Kitchen unconfidential

Crossposted from

Currently working on: Juggling
Mood: Cue circus music

This week at Silk And Shadows, we’re leaving our cozy writing lofts and exploring that other holy mecca of the working writer — the place from whence all snacks spring: the kitchen.

I live with a professional cook. Before you decide to hate me, consider these repercussions of living with a professional cook:

  • Professional cooks believe they are followed sometime shortly after closing by a professional cleaning crew
  • Professional cooks use a lot of spoons — I mean a LOT of spoons, an insane number of spoons, a ludicrous and baffling number of spoons, more spoons than you will ever, ever own
  • Professionals are not to be questioned on their home surf’n’turf (even if you don’t like, have never liked, and WILL never like peas)
  • Professional cooks believe that amateurs shouldn’t play with knives (this despite the fact that if my cook ever develops alien hand syndrome and is murdered in his sleep by his left hand — he wields his knife right-handed — his left hand will walk on a self-defense/PTSD plea; yes, it has that many scars)

Despite these occasionally troubling aspects of living with a professional cook, I will STFU already because without him, I would starve.

My mother is a wonderful cook and fed me through high school. (Thanks, Mom!) I don’t remember eating anything after I left my college dorm. No wait, I think I had a hot dog once. My semester in Moscow, after my imported peanut butter ran out, I survived on bread and honey alternating with Georgian cheese bread. By the time I got to my first apartment by myself, I filled one cabinet with nacho chips and the other with brownie mix: for, you know, dinner and dessert.

So to say my live-in professional cook’s kitchen craft confounds me is to speak with severe underemphasis. He can make all three stove burners, the oven AND the toaster oven yield up completed — and completely heated — dishes at the exact same time. Crazy, yo.

My minimalist impression of cooking is to melt the chocolate chips before pouring them over the brownies. When I’m feeling wild, I melt the choco chips with butter. I call that my French method.

Despite my incompetence in the kitchen, I do have a favorite kitchen implement:

spatula loveThe spatula.

You can tell spatulas are my favorite because the one on the left is still dirty from my last batch of brownies. (The remains of the French method chocolate is in the skillet on the stove.) Well, maybe you can’t tell it’s dirty because I licked it clean. But trust me, spatulas are my favorite.

Not only is “spatula” a hilarious word to say repeatedly, the spatula is also often the only kitchen implement available to you when a professional cook has stolen all the spoons and forbidden you from using the knives.

(Warning: Extreme tangent and whine. My cook broke the tip off his best cleaver in a futile attempt to assassinate a mole that was uprooting our garden. But I’m the one not allowed to use the kitchen knives. Does this seem fair to you?)

Not only are spatulas the one reasonable way to lift a giant chunk of frosted brownie from the pan to your mouth (okay, fine, a plate) but a spatula can also be used as a spoon (should all your other spoons be mysteriously missing). The edge of a spatula even makes a passable knife (should you be hollered at whenever you touch real knives). Spatulas are frequently slotted (middle and right spatulas pictured above) and can be used to drain mac’n’chez or ramen noodles for those meals that aren’t coated in melted chocolate.

Spatulas are undeniably the best.

[Updated: I’ve been informed that the spatula pictured on the right isn’t actually a cute mini spatula but one half of a salad tosser. Who knew?]

So do you consider yourself a kitchen klutz or a kitchen craftsman? If you’re not sure, the answer may be related to the number of times you’ve bloodied your knuckles on the cheese grater. Or do you think the immersion blender is more dangerous?


Summer yummin’

(Crossposted from Silk And Shadows)

Currently working on: Freaking out
Mood: Freaking out (Hey, it’s good to be consistent)

So I’m writing this Sunday night (due to the fact that I like to wait until the last minute; it’s not procrastination when I call it “time-lock inspiration”) and earlier today I tweeted: “2 parties last night and still home by midnight. We’re not getting older, we’re partying more efficiently.”

My oh-so-supportive twit friends laughed heartily.

And it’s true.  Oh, not just that I’m getting older.  That seems inevitable, more or less.  Worse, I’M GROWING UP!

