Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Seven-Month-Long Holiday Season

By Heather Fraser Brainerd

Make sure to leave a comment after the post for a chance to win the prize of your choice! Details below…

Oh my, I just love the holidays! For me, the holiday season starts on October 1st when I haul out the boxes of Halloween decorations. And boy, do I know how to keep it going, swapping out the décor from one holiday to the next, from Thanksgiving to Christmas to Valentine’s Day to St. Patrick’s Day to Easter – whew! Yes, folks, that’s a good seven months of holiday revelry!

My most cherished holiday decorations are those made by my kids when they were little. There’s nothing like a construction-paper jack-o-lantern or a cardboard cornucopia to lift your holiday spirits! I’ve kept every single one, and proudly display them as we move from one occasion to the next.

This autumn, I have even more reason to get excited about the holidays. I have two different holiday-themed books coming out: Dream Shade, set during Halloween, and The Sound of Sirens, which takes place at Thanksgiving. Here’s a little bit about each…

Dream Shade is a Young Adult paranormal mystery (with a touch of romance) about a group of teens trying to solve a ghostly puzzle. Here’s a mini-excerpt for you:

The feel of the dream still lingered over me. Looking around my room, I half expected to see trees. Instead, what I saw made my breath catch in my throat. There, by the window, stood the dark-haired young man.
Okay, I’m totally losing it, I thought while gazing at him. And then, my God, he’s beautiful.
He was tall, broad-shouldered, and narrow-waisted. His features were striking; they were finely chiseled yet somehow…manly. He wore simple clothing: a plain button-down shirt, dark trousers, suspenders. This was certainly the man I’d dreamt of before. Studying him, I felt drawn to this strange, beautiful young man, yet terrified to move a muscle.
Shivering, I suddenly realized it was more than fright that made me tremble. My room was freezing cold, feeling more like the dead of winter than mid-October. My breath hung in front of me in a frosty cloud.
Without thought, I lifted my shaking hand from the blankets, reaching out to the young man. At that, he began to disappear, fading slowly. Soon he was gone.
As I lay back down, my thoughts spun wildly. What the heck just happened? Who—or what—was he?

Get your copy of Dream Shade from MuseItUp Publishing.

The Sound of Sirens is Book Two of the José Picada, P.I. Series. In this one, private detective Josie Cates doesn’t know which is worse: another run-in with a supernatural creature, or spending Thanksgiving week with her family. I brought along a little excerpt for this book, too:

Al silenced me by putting a finger to my lips. We crouched there, huddled together, peering through the crack between the barrels while three suited men jogged past the entrance to our hideout. A few seconds later, Al crept to the opening and peeked out. He waved me over to him.
“Let’s go,” he whispered, leading me back the way we’d come. Instead of heading to the water slides, however, he veered left at the giant redwoods and moved amongst their shadows, picking his way from the base of one tree to the next.
“You’re good at this,” I commented as he chose our route.
“Used to be a Boy Scout,” he answered, sounding embarrassed.
I had the urge to make a wisecrack, but since my safety rested on his scouting skills, I decided to let it go.
Finally, we emerged from the forest to find ourselves at the head of Main Street. A mere hundred yards or so stood between us and TommyTown Square, on the other side of which were the park gates and freedom. I was about to launch myself into a sprint, but Al placed a restraining hand on my arm.

The Sound of Sirens is scheduled for release next month. Keep an eye on my MuseItUp author page for the release date!

Happy holidays to you and yours, however and whatever you may celebrate!

Connect with Heather:

Be sure to leave a comment below for a chance to win your choice of Dream Shade, The Sound of Sirens, or Deception Al Dente (Book One of the José Picada, P.I. Series).

Monday, October 28, 2013

Remember, Remember the Fifth of November

Remember, remember the fifth of November,
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder, treason,
Should ever be forgot

We're building up to Bonfire Night here in the UK (or Guy Fawkes Night, as it's know), and already I've heard the first few fireworks going off in the streets around my home.  Every day from now until November 5th - the official Guy Fawkes Day - you can here random fireworks going off somewhere, as people celebrate one of the most notorious events in British history.

