DOESN’T ANYONE LIKE BROWNIES ANYMORE?

June 23, 2013 in Chocolate! (and other less exalted food experiences), Interviews

 

I knew from the day I started my blog that I wanted to conduct author interviews. I am fascinated by the creative process, and love that every author has found their own way to nurture their muse. And they are all so different!

I am also mildly obsessed with desserts, so out of curiosity (and to get some good ideas/recipes), I decided to ask every author I interviewed what their favorite dessert was.

My first interview was with Mari L. McCarthy at www.CreateWriteNow.com, and her favorite dessert was sublime: dark chocolate, especially in the form of mud pie. Yum!

My own creative/dessert junkie muse kicked in and I came up with a fabulous idea. From then on out, I would make the author’s favorite dessert and present it virtually along with the recipe. I thought it would be a win-win: they’d get a virtual version of their favorite dessert, and I would get to try something new to add to my dessert arsenal. Besides, I have this great Pinterest Dessert Board and I’m just looking for a reason to try any one of them.

It hasn’t worked out this way at all.

For one thing, there is a fundamental difference between males and females when it comes to dessert:

Mari L. McCarthy: female. Loves dark chocolate and mud pie. Yes! Good answer.

Garth Stein (author of The Art of Racing in the Rain): male. Likes strawberries and cream or a good cheese plate. Umm…a cheese plate? That’s not a dessert. There is no chocolate on a cheese plate.

Noah Scalin (author of Skulls): male. Likes frozen grapes. Again, not a dessert. If I remember my food pyramid correctly, grapes are a fruit.

Raymond Z. Ortiz (author of We Had More To Say): male. Likes a New Mexican form of bread pudding. Hmm…questionable. Plus, he’s a great cook. He certainly doesn’t need me making bread pudding for him. (Do I even like bread pudding?)

My grand plan was hitting a brick wall…until along came Karen Pokras Toz, author of Chasing Invisible and the Nate Rocks the World series. She likes cannolis. Finally! A legitimate dessert item that I have never even tried. Let the dessert adventure begin!

I perused the internet for cannoli recipes. There are a lot, like Recipe Girl’s Cannoli recipe and of course Alex Guarnaschelli’s Homemade Cannoli recipe on www.foodnetwork.com. They both looked good, so I decided to combine them into one recipe (perhaps that was Mistake #1?). But  here’s the thing about cannoli: making the shells is a high maintenance endeavor. You need special cannoli rings to wrap the dough around (which I didn’t have) and then you have to fry them (and I don’t have a great pan for that). Surely they could be store bought?

Of course they can, at Italian specialty stores, which are…where exactly?

I needed an easy plan B. I picked up some mini phyllo cups from my local grocery store’s freezer section plus all the ingredients for the filling, which was delicious: sweet and creamy with the hint of cinnamon and allspice…yum! But was it supposed to be this runny? I spooned the soupy mixture into the cute phyllo cups and studied them. These were no cannolis, my friends, nor could they even be classified as cannoli-esque. I wasn’t sure exactly what I had made, but I knew it wouldn’t be gifted to anyone, virtually or otherwise. Even my kids declined to taste them.

I am sure my Italian ancestors are rolling in their graves.

I am not giving up. I will revisit this process again and figure out where I went wrong. In the meantime, I continue to hope that someday I will interview an author whose favorite dessert is a plateful of brownies. Now that I can make.

 

Basement Brownies from www.RecipeGirl.com.

KAREN POKRAS TOZ: CHASING INVISIBLE TOUR

June 21, 2013 in Book Reviews, Interviews

I am so pleased to have award-winning author Karen Pokras Toz stop by today to celebrate her latest release Chasing Invisible!

Chasing Invisible is the story of quiet, bookish Julia Alexander who needs little more than her family, her books, and a few close friends to be content. But her life takes a 180º turn when she meets Chase, a budding musician. When the song he writes for Julia becomes a hit, Julia’s quiet life becomes a faint memory. She finds herself being proposed to in front of thousands of fans at Chase’s concert and her photograph plastered across every reputable and non-reputable magazine and newspaper on a daily basis.

