Monday, December 31, 2007

The End ~ 2007 Version

by Nancy Northcott


Well, here we are at the end of the year. Some people see December 31 as a time to look back on the previous 364 days, count successes and shortcomings, and devise a plan for what they hope to do in the next 365. Other people will shrug their shoulders, label this just another day, and move on into the New Year. Some people will stay up to watch the ball drop in Times Square while others will dive into bed early, pull the covers over their heads, and say, "Go on, already, 2007! You're outta here!" before they drop off to sleep.

December 31 wasn't always the last day of the year, of course. According to various books and websites I've checked, the new year once started on March 15 and then was set as March 25 to coincide with the date the Catholic Church commemorated as that of the Annunciation. The switch to the Julian (named after Caesar) calendar set the New Year as beginninng on January 1, a change not accepted in England until the 18th century. Various religions still count their church years as beginning on particular dates not coinciding with January 1.


For me, the last day of the year is an occasion to look back, think of where I've been, and see where I am relative to where I'd like to go. This year saw a couple of difficult and interlocked family situations come to a close. I'm looking forward to starting a year with those receding in the rear view mirror instead of floating overhead. I've read some fabulous books but have a TBR pile that, well, teeters dangerously, so I hope to whittle it down this year. I used to read more. I'd like to slide back into that. There were some wonderful developments, not least being my association with the banditas and the renewal of ties with old writing buddies. Of course, there were also a couple of things I wish had turned out better. As my golfing cousin might say, however, "you play it where it lies," so I'll be shooting for more landings in favorable territory in 2008. As far as goals go, I'd like to write my first short story in about 15 years, whether or not it sells, write "The End" on book-length manuscripts twice, and build the content on my website. Of course I have the usual resolutions about exercise and better eating, but I prefer to think of all such things as plans. "Resolution" sounds so . . . fragile at times, despite the word's firm meaning.


Tonight is party time for a lot the world, some of whom won't be in the best shape tomorrow, depending on how enthusiastically they party. A lot of people will haul themselves out early to mop up the last of December and launch the new year. Many people will watch football games. I've included the dh's recipe for a great dish to take to buffets. It travels well, though its density means it doesn't reheat especially well in a microwave.



Are you a party-goer or a homebody on New Year's Eve? What do you like and dislike about the holiday? What are you most looking forward to in 2008? If you have resolutions or goals you'd like to share, feel free!

I'm giving away a $15.00 Borders gift card to one commenter chosen at random. I'd like to thank all our visitors, commenting and not, for stopping by and to wish each of you health, happiness and success in 2008!

Stuffed Shells Florentine

Ingredients:

1 pkg. jumbo pasta shells (12 oz.)
2 cups pasta sauce (bought or made; can be with or without meat)
1 can sliced mushrooms (4 oz.)
1 pkg. chopped, frozen spinach (10 oz.)
1 pkg. ricotta cheese (15 oz.)
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 cup grated mozarella cheese
1 large egg
nutmeg, garlic powder or garlic salt, dried oregano, salt, pepper

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Boil pasta shells in large pot, stirring often so they don't stick to the bottom, for about 15 min.
Drain shells and set aside.
Beat the egg and mix with the ricotta cheese until well blended.
Add the parmesan cheese to the ricotta mixture and blend well.
Add 1/2 cup of the grated mozzarella (reserve the other 1/2 cup) to the ricotta combination and mix well.
Prepare frozen spinach according to package directions; drain any excess moisture.
Add spinach to the cheese mixture and blend well.
Drain mushrooms and mix into the cheeses.
Season mixture with dash of nutmeg, 1/2 tsp. garlic powder, and 1 tsp. dried oregano.
Add salt and pepper to taste.
Cover the bottom of a 13"x9" baking dish with pasta sauce (about 1 cup).
Fill each pasta shell with 1 tablespoon of ricotta mixture and arrange shells in dish.
Pour remaining sauce over shells.
Sprinkle remaining grated mozzarella cheese over shells.
Bake at 350 degrees for 1/2 hour.

Makes 7-8 servings as an entree. As a buffet side dish, serves about twice as many.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Holiday Booty Bonanza!!

We've got winners!!!

For commenting on Christmas day, Gillian is the winner of my $25 Amazon.com gift certificate! Way to go, Gillian! Contact me at katecarlisle99@yahoo.com and I'll email you your prize!

Anna's Boxing Day prize of a $10 Barnes & Noble gift card goes to P226!! P226, if you'll send your snail mail info to Anna at anna@annasugden.com, she'll send the card straight away.

And the lucky winner of Tawny's goal-setting basket is Jane!! Congratulations, Jane!! Just send your snail mail info to Tawny@TawnyWeber.com and she'll ship it out to you.


Thanks to all our friends for stopping by the Bandita Lair! Happy holidays!

