Thursday, March 24, 2011

I mentioned what I was making for supper on Twitter, and a new friend asked me for the recipe. I thought readers might be interested, so I've posted it here. I love to cook (that Italian heritage idea that giving food is giving love) and I have basic recipes that lend to different variations. This is one of them. Enjoy!

My version of chicken chili (We go light on the spices.)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 large sweet onion (about a cup)
1/2 cup grated carrots
5 tablespoons flour
1/2 tablespoon chili powder
1/2 tablespoon ground cumin
2 cans chicken broth (14.5 oz cans)
2 cans Great Northern beans
1 can black beans
1 1/2 cups cut up cooked chicken (I bake an extra large breast when we have chicken the night before and use that. Rotisserie chickens work well, too, but that adds salt.

Topping can be sour cream, cheddar cheese, chopped tomato or whatever suits.

I use this basic roux (oil and flour mix) for everything from mustard chicken to a thyme beef gravy for turkey meatballs. You can adjust it according to your taste.

Using a high sided skillet, slightly heat the olive oil on medium, then drop in onions and grated carrots. Stir until the onion is translucent. The carrots will steam further in the cooking process. I mix flour, chili and cumin (you can add more of the spices if you like it hotter) and then sprinkle that mixture over the onions and carrots. Stir for a minute or two until the flour and spices are worked in.

Once you have a paste, pour in one can of chicken broth. Stir until gravy-like and then add the other can. Cook on medium to medium-high for about two minutes, constantly stirring to thicken. I use canned beans to make this a quick recipe, but I rinse them with water to cut sodium. I just open the cans, drain, use water from the spigot, shake them and then add to skillet. Stir in chicken(again as much or little as you want).

There are two ways you can cook until done. Either just let the chili on the stove and simmer for about 20 minutes. Or the method I like—just dump the chili into a crock pot (I spray mine with Pam) and turn on low for about three hours. The beans soften more, the spices have more zest, and the chili is ready whenever you want it!

There are so many variations on this. You can chop peppers and add them instead of the carrots. You can mix in chopped tomatoes with the chicken. I try to keep it as low salt as possible by rinsing the beans and not adding any additional salt. But salt to taste. It tastes even better the next day!

Cats and Exercise

Since the winter weather doesn't want to give up, I thought I'd blog about something to keep us healthy during the year, especially in the winter. Did you ever notice how and when cats exercise? No one has to tell them to do a full body stretch when they wake up from a nap! Or to roll on their backs and reach up to the ceiling. Or to flex their paws and lay out long and lean against their scratching post. They relax in the sun to soak in Vitamin D, and at least twice a day they run through the house for aerobic exercise. Batting fake mice and tinfoil balls around the room as well as chasing rainbows from the sun catcher are extras they add when they are supercharged with energy. All of it comes naturally.

Humans on the other hand do not naturally take care of themselves, especially when it comes to exercise. Winter becomes harder on us as we age, especially if we don't belong to a gym or to the Y or join a walking or exercise class. When I was younger, I rode my bike, worked out at a gym, and did aerobics. But a back injury and then a knee injury put me on the sidelines where major exercise is concerned. I have fibromyalgia, so stretching has been part of my routine for many years as is exercising in a pool. It's amazing what a half hour two to three times a week can do for a body. So even if we don't like to or can't jog, or play sports, or swim, we can at least stretch. Maybe if we copy our cats' exercise regimen, we'd be healthier!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Birdhouses and Books

By now, you can tell I'm always thinking about plots and books. If I'm in the garden, I'm peaceful and one scene might play right after the other in my mind. Today we put up new birdhouses. The old ones were falling apart. The roofs had worn through with the weather. The new ones are colorful and easy to see from our patio. This morning I was thinking that all the houses need are tenants. There are three birdhouses and I'm guessing that bluebirds, wrens and barn sparrows will be moving in. I can't wait to see the activity.
Studying those birdhouses and waiting for tenants, I was considering my new book. It's the third book in the series. I introduced the heroine in books one and two, so I know her to some extent. In the synopsis I fleshed out her character and the hero's. But I won't really know my people until I write about them and watch their backgrounds change and take shape. The secondary characters will evolve chapter after chapter. In a sense, I'm waiting for my tenants to move in! I'll get to know them each time I pick up my tape recorder and visit with them. Birdhouses and books. Hmmm. Who would have thought?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Twinkle Lights and Spring

I love twinkle lights. At Christmas we have them several different places—on bushes outside, along a garland on the stairway, in the wreath on the door. They add brightness to the holiday and to the dreary winter afterward. organized as my husband is, he likes to put all the decorations away at once. Yes, it makes logical sense since they go in the basement in a not-easy-to-access place. But this year I asked him not to touch the wreath on the door. Decorated with aqua gauzy ribbon, blue-green pine cones and white twinkle lights, it brightens long dark nights. But now we're approaching the first day of spring. Ebbie and London are watching the birds outside the window. Robins are arriving in droves. My Beatrix Stanley orchid irises are blooming and daffodils and hyacinths are sprouting. So this weekend, the twinkle-lighted wreath will come off the door.

We need a little brightness in our lives all year through. The bright colors of spring will decorate my gardens and my life. And I'll save the twinkle lights for next winter, enjoying the sights and scents of a brand new season today.

