Tuesday, May 21, 2013

A Hug from the Kitchen ~ Part Two

Today's guests,a phenomenal husband and wife media team, intended to share a witty, food and photo offering--a glimpse into their happy kitchen. But that kitchen is in Oklahoma, and these good folks are dealing with tornadoes instead, making sure family, friends, and neighbors are safe. I've rescheduled their appearance here, and I'm adding my prayers to thousands of others in the wake of that disaster in Moore, and as the threat of more tornadoes continues. 

I don't know if it's the nurse in me, or the Mom--or a combination of both--but in times of trouble, storms that are physical, emotional, or spiritual . . . I just want to offer comfort. And food is often a part of that.Soup is high on my survival list of therapeutic food.

Chicken soup? Sure, that's the classic "get well" offering. 

Creamy Peanut Butter Squash Soup is the Calvert family favorite I shared in my first Comfort Food post.

Today, because (despite the weather) summer is next up on the calendar, I thought I'd offer a recipe for a cold soup. It's easy, pretty, and delicious: 

Chilled Avocado Soup


1 medium ripe Haas avocado (black pebbled variety)
2 cups buttermilk
2 Tbl. lemon juice
1/2 tsp. garlic salt
Dash of Tobasco sauce, cumin powder
1 medium tomato, seeded and finely diced
1 small green onion, very thinly sliced
1 Tbl. chopped fresh cilantro (optional)

Peel and pit avocado. Combine avocado flesh, buttermilk, lemon juice, salt, cumin, Tobasco in food processor and blend until smooth:

Set aside about a Tbl. each of the tomato and onion. Stirl the remaining tomato and onion into the soup. Pour into a medium bowl: 

Cover and chill at least one hour before serving. Then top with the reserved tomato, onion, and the fresh chopped cilantro: 

I added some simple cheese quesadilla wedges, a warm and yummy complement to the chilled soup, for a wonderful, simple meal. And some comforting TLC. 

 As an author, I firmly believe that a well-written, believable character  should have a few comfort quirks, too.  Like our very determined ER Director Kate Callison from my upcoming release, RESCUE TEAM.  In this short scene snippet, we see Kate grabbing comfort food in the midst of a terrible-awful day at Austin Grace ER:


Lauren sat down opposite Kate at a table outside the ER. She eyed Kate’s paper plate. “What on earth is that?”

“Muff—mmph, excuse me.” Kate swallowed a couple of times, dabbed at her lips. “Sorry. Whole wheat English muffin. Peanut butter, cream cheese, and orange marmalade—as much as I could scrape out of the last little foil package in the staff refrigerator.  I needed . . .” Peanut butter . . . and peace. She smiled sheepishly. “Comfort food. Don’t judge.” 

“Cross my heart. I’ve seen the bottom of a few Blue Bell ice cream cartons myself.” Lauren tipped her head. “I figured things were bad when you asked the ICU if they could spare me for a few hours.”

“You can’t know how much I appreciate you helping out. And being the one friendly face in my hostile world.” Kate frowned. “Legal came to see me.”

“Can I assume that means Barrett Lyon?” 

“He had the nerve to ask me to lunch minutes after describing his plan to defend the hospital from any possible litigation that might happen as a result of Baby Doe. Which could include pointing the finger at individual staff. Throwing any or all of us to—” 

“The Lyons,”  Lauren finished. “Pun intended. That man sure does seem intent on proving my mom’s advice that good-lookin’ isn’t nearly good enough.”

Speaking of Rescue Team, my publisher's launch celebration party continues until May 31st, so be sure you enter for your chance at a book giveaway AND a grand prize Food & Books gift basket assembled by yours truly. Yes, I did autograph that apron: 

You can enter right now, right here by clicking on the Punch Tab link below: 

Monday, May 20, 2013

Food & Books: My Publisher's Having a Party!

Yes, that IS my handwriting on a chef's apron--the biggest thing I've autographed so far. You don't want to imagine the spelling phobia a writer suffers when raising a permanent marker to a spanking new, stenciled apron. Or the compulsion to get the cursive lines straight . . . I almost heard my grade school teacher's wooden pointer tapping the chalk board! 

