diced
3/4 lb. grated cheddar cheese 
1 10 oz can enchilada sauce (I use mild) 
1 can ranch-style beans 
1 can whole kernel corn 
1 small can sliced olives 
6 corn tortillas 
salt and pepper 

Saute ground beef and onion together until beef is browned and onions are translucent. Drain. Season with salt and pepper. 

Wipe crock pot with oil or spray with non-stick spray. 

Place 3 tortillas in bottom of slow cooker. Cover with half the meat, the sauce, and half the cheese, 

Top with rest of tortillas, beans, corn, olives and rest of cheese.

Cook on low heat 5 to 7 hours. Serve with diced tomatoes and sour cream.


February 17, 2011

Dishin' on the Internet

If you haven't found this Facebook page already, hop over to The Crime Scene for a chance to interact with other mystery lovers and some of your favorite mystery authors. I'm just getting started there myself, but it looks like a great site!

Another fun group is Mystery Most Cozy. This group has been around for several years, first on Yahoo! Groups and now on Facebook. The group is made up of readers and writers.

The Cozy Chicks blog is a great place to keep up with a talented and interesting group of mystery writers, as is Killer Hobbies and Poe's Deadly Daughters and Jungle Red Writers.

Cozydiscussion on Yahoo! Groups is another great discussion group. and no discussion of mystery talk would be complete without DOROTHYL

There are dozens more great blogs and forums out there for mystery readers and writers and I could spend all day, every day clicking around the internet instead of writing. It's dangerous to go searching for new networking opportunities -- and yet. . . .

What are some of your favorite blogs and social networking sites?

February 15, 2011

Dishin' from the Kitchen: Chicken Salad

I got this recipe years ago from my friend, Colette. Since then, I've made this salad for countless baby showers, wedding showers, and pot-luck parties. It's a family favorite, and as my daughters and my nieces started hosting showers of their own, the recipe made its way into their kitchens as well. Easy to make and delicious to eat! Just make sure to think in advance when you want to make it since it needs to sit overnight for best results. 

Colettes Chicken Salad
Yields: 20 servings
  • 6-8 chicken breasts - browned and diced. (You can use canned chicken also, but I like it best when the chicken has a slight crust from browning.)
  • 6 Tablespoons butter (You can use margarine, but the flavor is best if you use real butter) 
  • 3 packages Chicken flavored Rice-A-Roni
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract (use real almond extract, not almond flavoring) 
  • 1 cup celery finely diced
  • 1 bunch green onions diced
  • 1/2 green bell pepper, diced
  • 1 cup mayonnaise diluted w/lemon juice and milk, mix till smooth
  •  Rolls to serve 20.
Cook Rice-A-Roni according to package directions using real butter and almond extract. Add remaining ingredients and refrigerate overnight,

Serve with dinner rolls, crusty rolls, or croissants. It's also great off the spoon, but don't tell anyone I said that :) 

February 14, 2011

An Ode to Brainstorming

I love how brainstorming works. I love sitting in a room with other writers and tossing ideas into the hat. I love the way ideas build on each other in that situation and how invested we all become in each other’s stories. I have three long-time critique partners whose input and opinions I value almost more than words can express. 

Years ago, we used to meet once a month to critique and brainstorm. As life changed and morphed and the demands on our time changed, we started meeting a few times a year, usually for a long weekend at someone’s house or a hotel.

Now that I’ve moved across country, we haven’t been able to get together in person for almost two years, but I know that when we do manage a face-to-face meeting it will feel as if no time has passed at all. I look forward to the next time the four of us can indulge ourselves that way. 

But I also love brainstorming in other, less formal situations. My deadline for Cake on a Hot Tin Roof is coming up way too fast, and I’ve been stuck at a point in the book, unable to move forward. I knew that something was wrong, but I also felt pretty sure that it was something relatively minor. I was convinced that once I could figure out what it was, I’d be just fine.