The Bucket List

by Jo Robertson

There’s a Rob Reiner movie out this holiday season in which the characters – terminally-ill patients in a health-care facility – make a list of the things they want to do before they die.

They call it the BUCKET LIST because, well, they’re ready to kick the bucket.

I’ve been thinking about that concept recently and asked myself, what haven’t I done that I’d REALLY like to do before I die? I've been lucky, so there's not much left.

I wanted to have a career – teaching – a happy marriage and a family. Mission accomplished. I've traveled and lived in a foreign country.

I was fortunate enough to “have it all,” although certainly not at the same time! I'm a firm believer in doing everything, just not at once :-D!

But I made a Bucket List anyway.

These are things I'd love to do before I kick the bucket!

1. See my book in print -- my name, my real name on an actual book cover so I could salivate over the luxurious art work and show it off to all my friends and family.

This could still happen. Maybe. I hope.


2. Bungee jump -- not from Bloukrans River Bridge in South Africa, a height of over 700 feet, but from the Golden Gate Bridge, far enough up that I’d feel the thrill of tumbling down, down, down and then being caught and cradled by that great rubber band while I watched the beautiful San Francisco Bay and the mighty Pacific Ocean.

Yeah, like they’d ever let me do that. But still . . .


3. Tap dance -- a la Gene Kelly – with style and rhythm and panache.

This is a big-deal item on my list because I have absolutely no sense of rhythm or coordination in my body. Still, in my head I'm as graceful as Anna Pavlova.


4. Compose a musical tribute to my grandchildren and play it on the guitar -- Mind, I know about three chords and never got the knack of hardening my fingertips!

Oh, and with the strumming, there’s that whole rhythm thing I was born without.


5. Care for a new-born baby again -- I’d like once more – just one more time – to feel the sweet, sweaty weight of an infant's body on my chest. I imagine Annalise's plump softness with such poignant memory.

I do love the babies. And this could happen! Maybe.


The New Year is right around the corner. The sound of 2008 has a certain promising ring to it, don’t you think? I see baby New Year dressed in a diaper, toddling toward us with all his ripe promise, and crickety Old Year hobbling off toward the horizon.

Welcome, 2008!! I have a good feeling about you!


In the spirit of resolutions and new beginnings, of derring-do and untried adventure, what would you write on your Bucket List, readers?

List five things you want to do before YOU kick the bucket!
Be sure to stop by on January 1 for my interview with western historical writer Stacey Kayne, who's giving away TWO of her books!

Saturday, December 29, 2007

A Sit Down with our very own Tawny Weber!

by Beth Andrews

As one of Tawny's Critique Partners, I'm lucky to be able to have a front row seat to her creative process. Tawny and I have been through good and bad together - rejections, Golden Heart finals and wins and best of all, SALES. *g* I interviewed Tawny to celebrate the release of Tawny's second awesome Harlequin Blaze, Does She Dare? (though its release date is Jan 2008, Does She Dare? has already been spotted in stores across the country. Well, what are you waiting for? Run out and get your copy today *g*)

Beth: Hey, the end of the year is the perfect time to take a stroll down memory lane. Can you believe it's been over a year since you started brainstorming/writing Does She Dare? Remember the original title?

Tawny: I can't believe a whole year has gone already! Time flies when you're freaking out, huh? I do remember my original title - The Man Plan. I love that title LOL, and kept it in the story. I even have a Man Plan chat going at eHarlequin the week of January 7th, I loved it that much!

Beth: Ahh...but you freak out so well. *g* And the results are worth it! I loved The Man Plan too and am so glad you were able to keep that part in the story. You know, I think the story behind DSD is so cool. In the original, first version of Double Dare (Tawny's excellent Blaze Debut - still available online) there was no Isabel. I'll put on my interview hat and ask how she came into being?

Tawny: Ooooh, Isabel's inception. My editor told me to add her LOL. Audra had two very, well, naughty friends. Brenda (my editor) thought Audra was so bad herself, she needed a balance, more of a conscience (picture Jiminy Cricket, only a gal in hot shoes). In Double Dare, Isabel was both Audra's conscience and her project as she learned a few bad girl ways and found herself in trouble (Isabel, that is. Audra was always trouble). Isabel was the perfect contrast for Audra, because she helped the readers see how dedicated Audra was to success, despite her bad-girl persona. And Audra gave Isabel that edge that let her be the kind of gal who'd write a fantasy list and call it a Man Plan :-)

Beth: I'm so glad Brenda suggested that Audra needed a Jiminy Cricket. *g* Audra and Isabel make a great team, and like you say, they balance each other out (hey, sort of like us, huh? I'm the sweet one for those who don't know us *ggg*) And you gave Isabel the PERFECT hero for her in Does She Dare?! Dante is such a bad boy -- but oh so good for Isabel ;-)

Tawny:HAHAHHAHAH... oh, you were serious about you being the sweet one? Hmmm...Yeah, I really think Audra and Isabel were a great balance - just like their heroes were. Jesse saw that sweet side of Audra, and Dante definitely brings out Isabel's naughtiness. I looooove Dante. I think he's my favorite hero so far, he's just so real and earthy and, well, hot. Very very hot.