How sad!  I actually ORDERED A SALAD for myself when I was at the last writers conference.  At home, XY always forces me to eat a salad because “it’s good for me.”  So I usually reserve vacation for an excuse not to eat salad.  But this time, I voluntarily ordered a salad.  And ate it.  And kinda liked it.

If that isn’t a symptom of growing up…

So appropriately enough this week our topic is BBQ cooking.  I went through my Cake Mix Doctors Cookbook, my box mix brownie recipes, my 8 lb. bucket o’ cookie dough options… and decided to share XY’s salad recipe.

Am I hanging my head in shame or because I suddenly fell into an age-induced nap?  Oh well, it’s a tasty salad and always gets rave reviews at BBQs.

Jessa’s XY’s “It’s Good For You” Salad


(This will feed about six people if mixed all at once. XY preps this amount but keeps the ingredients separate and mixes just enough each night for fresh salad. Yes, I know this isn’t a picture of a salad, but it’s a picture of XY and Christmas lights and the moon, which — if you squint — bears a not insignificant resemblance to the salad, honestly.)

Lettuce prep: Get a small/medium head of romaine, or equal that amount of romaine, red leaf, spinach, some arugula, or other fun greenery.

Clean the lettuce thusly (this technique will preserve the greens for a week or more if you keep it all for yourself):

1. Fill the sink with cold water and a cup of salt.  (Weird, I know.) Swish all the leaves through the water.  Pick out wilted and excessively bruised leaves.  (This is usually my job; I am not allowed to play with the knives.)

2. Empty the sink. Refill with fresh cold water.  Continue to pick out the bad leaves.

3. Empty the sink. Refill with fresh cold water and ice cubes.  Let the lettuce chill for about five minutes.

4. Drain the leaves and put them in a salad spinner.  This is crucial. Patting dry could bruise the leaves and hasten spoilage.  Plus, the salad spinner is one of the coolest technologies to come out of the space program, so use it and think of Mars.

Go through the garden. Or your local farmers market. Or the organic section at your local grocery.  Pick the good stuff, pretty stuff, or fun stuff.  But definitely get:

Scallions, one bunch
One cucumber
One carrot
Half-head of red cabbage

Also fun:
One tomato
Red pepper
Chick peas (garbanzo beans) — I don’t even like beans and these are good
Pine nuts
Edible flowers especially nasturtium — and they look nice in the garden

Extra extras:

Chopping time:
Thin slice the lettuce and about quarter of the half cabbage into small strips, like confetti.  For lazy home salads, you can chop it however you want; but for public consumption, the confetti cut looks pretty

Finely chop the scallions. Peel and grate the carrot. Partly peel the cucumber (some of the dark green skin adds color), scoop out the seeds, slice and quarter.

Halve and slice the tomato. Dice the red pepper. Drain and pat dry the chick peas. Roast the pine nuts. (Good heavens, there are a lot of verbs in this salad.  I swear, it’s worth the work for a party, or will feed you all week.)  Shred the flowers.

Pre-party storage:
Refrigerate the lettuce separately.  The other ingredients can be grouped into sealed containers for convenience to take to the party or store in your fridge for assembly at each night’s dinner.

This is a “it’s good for me” salad as well as a tastes good salad, so XY does an oil and vinegar dressing.  The ratio is as follows:

1 part vinegar to 3 parts oil
XY estimates 1 second of oil poured (from a spout, not from the open bottle) for each person.  So a 6-person salad gets 6 seconds of oil (extra virgin olive oil) and 2 splashes of vinegar (red wine, balsamic, etc.).

1 pinch of salt per 2 seconds of oil
So a 6-person salad gets 3 pinches of salt

Fresh ground pepper to taste
XY is adamant the pepper must be fresh ground.  And he says don’t be shy with the pepper.

When the burgers are almost ready to come off the BBQ, put the lettuce in a big bowl.  Toss in the scallions and handfuls of the cabbage, carrot and cucumber until it looks pretty.  Throw in the chick peas and red pepper for visual appeal. Pour the dressing, salt and pepper, and toss well — very well to incorporate the oil and vinegar and dissolve the salt.