Unfortunately, the flu made its rounds through my house and my daughter’s for several weeks, I was teaching an online writing class and also had an article due for a writers’ trade magazine so I couldn’t find the focus necessary to figure out what my problem was. The workshop ended at the end of January and I got the article off on Thursday, so I promised myself that Friday I’d lock myself in my office and concentrate until I figured out what was stopping me.

Friday morning, my daughter asked me to spend the day with her and the grandkids. That’s not something I get to do as often as I would like, and I wrestled with the desire to say yes and the very real need to buckle down and get to work on the manuscript. When I told my daughter what was stopping me, she tossed an incentive into the mix. “What if,” she said in her best negotiating voice, “we talk about the book while we’re shopping?” 

My ears perked up and my nose twitched at the possibility. Brainstorming? On the go with two kids under the age of five? At the mall? Could it possibly work? 

I decided to take a chance. My daughter and the kids picked me up bright and early, and off we went. The great thing about both of my daughters is that we all have the ability to pick up a conversation without missing a beat, even if it’s been several days since we last discussed a topic. So carrying our conversation from Ross to the Mall, to the jewelry kiosk, to the food court, and then finally to Walmart as difficult as you might think. 

One of the great things about being a writer is that you get to have conversations that sound this:
“I don’t know. I just don’t see it. I mean, why would anyone be stupid enough to pick up a murder weapon? Put that down, baby. Give the toy back to your sister, okay?”
“Maybe he’s shocked. Here, sweetheart, let Ooma wipe your nose. He walks into the room and sees the body lying there and—Oh, honey, be careful. Let’s put that down.”
“Nope. I just don’t believe it. Everybody knows better than to pick up a gun they find lying next to a body. What baby? Potty? You need Ooma to take you potty?”
It was a crazy day and the brainstorming took place in short snippets and half-sentences punctuated by sibling rivalry and phone calls from friends and other family, but it actually worked. Something my daughter said at some point in our crazy-quilt conversation unlocked a possibility I’d overlooked on my own. That possibility helped me realize what was wrong with what I’d written so far. I came home physically exhausted but mentally energized and ready to move forward. 

I just love how brainstorming works!

February 10, 2011

Dishin' DVDs: Teacher's Pet

As I'm sure you can tell from the titles of my books, I love old movies. Not all old movies. There are as many lousy old movies as there are lousy new movies. But some old movies are pure gold, and I made it a point to share those golden oldies with my kids as they grew up. My family is bit on roots, so there's not much that makes me sadder than to see people who have no real knowledge of the world in which their parents and grandparents lived.

Before she died, my grandmother talked for hours to my children about things they'll never experience for themselves: the first time my grandmother ever saw a car, for example. I've talked to them about the world before integration and women's rights. And I've also shared the cultural past with them, in books, movies, music, and anything else I can find.

One of my favorite old movies is Teacher's Pet, starring Clark Gable and Doris Day. Gable plays a hard-nosed newspaperman who believes in learning from the school of hard knocks. For reasons I can't remember at the moment, he is forced to take a journalism class from Day's character--the daughter of an award-winning reporter who believes in the value of education.

Gable has no use for education when it comes to writing a good story, but he is interested in his teacher. He assumes a false identity so she won't figure out that he's the grumpy old editor she despises.

It's a lot of fun, although I'm sure it also contains some pretty dated references. But, hey! if you can overlook crude humor and foul language to get through a movie produced today, surely you can overlook a little old-fashioned humor to enjoy a great comedy romp with two of Hollywood's greats.

February 08, 2011

Dishin' from the Kitchen: Hot Spinach-Artichoke Dip

Got caught up in the copy edits for A Sheetcake Named Desire last week. I thought I'd catch up with the world today, but two grand-kids with the flu have left me feeling a little under the weather today. So for your culinary pleasure, I'm going to share a favorite recipe. This one comes from my daughter's kitchen and it's a hit whenever she takes it to a party. 