Standing strong against unkind remarks about unflattering photographs taken of her and salacious stories that she knows are lies, Julia forges ahead the best she can. But things change again when her children are born and she is no longer sure that every printed rumor about Chase is a lie. Now she needs to stand strong to protect her children and herself from the harm the paparazzi causes. How far will she go to keep her children invisible?

Reminiscent of Princess Diana and her life in the limelight, Chasing Invisible is a compelling story of how ravenous the paparazzi can be when it comes to news of celebrities. Harassment, lying, and children are all fair game in this business. Julia questions it all, especially how she became the target. After all, she is not the famous musician: her husband is.

I enjoyed this novel: my first on a Kindle! Julia is a likable character surrounded by good friends I wouldn’t mind hanging out with myself. The struggles she goes through to keep her children’s lives private will resonate with any parent, and I gasped out loud at times reading about the horrifically unkind judgments passed on everything about her. I cannot imagine what it must be like for today’s celebrities that have to survive that kind of scrutiny. While this is an adult novel, I can’t help but think it would jump start a dialogue with teenagers about what they say about others on Facebook, Twitter, etc., and the harmful impact it could have.

This novel has a heck of a twist at the end, which is just icing on a great piece of cake!

My Interview With Karen Pokras Toz

1)    Congratulations on your release of Chasing Invisible! You got your start writing novels for middle grade readers, and this is your first adult contemporary novel. What prompted you to make the change?

Thank you so much, and thank you for hosting me here today! Actually, I wrote the first draft of Chasing Invisible about a year before I started writing my first middle grade novel. In that draft, there was a flashback scene where I wrote the main character as a ten year old. That scene has since been cut, however, I learned that I loved writing in that young voice, and it was that scene that inspired me to go on to write middle grade.

2)    What challenges did you encounter in writing for an adult audience that you did not expect?

As I mentioned above, I wrote the first draft of Chasing Invisible many years ago, and have since changed focus to middle grade. Going back to that adult voice was very difficult. My ten, eleven, and twelve year old voices kept trying to creep through which as you can imagine did not mesh well with adult themes. It took me quite some time to tune them out and focus on the adult voice, which thankfully I did finally find.

3)    Chasing Invisible is about a family in the media spotlight, where every facet of their lives is splayed out for the world to see. How did you research what the effects of that kind of scrutiny would be on a person, especially one as private as Julia?

I wish I had some glamorous answer that I travelled to Hollywood and interviewed celebrities, but really all I did was observe. As a child and even as an adult I watched so many “rise and falls” of celebrity families. I was particularly fascinated with Princess Diana (as so many others were) – it was during her marriage that I began to question her right to privacy and the ethics of it all.

4)    Julia’s journey through her life in the spotlight was compelling, and the ending…well, let’s just say I did not see that coming! Without giving anything away, did you always know that was how your novel would end, or did it come to you as you wrote from Julia’s point of view that this would be the solution to her paparazzi problem?

The ending was actually the prompt for the entire story. At times I wanted to start the story from the ending and move backwards, but I knew I had to tell Julia’s story from the beginning or the readers wouldn’t have any connection to her. Plus I think the reader gets more of a shock factor having it at the end. (and that’s all I’m saying there!)

5)    Nate Rocks the World was your first middle grade novel that has since blossomed into a series. (I loved it! Read my review here.)  I know we briefly talked about reluctant readers. As a writer, how do you engage a reluctant reader?

For kids, I think humor is key. If your kids are laughing while they are reading, then they are engaged, and if they are engaged, then they will want more. In between the humor, I throw in adventure and learning – yes – don’t tell them, but I squeeze in messages about respect, self-confidence, friendships, and anti-bullying.

6)    Now that you’ve written for both adults and children, do you have a favorite audience to write for?

Hard question! They’re so different!! I’m working on another adult contemporary book and two other middle grade books right now and I love them all. I guess it’s like asking me which of my kids I love best. I love them all!

