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Lemon Ombre Cake

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For my son’s birthday, he requested a “lemon, lemon, lemon” cake, and I decided I’d try my hand at an ombre frosting. I took our favorite lemon cake, did a little research and put together what you see above. As I worked, I did a couple of time-lapse photos and put them on my FB wall. People asked for the recipe, so I decided to blog about it because that’s easier in the long run.

I made the cake in three steps. Lemon Curd, Cake, and Frosting. I made the butter-cream a couple of days ahead, and I had to re-whip it to make it creamy after it was in the fridge for a couple of days. If I do this again, I’ll make the filling ahead of time. Cook the cake a day ahead and make the butter-cream to use right away. It was sort of a pain to re-whip the frosting.

I assembled the cake and took a time-lapse of the process. I put one layer on the cardboard, made a ring of butter-cream around the outside edge and filled it with lemon curd. I added a second layer and repeated the filling before topping with the third layer and covering the entire thing with a crumb coat. That all went into the fridge until the frosting was firm.

Then, I mixed two colors of yellow frosting–about a cup of each color, and left the rest of the frosting a kind of creamy color. This time-lapse shows how I piped thick bands of the dark yellow on bottom, medium yellow in the middle and the white around the top. It looks really messy, but that’s okay because the magic happens when you smooth the cake.  This video is kind of funny because I put the cake plate on top of the turntable. I saw that in another video and thought it was clever, but it didn’t really work all that well for me because I ended up with frosting on the bottom of the plate and ended cleaning up the look by piping shells around the base.

The cake recipe “Glazed Lemon Cake” in The Silver Palate Cookbook by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins. I made a couple of changes to make it a three-tiered cake. Sorry about the timing being vague, but you really do have to just check to make sure it’s done. Start at 20 minutes and keep checking…

ingredients Makes 8-10 portions

• ½ pound ( 2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
• 2 cups granulated sugar
• 3 eggs
• 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, sifted
• ½ teaspoon baking soda
• ½ teaspoon salt
• 1 cup buttermilk
• 2 tightly packed tablespoons grated lemon zest
• 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
• Lemon Icing (Recipe follows)

Steps

Preheat oven to 325f. Grease three cake pans. (Mine were 9 inch, but I’d do 8 next time for a taller cake)

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time, blending well after each addition.

Sift together flour, baking soda and salt. Stir dry ingredients into egg mixture alternately with buttermilk, beginning and ending with dry ingredients. Add lemon zest and juice.

Pour batter into prepared pans. Set on the middle rack of the oven and bake about 20 minutes (more or less) until cake pulls away from the sides of the pan and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cool cake in the pan, set on a rack, for 10 minutes. Remove the cake from the pan and cool ten minutes in pans, then invert onto racks and allow to cool completely.

 

Lemon Curd Filling: I used this lemon curd recipe.  It’s pretty easy, but you can make any lemon curd, or to simplify your life you can buy jars of lemon curd. It’s really not that hard to make, but buying a jar can save you time.

The frosting is Swiss Meringue Buttercream. If you click the link, you’ll see a nice tutorial on the whole process.

 

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Why I Find Comfort in Crime Fiction

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A few months ago I almost signed up for an “urban escape” training weekend. We’re not talking getting out of the city and into the woods though. The course description is this:

While on an international business trip you are kidnapped and held for ransom. or, a terrorist attack closes the business district of your city and you find yourself in a dangerous, chaotic fix. How do you stay alive? How do you get to safety on your own?

This class provides leading-edge skills to civilians who live or work in challenging urban environments or who may find themselves in a destabilizing urban area during a crisis. Topics covered include covert movement (day vs. night), the judicious use of caches, understanding urban baseline movement and urban awareness training, the use of disguises and false papers/identification, lock picking, escaping from unlawful custody, obtaining and driving local transportation, the use of “specialized” urban gear, and instruction on how to develop urban escape and evasion go-bags. A one day urban escape scenario is held the final day of class.

Sounds like fun, doesn’t it? One of the classes was offered in Las Vegas during my daughter’s spring break, and I suggested we take it together–spend a couple days in Vegas ahead of time for fun, then go to the class to learn some new skills. Great mommy-daughter bonding time, right? She seemed as excited about it as I was.

When I suggested I wanted to do this, my husband was appalled. He didn’t understand why we would be attracted to this kind of weekend. Learning how to escape from being kidnapped? Sure, it would be awesome research for my writing, but I wanted to do it. For me. I still want to.

As I spoke to more of my friends about this, I learned that women were more likely to be attracted to the class than men. As women, we are taught to walk down the street with heightened awareness and actively think about the threats that surround us all the time. Is that man crossing the street toward me? What kind of lighting is there? Can I see who is around me? Who is nearby that can harm me? A class like this would give me some possible skills to use if I am ever pulled into a passing car or a bag goes over my head from behind.