But I digress . . . Here's what's happening, my friends:

My fabulous publisher, Tyndale House,  is hosting a launch celebration for 
RESCUE TEAM, complete with a book giveaway, and this Grand Prize Food & Book themed gift basket assembled by yours truly. Here's what it includes:

Stainless steel kitchen colander with:

Autographed GOT BOOKS? apron
GOT BOOKS? tile coaster
Rescue Team (signed)
Trauma Plan  (signed)
6-pack of Starbucks Via coffee
2 coffee-cup print dish towels
4 dish cloths
Multi-color set of measuring spoons
Fancy print cupcake papers
Hearts & Flowers cupcake sprinkles
Plus two summer-favorite recipes from the Calvert kitchen

Also, FIVE runner-up entrants will each receive a copy of Rescue Team.

Sounds like fun, right? The winners will be chosen in a random drawing by my publisher on May 31st.

NOTE: Leaving a comment below does NOT enter you in the giveaway, you must enter via my publisher's PunchTab entry form.  You can do that at the Tyndale Blog, or enter right now, right here:

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Recipe for Life ~ Guest Writer Amy Leigh Simpson

One of the best perks of being an author is the opportunity to meet and encourage folks new to this (arduous, wacky) wonderful publishing journey--what a joy to share the excitement of an aspiring author! Today's guest is a great example of someone tackling this adventure. Wife, mom to two darling little boys, and a blogger, she writes Romantic Suspense and is respresented by (I quote her) "the great and mighty" literary agent, Chip MacGregor. Plus, she is a passionate foodie, and perhaps the only person to  trump me with Facebook dinner posts. Okay--all together now-- let's  wave our wooden spoons in a hearty welcome for our multi-talented guest:

Recipe for life

The thing I love most about cooking is the freedom to create. We writers tend to be mildly creative creatures so I suppose whipping up a meal has a shared creative element to mixing up the ingredients of a story.

As the mother of two rambunctious toddler boys, time is a luxury (and sleep is a distant memory... but that’s a whole other sermon!) It can be difficult to have the energy and creativity to come up with an exciting and healthy meal after a long day.

Most families have a stock pile of familiar recipes that go though a monthly, if not weekly rotation. Spaghetti, chili, burger, meatloaf, or leftover night, sound familiar?

So, in favor of boring my taste buds with the same old rhyme of processed, convenient, or redundant foods, my hubby and I decided that we’d take strides to clean up our diet and keep things as fresh as possible.

Food, like life, is what we make it. I have never been one of those demure women who politely tap their napkin to their lips and decline dessert. I love to eat. And sweets, don’t even get me started. Since very few things in life come with an ingredient list and step by step instructions, throw out the recipe book and explore what lies beyond the page. Let’s dig in and get our hands messy.

So, for your prologue…

It’s always a good idea to keep your fridge full of fresh ingredients you enjoy. When you are plotting out your story for dinner, put all your players on the counter and start pounding out that first draft. Experiment with a new idea, throw in a dash of a new spice or a zest of lemon. You’ll never know what you’re missing if you never take the time to explore the outer limits of your palate.

Lately I have had this thing for stuffed acorn squash. Each time I make this dish I pull different ingredients from the fridge and create something new. So if there are items in my dish that you don’t care for, take ‘em out, swap it with something else.

Use this as a guideline to inspire your imagination in the kitchen and create something fresh and unique. Explore what works for your taste with this healthy, beautiful and uber-flavorful meal or side dish! I promise. This is not as scary as it looks. Be bold! Mix it up!

To make this exactly as I have made it (and yes, I see the irony here) you will need:

2 acorn squash
2 zucchini
1-2 cups chopped mushrooms
1 cup grape tomatoes
2 stalks green onion
1 handful of spinach leaves
1 mini red pepper
1 mini orange pepper
1 cup quinoa or brown rice (your preference)
2 cups vegetable or chicken broth (I use water and soup base)
1 packet Good Seasons All Natural Italian seasoning
Feta and pine nuts to top
Salt, pepper, and fresh parsley to taste.
Secret Ingredient: Green Olive Tapenade (Trader Joes is excellent!)

Now, if you’ve never had acorn squash don’t be intimidated by the lumpy green and orange pumpkins. Their flavor is mild, the texture a little shreddy like a sweet potato. In fact, it has that same earthy tint of sweetness to it. Quite delicious!

To start out on your adventure preheat your oven to 350. Wash, half, and use a spoon to scoop out the seeds of the acorn squash. (1 squash serves two. The recipe today serves four.)

Using your knife, gently score the inside flesh of the squash and put a dab of butter (I use Earth Balance Buttery Spread) in each squash half. Using a glass Pyrex 9x9 casserole dish works well, fill with about an inch of water to keep the squash from drying out in the oven. Pop those babies in for 40-60 minutes until the inner flesh is soft enough to poke with a fork.

