The Divining Wand

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Archive for the ‘Authors’ Holidays’

Happy Holidays from Meg Clayton, Ad Hudler, Melanie Benjamin, and Tish Cohen

December 21, 2009 By: larramiefg Category: Authors' Holidays

‘Tis the season to be jolly or — more appropriate — to be joyful despite all the busyness. Today our authors offer a special recipe, wishlists, and a best gift given.


Meg Shares Page’s Post-It Turkey Dressing

MegtmbGrowing up, I was never a big fan of dressing, or gravy or anything, really, but the holiday turkey and the pies. For my oldest son’s first Thanksgiving, though, we trekked to Nashville to have Thanksgiving with my mom-in-law, and I tasted turkey dressing Page Davidson Clayton style. What a difference a recipe makes, especially when it includes cornbread, which I’ve always loved!

grandmotherwNickThe next year as the holidays approached I rang Page up – from the office, it appears, since the notes I took for her recipe are written in my messiest scrawl on two rectangular yellow post-it notes. As I’ve pulled it out over the years, I’ve often thought I should commit this to a recipe card. The two post-its no longer stick together, so I’m frequently left with one in hand as I search for its match in the scatter of cut-out and collected recipes that constitute most of my recipe book, and my scrawl is nearly impossible to read, even for me, too, and my spelling atrocious. But somehow I never did, and when I pulled it out this Thanksgiving, the first time I’ve made Page’s dressing since she died last year, I realized I never will; when I look at the post-its, Page springs to life for me again in a way I’m afraid I’ll lose if this wonderful recipe is reduced to careful ink on a 3×5 card.

“Make one recipe corn bread. While hot crumble it up in a bowl. Saute 1/2 – 1 small onion & celery. Use fair amount of margarine. Pour in some of the drippings from turkey and neck, etc., & water and onion and parsely flakes & cook broth for a couple hours. Use plain white bread or biscuits & crumble it up with cornbread (3-4 pieces). Pour in hot broth. Add salt, pepper & a little poultry seasoning. Put in sq. cake pan and bake at 350° or so for till not too brown (or make patties on cookie sheet)”

The celery is struck through because my husband turns out to be allergic to it, and Page said I could omit it, but the other strike-throughs are Page making up her mind about how she cooks. Several years ago, I started throwing in a few pecans and cranberries, too, which my gang likes. But why a square cake pan instead of a round one? How much is “fair amount” or “a little” or “some”? And what’s with the “little patties on a cookie sheet” – is that dressing? These are questions I never got answers to.

In sharing Page’s recipe, though, I mean to send some of the love she gave to me out into the world. And it’s delicious love! Happy holidays, everyone!
Meg Waite Clayton (The Wednesday Sisters)


Ad Hudler’s Personal Holiday Wishlist

AdtmbMud flaps for my truck, new kitchen apron, chain saw, cute little plates from Anthropologie, money for new ‘gator-skin boots, behavioral-modification classes for our cat, and sweet cards from my daughter and wife.
Ad Hudler (Man of the House, All This Belongs to Me, House Husband)


Melanie’s Personal Holiday Wishlist

MelanietmbA new fireplace for our living room; it’s what my husband and I are giving each other this year.
Melanie Benjamin (Alice I Have Been coming January 12, 2010)


Tish’s Best Gift to Her (Young) Son

TishtmbWhen my youngest was about five, many of his toys were battery operated and the poor child was born into a battery challenged household so once his Duracell’s ran out, the toys were rendered useless. He asked Santa for batteries and our photo of him that year is one with him grinning wide while holding up his favorite present: batteries. Kind of heart breaking and cute at the same time.
Tish Cohen (Town House, Inside Out Girl, Little Black Lies YA, The Truth About Delilah Blue coming June 8, 2010)

Happy Holidays from Mia King and Eileen Cook

December 18, 2009 By: larramiefg Category: Authors' Holidays

‘Tis the season for delicious treats and love, both of which are shared by these authors’ Happy Holidays.