Hot Spinach-Artichoke Dip

1 Bottle diced artichoke hearts (get the non-marinated variety for best results) 
1/2 Cup chopped spinach (you can use frozen or fresh but never canned) 
8 ounces cream cheese
1 Cup grated Parmesan Cheese (divided in half) 
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (more or less to taste) 
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
dash of ground black pepper

On the side: chips, crackers, or toasted bread  

Put the artichoke hearts and spinach in a microwave safe bowl and cover it with plastic wrap. Cut a small slit in the plastic to let the steam out, then microwave on high for 4 minutes. Stir and zap it again for another 2-3 minutes or until the artichoke hearts are tender.

Heat the cream cheese in a small bowl in the microwave set on high for 1 minute (or until soft). Add the spinach and artichoke hearts to the cream cheese and stir well.

Add the remaining ingredients (using half of the Parmesan) to the cream cheese and combine. Put in an oven safe bowl and top with other half of Parmesan cheese. Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes, or until bubbly.

Serve warm with the crackers, chips or toasted bread for dipping and enjoy!

February 01, 2011

King Cake

In the interest of research, I had my first ever taste of King Cake the other day. It's not something I remember seeing in many places in my old life, but where I live now . . . well, King Cakes seem to be everywhere now that it's Carnival Season.

My daughter and I were strolling through a store the other day when we came across a huge display of King Cakes. Okay, we were not in a bakery, and I'm sure there are King Cakes out there that would have given me a smoother bite for my first try, but Hey! We were there. And so was the cake. And as an author writing about a baker who is inundated by order for King Cake, I felt duty bound to try one.

So we took our cake home and commenced the taste test. I have to say that, having read so many recipes and blog posts and discussions about King Cake on online forums, the texture was pretty much what I expected. Kind of flaky, kind of coffee cake-y, not what I could call traditional cake. But I'm sure you all knew that.

The taste was another thing entirely. I expected cinnamon. After all, it's a key ingredient in the King Cake. The cake we bought was, I believe, made using a traditional recipe, which means no filling. But I wasn't prepared for a hint of anise--at least that's what it tasted like to me. In all my research, I don't think I've come across a recipe that calls for anise, so I'm guessing there wasn't actually anise in the cake we bought. But something gave it a unique flavor unlike anything I've ever tasted before.

Maybe it was nutmeg.

Obviously, my research on this subject isn't finished yet.

So, you King Cake enthusiasts, give me your opinions. Where do you find the best King Cake in New Orleans, and what makes it so special?

January 28, 2011

A Rose by Any Other Name ...

I need help.

Serious help.

Last night, I had the opportunity to attend a mini cake decorating class where I got to try my hand at creating buttercream roses. I've watched countless videos on cake decorating since I started writing this new mystery series, and I've tried some other decorating techniques, but last night was my first hands-on attempt at roses.

Folks, it's not as easy as it looks -- not by a long shot! Making sure the icing is the right temperature and consistency, getting the center post just right, learning how to hold the nail between forefinger and thumb and then how to perfect the rolling motion with the nail hand and the up-and-down motion with the pastry bag hand . . .

I wish now I'd taken pictures of my efforts because they did not look like the rose in this picture. My first effort, in fact, came out looking more like a cabbage than a rose. My instructor called it a "classic cabbage." I'm not convinced she intended it as a compliment, but I'm choosing to take it as one!

My second attempt looked a little more rose-like but I tried to move it from the nail to my cookie (sadly, no actual cakes to practice on) without the flower lifter. Big mistake. I'd moved the first one without disaster, but the second one turned over and landed face down and the bottom was . . .

Well, let's just say that it wasn't decorative.

Obviously, it's going to take a whole lot more practice on my part to turn out a decent buttercream rose.

So if you have any tips you can share with me, I will welcome them all!