7)    Coming from a finance/law background to writing seems like a dramatic switch. Is writing new to you, or has it always been a part of your life?

I know – it’s crazy, and nobody is more surprised than me! I can’t even explain it. I always loved to read, but hated writing. Math was always my thing. For the past twelve years I’ve been a number cruncher. My writing was limited to emails asking for people’s tax information. I honestly have no explanation and even now when I say I’m a writer, I still can’t believe I’m saying the words. It sounds completely absurd.

8)    As the mom of three children, when/where/how do you find time to write?

They are horribly neglected. Kidding!! I write mostly during the day when they are at school. I’m lucky to have three great kids.

9)    What is next for you on your writing horizon?

I’m working on a book called “Pie & Other Brilliant Ideas” which is a middle grade book I’m hoping to release in the fall. Then I have the 4th Nate Rocks book slated for early 2014. A surprise for the summer of 2014 and another adult book for late 2015 (tentatively titled Woven Wishes) about three sisters.

10) What is your favorite dessert?

About a million things just popped in my head – but I think I love cannoli’s most of all!

 

Thank you so much for stopping by Karen, and best of luck on your tour!

Visit Karen Pokras Toz here:

Website: www.karentoz.com
Blog: http://kptoz.blogspot.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/karenptoz
Twitter: www.twitter.com/karentoz
Amazon: http://amzn.to/11wuyqn
Smashwords: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/325554
Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5009570.Karen_Pokras_Toz

Tour Schedule:
June 18 In the Land of Dreams http://inthelandofdreamsreviews.blogspot.co.uk/ Excerpt
June 19 Tyrneathem http://www.tyrneathem.com Top Ten List
June 20 Cu's e-Book Giveaways http://cuskindlegiveaways.blogspot.com/ Character Guest Post
June 21 Muddying the Waters http://www.muddyingthewaters.com Review & author interview
June 22 Rayborn rambles Raybornrambles.blogspot.com Review
June 23 The Journey Continues http://jaimiehopejourneycontinues.blogspot.com/ Review & Author Guest Post
June 24 The Book Connection http://thebookconnectionccm.blogspot.com/ Review
June 25 Pavarti K Tyler http://www.PavartiKTyler Excerpt
June 26 Library Girl Reads & Reviews http://librarygirlreads.blogspot.com Author Guest Post
June 27 Lubs Book Chatter www.lubsbookchatter.blogspot.com Review and Character Guest Post
June 28 Fiona's Book Review Blog Http://nannyfi71.wordpress.com Author Interview
June 29 Kats Read Katsread.blogspot.com Author Guest Post
June 30 From the Bootheel Cotton Patch http://fromthebootheelcottonpatch.blogspot.com Book Promo
July 1 fuonlyknew http://fuonlyknew.com Excerpt
July 2 Fresh Pot of Tea www.alisondeluca.com Excerpt
July 3 lindsay and janes views and reviews http://lindsayandjaneviewsandreviews.blogspot.co.uk/ Review & Character Guest Post
July 4 Girl Who Reads http://www.girl-who-reads.com Tips on Thursday
July 5 The avid Reader www.tarmyblogspot.blogspot.com Book Promo
July 6 Lissette E. Manning http://www.simplistik.org/lissetteemanning Review & Author Guest Post
July 7 Ohana Day Academy http://ohana-school.blogspot.com.au/ Review
July 8 Ali's Bookshelf http://alisbookshelfreviews.blogspot.com/ Review

 

NATE ROCKS THE WORLD: A BOOK REVIEW

June 19, 2013 in Book Reviews

Last year, a blogger friend of a blogger friend hosted a huge book giveaway. All I had to do was visit the website, scroll through the selections, make my choice, and wait patiently for my free book to arrive in the mail.

Sound easy? It wasn’t. There were so many choices, how could I decide on just one?

There were books in every genre: mystery, suspense, romance, science fiction, and children’s. I studied book covers and blurbs, trying to find the perfect book for me…except my eye kept coming back to a book in the children’s section that I thought would be perfect for my middle son.

