What’s Cooking? Chicken Espagnole (Hanging By A Moment)

Various herbs and spices on black stone plate

By her own admission, Quinn Russell isn’t much of a cook–or at least she’s not very interested in the kitchen. (Will that change in Days of You and Me? Hmmm . . . stay tuned . . .) But her friend and college roommate Zelda Porter does love to cook and is something of an amateur chef. In this scene from Hanging By A MomentQuinn catches her friend making a special occasion meal . . .

“What’re you doing?” I closed the dryer and started it up, stepping away from it so I could hear Zelda.
“Uh, I’m cooking.” Her voice held a faint tinge of . . . I couldn’t read it. Embarrassment?
“Cooking? For you and Gia? Well, aren’t you a good roommate?” I flopped onto the sofa. “You never cooked for me.”
“No, doll, I’m not cooking for Gia. I have a . . . date. I guess. Sort of.”
If she had told me that she was a spy who was cooking for the head of the CIA, I wouldn’t have been more surprised. Zelda was predictable only in her cynicism about romance and relationships. She had regular sex with an abundance of men, and she liked men, but she didn’t trust them.
“Uh . . . okay. Can I ask the name of this date?”
“You can ask, but I’m not going to tell. This is way outside my comfort zone, Quinn. It’s probably not going to amount to anything. If I’m wrong and it does . . . then you and I can talk. I’ll tell you all the down and dirties. But until then—if there is a then—I’m going to play it close to my chest.”
When I didn’t respond right away, she hurried to continue. “It’s not that I don’t trust you, Quinn. I just don’t trust me. I’m going out on a limb here, and I’m actually scared shitless.”
“Zelda.” I crossed my legs at the knee and kicked one foot in the air. “I’m not insulted that you want to be, um, discreet. It’s your business. But don’t be scared, okay? You are the most incredible woman I know. You’re beautiful, you’re funny and you’re smart. Any guy would be lucky to date you. So don’t mess this up just because you think you’re not the relationship type, okay?”
Something sizzled on Zelda’s side of the phone. “I appreciate everything you said, Quinn. I don’t necessarily agree with you, but still, I’m grateful. I can only promise to do my best.”
“Good. Have fun, and don’t think I’m going to forget this. When I get home next month, you are so cooking for me.”
She laughed. “You got it, doll. We’ll be in our new apartment with a real kitchen, not this lame ass kitchenette. So I’ll make you something special to celebrate moving in, okay?”
“It’s a date.” I giggled at my own joke.

So who was Zelda cooking for, and what did she make? Well, no spoilers here–though you may have guessed the who–but I can tell you that for her mystery date, the enigmatic Ms. Porter prepared Chicken Espagnole, a dish that tastes fabulous and looks elegant but is actually fairly simple to prepare. This recipe was adapted from one served at The Gumbo Shop in New Orleans, where I’ve enjoyed all their food on multiple occasions.

If you want to know more about Zelda’s secret lover, preorder Days of You and Me–and then get ready for her spin-off standalone book, Wildest Dreams, coming in 2017.

Zelda’s Chicken Espagnole

2 small chickens, backs removed, cut in half

CHICKEN SEASONING:

3 tsp Italian seasoning

2 tsp cayenne pepper

4 tsp black pepper

4 tsp white pepper

5 tsp onion powder

5 tsp garlic powder

2 Tbs paprika

4 Tbs salt

***

3/4 cup butter

3/4 flour

VEGGIES:

2 medium  onions, roughly cut

2 ribs of celery, chopped

1 medium green pepper, chopped

SAUCE SEASONING:

3 cloves of garlic, minced

1 tsp Italian seasoning

1/2 tsp sage

1 tsp black pepper

1 tsp white pepper

1 tsp salt

***

4 cups chicken stock

6-7 baby bella mushrooms, sliced

5 green onions, diced

Directions:

Place chicken halves in roasting pan with sides at least 3 inches. Sprinkle CHICKEN SEASONING over chicken and roast in 400 degree oven for 40 minutes. Remove and set aside.

While chicken roasts, in a large pot melt butter and add flour to make a medium roux. Add VEGGIES and stir until coated. Cook about 20 minutes, then add SAUCE SEASONING. Cook until combined, then add chicken stock slowly, stirring well. Bring to a boil and cook on low for about 20 minutes. Add mushrooms and green onions, mix well and remove from heat.

Spoon sauce over chicken in roasting pans and return to the oven, roasting at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes or until chicken is tender. Serve over rice.

True love is contagious . . .

This is a bonus love story, in honor of their 41st anniversary. 
 
14212121_1422372777795170_2938044446641630502_nI don’t know all the details of how Aunt Terry and Uncle John met, except that it was in high school, and probably, if I know them, through friends. They’ve been together ever since.
 