Beth: LOL - yes, Dante is hot and really, it's so cool that Isabel gets her Fantasy Guy, the one guy she crushed on so much that she's never forgotten him. But it's the way she goes about - making The Man Plan, following her self-imposed rules - that sets her apart. *g* She's a bit...um...rigid when it comes to goal setting. She even color coordinates (just like someone else I know *g*).

Tawny: Hey now, color coding is a GOOD thing! It makes finding stuff easier, and is more aesthetically pleasing to the eye. But... yeah, maybe Isabel is a LITTLE rigid. She's a control freak, and so goal oriented that when things start spinning out of her control, she gets just a little upset.

Beth: We've been critique partners for a long time and I've been lucky enough to read everything you've written (including synopses, proposals, articles and yes, even To-Do lists *ggg*) and aside from being CPs, we're also good buddies :-) So I like to think I know you pretty well (Yes, I know the REAL Tawny Weber. If anyone wants the good info, I can be bought. Cheap. *g*) For instance, before you wrote Does She Dare?, I knew you weren't a morning person, but I didn't get a first hand experience of just how much you LOATHE mornings until I, along with our dear CP Sheila Raye, called you one morning to brainstorm some ideas for Isabel's character. Talk about an experience that opened my eyes *g*

Tawny: So, you all read it here first... Beth's cheap. I'm just naughty, but I'm really expensive! Heeheehee... kidding. I'm pretty sure it was the hero you all had figured out for me, wasn't it? Something brilliant and insightful that immediately fixed all the character issues I was having. At least that's what you tried to tell me later, when I was actually awake enough to understand our conversation. As for that early morning grumpiness.... c'mon, I'm a nightowl. What did you expect other than grunts, growls and swear words? Thank you, though, for the brilliant insights that fixed my character issues ;-)

Beth: There were many grunts. Actually, it was sort of sexy - in a cave-man, incomprehensive way ;-) I'm just glad we were able to help out with Dante (I think you're right about it being him and not Isabel)

Tawny: You paid me back later, though when you called to tell me you'd sold and I didn't wake up to go find a phone. Now I'm paranoid and keep one right next to the bed, so I can immediately celebrate your next deal!

Beth: You know I'm calling you bright and early, right? And this time I'm going to keep calling until you answer the phone. *vbg*

Tawny: That's what I love about you, your refusal to let me sleep.... I mean, your refusal to take no for an answer!

Beth: Aww...that's sweet -- I think. Okay, enough of this love-fest. *g* Let's get back to Does She Dare? and those very...inventive love scenes. *g* Without giving too much away, let me just tell our readers that they're in for one wild ride with this story ;-)

Tawny: Oooooh yeah. Dante is an outdoor kind of guy, so you can imagine that a lot of the love scenes take place under the stars. The cover of Does She Dare depicts my favorite love scene in the story though... just look at it and let your imagination go!!!

Beth: Hmm...actually this brings to mind the time I critiqued a certain scene in Does She Dare? that takes place late in the book when Dante forgets to pull his pants up. Remember? When I pointed it out you wrote back that, no, he wasn't going to pull them up. He was just going to get on his Harley and ride away with his willie flapping in the breeze :-)

Tawny: ROFL... oh yeah. That would have been a problem, wouldn't it? I'm so glad I have you to, um, catch things like that!

Beth: Hey, that's what I'm here for! Someone's gotta keep any eye out for those flapping parts

And with that little Behind The Scenes tid-bit, I just want to thank Tawny for taking the time to answer my questions and to encourage everyone who likes Sassy, Sexy reads with a whole lot of Attitude to pick up or order a copy of Does She Dare?!! You won't be disappointed. :-)

Oh, and I want to let everyone know Tawny and I are doing a two-week, online workshop for From The Heart Romance Writers! It's titled Dreams to Reality and its all about Goals, resolutions and vows of success.Check it out!

Since Tawny's first two books are all about dares, we want to know: Are you daring? What's your wildest dare? One lucky commenter will win a copy of both Double Dare and Does She Dare?!

Friday, December 28, 2007

WHAT A DIFFERENCE A YEAR CAN MAKE!

by Suzanne Welsh
About this time last year a group of us were chatting on the 2006 Golden Heart Loop about our careers and lives since becoming finalists in the Golden Heart contest. We celebrated in the sales of a few of our numbers--Anna Campbell, Donna McMeans, Tawny Weber, and Christine Wells. A few of us had ventured into the cyberspace realm of Public Relations with websites, myspace pages and personal blogs.

