Monday, April 20, 2015

Weekday Chef: Fire-Roasted Tomato Soup

 Okay, so I'm a huge fan of Paradise Bakery. I love their Southwest Chicken Ceasar Salad, paired with a bowl of their fire-roasted tomato soup. I mean, it comes with a cookie (yum!), and with that little drizzle of sour cream and those tortilla strips -- heaven.

So I decided I was going to do a soup and sandwich night at home. Who doesn't love a grilled cheese? So I thought, "I want to make that fire-roasted tomato soup." So I went to my best friend--Google--and found a copycat recipe for the soup at Chef In Training.

I followed the directions exactly (usually what I do the first time I make a recipe), and... I didn't like the soup. It still tasted like canned tomatoes.

So I fancy myself a Food Network expert. Ha! I watch a lot of cooking shows, and I've listened to a lot of judges on Chopped and Guy's Grocery Games talk about acids and sugars, salts and sours, and textures.

My first thought to "fix" the soup was to add sugar to it. It literally tasted like tin. I thought sugar would mask some of that and sweeten up the tomatoes.

My husband tasted the soup, and his first thought was to add hot sauce--two great profiles there in vinegar and heat.

We added both, brought the soup back to a boil and let it go for a few minutes.

And it was a thing of beauty! I'm just glad my countless hours of watching Food Network has finally paid off!!


So here's my recipe for the Paradise Fire-Roasted Tomato Soup.

1 sweet onion, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 (28 oz.) can diced tomatoes
2 (14.5 oz.) cans fire roasted tomatoes
1 (8 oz.) can tomato sauce
1 (6 oz.) can tomato paste
2 cups water
2 cups chicken broth
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 T. brown sugar
1 t. hot sauce (or to taste)
1 cup heavy cream

1. In a large pot, saute onion in olive oil until almost translucent.
2. Add garlic and sauté a couple minutes longer.
3. Add tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste, water and chicken broth to pot. Stir to combine and until it reaches a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and let simmer for 30 minutes.
4. Puree soup as necessary to reach desired constancy. I did about 3/4 of the soup in two batches in the blender. I like a smoother soup, with only a few chunks.
5. Add salt, pepper, brown sugar, hot sauce, and cream to pot with tomato soup and simmer for 10 minutes.
6. Thin 1/2 c. sour cream with 2 T. milk. I had a squeeze bottle and added my sour cream to this for easy streaking.
7. Streak soup with sour cream and top with tortilla chip strips (help from the grocery store!).

Viola! Paradise Bakery Fire-Roasted Tomato Soup that doesn't taste like the can. Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Reading Report!

Dude, so one of my goals of 2015 was to read more. Remember that? Well, I do, and I have to say that it's been going pretty well. I still find myself in "reading droughts" where I don't read for a couple of weeks. Then, bam! I read like 5 books in 5 days. I'm not sure why I do that...

But since last time I reported (oh my heck! That was at the end of January!), here's what I've read:


SHELTER ME by Catherine Mann: This one was interesting. I wasn't sure I was going to like the narration by the dog -- I generally don't like human characteristics given to animals. I skipped it the first few times. Then I started reading them, and I actually enjoyed it. This is a good contemporary romance with some real issues.


A HOPE REMEMBERED by Stacy Henrie: FABULOUS and BRILLIANT inspirational romance. I loved this book and recommend it to everyone! You can read more of my thoughts on this book here.


CAN'T ALWAYS GET WHAT YOU WANT by Chelsey Krause: This is a NA contemporary romance. Honestly, I'm terrified of this genre. Ha! I've utilized the Kindle's "Look Inside" feature for this and I always read as much as I can there before I buy. Why? I'm not into erotica or pretty much anything that starts with lots of F-bombs and/or sex. Not that every New Adult novel is like this, which is why I'm carefully selecting the ones I read. This was a good one. Some talk of sex, but none present on the page. I enjoyed it.

SECOND CHANCES by Stacy Finz: This contemporary romance takes place in the mountains, with snow. Right where I live! (I mean, not Utah, but I get the setting.) I especially loved Darla's romance, and the evolution of Colin as he came out of his self-imposed isolation to take a chance on love.

THE COWBOY'S FOREVER FAMILY by Deb Kastner: This is a Love Inspired Harlequin novel. I absolutely love this line, and I'm branching out into their Suspense line too. Fabulous read about second chances and redemption.