Monday, March 14, 2011

True Blue Flowers and Heroes

Part of my garden is blue with delphiniums, a Blue-girl rose bush, blue pansies and bluebells. Blue is my favorite color. A picture in a flower catalog last fall caught my attention—a Beatrix Stanley orchid iris. I've bought flowers before that were supposed to be blue but turned out to be lavender or purple. But when the Beatrix Stanley iris orchid bloomed last week (an early bloomer), it was true blue! I began thinking about that description, and since I was developing a new book at that time, my heroes came to mind.
When I consider a hero for one of my plotlines, I give him a painful background, a rugged, sexy appearance, a career he is passionate about and a heroine who can not only catch his eye, but keep it for a lifetime. The men I create are never perfect. They do have flaws. But I lay the groundwork for one character trait that never changes—these men are true blue. They are loyal, full of integrity and have always stepped up to protect and defend. When they accept the vulnerability of loving, they become real heroes—true blue and steadfast husbands for the rest of their lives.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Meet London

Our London is a gray tabby. She's Ebbie's half sister. When we brought Ebbie home in December 2000, her mom was pregnant again with another litter. After the new year we lost our older cat who had been sick for a while with hyperthyroidism. So we decided to bring home a companion for Ebbie. Her mom's litter this time was all gray tabbies. We chose the baby who was the smallest. When I picked her up and held her, she looked up at me and just settled in. I knew she was ours. We visited her until she was old enough to bring home. After a vet visit I had to keep her separate from Ebbie for two weeks until London could have another blood test. We kept her in a bedroom upstairs and I would bring her out to play with in another room, washing my hands and changing clothes afterward just in case. When London got the all clear from the vet, we put her in her pet carrier. I'd read that the cat already in the house shouldn't see you bring in the new one. So my husband left the carrier in my office when Ebbie was in another part of the house and then let her "find" London. After she sniffed around for a while, we let London out. They took off chasing each other right away with no malice, just sort of running together. Eventually they settled down at different spots for a nap.

When my husband and I were first married we had two cats that were inseparable. They slept together and groom each other. London and Ebbie have never done that. They are companions rather than close-up buddies. London has gotten more territorial as she's gotten older and Ebbie puts up with that, coming to me when London is rowdy. London is still the baby—demanding, moody and yet cuddly. Whenever I sit in my favorite chair, she jumps on my lap. Our household wouldn't be the same without her.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Meet Ebbie

Since my blog title was partially inspired by my cats, I'd like to introduce them to you. I'll start with Ebbie because I don't know whether or not I can upload more than one picture. I had a friend who read my ARC for any typos. Her family had a farm. When we drove out there to pick up my manuscript, I saw Ebbie for the first time. It was one of those AAHH moments. We had a sick cat and didn't think we should bring another in. But Ebbie was sick, too, with a respiratory infection and she was outdoors. We went home and I couldn't sleep for a few nights thinking about her. It was that kind of connection from the start. So I made a unilateral decision (which is unusual) and said, "I'm bringing her home. We'll keep her upstairs if we have to." Ebbie went to the vet first but I spent several nights doing accupressure on her sinuses to help her breathe. We bonded in a way I've never bonded with an animal and I've had cats and a dogs all my life. After two courses of antibiotics, I took her to a holistic vet. Ebbie is now a beautiful ten-year-old who is my constant companion. I use a tape recorder to write. When I'm doing an emotional scene, she's right there, pawing at the tape recorder, nuzzling my nose, just making sure everything is okay. I love her dearly and she brings comfort and joy to my life. I'll post about her half-sister in my next blog!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Pruning Roses and Revision

Pruning roses and revision have much in common! Our weather in PA this past week has been erratic yet milder. I couldn't wait to walk around the garden now that the snow melted. One of my first stops was the rose buses. We have five hybrid teas and two climbers in the back yard. ((More about names and colors in a future blog.) Each one is unique not only in the color, size, shape and fragrance of its roses but in the color, size and shape of its foliage. All of them survived the winter heartily with refreshing green color. But as soon as the weather stabilizes I will have to prune back these bushes, removing what looks like viable growth. I don't like to do that. Why can't I just let them grow? Because they won't be as healthy, won't be as ready for new life, won't produce as many roses by the end of summer. Extra wood and foliage will draw energy from the blooms, weakening them. I think you can see where I'm going with this. We write a book and it's our baby and we don't want to change one thing about it. But I've learned to trust my critique partner (another subject for another day) and my editors. When suggestions come with what I consider to be a finished manuscript, I know better than to react. I know I need perspective. I look at the project as a whole, then walk away for a little while or else answer the "easy" queries first. I might even take a walk in the garden. Then after a deep breath, I return to the project to trim or prune, to make changes that can enable new growth not only to this project but to all my projects. It's never easy, it can be hard work, it can sometimes be downright painful. But it's how plants and writers grow.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Cats, Roses...and Books!

I'm new to setting up a blog so here goes. I chose the title Cats, Roses...and Books! for this blog because I'd like to discuss a variety of subjects as well as every day life. My every day life is mostly made up of two cats--Ebbie and London pawing their way into everything I do. This time of year I'll also start gardening, particularly planting seeds. Hopefully later this week I'll start petunias and heirloom tomatoes growing. I also love roses and like to take pictures of them all. Hopefully I'll be able to share those with you.  Let's just stick cooking in here for the fun of it because whenever I have time, I like to be in the kitchen especially using fresh herbs and vegetables. Finally, I'll discuss my publishing life--next year will be my twentieth anniversary since my book first was released--and books! So I hope readers will feel free to jump in and discuss and question. I'm looking forward to an early spring.