So who was Guy Fawkes, and why do people still remember him?  Well, here's the history lesson!
During Henry VIII's reign, and the reign of his daughter Elizabeth I, the Catholic religion in Britain was suppressed, often brutally.  When James I came to the throne, Catholics hoped that things might change, as  the King's mother was Mary Queen of Scots, and a Catholic herself.

Unfortunately the penalties for practising Catholicism continued.  The Gunpowder Plot was a desperate attempt on the part of a group of Catholics to rid themselves of the King.   Their plan was to blow up the House of Lords, with King James and all his Parliament in it.
Guy Fawkes was a member of the Gunpowder plot.  Unfortunately for him, the plot was leaked, and Guy Fawkes was caught red-handed in a cellar underneath the House of Lords, with 36 barrels of gunpowder, on November 5th 1605.  He was tortured and hanged, along with his fellow conspirators.

The King decreed November 5th a public holiday, in thanksgiving for the plot being foiled.
Nowadays the political overtones of this day have totally disappeared.  The day is no longer a public holiday, and Guy Fawkes Night has become a family tradition enjoyed by all.  Children still make home made "guys" - a sort of effigy made from old clothes stuffed with straw - and pull them through the streets, asking for "A Penny for the Guy".  (The guy would then be burned on top of the bonfire.)  This sight was very common when I was a child, but is becoming less so now.  Everyone still enjoys the bonfire and fireworks though - whether it's a large, organised event, or just a small party with fireworks and bonfire in your own back garden.

There are some foods that are traditionally eaten at a Bonfire Party.  Baked potatoes are popular - preferably wrapped in silver foil and baked in the bonfire.  There's an art to baking potatoes in this way without burning them.  Personally, I think a microwave is always good!
Toffee apples are also an essential item on the Bonfire Night list.
Here in the north of England, we have our own traditional Bonfire Night fare, consisting of warm pork pie and mushy peas.  On a cold, rainy November night, this is delicious!  And in the rest of England it's common to eat gingerbread, but where I live in Yorkshire we have our own variation on the gingerbread recipe.  It's called Parkin, and I absolutely love it.  You can find ready made Parkin in all the shops in Yorkshire at this time of year, or you can make it yourself.
Here's a recipe.  It's easy!
Yorkshire Parkin
  • 200g butter, plus extra for greasing
  • 1 large egg
  • 4 tbsp milk
  • 200g golden syrup
  • 85g treacle
  • 85g light soft brown sugar
  • 100g medium oatmeal
  • 250g self-raising flour
  • 1 tbsp ground ginger

  1. Heat the oven to 160C/140C fan/gas 3. Grease a deep 22cm/9in square cake tin and line with greaseproof paper (baking paper). Beat the egg and milk together with a fork.
  2. Gently melt the syrup, treacle, sugar and butter together in a large pan until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat. Mix together the oatmeal, flour and ginger and stir into the syrup mixture, followed by the egg and milk.
  3. Pour the mixture into the tin and bake for 50 mins - 1 hr until the cake feels firm and a little crusty on top. Cool in the tin then wrap in more greaseproof paper and foil.  If you can bring yourself not to eat it for a few days - or up to two weeks - it will become softer and stickier.
 Have a great Bonfire Night!

If you enjoy delving into history, then you'll love the heroine of my latest romance, The Antique Love, which is set in an an antiques shop in London.  Here's the blurb!