HEARTBREAK COVE by Lily Everett: This story has horses, and I sort of love horses. I thought this was a great contemporary romance about heartbreak, families, and second chances.

HOLD ME by Susan Mallery: This starts a new series for Susan Mallery, Fools Gold, and I really enjoyed it. There was a large cast of characters in a small town. I love small town, Beta hero romances, and this one delivered.

THE COWBOY'S CHRISTMAS GIFT by Donna Alward: This was the second book of Donna's that I read, and that's a high compliment! I liked this book, mostly because I enjoy ranches and cowboys.

SECOND CHANCE RANCH by Cindi Madsen: Ranches and cowboys! This read a lot like a young adult or new adult novel, but it had all the elements of a contemporary romance that I enjoy. I especially liked the dynamics between the hero and heroine, who had broken up previously.

FIVE DAYS IN SKYE by Carla Laureano: MY FAVORITE BOOK OF 2015 SO FAR. You can read all my thoughts about it here. Go get it. Read it. Love it like I do.

SIMPLY IRRESISTIBLE by Jill Shalvis: This book took me a while to get into. But I kept seeing Jill Shalvis's name all over the sites I've been visiting, and I thought I'd give it a try. A little sexier than I like, but a good example of contemporary romance.

LOVE ME SWEET by Tracy Brogan: This contemporary romance was a fun read! Lots of tension, and fabulously flawed characters. I learned a lot about writing romance from reading this book. Tracy's books are also a little sexier than I like, but they're so fantastic, I keep reading them.

REESE'S COWBOY KISS by Kimberly Krey: Uh, more cowboys and ranches? Yes, please! I liked this book because the romance was sweet and the characters were real. I found it read really young, but I like young adult too, so I went with it.

THE HOUSE ON BLACKBERRY HILL by Donna Alward: A favorite contemporary romance -- see why I read a second book by her? I loved this first in her Jewell Cove romances, and I can't wait until the others come out!

AGAINST HER WILL by Serita Stevens and Jo Schaffer: I loved this book, and it's not a romance. Take that! It's literally the outlier in this list, as it's also YA. But I adore Jo and I adored this book. It's a somewhat chilling and stark look at a troubled teen's life. You can read what else I had to say about it here.











So that's 15 books in the past 10 weeks! I think I'm on track for my one book/week goal. Hey, even I'm surprised!

And looking at my Kindle, I have DOZENS and DOZENS of new books still to read!

Also, have you seen a trend in what I'm reading right now? Do you see any YA books? (There is one...) I've said I'm writing in a new genre -- and I'm sure you can see what it is!

What have you read lately that you liked?

Monday, April 13, 2015

What I Know About Writing

Okay, so I started writing a while ago. I've learned a lot about writing, the publishing industry, social media, and many more things. Sometimes it's really hard to keep up with everything, and everyone, all the time. (That's one thing I've learned!)

I've been to dozens and dozens of writing conferences. Heck, I sit on library boards that plan writer's classes, as well as committees that organize local, live conferences as well as WriteOnCon. I've learned that writers are fabulous people, who are eager and anxious to learn new things.


I've listened to keynotes, and some are really good. I went to the Teen Author Boot Camp on Saturday, and one of the keynotes was by Brandon Sanderson (there are a lot of perks to living in Utah, where a lot of amazing authors live!).

I've heard Brandon speak before. I always think he's eloquent and intelligent. He said some things that really sang to my soul. Things I've heard before, mostly from my equally amazing husband. But for some reason, to hear them from a really successful author struck my eardrums in a different way.

Now, I didn't record it, so I have to go off my memory, but Brandon said something like this: You are the product of your writing time. Not the book. You.

It doesn't matter if the book doesn't get published. You're "leveling yourself up" when you write. You're the main point of improvement.

It should be okay to spend time working on writing because we love it, and that's it. Writing makes us better than we were before. Not just better writers, but a better person.


I really loved that. And my husband has been telling me that for a while, and I swear I've listened! I know I'm just as valuable unpublished as I am published, and I know it's okay to write just because I love it.

But it was nice to hear from someone as successful as Brandon Sanderson.

What do you know about writing?

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Happy Release Day to DRAGON OF THE STARS!