As I rationalized my desire to take this class, I realized my relationship to reading (and writing), and my intense focus on all things scary had to do with coping in life. Crime fiction, mysteries and stories that deal with horrible things provide a sort of comfort to me. It is to many women what Grimm’s Fairytales are to children.

Reading about someone surviving a terrifying situation, especially if they are part of their own escape from it, helps us, as women, cope with the possibilities. It makes it so we can walk down the street knowing others have survived, we can too.

note:
I ended up not taking that particular class because of timing and cost issues. Good thing, too. The weekend I was looking at ended up being the same one where I had an emergency appendectomy. Being locked in a car trunk with an exploding appendix would have not been a good time. I’d still like to take the class sometime…

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(c) Can Stock Photo

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A new year, a new list…

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What’s on your list to read in 2016?  I got a few fun books to read over the holidays, (see photo) and I still have a backlog from book-signing events and conferences.

First up is “Purity” by Franzen. It was a birthday gift from my fabulous mother-in-law, and I have kept ‘meaning to get into it.’

Every book I read about writing gives me the same advice–write and read a lot. I tried to put every book I read in 2015 on my Goodreads shelves, but I probably missed one or two. But, it looks like I made my 52 book goal for the year.  Most were mysteries or thrillers. What a surprise!

As a writer, I have a couple of standard responses to books I read.  Often I think “wow…this is really good. HOW did this writer pull me in?”  I spend some time analyzing the craft of the author and feeling inferior.  The other response is “wow…this is really crap.  How did this writer ever get published?” along with the more peevish, “I write better than this, so what’s off about MY STORY?”

Regardless of my response, I usually learn SOMETHING as a writer with every book I pick up. Reading without the active analysis is harder for me than it used to be, so I love it when I get so sucked into a story that I forget to pay attention to craft details. When I put such a book down, I have a moment where I think, “wait…how did that happen? I read a story and didn’t even think about how the author used a gazillion adverbs and it didn’t bug me at all…”

Here’s wishing you and yours a happy, safe, and word-filled 2016.

 

 

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Beta Time

Beta PicPeople have been asking me questions that are some variant of “So, how’s that book coming along?” or “When is your book coming out?” and “Didn’t you win a contest or something?” and “Hasn’t it been a while now?”

It feels like FOREVER since I started Bound to Die for NaNoWriMo in 2011. I took a look at the original 50,000 words and realized I have kept about 5,000 of them. Ten percent. I point this out to illustrate that, as a newbie novelist, I am learning as I go. Writing a novel is about ten thousand times more difficult than reading one. And, when you do it the way I did, it’s maybe a gazillion times harder.

The problem with NaNoWriMo is, it’s all about process and not product. The problem with this is…well, it’s NOT about the product. So, my 2011 NaNoWriMo was a mess. It’s taken me three years to turn it around into something that is readable. In Mid-February, I sent the manuscript off to six readers to get their response.

The image above shows the first three manuscripts I got back. I used this image to illustrate the next step in my process. I will be comparing notes from all six readers side-by-side and page-by-page. For example, readers of two of the returned manuscripts have brought up an issue at the start of Chapter 23. They are having DIFFERENT questions, but this tells me that I have to re-write the transition into the scene or fix it some other way to keep people connected to the story.

As the author, I get to make all the decisions about things, but when half the people are being bumped out of the story, it’s clear something is not working. This is tricky, because writing by committee doesn’t work. I’m trying to work out a metric on this. If only one person is bumped by something, I look to see if it’s a big bump or a little one. If it’s something easy to clarify, I will. If it’s something that I think is just that reader’s ‘personal issue’, I’ll probably ignore it. If more than two have a bump, then I KNOW there is a problem.

One person told me he doesn’t like the name I chose for my protagonist. It just so happens he had a bad reaction to the name because he was projecting from a life experience. I get that, but I decided to keep the name I had very carefully chosen even though I know at least one person won’t like it. Heck, I know more than one person won’t like the book. (And, there’s the topic of my next blog post–thick skin…)

I’m heading off on a three day intensive editing retreat this week to go through all the fabulous and thoughtful responses I got from my “beta readers.” I have an appointment with a developmental editor in April, and then I’ll be ready to do one more edit before sending it out to agents. I had a bunch of them interested in the story at last summer’s PNWA conference, and I can’t wait to get it into their hands.

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Reviews…you can’t control the reader’s experience

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I was doing some catch-up work for the erotic pen name I’ve been using. I have an Amazon Author page that needs updating, a Goodreads Author page that needs updating, a blog that I need to write…well, you get the picture.  While I’m still keeping mostly mum about that pen name, I came across two reviews that actually called out my stories.