January 26, 2011

In Search of a Word

It's taken me more than 12 hours of work to find one word for my current work-in-progress, "Cake on a Hot Tin Roof." Granted, it's an important word. It will be used numerous times in the book, which is why the search for it required such a lot of effort. The story takes place during Carnival Season and several characters in the book are members of a specific Krewe. The name of that Krewe is the word I've been searching for.

For those who aren't familiar with Mardi Gras and Krewes, it's important to understand that Mardi Gras is a celebration for the public, which means there are no official sponsors. The parties, the banquets, the parades, and the throws (trinkets, coins, and beads tossed from parade floats) are all provided by various Krewes--organizations that might be called "clubs" elsewhere. There are lots of Krewes all over the country, with a heavy concentration along the Gulf Coast.

I don't want to tar any existing Krewe with the antics of my characters, so I decided to create a Krewe of my own, with its own customs and rules and purpose. But that's not as easy as you might think. I've spent hours reading about Mardi Gras and Krewes. I've studied how various Krewes govern their organizations and how they choose their kings each year. I've read up about how the queens are chosen, and how and when the royalty are revealed each year.

I've Googled Krewes and made copious notes. I've Googled Egyptian, gods, Roman gods, and mythical gods. I've read descriptions of gods and goddesses and even minor diety until my eyes burned. When it appeared that I'd run into a brick wall in that direction, I Googled French royalty and words associated with Carnival and Mardi Gras.

Early in the process, I ruled out naming my imaginary Krewe after a goddess because I don't think my victim, currently known as Willie Fiske, would join a Krewe named after a woman. It's not that Willie doesn't like women. He does. Maybe even a little too much. But Willie's a bit of a jerk, frankly. Kind of a macho jerk. So I needed a good, strong, masculine name.

I also ruled out names that were too dark because other members of the Krewe are perfectly nice people who probably wouldn't join a Krewe associated with Hades or the dark side. So I needed a good, strong, masculine name that was positive and upbeat, but not too positive -- because, after all, Willie's not going to belong to a Krewe named after some minor Egyptian deity who tended flowers.

Of course, every potential name had to be subjected to the Google test to make sure there wasn't another real Krewe out there already using the name. 99% of the good names were already taken, which sent me back to the drawing board over and over and over again. The name also had to be easy to pronounce so readers don't get stuck on it. That ruled out another huge chunk of possibilities. 

After hours and hours, split up over several days, I think I finally found the name of my Krewe. I've Googled and, so far, I can't find any other Krewe using that name. I'll do some more research later to make sure. I've inserted the name into the manuscript, and so far it feels good. I'm not stumbling over it as I read, and that's always a good sign.

Twelve hours or more for one word. Just one of the reasons you have to love the process of writing before you become a writer. Because the truth is, if you're focused on the results, you may end up disappointed and frustrated with this profession.

This is a hard truth, but it's one I needed to remember today. File it under Lessons Remembered :)

January 25, 2011

I've been doing a lot of research about cakes lately. I've read up on how to make them and studied how to decorate them. I've tried my hand at both, and I'll keep experimenting and sharing my successes and failures here in the coming months.

In the process of my research, I noticed that many recipes specify a particular type of flour, and that, naturally, raised the question:

Is there a difference between the different types of flour?

The short answer is yes, there's a difference.

For those who don't know a lot about flour, the main difference in flour types arises (pun intended) from the gluten content. Gluten is the protein that helps yeast stretch and rise. It's also dangerous to those with Celiac Disease, but that's a subject for another day. The gluten content varies in different types of flour depending on whether the flour is made from hard wheat or soft wheat.

If you want to achieve the best results in your recipe, it's smart to use the type of flour the recipe specifically calls for.

All-purpose flour is designed for a number of uses--hence the name "all-purpose." It's best used for cookies, quick breads and biscuits and can also be used for cakes. It's a mixture of high-gluten hard wheat and low-gluten soft wheat, and it comes in both bleached and unbleached varieties. From what I can tell, it really doesn't matter whether you use bleached or unbleached flour in a recipe, unless the recipe specifies one or the other.