Okay, so I've been hanging around in blogland for a while now. I can't even remember when Alex, Jen, and I did the the Great Blogging Experiment. In fact, my memory of it is a bit fuzzy. I can't believe that! Anyway, we did this big blogging thing about writing (specifics -- who needs them?) several years ago, and I've known Alex since then.

He's a great support to the blogging community, to writers, and he's a fantastic author himself. His new book, DRAGON OF THE STARS, comes out today!

Today!

About DRAGON OF THE STARS: The ship of legends…

The future is set for Lt. Commander Aden Pendar, son of a Hyrathian Duke. Poised to secure his own command and marriage to the queen’s daughter, he’ll stop at nothing to achieve his goals.

But when the Alliance denies Hyrath’s claim on the planet of Kavil and declares war on their world, Aden finds his plans in disarray. Entrenched in battle and told he won’t make captain, Aden’s world begins to collapse. How will he salvage his career and future during Hyrath’s darkest hour?

One chance remains–the Dragon. Lost many years prior, the legendary ship’s unique weapon is Hyrath’s only hope. Can Aden find the Dragon, save his people, and prove he’s capable of commanding his own ship?

Check out Alex's blog here. Or the website for the book, What are the Kargrandes? And buy DRAGON OF THE STARS here! It sounds like a fantastic book, and I can't wait to get my copy.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Seven Years Ago

Okay, so it's Spring Break where I am. Yay! I don't work in the summer either, but for some reason, I am so much more productive during Spring Break. I get a lot of cleaning done, and I try to get a lot of words on the page.


Seven years ago this week, I began my third novel. It was titled Control Issues all the way until it was sold and renamed to Possession.

I can't always remember when I wrote certain sections or sometimes even whole books. But with Possession, I remember that Spring Break vividly. I'm pretty sure I ate cold cereal for every meal, sitting on the couch as I wrote, and wrote, and wrote.

I don't know how much I wrote during the week of Spring Break, but I know I started Possession on Monday, and 17 days later, I finished the rough draft. It was 90,000 words. (Take that NaNo!)

I didn't start querying it until 13 months later, because hey, I'm a "dirty drafter." I need lots of time to clean up my books before they're fit for anyone to see.

Anyway, my publishing journey over the past seven years has been twisty. Sometimes I feel like I'm on the right path and things are going in the direction I want. Other times, I feel like I've taken a lesser traveled path, and it's sort of dark on this side street.

Each trail, whether well-worn or choked with brambles, has been an adventure. I've tried different genres, I've tried collaborations, I've tried lots of things. And I'm excited to keep trying!

Where were you in the journey seven years ago?


Thursday, April 2, 2015

A HOPE REMEMBERED by Stacy Henrie

Okay, so I've known Stacy for years now. YEARS. In fact, she and I have been together in a critique group for going on 7 years. Wow. I'm sort of amazed just typing that. I've read all of her published books, and select pages from her WIPs. She is an absolutely brilliant writer. So brilliant, in fact, that her novel, HOPE AT DAWN, is a finalist in the RITA's this year. (In case you don't know what that means, the RITAs are the highest award a romance novel can win. And she's a finalist!!)

A HOPE REMEMBERED is the third book in the "Of Love and War" trilogy, a set of historical romance novels that center around World War I. They are simply fantastic, and I knew going into this book that I wouldn't be disappointed. And I wasn't! The romance was beautiful, the struggles that Nora and Colin faced real, and the writing spot-on.

A bit about A HOPE REMEMBERED: Nora Lewis just wants an escape after losing her fiancé in the Great War. When she inherits property in England, she boldly packs up and leaves America for a fresh start. But if not for her dashing new neighbor, Colin Ashby, she'd be lost. Even as their friendship deepens, Nora knows a British aristocrat would never be free to love an American orphan, no matter how much the war has changed the world . . .

After his brother's death in the war and his own experiences as a pilot at the front, Colin returns home broken, only to discover his family's estate is also in ruin. The pressure is now on him to save his home and the Ashbys' place in society with a well-bred match to a wealthy heiress. Too bad he finds more of a kindred spirit in Nora, the beautiful American next door. She, too, has faced the rigors of war and survived. Now the ex-soldier will have one more battle to fight-this time for love.