Mia Tempts the Chocolate Lovers

MiatnbHere’s my holiday recipe – perfect for a cookie exchange, late night snack in front of a crackling fire, or to accompany eggnog or a hot cup of cocoa as you curl up with your favorite novel …

Chocolate Cherry Crackle Cookies

From: GOOD THINGS (Berkley Books, February 2007)

One of Deidre’s confections that won the hearts – and appetites – of chocoholic locals and tourists alike!

Yields: 2 dozen


* 1½ cups sugar
* ½ cup prunes, puréed with 3 tablespoons of water
* ½ cup nonfat yogurt
* ¼ cup canola oil
* 2 egg whites
* ½ teaspoon instant espresso powder
* ½ cup dried cherries, chopped
* 1½ cups cake flour
* 1 cup cocoa powder
* ½ teaspoon salt
* ½ teaspoon baking soda
* 1 cup powdered sugar, sifted


1. Preheat the oven to 350° F.
2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the sugar, prune purée, yogurt, oil, egg whites, espresso powder, and cherries (the liquid mixture).
3. Sift the flour, cocoa, salt and baking soda together in another bowl (the flour mixture).
4. Slowly stir the flour mixture in the liquid mixture until blended well.
5. Chill the dough in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
6. Roll the chilled dough with your hands into balls the size of ping pong balls. Roll in powdered sugar and place on parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until firm.
Mia King (Good Things, Sweet Life, Table Manners)


Eileen’s Best Christmas Gift, Ever

EileentmbThe year after I graduated from college I had taken a job I hated and lived in a town I hated even more. I had moved for the job and hadn’t made very many friends in town. I earned very little money and as a result rarely went out. My apartment practically squatted on top of a railway line which meant several times a day it shook as if it was a ten point earthquake while the train rushed by. Life was not turning out how I expected. My boyfriend had taken a job across the country in Boston and with my family and friends far away I was alone. I was speaking to my boyfriend on the phone one night and told him that it didn’t even feel like Christmas. I didn’t have a tree and the string of Christmas lights I had put in my hanging fern plant wasn’t cutting it in terms of putting me in the holiday spirit. My job gave me only Christmas Day off which meant I would have only one day at home with my family. It was almost not even worth going. I might as well just stay home and pretend there was no Christmas. I was very bah-humbug.

The next day when I came home from work (grumbling very Scrooge like the whole way) there was a florist van parked outside my apartment building. The driver got out and confessed that he was the owner of the florist shop and hadn’t made a delivery himself in decades. This was one delivery that he wanted to make himself. He opened the door and pulled out a HUGE Christmas tree, it must have been six feet tall. The tree had long lush needles that felt almost soft to the touch. The florist also pulled out a box. Between the two of us we dragged the tree upstairs. The box held a stand, several boxes of lights and a few bags of Christmas balls and ornaments. There was box from a local bakery full of Christmas cookies and treats. My boyfriend had arranged the whole thing.

After the florist left I put some Christmas music on the stereo and decorated the tree. The entire apartment was full of the fresh pine scent, it crept into the closets, between the blankets and wafted up to the ceiling. Just like the Grinch, my too small heart grew several sizes right then and there. I knew in that moment that I would marry this boyfriend (and I was right!) I knew there would be hard times, but that when you have someone who cares for you, then everything somehow will work out. It wasn’t that he sent the tree, it was that he had the idea at all.

Happy Holidays!
Eileen Cook (Unpredictable, What Would Emma Do? YA and Getting Revenge on Lauren Wood YA, coming January 5, 2010)

Happy Holidays from Barrie Summy, Tish Cohen, and Therese Walsh

December 17, 2009 By: larramiefg Category: Authors' Holidays

The greetings continue with another recipe and favorite movies, music…even books!


Barrie’s Butter Tarts

BarrietmbGrowing up, we spent most weekends from May to October and a month in the summer at our cottage. Besides the regular activities like water skiing, swimming, board games and reading in the sun, my family loved a trip to Don’s Bakery in Bala, Ontario for delicious, mouth-watering butter tarts.

Now, I live in San Diego, a land bereft of butter tarts, and I’ve been forced to learn to bake them. Because I’m not particularly gifted in the kitchen, I generally only bake butter tarts once a year. And that would be at the holidays.