One rainy day in London, Wyoming man Kurt Bold walks into an antique shop off the King’s Road and straight into the dreams of its owner, Penny Rosas. Lively, spirited and imaginative, Penny takes this handsome stranger for a romantic cowboy straight from the pages of a book. Kurt certainly looks every inch the hero…but he soon brings Penny’s dreams to earth with a thump. His job is in the City, in the logical world of finance—and as far as Kurt is concerned, romance is just for dreamers. Events in his childhood have shown him just how destructive love can be. Now he’s looking for a wife, right enough, but what he wants is a marriage based on logic and rational decisions. Kurt treats Penny like he would his kid sister, but when he hires her to help refurbish his beautiful Victorian house near Richmond Park, it’s not long before he starts to realise it’s not just his home she’s breathing life into. The logical heart he has guarded so carefully all these years is opening up to new emotions, in a most disturbing way…

BUY LINKS:  Muse Bookstore / Amazon CA /Amazon US / Amazon UK Kobo / B&N / Smashwords and other retailers
AUTHOR LINKS: www.helenafaifax.com / Facebook / Twitter

Do you have any local traditions in your area?  Or maybe you have a dish or recipes that are only local to you?  And do you enjoy delving into the past and finding out about historical characters?
If so, please let me know - all commenters will be put into a draw to win a copy of The Antique Love!

Friday, October 25, 2013

Halloween Memories by J.Q. Rose and Giveaway

Halloween Memories 
by J.Q. Rose

I don't like Halloween. Was that a gasp I heard from you, Dear Reader? Are you thinking how could anyone not like Halloween? I know most folks love the annual costumes and parties. 

It's my least favorite holiday probably because of trick or treating experiences as a child. How many of you at eight years old was dressed up like the jolly green giant with a balloon for his head? Yes, it was my mother's brainstorm to "design" the costume. Balancing the enormous cardboard body and trying to see through the tiny peep holes in its chest allowed me to trip my way to the neighbor's doors. 

At 12 years 0ld my friends and I were racing from house to house in the cold rain. We froze to death because it was not cool in our clique to wear a rain coat and boots. And how about those old folks who invited you into their homes for cocoa and cookies and wanted to talk and talk and talk? They were as creepy as some of the monsters in my imagination.

I went to one scary movie with my older brothers--Abbott and Costello Meets Frankenstein. I think they told Mom it was Abbott and Costello so she thought it was okay and had them drag me along. I'm sure they loved taking their six year old sister with them. I spent the entire movie under the theater seat hiding from the scary scenes on the enormous screen and crying. Did my loving brothers offer to take me out and keep me safe? Ummm, no. That experience marked me for life. I never go to a horror show, and I don't like scary Halloween creatures (especially Frankenstein!)

Perhaps those escapades explain why I'm not a fan of Halloween. Isn't it ironic that the first book I sold was a mystery/horror story? MuseItUp Publishing released it in March 2011.
 Mysterious deaths upset the Florida retirement community 
interfering with their seasonal activities 
and turning up more than dead bodies.
When I penned Sunshine Boulevard, I never thought of it as a horror story. A paranormal, yes. But 'fraidy cat me write horror? I laughed. However, I do remember not working on the manuscript before bed. I only wrote that book in the light of the day, never in the evening shadows or black nights. 

Take a peek at the novella,  Sunshine Boulevard

What are some of your Halloween memories?? Post a comment and you could win an e-copy of Sunshine Boulevard in the random drawing. Winner will be announced on Saturday at 9:00 pm. Good luck!

Wishing you all a safe and happy Halloween!!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Thoughts for Food

Cover of "The Key to Chinese Cooking"
Cover of The Key to Chinese Cooking
The characters in my science fiction novels share my love of a good meal, so no surprise that they drink kaff, consume sweet rolls, cheese, and fruit, and eat grain and vegetable stews. Me, I'm not picky. I just plain love to eat.


All of which, since my mind is kind of like an attic with heaps of ideas piled in every corner, reminds me of my father's method for picking restaurants.

I am a native New Yorker, born and raised in Manhattan. At one point, in my late teens, I traveled with my parents to London and Paris. This was in the 1960's, when finding imported items back in the states was rare, and long before the bottled water craze. Back when coffee at home was pretty much always brown and watery-weak.

Somehow we managed to enjoy delicious meals in London, which at the time had a reputation -- perhaps undeserved -- for dull food. My father had a number of friends and acquaintances there, so perhaps he gathered some underground intelligence. But at least one of the ways he picked restaurants was quite simple: was the place half-empty, or was there a line of patrons waiting to get in.