As a reluctant reader, finding books that engage him is a challenge. But this book Nate Rocks the World sounded like something he might actually enjoy. The cover illustration was so cute and the character Nate was a 10-year-old 4th grader, just like my son. I was sold!

Not long after, Karen Pokras Toz’s book showed up in my mailbox autographed to my son.

I couldn’t wait for my son to read it, but we ran into a little snag. In his class, the students have to earn 10 AR points per month. This entails reading a book and taking a comprehension quiz afterwards. It’s a great program, but you have to read books that have an accompanying quiz, otherwise you get no points. Unfortunately, Nate Rocks the World did not have an AR quiz available.

But it’s summer now, and my son can read anything he wants!

I just had the pleasure of reading Nate Rocks the World myself. It’s the first in a series about the adventures of Nathan Rockledge, a 10-year-old boy battling an annoying older sister, a dad who tells the same old stories over and over again, a mom who cooks poorly, and the trials and tribulations of fourth grade. But Nathan has an alter ego: Nate Rocks.

Whenever life throws an obstacle in Nathan’s way, he turns to his colored pencils and paper and begins to draw. Through the magic of the cartoons he creates, Nate Rocks heroically conquers everything, and generates a real-life solution for Nathan in the process. Of course, not all the solutions are in Nathan’s best interest. He gets in trouble a lot! But in the end, he learns that even regular 10-year-old Nathan Rockledge can be a hero.

I loved that Nathan was an artist. I ate up his imaginative musings while he drew, lost in his world of being a rock star, or Captain Asteroid defeating the evil Dr. Shadow, or rescuing Lady Madeline on horseback. I loved the premise that he could solve his own problems through drawing, and the humor sprinkled throughout was a delight.

I do wish there were illustrations of his drawings along the way. There are none by design: Karen Pokras Toz wanted the readers to use their own imagination to dream up what the cartoons looked like. I just think the cover art is so charming, I would have loved seeing more!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nate Rocks the Boat and Nate Rocks the School are next in the series, and I will be reading both.

I can’t wait for my son to read these books!

It is my pleasure to be hosting a stop on Karen Pokras Toz’s book tour on Friday, June 21, 2013. Please join me for an interview with Karen and a review of her latest release Chasing Invisible, her first adult contemporary novel.

A FATHER’S DAY HIKE

June 16, 2013 in Random Thoughts

My dad was not a sports guy. Ask him who was playing in the NBA finals and he would have no idea. He gamely attended my sons’ baseball, basketball, and soccer games and professed that he enjoyed them immensely. I believed him—but only because it was his grandsons he was watching. I have no doubt that were it not for them, he would be far away from the soccer fields, baseball diamonds, and basketball courts that consume our lives. Instead, he would have tucked himself away in a bookstore, or a music store, or a movie theater.

But if you put my dad at the base of a mountain, he would transform from a bookish musician into what we in the family referred to as a “mountain man.”

Mountain men did not climb mountains; they conquered them. My dad was no exception. Give him a mountain to scale, and he would do it: quickly, efficiently, and with nary a break until he was standing tall at the peak, the ultimate king of the mountain.

I know, because I have spent my childhood trailing behind him up mountain slopes lush with greenery, switchbacks and well marked trails, scrabbling over loose shale on mountains with cacti, saguaro, and no signposts to speak of, and scaling boulders five times as tall as I was to reach the top of a rocky peak that had no trail at all.

There was no turning around before the peak was bagged: it was simply not an option. Although as I recall, whining was permitted.

When I got older, I still followed my dad up mountains. In college, we snuck away for an overnighter at Anza Borrega in southern California. We pitched a tent on somewhat level land in the middle of nowhere and looked up, our hands shielding our eyes from the sun. There were no trails, so it was up to us to blaze our own. We scoured the tops of the mountain range in front of us and set our sights on one with a giant, jagged boulder sitting on top.

And then we climbed.

