Monthly Archives: January 2010

Banana Bread – Variations on a Classic

There are very few pleasures in the kitchen better than freshly baked bread – especially if it’s of the dessert variety.  The warm, yeasty scent mingled with a hint of butter, the sweet banana fragrance, the nutty aroma of walnuts.   Yum!   But, like everyone else, I get bored with the ordinary.  I wanted to try something  a little bit fresher, something that would perk up my taste buds, and so I’ve rounded up some tricks.  Tell me what you think.The Variations:

A Shot of Espresso or Rum (or better yet fruit soaked in rum!)

Sour Cream or Yogurt

Cocoa Powder or Shredded Dark Chocolate

Shredded Coconut or Coconut Milk

Peanut Butter  (make sure to use creamy!)  or Pudding

Orange or Lemon Zest

The variations are practically endless – just think of other banana recipes you make and throw a few of those ingredients into the bread.  It’s amazing the creations you’ll come up with, but if you need to get back to basics, here it is:

The Basic Recipe

  • 3 or 4 ripe bananas, smashed
  • 4 tbsp melted butter
  • 1/2 cup creamed honey
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 1/2 cups of flour (modify depending on the liquid added)
  • Nutmeg and Cinnamon
  • Walnuts, if desired

Have at it, banana lovers!

Not so banana ecstatic?  Mix it up altogether in the bread department.  Perhaps a Dark Cherry Chocolate Bread?  Just make sure to add some sugar – the dark cherrries and dark chocolate aren’t all that sweet.


Foodie 101 – The Seasons – Winter

Every January I start to get strawberry fever.  You know what I mean.  You go to the supermarket, stare at the strawberries and their astounding price of $4.99 for that wee carton you could eat in one sitting, and you think, well, why not?  They look tantalizingly red and plump.  And they’re strawberries.  How bad can it be?  But then you get home and that first (in)delectable take a bite.  American supermarket produce is in a state of poor quality year round, but out of season it’s downright disgraceful.  I remember the first time I saw a someone putting sugar on strawberries.  I confess, I found it quite gauche.  Fruit is supposed to be juicy, bursting with sweet flavor.  Smothering it with processed white table sugar most often made of sugar beets?  Yech.

To every would-be foodie, there’s one maxim that can’t be repeated enough: buy in season or not at all.  It’s truly essential if you want peak flavor.  So what’s in store for the winter months, specifically January-February?  Citrus fruits and dark greens.  Root vegetables, most harvested in autumn to early winter, are also great choices as they store well.

For experimentation sake, I just ordered some super juicy honeybells from Cushman’s in Florida (oranges only available in January).  Can’t wait!  Click on the photo to visit them.

HoneyBells (13 lbs.)

I’m also looking forward to Tarocco blood oranges, which also just came into season this month.  They’re wonderful eaten fresh but also delicious baked.  Smitten kitten has an amazing looking flaky blood orange tart I’m dying to try.

There’s a great chart to print out here for seasonal produce.  I’m pasting it right on my cook book cabinet for easy reference, but even if you don’t have it while shopping, just use grocery store prices as a guide.  If something seems high, then its either out of season, or by ill fortune, affected my some major weather.

Vive La France!

With the Oh-La-La French Historical Challenge!

Oh, yes, readers.  More books. 

This morning while enjoying hot chocolate and reading blogs, I stumbled upon a most tempting idea at Enchanted by Josephine.  I’m psyched about this challenge because A: the French monarchy was replete with lovely, scandalous queens; B: the country has survived such fascinating socio-political climates as the Reign of Terror (aka The Revolution), the Napoleonic Empire, and the bloody  St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre; and C: if I can for one moment imagine myself in a Loire Valley Chateau, preferably Chenenceau, drinking chocolat chaud and eating brioche, life is good.

So here’s what I’m thinking:

Mistress of the Revolution – Catherine Delors (Bargain price of Amazon!)

To Dance with Kings – Rosalind Laker

La Reine Margot – Alexandre Dumas

Marie Antoinette – Antonia Fraser

A Scented Palace: A Secret History of Marie Antoinette’s Perfumer -Elisabeth de Feydeau

Courtesan – Diane Haeger

The Serpent and the Moon: Two Rivals for the Love of a Renaissance King – Princess Michael of Kent

The Devil’s Queen: A Novel of Catherine de Medici – Jeanne Kalogridis

Cause really, who isn’t curious about how Medici became this austere looking?  She looks like Dracula’s bride.

Want to get in on the fun? (Oh, I’m such a geek!)  Enchanted by Jospehine has the instructions to join.  I’m aiming for  La Reine ou L’Imperatrice.

Dear (my hot vampire) diary

Ooh, the return of season one of The Vampire Diaries begins this Thursday and I must say I’m excited! Ridiculously so! I adore the brotherly conflict. Familial hate seems so much more powerful than other varieties and with that natural competitive streak, I think brothers are the worst. Plus, the romance between Stefan and Elena is swoonworthy.

Bye bye two month hiatus! I’m ready for the latest clip for “Bloodlines” featuring Damon and Elena

Update: Clip no longer available.  Boo-hoo.

Scandals, Sex, and Soirees

18th Century Period Films

I’m a big fan of immersion when I’m working on a novel: reading the literature of the time, listening to period music, and the most fun, watching costume dramas.  My latest work takes place in Georgian England, late 18th century, with touches of the French Revolution thrown in.  I’m loving it, mostly because I’m a raging Francophile, but also because there really is a great abudance of beautiful films that take place during this period.  Take a look.

Affair of the Necklace

A countess stripped of her title.  A priceless diamond necklace, orginally intended for Comtesse du Barry, and ultimately refused by Marie Antoinette.  A daring con scheme that is ultimately, one of the final factors, in condemning the Queen of France as a spendthrift, reckless royal.