We waited for tables, but we always ate great food.


I discovered radicchio, a lettuce-like red cabbage relative, some time after moving to the Boston area in 1978. I had acquired the truly excellent, The Key to Chinese Cooking by Irene Kuo, and was eager to try her recipe for stir-fried red cabbage.

Red cabbage heads are large, and, loathe to waste so much cabbage on a meal meant to serve two, I hadn't yet attempted the recipe when I discovered what I firmly believed to be a small head of red cabbage. Delighted, I brought it home and started stir-frying.

The directions read, "..when the cabbage turns from purple to deep red ..." Mine wasn't turning deep red -- more like a darkish burgundy. Mentally shrugging my shoulders, I ignored the color difference and finished making the dish. Very tasty.

I did eventually discover my mistake, and decided to search for a recipe for radicchio. I searched through the Chinese cookbook (no luck) and went on to Marcella Hazan's  Classic Italian Cooking,where she recommended pretending the vegetable was an endive.

If Marcella could pretend that radicchio was endive, I could pretend it was red cabbage. And I highly recommend both cookbooks.  My aliens are vegetarians, so they'd doubtless enjoy the stir-fried radicchio as much as I do.

What are your favorite recipes? Favorite cookbooks? Leave a comment  and share your thoughts.

A free copy of one of my Aleyne novels will go to some lucky commenter. Come back tomorrow to see who's won.

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Friday, October 18, 2013

Blue Moon Sugar Cookies

Happy Anniversary MuseItUp Publishing!

I'm Mindy Hardwick, a young adult author with MuseItUp Publishing.  One of my favorite holiday traditions is making sugar cut-out cookies with my mom and sister. We still use the same cookie cutters I used as a child and spend at least one December afternoon cutting out Christmas trees, stars, and of course Santa!

In my young adult novel, WEAVING MAGIC, Shantel spends a lot of time at her cousin Mia's bakery. One of Mia's signature bakery items is her Blue Moon Sugar Cookies.

Here is the Blue Moon Sugar Cookie Recipe from Mia's Bakery:

                    Shantel’s Blue Moon Sugar Cookies

1 C sugar                          1 C margarine or butter, softened
3 tablespoons of milk         1 tsp. vanilla
1 egg                                3 C flour
1 ½ tsp baking powder       ½ tsp. salt
Blue decorating sugar        Half- moon cookie cut-out

Combine sugar, margarine, milk, vanilla, and egg. Mix well. Stir in flour, baking powder, salt, mix well. Cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate one hour. Heat oven to 400 F. On lightly floured surface roll out dough to 1/8 inch thickness. Cut with floured half- moon cookie cutter. Place 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheets, sprinkle with blue decorating sugar. Bake for 5-9 minutes.

Now, to celebrate the third anniversary of MuseItUp Publishing, I am giving away one ebook copy (any format) of WEAVING MAGIC to one person who leaves a comment below about your favorite holiday cookie memory.  Please leave your email address with the comment so I can contact you! I will post the winner at the end of the day at the bottom of this post.

He loves magic. She loves romance. But the biggest illusion is the one Shantel and Christopher perform together.  Sixteen- year- old Christopher fights to stay sober while fifteen-year-old Shantel struggles in the aftermath of her mother’s death and seeks refuge in a fantasy world. But the unacknowledged roots of their problems refuse to stay buried and soon, the two are headed toward a deadly magic trick. Can Shantel and Christopher move beyond magical illusions to find love?

There is also a free classroom discussion guide for WEAVING MAGIC here. 

