Sunday, January 29, 2006

Final edits, a nasty bug... and a taste of spring

I spent the weekend doing the final edits on Murder on the Rocks (which is now, my friend and fellow Midnight Ink author Candy Calvert tells me, all over the Web -- Barnes and Noble, Amazon... Target, even!). I also planned to test two recipes one last time, but life, as it is wont to do, kind of got in the way.

My younger kiddo has been not quite himself the last week, with a cough and a stuffy nose; on Friday night his temperature started soaring. Three hours in an emergency clinic later, we discovered he had pneumonia. So we've been doing the every-three-hour fever-reducer routine for the last two nights (he was in the 104 range a few times), and aside from two weeks of laundry (which my husband is kindly folding now), not much got done.

Ian may have been under the weather, but the weather here has been wonderful... an inch of rain yesterday, and the plants already look greener! Today was sunny, clear, and utterly springlike -- we headed down to Town Lake and walked, just soaking in the warm sun and the steady cool breeze. My garden is coming along nicely -- the onions are growing by the day, and the broccoli has doubled in size already. The lettuces are coming up in crooked lines, the peas have sprouted (I love their soft, gray-green color), and the turnips popped right up! (The carrots are slow-pokes.) My morning weeding has been almost meditative -- I do it before my daily walk, and everything fades away except the green leaves and the dark moist earth.

In terms of writing, I am onto chapter three of my new project. I've never done anything like it before, so I'll run it up the flagpole for a while and see how it goes... for now, though, I'm enjoying being back in the groove, falling into that magic world for an hour or two every day. Meditation in its own way, I suppose...

Well, it's off to assist hubby in attacking the mountain of laundry. More soon!

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Rainy days and rivers

Well, it's finally raining and cool here... we've tucked in all day, drinking tea, reading books, and enjoying the chance to relax and listen to the rain on the metal roof. Tomorrow we'll plunge back into the frenzy again, but today we can just sit and be.

Speaking of plunging in, I've grabbed a raft and pushed off into another fictional river -- this one set far away from Maine and the Gray Whale Inn. I'm excited about it, although with page proofs for Murder and edits on Dead and Berried both due in two weeks -- not to mention a new Gray Whale Inn story starting to come to life -- I haven't immersed myself completely. But the new book is developing on the page, seemingly of its own accord, and I'm getting that familiar ripple of excitement that comes with a new project. Writing may be hard work, but I love getting into the 'zone' -- where all you do is show up at the keyboard with an idea, and before you know it, a whole world has emerged, filled with characters that spring to life on the page.

More soon... and hope all of your writing projects are going swimmingly!

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Bed and Breakfast America!

Wonderful news...

I just talked with the publisher of Bed and Breakfast America, a national magazine I discovered and fell in love with a few months ago. Well, it turns out that Pegi (the publisher, and an innkeeper herself) read an advance copy of Murder on the Rocks. She loved the book; in fact, she enjoyed it so much that she asked me to do a series of Gray Whale Inn stories for the magazine!

So of course I said yes. :)

An excerpt from Murder on the Rocks -- and a book review -- are scheduled to appear in the Spring 2006 issue of the magazine, which is a gorgeous publication featuring lots of wonderful bed and breakfasts, recipes, interviews with innkeepers, articles on wine... and soon, Natalie Barnes and the Gray Whale Inn!

I'm already hard at work on the first story, Blueberry Blues, which will appear in the Summer issue -- along with another delicious Gray Whale Inn recipe. You can find a copy at your local independent bookstore, Barnes and Noble, Borders, and Hastings; or, to subscribe, go to Bed and Breakfast America.

I also found out that release date for the second Gray Whale Inn mystery, Dead and Berried, has been moved up to February of 2007. Things are moving right along! In fact, it looks like I'd better get to work on the third book! More details soon...

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Kitchen spice potpourri

A perfect Sunday. Banana bread in the oven, the kids playing outside, quiet music on the CD player, a good book (Haunted Ground by Erin Hart) in the armchair... heaven.

Last night we had strawberry margaritas and homemade fajitas with guacamole -- made with lots and lots of green garlic. Delicious... but this morning, all I could smell in the kitchen was garlic!

So I lit a candle under my little pot of aromatic spices, and voila! Olfactory ecstasy. So whether you need to clear the air or just want a warm, spicy smell in the kitchen, try this mix -- either in a pot on the stove, or in a potpourri warmer...

Kitchen Potpourri Mix

Cinnamon stick
Star anise
Orange peel or lemon peel (optional)

Mix them all together, add a bit of water, and heat; your kitchen will smell lovely! (Of course, a batch of banana bread in the oven doesn't hurt, either.)

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Spring cleaning (in January)... and a recipe

I don't know if it's just me, but every year after Christmas, I get this urge to clean out all the dark and dusty corners, get rid of the things that have been piling up for the last several months, and open the windows and let the sweet fresh air in.