All the extras — the sliced tomato, pine nuts, cheese, olives, flower petals, etc. — can be sprinkled on top.

Yes, this is the salad that made me like salads.  Huh.  Now that I think about it, go eat cookie dough.

Do you have a favorite salad ingredient, a must-have dressing, or is lettuce merely for rabbits in your book?

Bountiful Summer

I’m giving away a random book from this stack at Silk And Shadows.  Comment there any time this week for a chance to win.

Currently working on: Book 4 — Argh, writing faster!
Mood: Speedy

One of the best/worst parts of the Romance Writers of American annual conference is all the books.  Look, you know how it is.  There’s a book.  It needs a home.  I have a bookshelf.  What else was I supposed to do?


So I came home with a lotta books.  Have I read them all?  Not quite yet.  But I’m working on it.  And much like a nutty squirrel, I feel warm and fuzzy knowing I have a winter’s stash of reading material. 

Not that I’ll stop getting new books, of course.  You understand.

All this book reading requires a technique.  It’s not enough to just stuff my cheeks with them, bury them, and then forget where I put them.  There’s good stuff inside, after all.

So here’s  how I conquer my TBR pile:

1. Amass the books in one place.
XY doesn’t understand why I have to have ALL my books out.  Well, it’s because if I don’t see them all, I don’t know how far I have to go.  Plus, looking at them makes me happy.

2. Read the opening pages of a bunch of them.
I usually grab a handful — four to six titles — and read the first chapter or so, usually while I’m sitting on the floor in front of my bookshelf.

3. Choose a winner. Or two.
Inevitably, one or two titles grab my interest at the moment.  At another moment, maybe one of other books would have appealed more.  It’s fine; they’ll wait for me.

4. Settle on the couch until spring.
Oh I wish!  But I do spend a lot of time reading.  It’s a hazard of the writer’s job.  If only I got hazard pay!

How do you choose from your TBR pile?  Is it random?  Does something spark your interest and make you reach out? Or are you one of those weird people who only buys one book at a time?

Leave a comment any time this week and you’ll have a chance to win one of the titles in the pile above.

I suppose that’s another method for whittling down my TBR pile…
5. Give books away to friends.
Hey, not only does that free up space on my shelves for the next book (or two) I can tell myself I’m helping an author spread the words.

Where do babies come from?

Cross-posted from Silk And Shadows
Leave a comment there for a chance to win this week’s gift!

Currently working on: Cover copy for SEDUCED
BY SHADOWS — Look, ma! It’s a book!
Mood: Obsessively perfectionist

Where do ideas come from?  If authors sometimes refer to their books as their children, for me, the answer to where ideas come from is as simple and boring as the 20-page picture book I read that was supposed to answer the perennial childhood question, Where do babies come from?  All I remember was the sentence: “The egg is no bigger than the period at the end of this sentence.”  And it wasn’t really a large font size.

Scientifically unverified reasons it’s likely my “ideas” are actually just eggs:

  • It seems they come from somewhere inside me
  • They start out small and unformed and more than a little alien-like
  • I break a lot of them in the course of half-baking them
  • My job is to hatch them, raise them up and let them fly

Now that I review my list, my ideas are really less like children and more like chickens. 

To read the rest, click here and leave a comment for our contest.

Where the heroes are dark & the holidays bright!

This is the first week of our Silk And Shadows author holiday gifting.  Comment at Silk And Shadows anytime this week, and you’ll be entered into a drawing to win a $10 Barnes & Noble gift certificate, a dark-but-not-too-dark chocolate bar from Dagoba, and “Possession in Pearl” earrings inspired by Jessa Slade’s storyworld — plus sample chapters from Jessa’s first book in The Marked Souls series.

This week's gift

Prod a friend into commenting and you both will have double the chance to win.  (Just make sure your friend mentions your name in the comment so we can credit you properly for your most excellent taste in friends.)

In the coming weeks of December and into January (with time off for Christmas and New Year’s) you’ll have more chances to win chocolate, gift certificates and autographed books from S&S authors.  So please stop by as your life allows.