While those are baking up, get your quinoa started cooking in the broth of your choice for added flavor. Follow the instructions on the package. It basically cooks itself. (*Note* If you’re cooking for four, make the quinoa recipe for two. If cooking for two cut the smallest recipe amount in half. A little goes a long way!)

Then get slicing and dicing. Lots to cut up here. I like to reserve the tomatoes, spinach, and parsley for the last few minutes so they don’t get soggy, but otherwise, go to town. Skin off slivers of the zucchini skin and dice everything into bite sized pieces.

Sauté in a hearty drizzle of olive oil and the sprinkle over the packet of Italian Seasoning.

When the quinoa is ready, mix it in and add those final fresh ingredients. (Tomatoes, spinach, and fresh parsley.)

And then I add a heaping tablespoon of the secret ingredient. A salty little zest of Green Olive Tapenade. Kalamata olives work well too.

Keep warm until the squash is finished. Then get to stuffing.

Top with feta cheese, pine nuts, and salt and pepper.


NOTE: This recipe is vegetarian. (Though I often add chicken.) It can also easily be made vegan if you x-nay the cheese.

Another variation had chicken and chickpeas instead of quinoa. It looked like this.

So go forth, drink in the fullness of life. Create a delicious story on a plate. Taste it. Smell it. Savor it. Happy inventing!

Amy Leigh Simpson writes Romantic Suspense and loves to take readers on a spirited journey of finding grace and redemption through stories that are equally inspiring, nail-biting, and hilarious. And maybe a little saucy!

Here’s a tasty little snipped from her current WIP!

* * *

As if summoned up on a prayer, she rounded the corner. Unreasonably appealing in all that overstuffed terrycloth, hair teased in defiant little clumps, and fresh, dew-kissed skin straight from a Neutrogena commercial.
Dang it, Salivas, don’t be creepy!
He immediately stopped ogling her and continued prepping the eggs. “Morning, Brat. You sleep alright?”
“Fine, thank you.”
He could sense the shift in her position even without seeing her. When he turned around to grab the peppers, tomatoes and onions he’d just chopped, he found both his brother and Candice scavenging his ingredients.
“Hey, hey!” Swatting at both of their hands, he scooped up the veggies and tossed them into the scramble. “Patience, you little vultures. Breakfast in three minutes. Gabe, why don’t you get the OJ from the fridge. Brat, there’s fresh coffee in the pot, help yourself.”
Sal finished preparing the Mexican style sausage, egg, and cheese burritos, slid them onto the plates and carried all three to the table.
He knew Candice was a big eater, so he made her a four-egg burrito the same size as his and Gabe’s. Amazing how the woman stayed so small. He remembered at Archer and Sadie’s rehearsal dinner she ate three-quarters of a double-decker JJ Twigs pizza. Like six slices of Titanic sinkable pizza. Unbelievable. And totally hot.
“Wow, Dorian, this looks really good.” She eyed the boat-sized burrito and smiled, looking like King-Kong ready to pillage a banana stand. “But you didn’t have to make a special breakfast for me.”
Gabe was already halfway through his enormous burrito and spoke with a mouthful of eggs. “He didn’t. My bro’s an artist in the kitchen. Why else would I be up this early?”
Sal glared at his brother and issued a warning that earned him a stuffed cheeked grin from the little terror.
He turned back to Candice just in time to see her first bite. Her eyes slipped closed, and—
Did she just moan?
Ay caramba! He needed out of this kitchen!

* * *
Question for you??

When was the last time you experimented in your kitchen? How’d it turn out?

Amy would love to connect with you. Find her on Facebook or on her blog spots

The Writers Alley (group)  http://thewritersalleys.blogspot.com/ or
The Break Room (personal)  http://writersbreakroom.blogspot.com/

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Fast Food Fess Up

I see that look in your eye: very wary, like you're thinking : "Candace is all about the veggies, if she's using the word "FAST," it's probably about one of those health-nut juice fasts, or . . ."

I don't blame you for your skepticism. After all, I did post that recipe for pizza without pepperoni.

But seriously, today's post really IS about fast food. Because, let's face it, at one time or another we all indulge (or have indulged) in some of those paper-wrapped, styrofoam-boxed,  ever-enticing super-size, hot-oil-and-salt, cheese-topped, sesame seed sprinkled . . . nose-perking meals. Even if we knew we shouldn't, swore we wouldn't, and fully intended to toss up a big healthful salad at home.