Bread flour is an unbleached, high-gluten blend, mostly hard wheat, and best used in yeast breads because the protein in the gluten is necessary for the bread to rise properly.

Cake flour is made primarily of low-gluten soft wheat. It has a fine texture and a high starch content which make it ideal for cakes, cookies, biscuits and pastries that don't need to rise much.

Pastry flour is similar to cake flour, but it has a slightly higher gluten content. This higher gluten content aids with the elasticity that's needed to hold together layers necessary to make pie crusts, puff pastry and the like.

Self-rising flour is just all-purpose flour to which someone has added baking powder and salt. You can use it in yeast bread recipes instead of all-purpose flour if you omit the salt and in quick bread recipes by omitting salt and baking powder.

Is it okay to use all-purpose flour for everything?

Not exactly. Like I said earlier, you're going to get the best results if you use the appropriate flour for the recipe. However, if all you have is all-purpose flour, here's a substitution chart created by TLC to help. 

When the recipe calls for:Substitute:
1 cup sifted cake flour 1 cup minus 2 tablespoons sifted all-purpose flour
1 cup pastry flour 1 cup minus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 cup self-rising flour 1 cup minus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour plus 11/2 teaspoons baking powder and 1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon pastry flour

And now you know!

What cake-baking tips do you have in your arsenal to help those of us who are just starting out?

January 21, 2011

Jazz Festival Line-up

I'm following the New Orleans Jazz Festival on Twitter so I got the tweet about this year's line-up for the festival scheduled for dates in April and May of this year. Some of the names surprised me. I had no idea that anyone would consider Bon Jovi's music jazz. Or Jimmy Buffet's. Although Buffet really isn't a surprise since he embraces everything that is sun and surf and sea and sand, and you have to embrace those things if you're living along the Gulf Coast.

Some of the names in this year's line-up are familiar to me. Some aren't. Kid Rock is in Column A. Mighty Clouds of Joy in Column B. By the time the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival is over, I'd like to move a whole lot of names from column B to Column A.

Cyndy Lauper is a surprise to me. Maybe not to anyone else, but I'm as new to the world of jazz music as I am to life near water. I spent the first few decades of my life landlocked. In Montana, we at least had respectable rivers. In Utah, the things we called rivers barely qualify as a forgotten trickle of water in these parts. I'm learning about life on the coast along with Rita Lucero, the main character in my mystery series. Rita comes to New Orleans from New Mexico. Her reasons for staying are a little different from mine, but she's as fascinated by this area of the world as I am.

For those of you who know the world of jazz, who are your favorite jazz musicians? Who would you suggest Rita include on her playlist?

January 14, 2011

Sliders, Anyone?

I came across an article this morning about how sliders are becoming the new big (or small) taste sensation in New Orleans. I'll confess, I've never had a slider of any variety. I just don't get it. What's the point of eating multiple tiny burgers when you can get one adult-sized burger instead?

Maybe it's an issue of cleanliness. The slider fits into your mouth in one bite, so you don't have the grease slipping down your hand, the mayo dripping onto the front of your shirt, the pickle sliding around and threatening to drop. Then again, if you get a really good burger, the grease and the dripping could be considered a valuable part of the experience.

Maybe it's a "perfect bite" thing, shades of The Mirror has Two Faces. Everything you like in a burger condensed into a perfectly constructed bite. Pickle, mayo, lettuce, tomato, ground beef, and just the right amount of bun. Mmmm.

Is it just a fad? The next "new" thing. Something different. Admittedly, burgers have been around for a while. There's no doubt about it, some are better than others. But even with a really great burger, the format is somewhat predictable.

