Thursday, October 31, 2013

Tater Tots, Pickles & Jam--Oh my! Guest Author Kelly Irvin (Giveaway)

** Weds. November 6th, 1:25 PM: CONGRATULATIONS to Kay M, our giveaway winner. And thank you ALL for stopping by the blog to make Kelly feel welcome. **

A favorite author of Amish fiction, my guest today has been writing professionally for more than 30 years. She and her photographer husband have two young adult children and share their happy South Texas home with two cats and a tank full of fish. 

Wave your wooden spoons in a warm Authors' Galley welcome for Kelly Irvin 

A writer’s life imitates art in the kitchen
By Kelly Irvin

When it comes to cooking and my writing journey, it seems that life has imitated art in recent years. I write Amish fiction which, as you can imagine, involves heroines who spend a great deal of time in the kitchen, either cooking, baking, or canning. I admit, I’m not the cook in the family. My husband is a fabulous cook and he enjoys it so I “let” him. Once a vegetarian, I’m not a big fan of meat, while Tim’s favorite food group is steak and bacon, preferably as often as possible. Strangely enough, writing Amish fiction has helped us bridge the gap. It’s added a sweet new dimension to our married life.

As I began to do research for my Amish romance novels, I acquired cookbooks so I could incorporate authentic foods in my stories. The more I mused over the recipes, the more the dishes—especially the desserts—called my name. For my first launch party, I made shoofly pie and whoopie pies to serve to my guests. I used a pat-a-pan pie crust recipe from The Amish Cook’s Baking Book by Lovina Eicher with Kevin Williams. Probably the first edible pie crust I’ve ever made from scratch (and the most fun).

This summer I came across a tater tot casserole recipe in Sherry Gore’s Simply Delicious Amish Cooking. She describes it as a staple in Mennonite homes everywhere. It has most of the important food groups: ground beef, peas (we use green beans), shredded cheese, onion, celery, and tater tots. A food group all their own. Anyone who knows me, knows I’m having a long standing love affair with tater tots. I’m willing to send extra time on the treadmill in order to have them on my plate now and then. Tim took the recipe and ran with it. I love it. My kids love. Tim loves it. Now my mother-in-law is serving it to my father-in-law.

But things really took off when in one of my books, I had to describe the steps necessary to can jams and jellies. The Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving landed on my cookbook shelf. Tim, like me, grew up in a house where the women folk canned in the summer. We have a good friend who has mustang grapes growing on her property. So we made grape jam. And strawberry. And raspberry. And blueberry. Give me a toasted whole wheat bagel, crunchy peanut butter, and homemade jam, and I’m in heaven.

Then Tim finagled his grandmother’s bread and butter pickle recipe from his mother. We graduated to pickle canning. He does the heavy lifting, while I help out with the simple things like washing jars or acting as a gopher. It doesn’t matter what I do (as long as I follow instructions to the T and stay out of the way when he’s on a roll). It’s that we’re in the kitchen together, working as a team. The aroma is mouthwatering and it reminds me of being a child in my mother’s kitchen. She canned tomatoes, cucumbers, green beans, corn—all fresh from our garden. She and my Grandma Irene and my Great Grandmother Bertha would get together and buy a bushel each of Colorado peaches every summer and make peach jam, peach pies, peach cobblers . . . . It makes my mouth water to think of it and my heart sigh to remember being in the kitchen with them—four generations of women canning together.

It was not unlike the Amish canning frolics. Particularly when I remember how hot it was. We didn’t have air conditioning and summer in Kansas is a lot like summer in south Texas—endlessly hot and humid. The kitchen would fill with that steam floating in the air from the boiling water. We were all sweating, but we didn’t really think anything of it.

It’s not hard for me to reproduce that ambiance in the kitchen scenes in Love Still Stands. Bethel Graber has a disability and she is so afraid she won’t be able to be everything a wife and mother should be. She works out this system in the kitchen to get from the table to the stove to the counter and back without falling. She bakes pies and makes stew and learns to feel useful again. Tim and I don’t solve all our problems in the kitchen, but we are reminded we’ve been a great team for twenty-five years. We both bring our strengths to the table—or the stove—and they complement each other perfectly. 

" . . . a beautiful young woman with a passion for teaching . . .  But after being disabled in a terrible accident, overseeing a classroom is out of the question…and romance seems a long-lost dream. Bethel begins physical therapy, determined to make a fresh start. But that won’t be easy in the town of New Hope, where the locals seem anything but eager to welcome their new Amish neighbors. Amid growing intimidation from the community, Bethel must find the strength to face her many challenges and the faith to believe that God still has a plan—and a love—for her life.

Thank you, Kelly, for this delightful (and delicious) peek into your kitchen. 

And now, Wynn-Wynn Media has generously offered a giveaway to celebrate Kelly's new book:
 A copy of Love Still Stands and a very cute set of owl potholders!

For your chance at the giveaway, please leave a comment about Kelly's post below. Be sure to include your e-mail address. I'll draw a winner (via Random.Org) on Weds. Nov. 6th and contact the lucky person by e-mail. US entries only, please. 

Meanwhile, happy reading and bon appetit!