I can't remember who exactly first posted about blogs on the loop, but suddenly many of us were asking how to start a blog. Then the conversation turned to suggestions that maybe we should start a blog for writers and readers. Then on March 2nd, Aunty Cindy took the big step and formed a blog for the '06 Packers to practice blogging on. Those who wanted to participate started a separate loop to discuss the process and play with this blog. We knew there were 18 of us who acitvely wanted to form this blog and were willing to put ourselves out there and test the water.


Claiming The Courtesan
About this time, Anna's Claiming the Courtesan, hit the book shelves. We officially had a book to promote with our blog!

Next the discussion turned to what sort of image we wanted. The name Romance Bandits popped up, after a few really bad ones! With the group being in agreement, we talked about the way we wanted the site to look. Classy, but unique. Since my daughter Lyndsey is a concept artist, (she takes people's ideas for pictures and transforms them into actual images), I volunteered her to make us a banner for the site. It would need to meet the approval of 18 people. Quite a feat! When I gave Lyndsey the idea so she could make up a mock banner, she excitedly let me know she'd found "Pirate Font" to write the word BANDIT. The mask and rose were added, and with a bit of tweaking, the top of our blog was created and approved! We were off to a grand start.

We decided to take the colors from the banner and find someone to finish the look. Trish contacted Dawn with Austin DesignWorks, who created the rest of our page design. It's had a few tweaks along the way, like adding new pictures and the "Bandit News" wanted posts, but hey we're a work in progress.

By now we were getting used to taking turns posting to the blog and posting comments. We also had some private discussion regarding finances. One of our banditas volunteered to be treasurer. On May 4th, we officially went public with Caren's post featuring a large picture of Anthonio Banderas...er...Zorro! (We think of ourselves in a cross between pirates and masked avengers like Zorro.)

Double DareThis was followed by our second Bandita book to hit the shelves, Tawny's Double Dare.

As we morphed into this group of bloggers, we made a few tentative requests of our published friends that they come and be "Guest bloggers". Amazingly, they said, "Heck yes!" We gave away prizes, another popular feature. We started to have regular commenters, many of whom have become great friends.

Then we geared up for Nationals. We came up with the idea of business cards and buttons, using a variation of our banner, to hand out to promote the Bandits. At the National RWA convention, Bandit buttons were a hit! One of the buzz items making the rounds at National was, Romance Bandit blog. Everywhere we turned there was someone asking us about the Bandit blog. And to top the conference off: both Beth and Trish won their categories in the Golden Heart!

After Nationals we rounded out our numbers to include two new members, Susan and Nancy for a final total of 20 Banditas. We figured that was just the perfect number.

Since then, we've had more books hit the shelves: Christine's Scandal's Daughter, Donna's The Education of Mrs. Brimley and Anna's second book Untouched.

We've had new sales among our Bandits: Christie, Beth, Jeanne, Cindy, Trish, Kate, and Kirsten.

And somewhere along the way we gained a mascot, The Golden Rooster, thanks to our loyal friend and poster, Doglady! The prize for the first commenter of each day. It became a challenge for those of us in the States or Canada to beat the Aussie contingent for the coveted gilded fowl!

We finished the year off with Trish being a contestant in the American Title IV contest, Joan a finalist in the Suzannah, and today I bought my copy of Tawny's second book, Does She Dare?

So, now we look forward to 2008. Wonder what great changes it will bring for the Banditas? We're wishing for more sales to our published members and new sales for those As Yet Unpublished ones. Some contest wins? Maybe a spot on a "Best Sellers" list or two?

What would you like to see on our blog? Any ideas? Any requests?

Thursday, December 27, 2007

It's That Time Again...

by Tawny Weber

The New Year is upon us once again (where DID the time go?) and that brings us to the ever-frustrating experience of setting New Year’s resolutions.

Me, I’m not so much into the resolution gig. I’m more of a goal setting gal, myself. The difference? I always think of resolutions as those things we decide to quit or avoid (lose weight, quit smoking, cut back on caffeine--of which the latter always baffles me... no caffeine? Ack) while goals are things to work toward. It’s really just semantics, but years as a hypnotherapist showed me over and over again the success of phrasing something as positively as possible. A goal is active, a resolution is more static. Goals can be broken into easily focused-on steps, resolutions seem to rely on willpower (of which I have diddly, as evidenced by the fact that all the homemade almond rocca is gone already).

But I have to admit, I can’t escape the lure of the New Year. The last week of December, I always find myself setting next year’s goals. Some little, some big, all adjustable to life’s whims. Maybe it’s the lingering warm fuzzy feeling of the holidays, but I always use this time to count my blessings. In the rush to pen a list of changes we expect ourselves to make, it’s easy to forget the things we want to hold on to. So I’ll sit with my husband and kids and we’ll reflect on all the great things we did over the last year, or the fun changes we’ve experienced. I had so many in 2007, including the release of Double Dare last May and Does She Dare?, which is hitting the shelves right about now.