Sometimes we simply . . . go for it.

So I thought it would be fun to just get it out of our systems and call a burger a burger, or a crispy tender a crispy tender.

 I thought today, we should challenge each other to just come clean, 'fess up to our favorite fast food hankering.

I'll go first:

Hi. My name is Candace, and I once had a thing for Taco Bell bean burritos. With the green chile sauce. Doughy white flour tortilla, mushy refried beans, green sauce . . . and nice dollop of sour cream.
I lived in Oregon at the time, a young ER nurse pregnant enough to waddle--and an insatiable craving for Taco Bell bean burritos. We lived in a small town, so sometimes to avoid embarrassment I would drive to the next town to get my second (or third--did I say that?) burrito of the day. Really.

When I finally had my son, the labor and delivery nurse was ecstactic about his full head of hair. She asked if I'd eaten any special food during my pregnancy. On my cloud of new-mother bliss (possibly helped along by my C-section pain meds) I confessed to the bean burritos. She said "Ah, yes," with a very knowing expression on her face. To this day, I still don't know if that meant she liked them too, or if bean burritos have an actual impact on baby hair.

I do know, however, that fast food played a small part in my newly released novel, Rescue Team. In this short snippet, a hospital volunteer, Judith, offers help to the daughter of patient having emergency surgery. But, as you'll see, this young mother had other important things on her mind:

“You know—” Judith glanced around the waiting room, satisfied that the patients were being triaged and roomed in a timely manner—“there’s a nice waiting room up near surgery. TV, hot cocoa, coffee, tea. I even know where they hide the graham crackers. Why don’t I take you up there to wait? It’s close to the post-anesthesia recovery room.” She smiled down at baby Harley. “So when Grandpa wakes up and wants to see his beautiful little—”

“She won’t be here.” Trista pushed her glasses up her nose. A dark smudge on the lens blurred one of her eyes. “Neither of us. They’re keeping him overnight. I’ll get a message on my cell phone when I have to come pick him up.” 

“Oh.” Judith watched as Trista reached for her purse. There was dried blood on her sleeve, which made Judith worry it was also the source of the smudge on her glasses.  

“I’ve got the car. They locked up Dad’s wallet, but . . .” Trista’s brows rose ever so slightly. “There was $11.96 in the front pocket of his pants. He’d figure someone would steal it. So I’m thinking Chick-fil-A. Spicy chicken sandwich and—” the corners of her mouth tugged upward—“a peppermint chocolate chip milkshake.” She wedged the bag of clothes under her arm and reached for the baby seat. “I’m going there now. There’s one right at the end of my street.”

“Here,” Judith said. “Don’t forget Harley’s rattle.”
She watched them go. Then realized it was the first time she’d ever seen Trista smile. 
That must be some good chicken, or there's more to this young mother than meets the eye. You'll need to read the story to know for sure . . . 

So, how about YOU? Do you have a fast food weakness?

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Cowboy Hat with that Apron? Guest Author Winter A. Peck

** Weds. May 15th, 11:50 AM Congratulations to our book giveaway winners: CONNIE BROWN, and LANA!
And thank you all for stopping by to make Winter feel welcome--you rock!

Today it's my pleasure to share an apron with a delightful author, mom, and military wife who "leans heavily" on her "mid-western roots" and her love of the Old West and rodeo. She's also quite a cook, and I'm excited that she's here today to share a recipe from her busy kitchen. Let's wave our wooden spoons (tap the toes of our cowboy boots) and give a big Authors' Galley howdy to Winter A. Peck!

I love my kitchen. When I’m not at my desk, or locked away in the bedroom, killing or maiming my characters—oops I mean writing and or editing, I’m in the kitchen cooking/ baking/experimenting. Sometimes I feel like Dr. Frankenstein with food.

There’s six of us, and two are teenage boys and I can’t seem make enough food for them some days. My youngest son has a severe allergic reaction to chemical food preservatives, artificial flavors and colors, and refined everything. In other words, everything we eat must be homemade, even our bread. In the last four months I’ve taken to making—and failing—our yogurt, too. It’s simple and not as time consuming as you think. And in the end, you have something nourishing that gives you the control of deciding how much sweetener you add.