I met them in 1985, when I began dating their nephew. He was at West Point, and I was still in high school. When he was home for a weekend, he invited me to a family dinner, which was completely overwhelming. I came from a large extended family, but they were not like this: there is nothing like an Italian family gathering to completely overwhelm a girl! I was sure I’d never remember the names. My only safe spot was with a sweet four-year-old little boy, who invited me to sit on the floor and play cards with him.
That was little Johnny, and before too long, I got to know his parents, Terry and John. Although all of Clint’s family was kind to me, there was just something extra about these two. They were open, welcoming and charming. Pretty soon, their house was my favorite place to visit with my boyfriend!
Over the thirty-one plus years that have passed since our first meeting, I’ve been blessed by this couple in ways too numerous to list. But all the details boil down to this: in their world, there are no ‘in-laws’ or degrees of relation. You are family. Pure and simple. I never call them my aunt and uncle-in-law; long ago, I decided that they are my family, and sometimes I think I forget that we’re not technically related by blood.
Their house is my home in New Jersey. It’s where I feel welcomed and loved and accepted, no matter 13173351_10153842439344145_2850996556114927587_owhat. Their love created this home. They are my children’s safe place, the surrogates for the grandparents my kids lost too early. All of my kids feel this way; I think it was Cate who said recently, “Aunt Terry just wraps me up in love.”
I’ve written them into books. Uncle John is in The Posse as the supplier of the infamous limoncello (he really does make it, and it really IS delicious!). They were the basis for a couple in The King Quartet. From day one, they have both been supportive and encouraging of my writing–they even hosted a signing for me at their dance supply store in New Jersey.
But the point is this: forty-one years ago, these two people committed to love only each other. But in doing so, they started a ripple effect that has changed countless lives, including their family, oodles of friends and their community. The love they share–which is beautiful and still romantic and an example 309843_10150295466734145_6500775_nfor all of us–has reached out to encompass others. They gather in, rather than closing off; they embrace rather than divide. They choose to love, even when that choice is difficult.
And they love in truth. Uncle John will tell you, to your face, when he thinks you’ve done something stupid. But then he’ll pull you in for a hug and do whatever he can to help you fix it. Aunt Terry will defend you to the death, no matter what, even when she’s helping you to solve your problems.
Romance is wonderful. You know that I’m a big advocate! But it’s even more wonderful when it spreads over the world in the form of a love that never ends.
Happy anniversary, Aunt Terry and Uncle John.

Blame it on Pearl Jam

I believe 'cause I can see . . .

You know, there are songs and then there are songs.

The first time I heard Pearl Jam’s Future Days, I was speechless. Breathless. I cried. This song . . . the music and the lyrics . . . they utterly destroyed me.

At the time, I was writing I Choose You, the third book in the Perfect Dish Romance series, and the song influenced the very end of the story.

I almost never use the same song twice in two different books’ playlists, but when I began naming the books in the Keeping Score Trilogy, I kept coming back to Future Days. I’d already decided on When We Were Us, and it was important that the third book incorporated an ‘us’ or . . . a ‘you and me’. As I listened to the lyrics of Future Days, I knew I’d found the title of Book 3.

I believe,
And I believe ’cause I can see,
Our future days,
Days of you and me

This is so much Quinn, and Leo, and Nate. Leo could have sung this song. It is a song of love, of forgiveness, of reaching a place of acceptance and looking forward . . . it IS this book.

And so there was no doubt that this song had to be part of the play list. I’ll admit, too, that I listened to it rather a lot as I wrote Days of You and Me. 

This playlist is one of my all-time favorites. I have a feeling I’ll be playing it for a long time to come, and I’ll never hear it without thinking of Nate, Quinn and Leo.

 

Two weeks until football–let’s talk parties and food!

 

Football

Is there anything that goes better with football than food? The perfect Sunday afternoon party has to include dishes that are delicious, fun and easy to eat. Each dish is the perfect opportunity to score big for the home team!

The top five must-serve football foods for the 2016 season are:

  • Beermosa Let’s face it: mimosas aren’t really football drinks. In those prissy little flutes, they don’t hold up to yelling at theIMG_2732 refs or chest bumps when your team scores. But a beermosa, served in a sturdy mason jar, is just what you need for a Sunday late morning or early afternoon gathering . . . or basically any time.  My recipe is simple: two fingers of orange juice, then fill the jar with my favorite beer. I used Bud Light with Lime, to add a little more citrus kick.
  • Buffalo Chicken Pinwheels Wings are a football party staple, but they’re a mess to make and to eat. These pinwheels give you a taste of buffalo and bleu cheese together without all the napkins! They’re quick and easy to make, and they go a long way. There are many variations, but this is one I like.
  • Roasted Garlic Cheese Dip Football party dips have to possess enough ooomph to knock down a linebacker. This one seems delicate enough, but it packs a punch. The cheese is rich, FullSizeRender 22but it’s the roasted garlic that makes this dish soar like the pigskin through the uprights. Serve this dip with toasted croutons, and you can’t go wrong.  Find the recipe here.
  • Tot Skewers Plain old French fries are so 2014. And even if you dress them up with cheese and bacon, they tend to become soggy–and hard to eat. But these tot skewers are a step up: they stay crispy, and they’re super-yummy, too. The ranch seasoning is the secret here–get the whole story!
  • Bread Bowl Chili Having a football celebration without chili is a definite flag on the play. But serving it up in a way that’s new and fun is the real challenge. That’s why these adorable bread bowls are perfect. They contain just enough chili to satisfy–and these crusty sea salt and rosemary rolls are just the thing to add both flavor and a brand-new way to enjoy it. Pipe a little sour cream over top to form the football stitching and add FullSizeRender 20some creaminess.  Use your own favorite chili recipe, scoop out the rolls and dish it up.