Brotherhood of the Wolf

Okay, so this film take place in 1764 to 1767, a little early, but its based after The Legend of Gevaudan, a french myth about a beast attacking the region of Gevaudan during the reign of Louis XV.  A little bit spooky and a little bit kooky (martial art scenes in 18th century France?  Huh?), not to mention sexed up – mostly it’s just fun.

The Duchess

The “It Girl” of late 18th century England, Georgiana was the fashion equal to Marie Antoinette.   She inspired the headache inducing, three foot towering coiffure, resplendent with ornaments; loved and lost Charles Grey (as in Earl Grey, famous now for his affinity for black tea with bergamot); and  had something of a gambling addiction.  The story broke my heart.  Georgiana shows such restraint and passion, but ultimately abides by the former.  The costumes are excellent, Ralph Fiennes is chillingly cold as the Duke of Devonshire, and the soundtrack haunts long after the film finishes.

If you still can’t get enough of Georgiana, there’s a wonderful site dedicated to her.  It’s one of my favorite blogs.

Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette

This film makes me want to eat cake.  It’s a confection of bright, pretty colors.  The soundtrack is oddly modern, but it works brilliantly, painting the Queen of France as a modern rock star.  She’s envied, hated, and glorious.  Although the film doesn’t extend into the gory details of the Revolution, it’s great for getting into Marie Antoinette’s (imagined) thoughts.  The cinematography is so lush, the costumes and feel of Versailles, exqusite.  I loved it!  The Antonia Fraser Biography of Antoinette is worth checking out also.

There are so many others worth checking out too, many of which I haven’t seen.

  • The Scarlet Pimpernel – many versions to choose from.  The original book by Baroness Orczy is fantastic.
  • Amazing Grace – a fine picture of the House of Lords impassioned fight over the abolition of slavery in England
  • Clarissa – Masterpiece Theatre movie concerning a rake obsessed with a virtuous rich young woman.
  • The Madness of King George – what’s better than a mad king?
  • Aristocrats – Based on a true story of four unconventional sisters stirring up society in the late 1700’s
  • Dangerous Liasons – The original Cruel Intentions with fabulous costumes
  • Danton – Subtitled in French; very accurate French Revolution period film


Goodbye 2009!

My Strategies for Better Living in 2010

After a whirlwind holiday season – holing up in my auntie-in-law’s house, scarfing down toffee and pepperment bark (and truffles, champagne and cookies!), along with avoiding the dreaded malls of December – I’m more than ready for a fresh start.  But here’s the thing: I’ve never made a resolution on January 1st, not a one.   In fact, I’ve never been on a diet, never made lists and actually checked them off.  It’s not that I’m lazy or unmotivated, the opposite really, I just like taking life as it comes and making the most of my lemons.  In the spirit of the new year, however, I’ve decided to take part.  I made an Olympian size list in December, wore my eraser down to a nub tidying it up, and came up with my definitive list of attainable resolutions. And,  if you’re wondering why I’m a week and a day behind everybody else, I don’t like to rush into anything.  A whippersnapper 180 from xmas to the new year just didn’t seem wise after all that champagne.

Adrenaline Rush? Yes!

I’ve wanted to break out of my fear circle for years, always finding excused why I shouldn’t do it.  No where have I fared worse that sports.  Funny thing is, I’m athletic.  I canoe and carry my own 100lb pack in the boundary, snorkel amid sharks and barracudas, and I actually like to work out (does that make you sick?  I know, I used to be the same way).  When it comes to trying something new though, I make excuses.  I freeze and start thinking, you’re gonna suck, and you’re gonna get laughed at.  Uproariously, as if anyone ever does that.

 So I signed up for a climbing lesson this Saturday.  And I’m excited!  My wonderful husband already taught me some of the basics and I’m counting on these somewhat simian long arms.  What about you guys?  Ready to break out your daredevil streak and try something new?  I’d love to hear about it.

Locavore?  Creativore?  Create-a-Locavore?

No offense, China, I have nothing against you.  I’m just rooting for my home economy.  I’m sick of buying mass produced, low quality goods.  Make that nauseated by the glut of common crap on our store shelves.  The good news is, there are options out there.  Vintage?  Community crafts and arts?  And what about Etsy?  The talent for diy on that site is amazing!  Much of the art is recycled and even if it isn’t, the money going into the pocket of creativity.  If you’ve never perused their treasury, it’s like a warehouse of handmade, except you’re supporting an artist.  Don’t forget to check out the local section where you can buy from your own community, state, or country (the international stores are incredible, btw, if one were so inclined).

Write Three Books

Some writers whip out a book in a month.  I’m not one of them.  My first book took two years to finish, one year of straight writing, another year of editing and fine tuning.  I’ve learned a lot since then and upon starting my second novel, I’ve been cranking out 2,000 words a day, sometimes more.  The problem is consistency, which I translate as will power.  Simple as that.  So I’m gonna sit my ass in my chair and write, write, write until three manuscripts are sitting on my desk.  Have a similar goal?  Put it out there and we can keep each other accountable!  I like telling everyone I know about my most desired goals.  That way, if I fail when December comes, I’m asked about “progress”.  The horror!  I cringe at the thought of mumbling, “Oh, well, you know.  I got busy, there was really no time . . .”  Having to say that is a lot worse than doing the work!

Now for the trifles:

Read 100 books (fell short at 80 last year.  Waa, right?  I so never have time to read ;)’

Actually cook from my dust collecting cookbooks

Let my husband hear me sing

Assume the happy grin of my boston terrier, Josie

Paint my own piece of art

Read my grandfather’s book

Buy a child the beautiful smile we all deserve to have

????  There’s always room for additions on this list!