Buy on Amazon | BAM | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | iTunes | Google Play | Kobo


My review: I absolutely loved this book. It's a historical, inspirational romance. I've recently come to love books like these (hello, FIVE DAYS IN SKYE!), and this one is no exception. Nora is my favorite character. She moves from her farm in Iowa to the Lake District in England to start a new life as a sheep farmer. She's suffered from loss, first with her fiancee, Tom, dying in the war, and her parents soon following due to illness.

So she's no stranger to hard work and grief. I loved that she wasn't perfect, and that she struggled with simply life. I really related to that. I think we all have things that are hard for us, and they're different from what's hard for other people. But Nora felt three-dimensional and human. I loved her.

Colin is the second son to a baronet, and his brother -- the good son, the one ready to accept his place in society -- has died in the war. He's trying to figure out how to be himself while still living up to his brother's memory and satisfying his father. And who hasn't had to deal with that? Maybe just us second children...

Anyway, I liked Colin's dilemma -- his father wants Nora's land because their estate isn't doing as well as it once had -- and Colin's caught between his heart and his duty. What tougher place can there be?

Each character had flaws and perfections, and they came to rely on each other in unique ways. As I said earlier, the writing is spectacular, and with characters that are real and alive, and a romance that could sweep centuries, A HOPE REMEMBERED is a real gem. If you like a heartfelt romance, you should give it a try. You don't need to have read either of the first two books -- though you totally should. I mean, HOPE AT DAWN is a RITA finalist! A finalist!!


About Stacy: Stacy Henrie has always had an avid appetite for history, fiction and chocolate. She earned her B.A. in public relations and worked in communications before turning her attentions to raising a family and writing inspirational historical romances. Wife of an entrepreneur husband and a stay-at-home mom to three, Stacy loves the chance to live out history through her fictional characters, while enjoying the modern conveniences of life in the 21st century. In addition to author, she is a reader, a road trip enthusiast and a novice interior decorator. Her first novel, Lady Outlaw, released from Harlequin Love Inspired Historical in 2012.

Find her on her website | Twitter | Goodreads | Facebook | Pinterest

There's a giveaway going on this week during the release of A HOPE REMEMBERED. Be sure to enter in the Rafflecopter below for a chance to win the entire "Of Love and War" series!!

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Chicken Cordon Bleu Casserole

Okay, so I love things that I can put all together in one dish, bake, and serve. Which is sort of weird, because I don't like to let my food touch. Why, yes, I am like an eight-year-old when it comes to food. Ha!

But I do love casseroles. And I love the flavors of chicken cordon bleu. But who has time for all that pounding and rolling and tying?

Not this girl.

So when I found this recipe, it immediately became one of my family's favorites. The secret is in the spice in the white sauce. Delicious!



Chicken Cordon Bleu Casserole:
4 c. cubed, cooked chicken (I use a rotisserie chicken, or I've even bought a high-quality chicken from the deli in my grocery store. I ask them to cut it about 1/4-inch thick. Same with the ham. Then I cube it. Easy, peasy.)
2. c. ham, cubed
1 c. swiss cheese, grated

½ onion
⅓ c. butter
⅓ c. flour
⅛ tsp. nutmeg
⅛ tsp. ground mustard
1 ¾ c. milk

Topping:
¼ c. butter
1 ½ c. soft breadcrumbs (I use panko. They're my favorite.)

Directions:
Brown the ham in a saute pan for about 5 minutes, or until it has some color. Set on paper towels to drain. Layer the chicken in the bottom of a 9x9 pan. Top with the shredded swiss cheese, and then the ham.

In a pan, melt the butter and add the onion. Cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the flour, nutmeg and ground mustard, stirring to make a soft paste. Add the milk a little at a time, stirring constantly until incorporated. Bring to a boil and cook for 2 minutes to thicken sauce.

Pour the sauce over the ham. Combine all topping ingredients until well blended, and sprinkle over sauce.

Bake at 350 for 25 - 30 minutes, or until bubbly. (I usually turn the broiler on for a minute or two to make sure the bread crumbs are browned. Because as Anne Burrell would say, "Brown food tastes good!")

10 servings = 220 calories/serving.

And as an added bonus, this dish is spectacular reheated for lunch the next day -- and we all know not everything is like that...

Enjoy!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

30 Minute Meal: Sloppy Joes

Okay, so I'm a huge fan of getting in the kitchen and getting out. With our schedules getting busier and busier, I think everyone is! Sure, there are days when I'll slow down and bake or enjoy making something that takes 31 minutes, but mid-week dinners are not one of those times.