Celebrating Does She Dare? is even more fun right now since the heroine, Isabel, is as much of a goal setter as I am – she even color codes her lists (including the one she calls The Man Plan, which leads to all kinds of naughty fun!). Hey , it worked for her.



How about you? As this last week of 2007 winds down, will you be reflecting on your blessings, crafting a resolution list or ignoring the whole thing? And just for fun , if you share one thing you’re grateful for, one goal/resolution you’ll be focusing on I'll toss your name in the hat to win a goal setting basket filled with goodies, including the ever-important markers for color coding!!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Happy Boxing Day!!

by Anna Sugden

Boxing Day? What is it? For many it is a great sporting day, for others a time to hit the shops for the best bargains, and for the rest of us, it's another day of eating and relaxing (and maybe some sport on the telly - Go Manchester United and Exeter City!)

In the UK and other Commonwealth countries, the day after Christmas (also known as St Stephen's Day) is a national holiday, called Boxing Day. There are a number of explanations as to how it got its name - but the most popular/well-known is that is the day when people would give a 'Christmas box' or gift to those who worked for them.

In feudal times, it was when the lord of the manor would hand out the equivalent of a Christmas bonus to his serfs and tenants. It was usually a box of practical goods like food and cloth, maybe even some tools.

I believe that later, anyone who had servants, would either give 'boxed-up' left-overs from Christmas lunch to those servants to eat the following day or they would even cook for their household.

Over time, it evolved into employers giving either money (the basis for the Christmas bonus) or a gift. In many towns and villages, it was also the day when the church donation boxes were opened and the contents shared out among the poor of the locality.

Today, there are still many who give presents or bonuses to people like the milkmen, postmen, dustbin men, paper boys etc on Boxing Day.

Wherever you are and whatever you are doing today - I hope you are having a wonderful Boxing Day. May you be happy and healthy and ... totally stuffed from all the holiday goodies! And may your favourite teams win (unless they're playing against mine!).

For those of you who have been following our recipes, here is my recipe for Boxing Day Soup (aka what to do with all the Christmas left-overs!)

2 pints of chicken or turkey stock (we usually boil up the turkey carcasse and make our own)
2 or 3 large leeks
1 large onion
1 large chunk of butter
A big bowl leftover turkey meat (we use the dark meat and save the white meat for sandwiches or other dishes)
Left-over roast potatoes
Left-over roasted root vegetables eg parsnips, carrots etc
Left-over bread sauce and stuffing and gravy
(NB do not include any left-over brussel sprouts or other green vegetables - they'll add a bitter taste!)

1. Melt butter in a large, heavy saucepan
2. Chop onion and leeks and cook until they become translucent
3. Add chopped turkey meat
4. Chop roast potatoes and root vegetables into chunks and add to the saucepan.
5. Add the stock and stir while bringing the stock up to a simmer.
6. Stir in the left-over gravy, bread sauce and stuffing.
7. Let the soup simmer on the stove until it has a thick and hearty consistency.
8. Serve and enjoy. As a little extra touch, I like to add a large spoonful of sour cream.

So, what are you up to on this Boxing Day? If you're watching sport, who are you supporting?
As a special Boxing Day prize, I'm giving away a $10 Barnes & Noble gift card.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas to All!!

First, I want to wish all my Bandita friends and families a joyous Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!!


And now … I thought I'd share some random thoughts and photos taken from my own family’s Christmas celebration.

We're a cozy group this year, just eight of us. Two of my brothers and their wives, my nephew, the DH and I, and mom. We're staying together at my mother’s big house in Palm Desert, California. Our first night together, we ate chicken tacos and watched that heartwarming, traditional Christmas film, Die Hard.



Here's a photo of Satina the reindeer. I think my mom's had this little creature since before I was born. Anyway, maybe it was the full moon, or maybe the desert heat made her thirsty, but Satina couldn’t stop staring at my brother’s martini (vodka, extra dry, shaken of course).



And now, revealed to the world at last, my mother’s super secret chocolate chip cookie recipe. I think you can all imagine the sense of betrayal I felt when I saw this. It took six cookies and half a bottle of champagne to overcome it.




One of the danger signs that you’ve passed over the threshold into middle age is when you get together with the family at Christmas and the first thing you do is compare surgery scars. Let me assure you this is not a family member but merely a demonstration of what you might expect to see at a Christmas celebration sometime in the future. I'm just sayin'...






Here's something a little bit cuter...or not. You be the judge. It's the jolly snowman on mom's coffee table.






On Christmas Eve we ate a lovely beef tenderloin (with apologies to our tofurkey fans, we named it Igor) and then watched one of my favorite Christmas movies, Love Actually.