So, a food that was a summer tradition for me as a child has become a holiday tradition for my children.

First, I start with a tart shell. Here’s the recipe from The Fannie Farmer Cookbook:

1 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 pound cold butter, in small pieces
1 egg yolk
2 Tablespoons ice water

In a food processor, process the flour, salt and butter quickly. Through the funnel, add the egg yolk and ice water and process until the dough balls up. Wrap in foil and place in fridge for 20 min. Then roll out, cut circles with a cup and press into mold. Prick bottom of tarts with a fork and bake unfilled at 425 for 7 min. (The recipe says 12 min., but that was too long.)

The butter tart recipe I use is from a Mennonite cookbook: Food That Really Schmecks.

1 cup brown sugar
1 cup raisins
1 egg, beaten
2 Tablespoons butter (not margarine!), melted
1 Tablespoon water (or less if you use a large egg)
1 teaspoon vanilla

Beat egg. Add brown sugar. Beat again. Add remaining ingredients. Fill shells 1/2 full. Bake at 450 for 15 min. (I only baked for 12 min., so start checking the tarts early).

The first trick is to make sure the filling stays slightly runny. So, don’t overcook.

The second trick is to not eat too many at one sitting.
Barrie Summy (I So Don’t Do Mysteries, I So Don’t Do Spooky Ages 9 – 12)


Tish’s Best Holiday Entertainment

TishtmbBest Christmas CD: Charlie Brown Christmas music by Vince Guaraldi.
Best Christmas book: Winter Solstice by Rosamunde Pilcher.
Best Christmas movie: It’s a Wonderful Life.
Best Christmas show: A Charlie Brown Christmas. The only trouble is, it’s way too short.
Tish Cohen (Town House, Inside Out Girl, Little Black Lies YA)


Therese’s Glorious and Classic Choices

ThereseWtmbI’m going to choose something unusual but glorious as my fave song: O Magnum Mysterium by Morten Lauridsen. It’s a choir piece, sung a capella, with haunting and breathtaking harmonics.
Book: The Night Before Christmas.
Movie: A Charlie Brown Christmas.
Therese Walsh (The Last Will of Moira Leahy)

Happy Holidays from Alicia Bessette, Wendy Nelson Tokunaga, and Kristy Kiernan

December 16, 2009 By: larramiefg Category: Authors' Holidays

‘Tis time for tradition and today two authors reflect on their favorite holiday movies, while another asks Santa to grant her wish.


Alicia Believes It’s a Wonderful Life

AliciatmbMy favorite holiday tradition and favorite holiday movie are one and the same: “It’s a Wonderful Life,” starring James Stewart and Donna Reed.

As with many Frank Capra films, “It’s a Wonderful Life” strongly resonates with me. I love the idea of a community coming together in support of a good person or a good cause, and that theme is echoed in my debut novel, Simply from Scratch. Whether such group support truly happens in “real life,” or whether it’s an ideal we strive for, I think modern storytelling could stand to see more of that sort of unity.

Something else that really speaks to me is George Bailey’s internal struggle. He’s reluctantly rooted in his hometown, seemingly trapped by the obligation to carry on his father’s legacy of bettering Bedford Falls. And yet George dreams of traveling the world and achieving greatness. Like Dorothy Gale, his turmoil and longing are so blinding, he doesn’t see the gifts all around him.

Every December when I watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” — as if upholding tradition — my tears come at precisely the same two moments: near the beginning, during ten-year-old George’s tearful pledge to the despairing pharmacist, Mr. Gower; and of course, at the end, as the people of Bedford Falls stream into the Bailey’s living room, singing and emptying their pockets — and especially when George’s brother, war hero Harry Bailey, bursts through the front door to great fanfare. Gets me every time.
Alicia Bessette (Simply from Scratch coming in August 2010)


Wendy Enjoys a Judy Garland Christmas

WendytmbThe Wizard of Oz, the classic film made in 1939 and starring Judy Garland is not about Christmas and has no yuletide scenes. But it is one of my favorite Christmas movies. In the days before DVDs and plasma screen TVs, The Wizard of Oz was shown on television every year during the holiday season. This was the only broadcast and its airing was a big event. My family watched it together for years. As time went on, we’d say we were going to skip it. How many times had we seen that yellow brick road or heard “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead” sung by adult midgets made to look like children? But then we’d turn it on and get sucked in again, as if seeing it for the very first time, and watch it until Judy Garland proclaimed, “There’s no place like home.”