One of my go-to recipes is the sloppy joe. I have several different recipes I use, and this one is my favorite. I think I got it from my husband's mom at some point. A bonus to this recipe is it only has 6 ingredients. 7 if you use the onion. 


Fast, easy, and delicious!



Sloppy joes:
1 1/2 pounds ground beef (You can also use ground turkey or ground chicken, especially if you don't eat red meat or want to cut the calories. I calculated the calories below using 85/15 ground beef.)


1 onion (I leave the onion out. I don't know why, but I am not a fan of having onion chunks in my meat. I know some people love it, and I eat onions in other things. Just not this... Don't ask me why! I don't know!)

1 can tomato soup
2 T. brown sugar
2 T. mustard
¼ c. ketchup
1 T. cider vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

Directions:
1. Brown the ground beef.
2. Add everything else, combine well, and simmer for 5 minutes.
3. Serve with buns, fruit, veggies, or whatever you like!

Nutritional Information:
10 servings -- 128 calories for the meat mixture.

I eat half a sandwich -- and I buy the 100 calorie “thin” whole grain hamburger buns, so my sandwich is 178 calories. I normally slice apples to eat with this meal, or fruit that is in season like strawberries or pineapple. A small gala is 71 calories, so my whole meal is about 250 calories.

Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Cover Reveal for THE BODY INSTITUTE by Carol Riggs!

Okay, so I've known Carol for years. We've been friends on the blogosphere for a long time. I am very excited for her book, THE BODY INSTITUTE, to hit shelves! September 1 is SO FAR AWAY. I can't wait to read the book, and today I get to help reveal her cover.

First, let's learn a little bit about the book: Meet Morgan Dey, one of the top teen Reducers at The Body Institute.

Thanks to cutting-edge technology, Morgan can temporarily take over another girl’s body, get her in shape, and then return to her own body—leaving her client slimmer, more toned, and feeling great. Only there are a few catches…

For one, Morgan won’t remember what happens in her “Loaner” body. Once she’s done, she won’t recall walks with her new friend Matt, conversations with the super-cute Reducer she’s been text-flirting with, or the uneasy feeling she has that the director of The Body Institute is hiding something. Still, it’s all worth it in the name of science. Until the glitches start…

Suddenly, residual memories from her Loaner are cropping up in Morgan’s mind. She’s feeling less like herself and more like someone else. And when protests from an anti–Body Institute organization threaten her safety, she’ll have to decide if being a Reducer is worth the cost of her body and soul…





Add to Goodreads.


Pre-order on Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo

Ahhh! I love it! I think Entangled Teen did a SUPER-fabulous job with this cover. It's intriguing, with the almost-sepia-like (that's a technical term, yo) quality of it. The city in the background, the blue font. It's gorgeous!!


About Carol: I'm a YA writer represented by Kelly Sonnack of Andrea Brown Literary. My sci-fi novel THE BODY INSTITUTE explores the themes of society, identity, and body image. I live in the beautiful, green state of Oregon and have a Studio Arts degree; I'm an SCBWI member. 

You'll usually find me in my writing cave, surrounded by my dragon collection and the characters in my head. I also enjoy reading--mostly young adult novels--as well as drawing, painting, and quilting. I also attend writing conferences, walk with my husband, and enjoy music and dance of all kinds.

Find Carol on her website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads

Thanks to YA Bound Book Tours for including me on this awesome cover reveal!

Monday, March 23, 2015

What I Learned from Big Hero 6

Okay, so I know I may be the last person on the planet to watch Big Hero 6. I'll own that. But we watched it a couple of weeks ago, and I really enjoyed it. I liked the humor of the movie, and the heart, but what I really liked was what spoke to my creative soul.

At the beginning of the movie, Hiro is inspired to try to get into his brother's school. He's been working on his projects, and can't come up with anything. He's frustrated and complains to his brother, Tadashi.

Tadashi grabs Hiro and shakes him around. Literally. Tells him to get a new perspective. It's when Hiro is hanging upside down that he gets the idea that changes the world. Again, literally.

I know it's a small part of the movie that many people probably don't even think about. But I really liked it. It reminded me that when things aren't going my way -- in writing, in my job, in everything -- that I can shake things up. I can look at things with a new perspective. Or a different one. And try something different.