Or is it a question of variety? I'll confess that I'm frequently torn between two or more items on the menu when I eat out. Sometimes it's possible to negotiate a split with someone else, but the opportunity to get all the appealing taste sensations on one plate does have some appeal.

Maybe you can solve the mystery of the slider and explain its appeal to me. 

As sliders gain in popularity, they're also branching out. Cure offers a brioche slider featuring lump crabmeat and citrus aioli that sounds absolutely heavenly. Mondo doesn't call theirs "sliders," but their version is a Mexican pocket sandwich. Phil's Grill (three locations) offers three varieties, one made with Angus, one with alligator, and one with hot sausage. Since I love trying new and different things, I may have to try the gator slider one of these days. Stanley serves up a po'boy slider with cole slaw and remoulade.

The mouth-watering list goes on, and reading it is making my mouth water. Next time I'm in New Orleans, I may have to join the crowd and give sliders a chance.

January 12, 2011

Cake or Cupcake?

Image courtesy of
Lately, there's been a lot of talk about cakes vs. cupcakes. Is one better than the other? Is one more appropriate for certain events than the other? When I was growing up, cupcakes were definitely for children. Grown-ups had cake. Kids had cupcakes. It was a "truth" I accepted without even thinking about it. Never in a million years would I have expected to see my mom or dad having birthday cupcakes on their special days, and the idea of serving cupcakes at a wedding? Outrageous!

But in the past few years, cupcakes have been gaining in popularity, it seems. Once the thing your mom made for you to take to school, cupcakes are going gourmet. A simple Google search for gourmet cupcake shops will bring up over a million hits. I'm pretty sure there aren't a million gourmet cupcake shops in the world -- or maybe there are. No matter how many there are, there's no denying that cupcakes are now for grown-ups, with flavors like Chai Latte, Café Mocha, Mango Passion, and Fat Elvis showing up on the menu. Cupcakes even have their own TV Reality show in Food Network's Cupcake Wars.

It's not just the cupcake that's gaining in popularity, though. Cakes and cake decorating have become immensely popular thanks to shows like Food Network's Ace of Cakes, TLC's The Cake Boss, and WETV's Amazing Wedding Cakes. More people than ever are tossing around terms like ganache and pastiage, and we love watching our favorite pastry chefs create cakes brimming with WOW!

But the question remains, is one better than the other? Does it matter? Frankly, I'll happily eat both if someone is kind enough to put them in front of me. But would I have cupcakes at my wedding? I'm really not sure.

What do you think? Cake or Cupcakes? Or Both?

January 10, 2011

Get the Party Started!

Welcome everyone to my brand new blog! 

I have a brand new mystery series coming out from Berkley Prime Crime featuring pastry chef and cake artist, Rita Lucero. The first book, A SHEETCAKE NAMED DESIRE, is scheduled for release on August 2. It's available for pre-order here and also here, and if you're kind enough to "like" it on your Facebook page, you'll be my new BFF. I've seen an early copy of the cover, and as soon as I can, I'll share that with you! 

I'm currently working on the second book in the series, CAKE ON A HOT TIN ROOF, which should be out sometime in the spring of 2012. The series is set in New Orleans, and I'm having a great time writing the stories, meeting the characters, and researching all things New Orleans. 

CAKE ON A HOT TIN ROOF takes place during Carnival Season, which begins on Epiphany, or Twelfth Night (the end of the twelve days of Christmas), also known as January 6. Carnival Season runs from the 6th of January until Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. Which means that there will be lots of craziness and partying in Rita's world, as well as a little mayhem and murder! 

When my editor and I first began talking about this series, I lived in Utah at the base of the Wasatch Mountains (part of the Rockies, for those who aren't familiar with that area of the world.) Since then, I've moved to the Gulf Coast area, so I'm just a few hours outside of New Orleans. How great is that? In fact, my local area has already begun to celebrate Carnival Season--something we never did back in Utah! 
I hope you'll join me here to talk cake, books, murder ... and anything else that crosses our minds!