Judy Garland also plays a role in another of my favorite Christmas movies and a favorite Christmas song. Meet Me in St. Louis, made five years after The Wizard of Oz, is a charming film about the four beautiful daughters of the well-to-do Smith family in the early 1900s set against the backdrop of the St. Louis Fair. The sisters are devastated when their father is set to be transferred to a new job in New York, forcing them to say good-bye to their beloved St. Louis. Knowing that it is the last Christmas in their hometown, Judy Garland sings “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” to her little sister Tootie, played by Margaret O’Brien. While the lyrics are rather upbeat as with most Christmas songs, they take on a melancholy tone under the circumstances, rendering the performance poignant and wistful, which is sometimes the way we can feel during the holidays, despite the cheeriness of the season.
Wendy Tokunaga (Midori By Moonlight, Love in Translation)


Kristy’s Wishlist

KristytmbI only have one thing on my holiday wishlist this year: a permane
nt place to lay my head and decorate my tree. Against all odds, we’ve sold our home, and we’ll be closing on December 16th. Despite everything you read in the papers and hear on the news, it’s not as easy to find a home as you’d think. Now, if you want a 720 square foot 40 year-old-home with no air conditioning (it’s been stolen), appliances (they’ve been stolen), countertops (they’ve been…you get the idea), with a woman who raises geese on one side (have you ever heard the noise that 300 geese can make?), and a family of all-terrain vehicle/swamp buggy fans on the other…well, those are available in spades. Come on down and invest in a few. But the good stuff? Those go in about 20 minutes to cash buyers, though the bank won’t tell you that for 6-8 weeks, sometimes longer.

I’d like to be in a new home for Christmas. But it’s beginning to look like our Christmas decorations will be spending December 25th in storage, and we’ll be…somewhere, I assume. So, Santa, reach in that big red velvet bag and whip out a house for us, won’t you? (I believe, I believe, I believe.)
Kristy Kiernan (Catching Genius, Matters of Faith and Between Friends coming April 6, 2010)

[Note: Today is December 16th and Kristy and her husband do have a home. Yes it’s a temporary one but only for the time it takes to build their new house! Always believe…in Santa.]

Happy Holidays from Lauren Baratz-Logsted and Randy Susan Meyers

December 15, 2009 By: larramiefg Category: Authors' Holidays


‘Tis the time to believe and today’s authors celebrate holiday joy with a movie and a brisket recipe.


Lauren and the Grinch

LaurentmbChristmas isn’t my holiday, religion-wise, but I love “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” Every time that grinchy heart grows and the Whos start singing, I tear up. So I’ve been tearing up at least once a year for decades. Even before I got married, I told my mom we needed to do something one last time together. I don’t know what she was expecting, but she was surprised when I pulled out a video of the Grinch. OK, I’m a sap.
Lauren Baratz-Logsted (Crazy Beautiful YA, Sisters 8 Series for children)


Randy’s Passover Brisket Turned Christmas Meat

RandytmbOne of my favorite once-a-year dishes is apricot brisket. It’s an old family recipe passed down from a cousin long ago. I make it every year for our Passover Seder, and it’s so good that my years-long vegetarian daughter always makes an exception and takes a few bites each year and she always spreads the sauce on her kugel.

Many non-Jewish families have joined us over the years. Often it was a friend (who is a caterer, thus exciting me when she asked for the recipe) and her sons. Kris started serving it for Christmas, giving it a second identity, when her son’s crowned it with a new name, and it went from being the Passover brisket at our house, to being the Christmas Meat, at theirs.

I so enjoy knowing that my family’s special brisket has an alias, as though my family recipe has joined the CIA.