What You Need:
Slow cooker
Meat or candy thermometer
Wooden spoon
4-8 cups of whole milk
1 packet of yogurt cultures or ½ cup of plain store-bought yogurt with live cultures
Whisk and ladle
4-6 clean glass jars with lids
And a cooler

Depending on how busy you are, set the slow cooker to low or high, if you set it on high pay close attention to your milk. Pour measured milk into the slow cooker and cover. Let it heat to 180 degrees, I stir occasionally when I’m checking the temperature to even out the heated milk. Once it’s reached 180 let it sit uncovered until the milk cools to between 105-110 degrees. Remove the film that covers the top of the liquid. You must let it cool or the heat will kill the cultures. Whisk in one packet of cultures—I use this—or the ½ cup of yogurt until cultures are dissolved and well incorporated with milk.

While you’re doing this heat water on the stove to boiling, this will go in the cooler to help incubate the yogurt.
Then taking the jars, fill them until about ¼ from the top, leaving room for the yogurt to grow. Screw on the lids, but not too tight, just enough to keep the water from getting inside the jar. Place jars in the cooler and pour boiling water around them. Close cooler and let the yogurt incubate for 10-14 hours. I let mine set over night, usually about halfway through the incubation process I add another large pot of boiling water to keep the temps even.

When it’s done you should see a skim of whey on the top and the yogurt should just pull away from the sides of the jar, looking solid. Let it sit in the fridge for a few hours before eating.

I drizzle local honey over mine and eat it with fruit or homemade granola. Or use the yogurt for topping on fruit cobbler. My kids love it with raw sugar and cinnamon.
And if you’re looking at a tight budget, we save quite a bit of money on making our yogurt, too.

Oh my, that looks wonderful, Winter!

And now, here's a charming excerpt from Winter's story, Stitched in Love, from the Threads of Love anthology


Trace grinned at his niece as she chatted with her rabbit like it was a close friend. Duchess munched on a carrot and didn’t seem to care. Orange lined the rabbit’s mouth, making her look like she wore lipstick. The whole scene was too cute.

“Misty, eat your pancake,” Trace’s sister said as she passed the table.

“I’m full, Mommy.”

Julia sighed and set a stack of boxes on the kitchen counter. “Fine. Put your plate in the sink and go wash the syrup off your hands.”

“Okay.” Misty hurried the plate to the sink then rushed back to her rabbit.

“Don’t pick up. . .” Julia groaned when Misty grabbed the poor thing in her sticky grasp.

Trace chuckled. “Too late.”

His sister scowled at him. “Now you can clean it.” She extracted the squirming ball of fuzz from a protesting 
Misty and plopped it in Trace’s lap.

He winced as its claws dug into his thighs. “Ow.”

A wide smile on her lips, Julia scooted Misty out of the kitchen. “Don’t give her a bath. A wet washcloth will do.”

Eyeing the matted fur, Trace looked at his departing sister. “Why not a bath?”

“ ’Cause then you’ll need stitches,” Julia called from down the hall.

“Come on, Duchess.” He scooped up the rabbit and gingerly carried it to the sink.

Soft footfalls brought his attention to the doorway. Danni entered the kitchen, a bemused expression on her face. Trace did a double take. Was she wearing makeup?
What are you doing?” she asked.

He glanced at Duchess. “Cleaning syrup out of her fur.”

As one last treat, Winter has graciously offered TWO copies of Threads of Love in a giveaway.
Simply leave a comment below (including an e-mail address) and your name will be entered for a drawing  (via Random.Org). I'll choose the winning names on Wednesday, May 15th and notify folks via e-mail. This giveaway is limited to US entries only. 

Thank you so much for joining us today, Winter. 

Bon Appetit . . . and happy reading! 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Celebrate: Release Day!

** Weds. May 8th, 9:10 AM: Because of the large number of entries (party goers!), I've decided to give away FIVE signed copies of Rescue Team!
CONGRATULATIONS to our winners (chosen via Random.Org): 
And thank you ALL for helping me to celebrate!

Wheeee!  Today is the official release day for RESCUE TEAM !
We have balloons . . .

 Cyber-cake (all the taste, no pesky calories) . . .

And champagne--watch out for that cork!

Though many book sites (Amazon, B&N, Christian Book, and more) began shipping Rescue Team early, I think it's fun to have an offical celebration here, now. And because YOU, dear readers, are the reason there continue to be books to release, I want to thank you by offering a three book giveaway!  Simply leave a comment below (including your e-mail address) and  your name will be entered for a chance to win one of three signed copies of Rescue Team.

I'll select names (via Random.Org) on Wednesday May 8th and send e-mails to the winners.

Meanwhile, have some cake, grab a handful of confetti, and help me celebrate: Rescue Team is born!