It's probably a good thing I live in Texas, then... can't see that working out too well in Maine. :)

So I have been purging my house this week -- clearing countertops, wiping down hard-to-reach surfaces, washing pillows and comforters... sweetening the house. And the difference is marvelous -- there's nothing better than sinking into fresh sheets at the end of the day. Speaking of fresh sheets, I've been picking up some tips from the Professional Association of International Innkeepers' forum... I'll compile them and post them shortly!

Oh, and I've also been watering my garden -- it's all planted now, with broccoli, sweetpeas, larkspur, poppies, garlic, onions, carrots, turnips, arugula...and lots and lots of lettuce for salads.

Speaking of veggies, when I was down at the community garden yesterday, I found a little pile of what looked like dried up green onions (scallions) on the picnic table; someone had just thinned out their garlic! So I stuck them all into my garden, like little, feeble soldiers, and soon, if I keep them watered and they survive, I will be awash in one of my favorite things -- green garlic! (Which is young garlic that looks just like a scallion -- it hasn't had a chance to bulb yet.) Umm... to plant your own, just get an organic bulb of garlic, look up planting times in your area, pick a sunny spot in the garden, and plant the cloves point-up!

And my favorite -- and fast -- winter/spring dinner recipe?

Pasta with Goat Cheese and Green Garlic

A big batch of pasta (I wing this -- enough for four people)
One bunch of arugula, washed well, bottoms of stems removed
Zest and juice of one lemon
One stalk of green garlic, chopped fine
1/3-1/2 cup good quality chevre (I like the local stuff, but in a pinch, Laura Chenel, which I can get at Sam's, is yummy)
Extra Virgin Olive oil to taste
Salt to taste

While pasta is boiling, prepare arugula, lemon and green garlic. Drain cooked pasta; while it is still very hot, add arugula, lemon juice and zest, garlic, and chevre. Mix well; if it seems a little dry, add olive oil and/or more chevre. Season to taste with salt. (I sometimes add more lemon or a touch of granulated garlic to up the flavor, too.) And that's it!

NOTE: If you don't have access to green garlic, you can substitute garlic powder/granulated garlic, or use garlic salt in place of the salt.

While we're talking goat cheese, here's one of my favorite snacks/lunches -- I was introduced to it by a good friend, Lindsey Daltro-Schram, when we lived in Munich.

Take a slice of good bread -- I like crusty ciabatta or a good hunk of peasant bread -- smear with chevre or crumble good sheep/goat feta on it -- then drizzle with olive oil and top with tomato. Dust it with a sprinkle of garlic salt and dig in.

I used to use a few leaves of fresh basil on top of this, but over the last few years, I haven't bothered as much... now, if I have it, for a change I sometimes substitute arugula for the tomato.

Speaking of snacks, I'm hungry...time to hit the kitchen!

Monday, January 02, 2006

Reclaiming the garden

I've been a long-time holder (and occasional gardener) of a community garden plot, but with all the writing work, I've let it go to rack and ruin (until this afternoon it was a 20x20 plot of bermuda grass and dead sunflower stalks). But I love gardening; I love digging in the dirt, planting lettuces and potatoes and coaxing them out of the dark soil, love the contrast of velvet purple pansies against the bluish-green of climbing pea plants...

So the vote was put before the family, and the family said 'keep it'. And today, an unseasonably high-seventies day with a boundless blue sky and a lemon yellow sun, down we went, and after the kids and I cleared the dead grass out and the kids wheelbarrowed it over to the giant compost pile, Eric tilled it, and now it's a velvety square of brown earth (with a few bermuda grass stalks sticking out), waiting to be seeded...

We're headed down to the Natural Gardener tomorrow, in search of lettuce seeds, larkspur, poppies, carrots, turnips and arugula (although the harlequin bugs have their way with the crucifers in late spring). Peas would be wonderful -- the trellises have been cleared of the remains of that lovely vine that took them over last year -- fine, feathery green leaves and brilliant scarlet flowers, and although I know most plants, that one's still a mystery to me. The pretty pink four o'clocks that grow like weeds near the faucet in the summer have escaped their bounds and are now running wild along the banks of the river, and I'm afraid the community garden has given rise to yet another invasive, but what can I do? At least they're pretty. Ian, of course, wants to plant tomatoes, but we can't do that until March -- and all my tomatoes always get some kind of weird rot and keel over anyway, with the exception of the cherry tomatoes. The fire ants are active still -- have to douse them -- I watered today to coax the weed seeds out, so I can plow them down once they sprout. It's been a dry, warm winter -- which made today much easier, since the weeds were all half-dead or dead already.

So, the garden has been tilled, the seeds will soon be sown, and in a few months' time, with any luck we'll be eating fresh broccoli, fresh lettuce, and spring onions (potatoes don't go in till February) and hopefully, cutting huge bunches of larkspur for the vase on the kitchen table.

I do hope we get another few cold snaps, though; It's been in the eighties here, and I'm worried what the summer will bring if it's swimming weather in January!