The day started out sunny, but rain was in the forecast, so we kept one eye on our boulder and the other on the sky. The terrain was slippery: loose soil covered with rocks that had no anchor. We slipped and slid and scrambled our way up the mountain all morning before finding a cluster of boulders to rest on and have our lunch.

My dad opened his backpack and hauled out the hiking meal of champions, the one I had shared with him countless times on countless mountain sides. With his Swiss army knife, he carved thick slices of salami and hunks of cheese for us. We peeled oranges and ate the sections one by one, letting the juice drip all over our hands. Who cared? In about two minutes, our hands would be back in the dirt and sturdy bushes that we used as handholds. A little stickiness would only help us.

While we ate, we analyzed: the boulder still seemed awfully far away. We surveyed our route options and selected one.

And then we climbed.

The clouds began to roll in, we made more progress, and still the boulder was out of our reach.

But my dad doesn’t give up, and late in the afternoon, we realized we just had one more outcropping to go before reaching our goal. We climbed faster. We laughed more, knowing the end was near. We reached the top, smiled at each other, and then looked around. But we weren’t at the boulder. The undulations of the mountainside had given us an optical illusion. We still had a ways to go.

We sat down and took a water break. My dad was dejected. I stared at that boulder.

He began to make sounds about the weather and heading back. I stared at that boulder.

My dad never gave up, and since I had learned at the feet of the master, I didn’t either. “We can make it,” I said.

“You think?” He didn’t sound so sure.

“We can make it,” I told him.

And so we climbed, slower now, but forward progress continued. More clouds rolled in, darker, threatening clouds that came with a breeze that grew into a wind.

We climbed over a crest on the mountain and nearly ran into the boulder: our boulder! We had made it! And we hadn’t even realized we were so close!

We were triumphant, but as in life, there wasn’t time to properly celebrate. The weather became our new boulder, and we couldn’t let it catch us.

Never have I hightailed it down a mountainside so fast. My dad was like a mountain goat, nimbly leaping on and over rocks, never loosing his balance or his footing. I, on the other hand, am not at my most graceful going downhill. The best I can say about my descent is that I didn’t break anything. At one point, my dad turned around to check on me. I had just slipped on the loose rocks, but managed to wedge my arms and legs between several large boulders to prevent myself from somersaulting the rest of the way down. He looked at me skeptically. “What are you doing?”

“I don’t know.” For while I had saved myself from a nasty fall, I was now stuck in the rocks…completely upside down.

We made it back to the tent just as the first raindrops began to fall. It poured all night long, but who cared? Once again, we had conquered a mountain.

This is my first Father’s Day without my dad and I spent it doing what we loved: I hiked a mountain.

Happy Father’s Day, Pops.

BREAKFAST FOR DINNER: A COOKBOOK REVIEW

June 10, 2013 in Book Reviews, Chocolate! (and other less exalted food experiences)

I know I’m not the only one who serves breakfast for dinner to my kids on a regular basis. Sometimes we don’t get home from a sporting event until 8:30pm. The kids are starving, I’m exhausted, and it’s already past their bedtime. I don’t have the time or the energy to whip up a meal, but armed with a box of Bisquick, I can serve up a hearty, syrup-soaked dinner of pancakes or waffles in no time.

That’s the beauty of breakfast foods: they’re easy.

So when I saw this cookbook by the authors of one of my favorite food blogs Love and Olive Oil, I had to have it. Lindsay Landis and Taylor Hackbarth take all the breakfast staples we know and love and transform them into dinner fare.

This is one of the few cookbooks where I looked at the Table of Contents and wanted to make everything.

I started with one of their cover recipes: Chicken and Biscuit Waffles. Biscuit waffles? Oh yes. I had to have them.

 

This dinner was delicious: simple, hearty, and different. The chicken was divine, but it’s the biscuit waffles that I still dream about. I love that it is a complete meal. With the chicken, biscuits, and salad, there is nothing else you need to make.

I ventured on to their Italian-Style Stuffed French Toast. Thick slices of French bread stuffed with a cheese and herb medley, dipped in an egg mixture, and toasted up like French toast was genius, and the marinara topping elevated it to a kind of French toast lasagna.