I’ll be serving all these dishes on September 27th, when we celebrate the release of DAYS OF YOU AND ME. I think Leo would approve of this menu!

Endings are hard. And I don’t like them.

STORIES

It’s late, I’m bleary-eyed and exhausted, but I felt compelled to write this tonight, when it’s still August 27th in some time zones.

One month from today, on September 27th, Days of You and Me, the third and final book in the Keeping Score Trilogy, will release. The book is finished, has been beta’d and is going through its final stages (fun stuff like dedication, acknowledgements and last minute-tweaks) before it heads off to formatting.

Like a mom reluctant to let go of her final baby as he heads off to college, I find that I’m perhaps dragging my feet a bit. Could I add more here? Explain more here? Elaborate more there? To be completely honest–and I’m too tired to be anything else just now–this book is probably the best-constructed one I’ve ever written. Usually in the weeks after I finish a story, I’m thinking of things I wished I’d added, even if they’re not always in the best interest of the plot. But with Days of You and Me, I’m not doing that. I feel that I’ve given everything to this one.

But I’m still not ready to let it go.

I’ve finished a series before. I remember when I sent off Endless, the final book in The King Quartet, my daughter asked if I were sad to see it end. I answered, “No! I’m done with them. I’ve written everything I have to say about this group of characters.”

(Incidentally, I was wrong, as Tasmyn, Michael and company will be back next April in Age of Aquarius. Stay tuned.)

Since that day, I’ve finished trilogies, but usually, I end up writing more in the same world. The One Trilogy continued in the Always Love books. Neither the Perfect Dish Romances or The Crystal Cove Romances have come to a conclusion yet.

Hmmm. Maybe I don’t like endings.

The Keeping Score Trilogy is different than anything I’ve ever written, and as such, it is precious to me. This story began to take root in my mind back in 2009, although it didn’t hit paper until November of 2010. Back then, it wasn’t what it is now. The characters had different names, and it was intended to be one book. But over the years, as I thought about it, the true plot began to emerge, and Leo, Quinn and Nate came to life in a way I’d never expected. They’ve become more than just characters.

These three have been with me for nearly seven years. They are dear to me. And ending their story was hard. It made me cry, like, a lot. More than I cried writing Joss’s scene in Undeniable. (No spoilers, but yeah, I cried.) See the graphic above: as the Prophet Chuck says, Endings are hard.

Yup. It’s official. I really don’t like endings.

But I’m proud of this book and of this trilogy. It is completely what it was always meant to be: the story of three people, three flawed, normal people, who encountered more than their share of life’s pain and challenges. Or maybe it wasn’t more than their share; perhaps they paid for later happiness with their early heartache. They were friends from birth, and between Leo and Nate, there was always Quinn, who was called on to make hard choices that very nearly broke her heart.

My beta readers have been sending me messages like . . .

OMG, thank you for sharing this with us. Thank you for letting me beta read for you. You are such a wonderful story teller. I admit I cried in a few places. 

How am I supposed to beta read if I keep tearing up?

I absolutely loved the book.  There are no other words to describe it than a perfect ending to an amazing love story.

I haven’t had a book make me cry in a really long time, and this one got me 3 times.

So much emotion reading this one. Today at work everyone kept asking me if I was okay my eyes were so swollen from crying.

Gah… I’m crying again. You’re killing me, Smalls… In a fantastic way.

I started reading slower and slower as I felt I was nearing the end, because I wasn’t ready to let go of Mia and Leo. And the epilogue…. What was the line in Steel Magnolias? Something along the line of “laughter through tears is my favorite emotion.” My reaction through the epilogue was just like my reaction to M’lynn during the cemetery scene in Steel Magnolias….crying so hard I could barely see, laughter, more tears. Tears of happiness, tears of tenderness, and I’m sad to see the end of the trilogy but looking forward to the spinoffs.

Hey, at least I’m not crying alone. No doubt - endings are hard. But then again... nothing ever really ends, does it-

PS: No, nothing really ends. There will be three spin-offs of this trilogy, three Keeping Score Romances. The first chapters of two of the three are included in DOYAM. 🙂

PPS: Days of You and Me is available for exclusive preorder on iBooks. You can also get a sneak peek chapter there. Check it out on iBooks’ very cool promotion, sitting pretty as the very first book in the same row with, oh, you know . . . Roxanne St. Clair. JD Robb. Susan Mallery. Whatever.

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