And what about presents? Books, of course. Here are two mysteries I can't wait to read -- Tasha Alexander’s And Only To Deceive and Cara Black’s Murder in Montmartre.



An Ipod for Kate. Sweaters for everyone. Lots of gift cards for mom because she always returns regular gifts.
And a merry time was had by all!!





And finally, here’s the family recipe for Spicy Mixed Nuts. Be careful – they’re addictive! They’re perfect for a party and only take 5 minutes to make, plus 20 minutes baking time.

¼ cup butter
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp each: seasoned salt, celery salt and garlic powder
½ tsp ground cumin
¼ tsp. each cayenne pepper and pepper
1 c. shelled walnuts
1 cup pecan halves
1 cup whole almonds, lightly toasted

Preheat oven to 325 F. Melt butter in a small saucepan. Add Worcestershire sauce and seasonings. Simmer over low heat for several minutes for flavors to blend. Stir in nuts and transfer to a shallow baking pan. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Makes 3 cups. (Great with cocktails. And they can also be tossed on salads.)

Cheers!

Any random thoughts out there? What’s going on at your house this Christmas? KJ wrote from Africa yesterday. I’m celebrating in the Southern California desert today. Where else are our Banditas, friends and families spending the holidays? I'm giving away a $25 Amazon.com gift certificate to one lucky person, just for taking the time to come by and comment on Christmas Day!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Bandit Booty

And the winner of the $15 Amazon gift card for the story about her favorite Christmas gift is...

Helen and her story about getting a puppy!! Congratulations, Helen *g* Please drop me a line at: bethandrews91@gmail.com (that's: bethandrews91 AT gmail DOT com) with your email info and I'll get your gift card right out to you :-)

Thank you all for commenting about your favorite and most memorable gifts!

KJ's Christmas in Africa!

Happy Holidays Everyone!!!

Thank you to Jeanne for posting my blog today. I’m sorry I’m not here to personally wish you all a happy holiday, but I’m incommunicado in the middle of the African bush. Definitely a green Christmas for me. I’m visiting South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Botswana on safari. Today, I’m in Botswana playing (maybe the wrong word choice) with semi-habituated elephants. Wish me luck!

Spending Christmas in Africa makes me think about celebrating the holidays in an unusual way. What is customary in one country is unusual in another. I’d love to hear about your holiday traditions, the more unusual, the better!

In the meantime, here is a little more info about the holidays in Africa, including a special South African recipe.

In Africa, there is not so much the giving of presents, but the giving of presence. Most people cannot afford to buy gifts. Besides, in the middle of the bush, there aren’t many stores. Instead, many Africans celebrate with a special meal, enjoying one of their treasured livestock over an open fire.

Definitely different than Canada, but one thing remains constant across the globe. Africans celebrate Christmas like everyone else in the world—as a celebratory time for family and friends to come together, eat, drink, and rejoice in the fact that they have each other. It’s all about the people in our lives.

In South Africa, Christmas comes in the middle of the summer. Can you say HOT? Snow would last about thirty seconds! So, what do South Africans do today? After a large Christmas lunch, families visit the homes of friends to ask for and receive a "Christmas box" which usually has food inside.


There are eleven languages in South Africa. Here are the five most common ways of saying "Merry Christmas"!
Merry Christmas: English;

Gese├źnde Kersfees: Afrikaans

Sinifisela Ukhisimusi Omuhle: Zulu

Sinifisela Khisimusi Lomuhle: Swazi

Matswalo a Morena a Mabotse: Sotho

Whatever you are doing today, I hope you are happy and well. And keep in mind—Christmas is a time of celebration in Africa—that is, unless you are a goat, a chicken, or a cow!

Recipe for traditional yeast-baked rusk!

This is a traditional dish great for dunking in your tea or coffee early in the morning when you watch the sun rise as the boer trekkers did every morning when they traveled from the Cape to the Transavaal. If the rusks are to be kept for a long time, do not substitute margarine for the butter.

Yeast-Baked Rusks

375g (1-3/4 c) butter
500g (2-1/4 c.) sugar
2 extra large eggs
1.5kg (3 lb, 4 oz) self-raising flour
30ml (2 tablespoons) baking powder
500ml (2 cups) buttermilk or plain drinking yogurt

Preheat oven to 180°C (350°F). Cream the butter and sugar together very well. Add the eggs, one at a time. Sift the flour and baking powder together, and add this to the creamed mixture, using a fork to mix. Add the buttermilk or yogurt, using a little milk to rinse out the carton.

Mix well with a fork and then knead lightly. Pack lightly rolled, golf ball sized buns of the dough into the greased bread pans close together, and bake for 45-55 minutes. Place the pans in the middle of the oven, with a sheet of brown paper on the top shelf to protect the buns from becoming browned too quickly.

