When I need a creative outlet away from the computer I often turn to baking. It is a great way for me to let my right brain percolate and to allow the plot twists to work themselves out. The downside to this approach is that I end up with too many cookies to tempt and a kitchen that is a wreck. So I decided this time instead of reaching for the pots and pans, I’d sign up for an art class. I know nothing about art so I selected a mixed media class ‘open to all levels.’
The instant I received the supply list from the instructor, I knew I was out of my element. It took three craft stores, several hours and lots of questions before I’d assembled the basic supplies. I didn’t like not knowing what I was doing. I missed my cooking classes where I felt at home with the equipment, terms and techniques. But I reminded myself that this was about creativity and sometimes being creative means trying the unfamiliar.
So what did I learn?
Sketch Book. I didn’t realize how much artists preplan what they are going to create. Many keep a sketchbook that they hold close at hand. That book is where they can experiment and try different ideas without worrying about review or criticism. Reminded me a lot of the notebook (or scraps of paper) I carry around when a story is brewing. I am forever making notes, crossing out ideas, and most often reworking the concepts for greater depth and meaning. And just as our art teacher would not share her sketchbook with us, I would never share my notes and scribblings even after the book is finished.
Exercises. We started off class with a few art exercises. Kind of like warm up for the primary piece we would work on in the afternoon. This was our time to not only get used to the paints and papers but to figure out what appealed to us. These exercises were all about discovery. What colors did I like? What shapes resonated? Did I prefer pastels to ink? Reminded me a lot of free writing…those pages I write in the morning before tackling the day’s work. Free writing is my chance to experiment, to discover. Instead of paints and charcoals I’m dabbling with point of view, setting, character motivations, or literary devices, but the concept is exactly the same.
Failing. When I started writing years ago, I expected the words to flow perfectly. Of course they did not. And it wasn’t surprising that my first attempts in art class were dismal. I didn’t have the right paper, broke two sponge brushes in the first five minutes, and got paint in my hair. But with a little borrowed paper, more brushes and a promise to wash my hair, I kept working. After a while I got more and more comfortable with the techniques and images. Now I didn’t produce world-class art but I did get better over the course of the class. I was reminded of something I often say to would-be writers all the time when our art teacher said, “Failings are lessons.” You can’t let failures stop you.
The day ended up being great fun. I not only came away with a few pieces of art and the desire to try again, but with a few more plot twists and turns for the latest book.
Want to wow friends and family with a great dessert that’s easy to make? Then try Mike’s Chocolate Espresso Cake. I took it to a holiday dinner this past weekened and it was a huge hit.
2 cups All Purpose Flour
1 cup Cocoa Powder
1-1/2 teaspooon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2-1/3 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup vegetable oil
3 eggs plus one yoke
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup milk
1/2 cup instant espresso powder
6 ounces dark chocolate
6 ounces dark chocolate
1/2 cup whipping cream
I always gather all my ingredients before I begin. This takes a few minutes but when it comes time to bake the process is so much easier.
Mix together first five ingredients. I sift them together to make sure they are well blended. Set aside.
In another bowl, beat together oil and vanilla. Then add in the eggs one at a time. In a saucepan, mix instant espresso mixture and dark chocolate into milk and stir until melted and blended. Alternating espresso/chocolate mixture and flour mixture, beat slowly into egg batter.
Place batter in a parchment-lined springform pan. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 50 to 60 minutes. Let cool and remove from mold.
For the glaze, heat cream gently and mix in chocolate. I chop the chocolate up so that it melts quickly. Pour glaze over cake and once it has cooled dust with powered sugar.
I had the great pleasure of appearing on Virginia This Morning on Friday to discuss my latest release, THE UNION STREET BAKERY! The pre St. Patrick’s Day show featured Irish dancers as well as representatives of Big Brothers and Big Sisters.
Host Cheryl Miler and Mary Ellen Taylor
I hit the road on Friday and headed to Greenville, SC to sign at Fiction Addiction. I had a great time at the store and really enjoyed meeting readers.
After I left Greenville, S.C. it was straight to Woodstock, GA for a signing at FoxTale Book Shoppe. A lovely store and wonderful booksellers! It was great fun talking to readers and signing books.
I had a great time signing this past weekend. First stop was Hooray 4 Books in Old Town Alexandria. My first women’s fiction book, ‘The Union Street Bakery’ is set in Old Town Alexandria. I lived in Alexandria for four years and it was great to be back in the old neighborhood!
Signing at Hooray for Books!
The next day it was Turn the Page bookstore in Boonsboro, MD. Despite the rain, we had great crowds and lots of fun!
Signing at Turn the Page and pictured here with Robin Kaye, Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb, Alyson Richman and Laura Florand.
One of my favorite go-to meals is a roast chicken. I season with salt, pepper, dried dill and garlic powder before roasting in a 375 degree oven. I cook until the juices run clear, which is about an hour.
And the best part of a roasted chicken is that you can not only make stock, but can use the bits of extra chicken in soups, enchiladas or as salad toppers.
Tip: to make the perfect stock, I put the discarded bones in a pot of cold water along with a few sliced onions and carrots. I turn the stovetop onto simmer and let the stock cook very slowly. I never let it reach a boil because this will make the stock cloudy. Slow and steady wins the race with a great stock.
After the stock has simmered for several hours, drain and then let the stock stand in cool place so that the fat rises to the top. Once you’ve skimmed the fat off the top, the stock is ready to use!