That's my dog, Kiddo, enjoying her Thanksgiving treat. It's a deer leg she found in a ditch. She hides it under the house when she's not gnawing on it.

This year was the first when members of my generation prepared the majority of the food my family ate. All through the holiday we kept chatting about how everyone felt about the change. I think it was harder for my mother, who's a brilliant cook, and easier for my aunt, who enjoyed being able to focus on preparing a couple of exquisite dishes.

As for ability to get food on the table for a group of people has been improving incrementally over the past decade. Years ago, I'd plan overambitious menus and then end up serving meals piecemeal or hours late. Often my guests would have to roll up their sleeves and pitch in to stop hungrier ones from ordering takeout.

Lately I've learned to prepare dishes in advance and stage the final preparations so everything's ready at the right time, but I'm still so slow. I spent about two and a half days cooking for this Thanksgiving, which is a lot, but when it came to the final hours, I had everything done and ready to go, just waiting on the turkey.

My two and a half days of cooking added up to...

  • pickled carrots
  • creamed spinach
  • roasted onions with gruyere croutons
  • mashed potatoes
  • sweet cranberry relish
  • savory shallot and thyme cranberry relish
  • butterscotch pudding
  • chocolate mousse
  • and two cocktails (I found this one, bizarrely titled Does a bear?, surprisingly wonderful and refreshing).

I didn't handle the turkey, stuffing, or gravy because I'm a vegetarian. We also had herb-roasted green beans, two different yam preparations, brussels sprouts, and three different kinds of pie.

Thanksgiving is the holiday my family puts the most effort into celebrating - for example: of the twelve people at our table, only two actually live in the state of Kentucky; the rest traveled from California and Florida to attend.

My hit of the night turned out to be the butterscotch pudding. In the lead-up to the holiday I kept telling all my relatives, "I'm making butterscotch pudding!" and they smiled and nodded and said, "Butterscotch pudding, that's nice. We'll get some pies."

Once they actually tried my butterscotch pudding, however, nobody cared about pies. Or, for that matter, my chocolate mousse. The point is: it turned out really well.

This is the recipe I used. I used to live down the street from the Sweet Melissa bakery & I was absolutely obsessed with the butterscotch pudding there. I think the bakery version is better, but nobody else at the table knew that.

Anyway, I had a wonderful holiday & hope the same for you.

Hard Winter

I've been told several times that I should brace for a harsh winter. When I asked how they could predict such a thing, one person replied that the caterpillars were black instead of brown, and black caterpillars predict a harsh winter. Some of the caterpillars are black. Some are brown. Some are both.

This is the kind of thing I want to know about early Victorian England. The little legends. The magical thinking that seems normal, everyday. It's a reminder of how conditioned, urban, and modern my mindset is.

Romancing the Pages and Purple Orchids

Orange County RWA, my home chapter, released an anthology of seventeen stories this week - including one by me, Purple Orchids.

Purple Orchids is short (Only about 3k words?), and it's about one of the secondary characters in Sweet Surrender, Daphne White.

Daphne has been an interesting character for me to write. She started out as a foil for the heroine of Sweet Surrender, Caroline Small: as naive as Caro was cynical, as innocent as Caro was jaded, spoiled and socially secure where Caro clings to the far edges of respectability.

I didn't think very highly of Daphne, at first. Her negative qualities are more obvious than her positive ones: she's oblivious, self-centered, and thoughtless. She's a little flighty and takes stupid risks for dumb reasons.

I didn't think she'd get her own story - I had no interest in spending so much time in her scatterbrained, fluffy POV. But the more I wrote Daphne, the more I understood her as a character. And that character? Way less fluffy than she'd started out -- and way more interesting than I'd expected.

Daphne was always the kind of girl who'd befriend Caro. Daphne could queen around with the in crowd, but instead she adopts a misfit? Hmm. That's interesting.

And Daphne was always a gifted painter. My academic background is in art history so I was careful to think about how to make Daphne a noteworthy painter without having her make innovations that were still decades in the future. For me, she works in the tradition of J.M.W. Turner, with a turn toward the mythological that positions her as a precursor to symbolism.

But Daphne's painting isn't all native talent and rearview-mirror innovations. She also wakes up before dawn every morning so she can paint en plein air when the light is best. So she's got a little more grit than you might assume, given that she's a blonde-haired, blue-eyed babe.

Daphne's gotten away with a fair bit of troublemaking without ever experiencing much in the way of consequences, and that's had an impact on her character...not for the better, alas. But she's smarter than people give her credit for, loyal, with a lot of emotional integrity, and she's bold. She believes in her own talent, which is real, and she loves being alive. She gets joy from little things. She's kind.

Actually, I've come to realize, Daphne is awesome.

So Purple Orchids is a little slice of Daphne's life. I think when the rights on the anthology expire I'm going to expand the story into a novella -- a erotic novella that ends unhappily, maybe. Daphne needs a bit of tragedy to season her, but I can see an HEA in her future.

You can see my visual inspiration for Daphne and other characters in Sweet Surrender on the Pinterest board I've made for the novel, here.

And you can buy the anthology Romancing the Pages at Amazon.


Dear Jon Hamm -

You are amazing as Don Draper on Mad Men. It's my favorite show on television, and it couldn't exist without you. Well. That's not quite true. I can think of one other actor capable of playing Don Draper. Michael Fassbender. In fact, I'm convinced that most of his recent film roles (Shame, Jane Eyre, Haywire, etc.) are actually covert audition tapes for the role.

Let's put this another way: if some Hollywood wise guy decided, "Oh, I've had enough of Don Draper's career in advertising in the 1960s, let's do Don Draper's career as an actor in the oughts instead," they'd commission a pilot and get a biopic about Fassbender in return.

I think it's time to settle this once and for all. That's why I'm asking you to drag Fassy onto SNL, where the two of you must compete to see who's really the best Don Draper.


A fan.

SWEET SURRENDER is a Spring Into Romance Winner!

Sweet Surrender won first place in the Historical category of San Diego RWA's Spring Into Romance contest! The complete list of winners and finalists is here; congratulations to the other Historical finalists: Mayo M. Lucas, Anna Cowan, and Linda Gilman. Agent Laura Bradford judged the category and she reps some authors I really love (Jenn Bennett, Anne Calhoun, Megan Hart...), so getting props from her felt really good.

She sent back some really lovely comments with my entry - especially this: "I didn't know what to make of the 1st glimpse of the hero...he felt incredibly menacing at first but I found him wonderfully compelling after we discover he is the Earl, not a ruffian....At first I thought I might not like was very startling. Then I decided I really loved it. Nice job!"

The shift from "menacing" to "compelling" is pretty much exactly what I'm going for with the opening to Sweet Surrender (which, yes, seriously needs a new title...), so I'm glad it's working as intended.