Remove the paper after the buns are well risen and cooked through, to brown the tops. Reduce the heat to the lowest possible setting. Turn out the buns on to cake racks, cool them and separate them, using 2 forks. Pack them on wire racks or on cooled oven racks—air must circulate. Place them in the cool oven, leaving the door ajar, for 4-5 hours, or overnight, to dry out. If no buttermilk or yogurt is available, use fresh milk curdled with lemon juice or white vinegar.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Christmas Eve Bandita Booty!

by Anna Sugden

Lots of Bandita Booty to give away!!

RaeAnne is giving four lucky winners their choice of book. Either a copy of THE DADDY MAKEOVER or HIS SECOND CHANCE FAMILY.

Her four year old played draw-master and picked the following names out of the hat:

Doglady

Maureen

Kirsten

Crystalgb

Congratulations!!!! Please email RaeAnne at rthayne AT xmission DOT com and let her know which book you would like to receive ... and your snail mail address.

And my cats have drawn the following lucky winner out of the catnip bag:

Lily!!

Congratulations!! You win a copy of the Christmas Anthology It's a Wonderful Christmas. Please send your snail mail address to anna AT annasugden DOT com.

Cookie Anatomy

By Donna MacMeans

Christmas cookies have some sensual benefits not always anticipated.

A while back, Cassondra and I were comparing some baking stories (which if you know Cassondra, these are rare stories, indeed). On an earlier blog, Cassondra shared how creative frosting of a candlestick sugar cookie led to an eye-opening discussion of the birds & bees. You might recall her posting was part of a dare from Anna and I. Now I’m obligated to follow through with my story – another lesson in anatomy inspired by cookie dough.

A number of years ago, our beloved next door neighbors moved (sniff, sniff). They were the perfect neighbors in that their children were precisely the same ages as my two. The agonizing months of curiosity about possible new neighbors followed, until November when a “sold” sign replaced the more familiar one on the lawn.

The new neighbors moved in and, wonder of wonders, they had a daughter the same age as my son. She was even placed in his kindergarten class. “Mary” (not her real name) would often come over to play with my son and on this particular afternoon, I was making cookies while the kids were playing.

I like to make gingerbread cookies – not to eat – but to decorate a wreath that I hang on the fireplace. The heat from the chimney scents the air with the rich scent of ginger and spice. I’d decided to use a new shape for my cookies that year – Gingerbears.

The process is simple – first, make up a batch of gingerbread, whatever recipe you can find. Now the fun begins. Make a series of dough balls – 1 medium, 5 little, 3 tiny little balls. The medium will become the bear’s belly, one little will become the head, the others will be arms and legs. The tiny ones will make a nose and two ears. No need to smush them down – they’ll bond in the baking. Here’s a couple of the ones I made to demonstrate. Unfortunately one was the victim of an unfortunate icing accident, thus the unseemly red birthmark.

Let me share a baking secret – parchment paper. If you put the raw dough on parchment paper there’s no need to grease the cookie sheets. Plus you can lay out the cookies on paper on the countertop and then slide them onto a cookie sheet and into the oven with ease. But now, back to my story -

Little Mary sees me assembling these bears and looks at me with big brown eyes and says “Can I help?”

Who could refuse? I had her wash her hands, tied a frilly little apron around her child’s body, and suggested she make up some balls.

“No,” she said. “I don’t want to do that.”

She screwed up her little face then picked up some dough – rolling it between her fingers so it became long and thin like a snake.

“I’ll make the dangley parts,” she said before she slapped her creation between my bear’s stubby little legs!

Now all sorts of questions are forming in my mind about the new neighbors. But first, I quickly remove the “boy parts” explaining that all the bears were girls, which seemed to satisfy her – though she was no longer interested in helping with the cookies.

Afterwards I spoke with her mother and learned that Mary has an older brother whom she has “surprised” on occasion. My new neighbors turned out to be as wonderful as the old ones, even with the mischievous Mary (who has since graduated from Notre Dame).

So my question is - have any fun or bonding experiences occurred while making cookies? Are you finished with your Christmas shopping? Baking? Decorating? Not long to go -- Share your comments and I’ll select one for a copy of The Education of Mrs. Brimley.

Oh, and Happy Festivus (for the rest of us) Day!

Here’s my Christmas treat for you - an intoxicating pecan pie. You’ll want to slurp up any pie filling remains with a straw – it’s that good.

Donna’s Pecan Pie

1 pie crust
1 cup brown sugar
5 tablespoons flour
¼ teaspoon salt
4 eggs
1 ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups light karo syrup
¼ cup bourbon
5 oz melted butter (one stick & 3 tablespoons)
2 cups pecan halves

Preheat the over to 400 degrees

Mix by hand all the above ingredients except crust and pecans
Pour mixture into the pie crust
Put pecans on top in concentric circles.
Bake 10 minutes.
Reduce heat to 350 degrees
Bake 45 –55 minutes more.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

For your viewing pleasure ...

by Anna Sugden

No, it’s not Christmas hunks (or for P226, gorgeous gals) … but my favourite Christmas films. I’m sure we all have them. As most of mine are classics (yes, some are even in black and white!), I thought I’d share them with you. Hopefully, you’ll share yours with me too. Maybe we’ll all find a hidden gem to become part of our holiday viewing.