One was positive saying that my first ever male-male story was a favorite in the collection. Yay!  I get a little nervous about writing men having sex because I have to rely much more on my imagination than I do when writing from the female perspective. Having someone say they loved my story is more than just fun, it’s confirmation that writing skill and imagination are as or more important than experience. I’ve always hated the “write what you know” idea people put out there. Yes, if you don’t know it, you go out and learn it. But, barring any bizarre alien intervention I am unlikely to ever experience the male body from the inside out. In terms of the mystery novel I’m working on, I’m kind of glad I don’t actually have to experience what I put my characters through. I am not kind to those poor people.

The second review was slightly confusing. The reviewer cited my story as a specific example of what was wrong with the whole collection. It was a collection of stories in the BDSM erotic genre, and the whole point was to get people into sexual scenarios where people submit and pain reigns. (Re-read the above paragraph…research is my religion.) The reviewer dinged my story for the plain fact that my two characters don’t have actual sexual intercourse, even though the female totally gets off on her experience of submitting. Add in that this was an erotica anthology, and not an erotic romance anthology, it was a surprising review. It’s like buying a barbecue cookbook and complaining about the fact there are so many recipes involving meat, or that all the meat is cooked, you know, on a barbecue.

What I’m trying to get at here is that no matter what you think you’re writing, or who you’re writing for, someone is guaranteed to read it differently than how you wrote it.


(c) Can Stock Photo

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Home Sweet Home

Emma in September as she headed off into the world.

Emma in September as she headed off into the world.

Emma as we got back to Seattle this week.

Emma as we got back to Seattle this week.

We’ve spent the last year plus thinking about Emma and her gap year. (Anyone who knows us is probably tired of hearing about Emma this, and Emma that–but it’s been our LIFE for a while now.) First, we were planning, planning, planning. Then, once she was gone, it was all…watching and waiting. Watching her and her friends Facebook feeds. Waiting for emails,FaceTime, letters and packages. Our limited contact with her gave us the barest of information. After three weeks of no contact, even a single line of an email gave me a sense of calm. “She’s alive. That’s all that really matters.” Going from daily minutia of her life to only knowing she’s alive was a huge change. Now that she’s back home, we’re finding our way into a new way of being, something in between knowing every minute-by-minute detail and just knowing she’s still breathing.

Integrating an adult “child” back into the house is new for us, and it is taking some adjusting for both of us. I’m finding that the change and growth she’s gone through in the last year has truly elevated her from teenager into the adult realm. While she will always be my baby girl, she’s grown into a responsible young woman used to certain freedoms and responsibilities. I’m doing my best to step back and try to see her for who she is now.

As the pictures show she doesn’t look much different than when she left. Her return photo was taken after she’d finished the program including several weeks in D.C. and access to fresh clothes and her beloved leather jacket. She looks like she’s standing a bit taller and more secure in the world to me.

I didn’t feel particularly stressed while she was gone. Logically, I expected her to be safe, but it wasn’t until we got back yesterday that I realized I had been experiencing a definite underlying stress. I don’t know whether it was a generalized stress that will return in August when she heads off to college or a more direct “she’s in far away places doing exotic and semi-dangerous things” kind of stress. That question will be answered in September after she’s been gone on a different adventure for a while. Mama-stress?

For now, I am happy to have her home and engaging in a new kind of adult parent-child relationship. It’s the way it should be.

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Hope is Not…

Many of you know that I took the UW Literary Fiction Program a few years ago. Scott was the instructor of the class, and he’d mention his novel every now and again. His blog is filled with interesting additional insights about his process and how he twists the real world into his fictional world. If you have the time to go to his workshop in Seattle on Sunday, I highly recommend you go. He’ll even sign a copy of the book for you. His novel, “Better You Go Home” is rich in character and story, and his lecture is sure to inspire you to write and to read. I went to his launch party a few months ago, and found his lecture inspiring. Hope my writing friends can make it, but even if you’ve never written anything the lecture makes reading more interesting.

Hope is not…counting on the outcome of an NFL playoff game for your sense of well-being.

Or, if you’re concerned about being labeled a philistine…

“Hope is not…being convinced that what you’re doing will turn out well.” This is a quote from Vaclav Havel. He was explaining to the western press how it was possible to keep up the good fight behind the Iron Curtain.

Hope is…

Counting on the teams to decide their own fate.

Hope is… attending a workshop/reading with Better You Go Home author, Scott Driscoll at Couth Buzzard Books Sunday, Jan 19th – 6:00 pm –  8310 Greenwood Ave. N.  Seattle, WA  /  206- 436-2960.

If you were Havel…

“Hope is…finding a way to believe that it makes sense to do what you’re doing, that it is the right thing to do, whether it turns out well or not.”

Bedrich and Marie in Pisecna farmhouse0001

 

These are Czech relatives…

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