So I've been doing that. It's helped me reach beyond what I know in writing (YA) and pursue another genre. I'm shaking it up!

Have you found this to be true? Have you tried looking at problems, your writing, or other things in a different way and been able to see the solutions?

Friday, March 20, 2015

The Many Uses of Wordle

Okay, so as an author, I've known about Wordle for quite some time. I think I've even blogged about it oh, six years ago. Holy cow! I've been blogging for a long time. (The images aren't coming up on the post, but you can see my Wordle art for one of my books here. From 2008!!)

Anyway, there are many and varied uses for Wordle. Authors can take passages of their work and create art. I've heard of some people running their entire manuscript through Wordle to see which words are overused. The word that appears the most is the biggest, so this is a very visual tool to see if you overuse "just" or "so" or "because."

Not that I overuse those words or anything... Ha!

Here's one of mine, for an adult romance I'm writing right now.



Another idea I had was to create teacher gifts. I mean, it is getting near the end of the year (only 9 weeks left for me! NINE WEEKS!), and it's nice to give your child's teacher something at the end of the year.

Here's one I whipped up for my daughter's fourth grade teacher. It's not hard to get a class list of names and use your copy and paste feature. Type once, copy as many times as you want!



Yet another idea was to create an art print for your child's room. You can enter in the words you want to be the biggest, so it's super-fun to put in your child's name and all the things they like to do and create something visually. You can download your art and have it printed, framed, and hang it in their bedroom.

Here's one I did for my daughter.



The gift ideas are endless. New couple getting married. Grandparents. Family reunion. Retirement gift. Graduation gift. And on and on.

Wordle. It's a great tool -- and great fun!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

It's A Book

Okay, so this little charming picture book was brought to my attention by my husband. He works in the district office, and he has the opportunity to be out in a lot of different schools (he serves 55 elementary schools!). He was out in a school somewhere, and the librarian showed him this book.

IT'S A BOOK by Lane Smith.

I'd never heard of it, but he came home and said he needed to buy it, stat. So we did. And it is a fantastic book for this digital age!

It has things like these:



Charming, right? And there's so much more, and a totally laugh-out-loud moment. I absolutely loved it! I hope you'll get your copy too, as much for yourself as to let your kids know that there are REAL BOOKS out there. :) 



Monday, March 16, 2015

Going Batman

Okay, so my husband is a huge Batman fan. He even wrapped his car in purple vinyl and took off the regular Dodge ornaments and put on Batman ones. No lie.

So it was a milestone birthday for him a few weeks ago, and I'm nothing if not all over birthdays. I think they're super-fun, because it means you made it through another year, alive. That might sound morbid or depressing or whatever, but let's face it. As adults, we don't have as many reasons to celebrate as kids -- and we should! You made it through another year! And I'm sure that year was hard in ways, and YOU DID IT.

Thus, adults get birthday parties too.

For my husband's, I decided to have a cupcake open house. I mean, cupcakes are all the rage, right? And we're sort of hermits, so the open house is the best way to go. Definitive beginning and ending time, no lame party games. It was perfect.

Here are some pictures of the 85 (EIGHTY-FIVE) cupcakes I made for the party.



I made two kinds of cupcakes. These chocolate cupcakes from All Recipes (one of my favorite websites!) were delicious, moist, and absolutely perfect. I baked them the night before. I don't use liners when I make cupcakes and muffins, so these silver ones were just for ease in handling the cupcakes -- and they're pretty! I got them at my local grocery store.




These blonde cupcakes are actually sugar cookie cupcakes. They are THE BEST cupcake on the planet! And it's a recipe from Ina Garten (the Barefoot Contessa) that is actually a cake. I took the cake and frosting recipe and made it into cupcakes. I know raspberries taste AMAZING with this cake and icing, and hey. If I eat fruit with my cupcake, I feel like I'm doing something healthy. Ha!

For cupcakes, make the same recipe, but bake at 350 for 20 minutes. I use a Demarle flexipan. It makes the cupcakes crispy and delicious!





My daughter and I made the text toppers. I found a free Batman font and experimented in Word to make them the right size. Text boxes became my best friend! Easy to move without messing everything else up. 



We cut and glued the paper to yellow poster board, then added decorative ribbons and sticks to be able to put them in the cupcakes. A great kid's project to get them involved in helping for the party! They love it -- because they love their moms and dads!