Christmas in Connecticut
Stars Barbara Stanwyck and Dennis Morgan (and a fab supporting cast). This is a lovely romance with wonderful, snappy dialogue. If you like the Cary Grant/Irene Dunne movies or any of that type of screwball comedy that were famous in that era - you’ll love Christmas in Connecticut.

Journalist Elizabeth Lane (Stanwyck) is one of the country's most famous food writers. In her columns, she describes herself as a hard working farm woman, taking care of her children and being an excellent cook. But this is all lies. In reality she is an unmarried New Yorker who can't even boil an egg. The recipes come from her good friend Felix. The owner of the magazine she works for has decided that a heroic sailor (Morgan) will spend his Christmas on *her* farm. Miss Lane knows that her career is over if the truth comes out, but what can she do?

Note - don’t be fooled into buying a film of the same name which stars Dyan Cannon. It is a truly terrible remake!!!

Miracle on 34th Street


Stars Maureen O’Hara and John Payne (with another fab supporting cast). This is one of the few films where the remake is almost as good as the original - you can’t go wrong with either. Another classic tale of romance - one of the first where the heroine was the cynic about Christmas and the hero, the believer. And the trial of Kris Kringle, Macy’s Santa, is wonderful.

Scrooged

Stars Bill Murray and Karen Allen. You’re spoiled for choice with films based on that wonderful Christmas tale by Charles Dickens “A Christmas Carol”. If you love musicals with rousing songs and dance numbers - check out “Scrooge!” starring Albert Finney. There is also “A Muppet’s Christmas Carol” in which Michael Caine plays a fantastic Scrooge! For those who want a more classic telling, there are versions with George C Scott or Patrick Stewart.


The reason I’ve chosen this version is that it has everything to make you feel good about Christmas. It’s funny. Bill Murray is perfect as the heartless ad executive (his Christmas ads are hilarious!). The modernisation of the story is cleverly done. And it has some of the best cameos! But it’s also touching - tell me the song “Put a little love in your heart” doesn’t raise your spirits.


White Christmas
Stars Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Vera Ellen and Rosemary Clooney. Not bad for a story written around a song! Even if you discount The Song, this film is filled with wonderful music, spectacular dance routines, witty dialogue and a heart-warming romance (oh, and some gorgeous shoes!). What more could anyone want?

It’s a Wonderful Life
No list would be complete without this Jimmy Stewart classic. I’m embarrassed to say that it was only last year that I watched this through from beginning to end. I’ve seen most of it in bits, but to get the most out of the story, I had to see it in its entirety. The story is so well-crafted and there are so many subtle nuances in the filming. Even if you’re not a movie geek, it’s worth watching the section about the making of the film.

And an honourable mention has to go to The Shop Around the Corner. Although it's not actually a Christmas film, it's set during the Christmas season. It stars Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan. Another lovely romance - which was later remade as You've Got Mail.

Okay - now it’s your turn. What are your top 5 Christmas movies? Is there a holiday film you absolutely hate?


One lucky commenter will win a copy of It's a Wonderful Christmas - a lovely anthology of Christmas romances inspired by Hollywood Classics. Look out for It's a Wonderful Night by my great friend, Harlequin author Kathleen Long.

And for something to indulge yourself with, while you're watching or reading, how about a recipe for Sherry Trifle? It takes some time to make - but it's worth it!

You need:

A large glass bowl
1 large banana - sliced
A handful of strawberries - halved
One pack of strawberry Jello/jelly
6 trifle fingers or a handful of stale sponge/pound cake (cut into chunks)
Sweet sherry
1 packet of Bird's custard (egg custard) - you could, at a pinch, replace with vanilla pudding, but it won't be quite the same.
Whipping/whipped cream
Glace cherries or sprinkles or sliced almonds (or all three!) to decorate

1. Place strawberry halves, banana slices and chunks of cake in the bottom of the glass bowl.

2. Soak with sherry.

3. Make the jelly according to the instructions and pour into the bowl, covering the fruit and sponge.

4. Very important - let the jelly set fully!

5. While the jelly is setting, make the custard (if you don't have Bird's, there are loads of recipes for egg custard on the internet - Nigella or Delia Smith have great ones).

6. Very important - let the custard cool! But don't let it set. This is important as you're going to pour it onto the jelly to form a second layer and you don't want to melt the jelly.

7. Pour cold custard onto the jelly and let it set.

8. Whip the cream and add to form a third layer.

9. Decorate with cherries, almonds, sprinkles or all 3.

10. Enjoy!