Enjoy those cookies!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Stuffed Turkeys and Stuffed People

All I need for the perfect Thanksgiving dinner is turkey, dressing, and cranberry sauce. My Dear Husband makes a delectable, moist turkey! He took over the job from my father. Some day we expect one of the sons-in-law to take it over from DH. I make the dressing and the fresh cranberry sauce. Both are now as good as my mother’s were, if I do say so myself. :) All the other foods that cram themselves onto our table the third Thursday in November are there because someone else needs them or wants to make them. More about this later. (Called a tease. :) )

I’ve never written a strictly holiday book, but I should probably take a stab at it. Holidays play a big role in VERMONT ESCAPE, my first book released by MIU in July 2013. My heroine compares a Fourth of July in Woodstock, VT to the celebration in Texas. They are similar in fireworks displays, but they take place in such different temperatures they could be on different planets! 

Then there’s a traditional Thanksgiving dinner at the Woodstock Inn she shares with her grown children, and Christmas dinner at the home of the hero’s mother with all the family and friends gathered around. And of course, beautiful, soft, quiet flakes of snow falling gently from the grey skies. The scent of fireplaces and fresh pine greenery feel the air. Just lovely.

TRUTH BE TOLD, my second book coming out from MIU Spring/Summer 2014 is set in Fort Worth. The majority of the story takes place during the two weeks of Christmas and New Year’s. I’ve lived over forty years in Fort Worth. We’ve had snow on Christmas Eve only two times, and it’s always gone by mid-afternoon. But I love snow and since it’s my book, I had it snow on Christmas Eve. What fun writing those scenes. :) 
Now I mentioned a teaser above. Every family member has a food they must eat to make it a memorable Thanksgiving meal. Both sons-in-law think we need to have mac and cheese! What’s with that? We’ve already got dressing (Not the cornbread kind. Please!) with chestnuts that are the hardest thing in the world to crack. None of the different ways I’ve tried for shelling are very efficient. But my parents put chestnuts in the dressing, and I think they need to be there. 

Somebody wants sweet potatoes. Back in the day, a great aunt made those. Now we use a recipe from my mother’s Georgia niece. My older daughter makes it using fresh sweet potatoes. Somebody else insists we have mashed potatoes. By my count now we’ve got four starches! Yikes. Plus rolls! Mother never served a special meal without rolls!
My younger daughter remembers me making green bean casserole when they were little, so she’s taken over responsibility for this dish. 

Mother always made coleslaw. I think this was her effort to have something relatively healthy to counteract all the starches. However, we make it with real mayo, and add a bit of sugar, a tad of S & P, a couple of drops of vinegar, and a drop or so of milk to get the right consistency. Oh, and celery seeds. A must have. Notice I gave no measurements for this. She just threw it all together in a mayo jar, shook it up, and tasted, so that’s what I do. :) 

One special great aunt always brought sausage balls and “Christmas Munch” as snacks before the meal. The older daughter has picked up making sure we have those. DH is very grateful! Our younger daughter makes fake sausage balls because she doesn’t eat meat. Actually, these are pretty good. :) 
And finally, we get to dessert! Pumpkin pie, of course. My mother’s was the best. I took this over when she was no longer able to cook. It’s funny. I follow the exact recipe, and I say just what she always did. “I don’t think this is as good as last year’s.” We have high expectations for pumpkin pie in my family. LOL 
And then the year arrived when all our family but Auntie had passed on. Both girls were going to their in-laws for Thanksgiving. The first time we’d be without them. My husband and I drove over to Dallas and took Auntie to her favorite cafeteria. The food was good, and I discovered lots of people eat out that day. Who knew? Good friends asked us to join them and their family when we returned. It was lovely. My friend had recently redone her dining room. (Not the picture above!) She had a fantastic table that easily sat fourteen. You could’ve expected to see photographs of the room in one of the home decorating magazines. Perfect setting, great friends, and good food, but it wasn’t our food. 

 And that’s why we serve so many different items at Thanksgiving. Everyone needs to eat for this one holiday whatever it is that tells them they are loved and with family—however that family is defined. 

What are the couple of things you must have for it to be the perfect Thanksgiving meal? Care to share a recipe? I'd love to hear from you. Belated Happy Thanksgiving to our Canadian friends who've already celebrated my favorite holiday.

Anyone who comments has a chance to win an e-copy of VERMONT ESCAPE!