Here we can call it Christmas Brisket. It’s a rich slow-cooked recipe, simple to make, using dowdy ingredients that turn into a beautiful to the eye, incredible to the mouth dish that fills the home with good smells. It’s also forgiving and open to change.

Christmas Brisket

3-5 lbs brisket
1 -2 cloves minced garlic
3 onions
12 oz ketchup
4 apricot rolls
6 oz water
1/2 cup brown sugar

Sauté the onions in garlic and butter. Mix ketchup, water & sugar. Season the
meat with salt. Pour the soft-cooked onions, and then the gravy, over the meat. Cover the meat with 2 apricot rolls.

Cover the pan (with foil or other cover) and bake for 1.5 hours at 350 degrees.

Turn the meat and cover with the 2 remaining apricot rolls. Cover the pan and bake for 45 minutes.

Remove the cover and bake for an additional 45 minutes. When done, the meat should be soft and break apart easily. Let it sit before slicing.

(You can easily substitute apricot jam, when it’s difficult to find the apricot rolls (usually found in Middle Eastern specialty stores) though the rolls provide a richer brisket. Sometimes I use dried apricots along with the jam.
Randy Susan Meyers (The Murderer’s Daughters coming January 19, 2010)

Happy Holidays from Ivy Pochoda and Carleen Brice

December 14, 2009 By: larramiefg Category: Authors' Holidays


Welcome! ‘Tis the season to celebrate and, for their greetings, two authors offer their favorite holiday recipe and songs.


Ivy’s Spice Cookies

iVYtmbI lived in Amsterdam for seven years. The Dutch have a separate Christmas tradition called Sinterklaas that takes place on the 5th of December. For the weeks before Sinterklass and Christmas the entire country seems to smell of these old fashioned spice cookies. They are best made with an old , wooden cookie cutter.

1 3/4 cups self-rising flour (200 g)
1/2 cup dark brown sugar (100 g)
7 tbsp butter (100 g)
2-3 tbsp milk
3 tsp speculaaskruiden or pumpkin pie spice
1/2 tsp baking soda
The finely grated zest of half an orange
A sprinkling of extra flour to dust the work surface.
1 egg white, beaten
Extra brown sugar
Flaked almonds

Preheat the oven to 347 degrees Fahrenheit (175 degrees Celsius). Grease a baking sheet. Mix together all the ingredients in a large bowl and knead. You should be able to shape the dough into a ball without it sticking to your hands. Cover the dough ball with plastic wrap and set aside for an hour. This allows the spices to work their magic.
Flour your work surface and press your dough into an even, flat layer. Using a cookie cutter, cut shapes from the dough and place on the greased baking sheet. Brush with egg white and sprinkle some brown sugar and flaked almonds on top of each cookie. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until you can see that the almonds are caramelizing and the cookies are turning a slightly darker shade of brown. Remove from the baking sheet and allow to cool on a cooling rack.
Makes about 2 dozen speculaas cookies.
Ivy Pochoda (The Art of Disappearing)


Carleen Is Walking in a Winter Wonderland of Music

CarleentmbI love Christmas music. I got an iPhone in September and already have Pandora Christmas stations! If I go into a store in October and see Christmas merchandise, I get a little grumpy. But I wouldn’t care if they started playing Christmas music on the first day of fall.

It’s a tie for my favorite Christmas carol between “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” (especially the Chrissie Hynde version). The lyrics “through the years, we all will be together if the fates allow” always make me think of my loved ones who have passed away and how short and fragile life is. My other favorite is “Walking in a Winter Wonderland.” I love it for the lines that go:

Later on, we’ll conspire,
 As we dream by the fire

To face unafraid,

The plans that we’ve made,
 Walking in a winter wonderland.

That’s a beautiful sentiment and it really inspires me every year. But I could go on. What would Christmas be without Nat King Cole or Elvis or the Chipmunks or Bootsy Collins, for that matter? And you don’t have to have to be Jewish to love Adam Sandler’s “Hanukkah Song”! Basically, if it’s holiday music, bring it on.
Carleen Brice (Orange Mint and Honey, Children of the Waters)