There is also a great Frittata Florentine recipe with spinach, goat cheese, and Parmesan cheese. In addition to the basic recipe, they provide four different variations to try. I had a hey day with this recipe, making the basic Frittata Florentine but adding in sun-dried tomatoes and asparagus. Not only was it easy, it was comfort food at its heartiest.

The Rosemary and Olive Oil Scones were to die for. (I am a carb girl at heart.)

But wait…there’s dessert!

I made the Lemon Poppy Seed Thumbprint cookies, their take on poppy seed muffins. Sometimes, I am disappointed by lemon because it’s not flavorful enough, but this one teaspoonful of lemon curd in the center packs a tangy punch.

Their Granola Cookies are almost too tasty to make. (I ate most of them in one sitting.) It’s your classic oatmeal chocolate chip cookies with granola cereal instead of oatmeal. It adds a great crunch to the chewy cookie: a perfect combination.

I sense their Maple Bacon Cupcakes in my future, but first the kids have their request: Banana Bread Bundt Cake, and I have just the perfectly ripened bananas to make it.

Thank you, Lindsay and Taylor, for making cooking dinner fun and easy again. I love your cookbook!

 

CELEBRATING FAILURE

June 7, 2013 in Adventures in Parenting, Adventures in Re-Discovering Myself

In the constant game of divide-and-conquer, I missed my youngest son’s baseball game to attend my oldest son’s baseball game that was going on at the same time. I am resigned to this reality, but I will never like it. Especially when we got home and I found out that my youngest son received the game ball.

In our area, and in every sports TV show/movie I’ve ever seen, the game ball is reserved for extraordinary play. Great pitching, a grand slam, or stellar play in the infield are all reasons for a player to earn a game ball. In my youngest son’s AA league, comprised of a bunch of 7-year-olds, the game ball can be given for simply catching a pop fly or fielding a grounder and stepping on the right base to make an out.

And I missed it! I was heartsick.

“What did you get the game ball for?” I asked.

“Not hitting.”

Wh..a…at? “You got the game ball for not hitting?”

“Yep,” he replied nonchalantly.

Clearly, this required further explanation. After asking around, I found out what really happened. My son struck out every single time at bat, but the reason he earned the game ball was because of how handled himself afterwards. He didn’t cry, pout, or throw the bat in frustration. He didn’t get down on himself, get discouraged, or give up. Instead, he calmly took his place at home plate every time it was his turn, and calmly trotted back to the dugout after every strikeout. In other words, he failed well.

At first, I was perplexed. What could have been going on in Coach Chris’s mind with this move? He was normally a spectacular coach. But after thinking about it, I realized that Coach Chris still was a spectacular coach, and he had just taught my son and the entire team a valuable life lesson: failing isn’t a problem, because we all fail. It’s how you handle your failures that will make you who you are.

I do not handle failure well at all. As a child, I learned from my dad that there are no small mistakes; every mistake is a big one that you may never get over. (The story of my dad’s response to me throwing out his (expired) strawberry jam is a blog post for another day.) From my mother, I learned that the proper response to failure is a mini-breakdown. While that may have been perfectly cathartic for her, watching it through my young eyes increased the magnitude of the event into the stratosphere.

The good news is that fear of failure is an incredibly motivating force. Both my parents were very successful in their careers.

The bad news is that when I fail now, which I do (often), it tends to become a catastrophic event.

My parents taught me how to succeed, but they didn’t teach me how to fail.

I’m giving myself a crash course in how to handle failure by entering writing contests. I fail all the time, and I practice picking myself up off the floor, sitting back in my chair in front of the computer, and finding another contest to enter. Not only am I trying to learn a new pattern of behavior for myself, I’m modeling it for my kids. I tell them when I do well, and I tell them when I fail, and I let them watch me get up and try again.

Coach Chris did the same thing with my son by rewarding his ability to handle failure. Considering his perfectionist tendencies, I can’t imagine a better reason for my son to earn a game ball.

I wish I had been there to see it.