These are frosted with a basic chocolate cream cheese frosting. I also made German chocolate frosting from scratch! They were both a bit hit!


Black table covers and yellow tableware. Easy and inexpensive. Who says partying has to be loads of work and cost a lot? Not Batman!! (I just got these at my local grocery store. They have party supplies like this for 4 packages/$4. Cheap!)

And I love using a cup for my silverware. I don't know when I started doing that, but I think it looks so much better than just lying there on the table. Dimension or something. 


The whole spread. If you don't have one of those tiered serving things, you should get one. I bought mine on a whim at Costco years ago. I can't even tell you how many times I've used it! A LOT.



This is the cake topper. My husband wanted a sugar cookie cupcake with raspberries, so we staked this one as his. 

I bought the Batman cupcake cake toppers/rings and this cake topper from Amazon. Nothing beats Prime shipping -- not even sure Batman could deliver faster! 

We knew we'd be having a lot of kids to the party (because our friends have kids!), so these ring toppers were perfect. It was like a decoration AND a party favor! Double win.

And there you have it. A themed party that was a mega-POW!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Future is NOW!


Okay, so I am participating with dozens of other Young Adult Science Fiction authors in a newsletter campaign that starts tomorrow!

We are banding together to talk to fans of YA sci-fi, and we're doing it through our newsletters. Most of us -- me included! -- will be offering our YA sci-fi novels for FREE or a REDUCED PRICE tomorrow, Friday, March 13!

Not only can you get some amazing YA sci-fi novels for very little money, but we're giving away 2 Kindles and a load of cash in gift cards.

The ONLY way you can get access to the free and reduced price books and enter our giveaways is through one of our newsletters. You can sign up for mine here.

I don't send a newsletter very often. Once a quarter, or a little more often if I have news. Never more than once a month.

So sign up today, because this HUGE celebration of YA science fiction is happening tomorrow!!

Oh, and you can join us in our public Facebook group to talk about YA sci-fi and stay connected with your favorite YA sci-fi authors!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Top Five Logic Games for Kids

Okay, so in one compartment of my life, I teach technology to elementary students. It's a lot of teaching typing, especially to my older students. But for my younger kids -- I'm talking grades 1-4 -- I spend a lot of time trying to get them to think.

Because thinking is a hard skill to learn. It requires practice. We want our kids to grow up learning how to solve problems, not just follow formulas (though those skills are needed too!).

So with my younger grades, all my focus is on math enrichment. I do some skill-building games, fact practice, and the like.

But my favorite games -- and my students' favorite games -- are the logic games. I tell the kids they have to THINK about each problem and then find a way to solve it. Sometimes we fail. That's okay! We persevere in solving the problem until we find the solution. And there's always more than one way to do that in each level.

These are our top 5 logic games. You can find these, and many more (MANY MORE) on Math Playground, Hooda Math, or Cool Math Games.

If your kids are going to play on the computer anyway, why not have them thinking while they do it?

1. Snail Bob 2: In this game, Snail Bob is trying to navigate his way through a dangerous forest to get to his Grandpa's birthday party. Every level has different difficulties the students must figure out. My students cheer when they get to the birthday party!

2. Cover Orange 2: In this game, you must save the orange (and sometimes the apple) from getting juiced by the evil Ninja Cloud! He throws ninja stars, which of course we all know pierces fruit and kills them! Each level has unique tools (barrels, wheels, wooden blocks, etc.) to use in a variety of ways.

3. Cat Around the World: In this game, you need to feed the hungry cat as he makes his way around the world to various famous locations. Level 1 starts in New York City at the Statue of Liberty. Each level has a variety of challenges, and kids must think about how things move in order to feed the cat. Also check out Cat Around Asia and Cat Around Europe.

4. Factory Balls: This is our all-time favorite! I have students who play this game every day they love it so much. In Factory Balls, you need to recreate a ball using various tools like paint, belts, hats, glasses, covers, seeds, and more. Warning: highly addictive! Also check out Factory Balls 2, 3, 4, and Christmas.

5. Rhinos Vs. Hippos: This is a new discovery for me. In this game, you need to drop the evil rhinos out of the game, but keep the nice hippos. They both roll for an added challenge, and they're sometimes attached to each other, or balanced precariously. It's great fun!

Check some of these out -- you might just like them yourself!