Hot Chocolate Cupcakes #Culinarycozymystery #Cozymystery #Recipes #Foodporn #Yummy #Baking #MondayBlogs

hot cocoa 6Being a cozy mystery writer is tough sometimes. Especially when you have to spend a morning baking cupcakes. Oh, yeah, it’s a hardship. But I persevered and made these cupcakes on Saturday for a party.

Those poor party-goers. I was relentless chasing anyone who tried one. What did they think? How did they taste? The conclusion? They were yummy, but almost everyone thought the frosting had a more butterscotch flavor than hot cocoa. I’m going to blame that on using whipping cream (not whipped cream but heavy cream used to make whipped cream) as finding any other heavy cream would necessitate yet another trip to the American store.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy for a store where I can find American and British products. I’m less happy with the prices, and even less happy with the temptations the store contains. All those yummy things I don’t need but make me nostalgic especially this time of year. I never could resist temptation.

Ingredients – makes 14 cupcakes

For the chocolate cupcakes:

  • ½ cup unsweetened natural cocoa powder
  • ¾ cup all-purpose flour (I used wheat flour)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs at room temperature
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup packed light brown sugar (I didn’t have any light brown sugar and used dark without any problem)
  • ⅓ cup vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • ½ cup buttermilk

For the frosting:

  • ½ cup dry hot chocolate mix (with NO marshmallows)
  • ⅓ cup heavy cream
  • ¾ cup (169 grams) unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 3 – 3 ½ cups confectioners’ sugar

Instructions

Make the cupcakes

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (175 degrees Celsius). Line muffin time with cupcake liners.
  2. In a medium bowl, mix together cocoa powder, flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
  3. Beat together the eggs, sugar, brown sugar, vegetable oil and vanilla extract until combined. Alternate adding the dry ingredients and buttermilk to batter. The batter will be somewhat thin.
  4. Pour batter into the prepared cupcake tin. Fill each paper liner halfway. Bake for 18 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool before frosting.

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Make the frosting

  • In a small saucepan over medium heat, whisk together the hot cocoa mix and heavy cream. Heat until warm, stirring often. Remove from heat and cool for 20 minutes or until at room temperature.

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  • Beat the butter until smooth, about 1 minute. Add confectioners’ sugar and beat until combined, about 1 minute. With the mixer on low, slowly pour in hot cocoa mixture. Once combined, increase speed to medium-high and beat for 1 minute. For a thicker frosting, add more confectioners’ sugar. If your frosting is too thick, add more heavy cream.

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  • Decorate cupcakes with frosting. Garnish with mini marshmallows.

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I had tons of leftover frosting, which was not a hardship. Not at all. Let me know if you give them a try.

Just be you! Time to stop comparing yourself to other writers #WriterWednesday #AmWriting #WritingCommunity

stop comparing 2I listened to several podcasts yesterday as I was stuck driving in traffic for a few hours. (Don’t worry – I’ve already whined and complained about that!). One podcast discussed writing 10,000 words a day. Yes, you read that right – 10,000!  That’s pretty much my weekly goal. As I got more and more depressed listening to this podcast while stuck in my car, I realized I need to stop comparing myself with other writers. This applies in particular to two areas – writing tempo and success.

Writing Tempo. For some reason, I’ve been hearing a lot about time management lately. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m a HUGE fan of time management. I am not someone who can handle chaos well. As in, not at all. Unfortunately, many of these time management podcasts, blogs, articles, etc. can be boiled down to one suggestion – write faster. Like, obnoxiously fast.

stop comparing 1If you can write 10,000 words a day, then go for it! You are awesome. But, you know what? You are also awesome if you write 1,000 words a day. I recently experimented with improving my daily word count. I used to aim for one chapter a day. I decided to try for two chapters a day three days a week. To my surprise, not only did this work, but I can maintain this tempo quite easily.

Slow and steady wins the race! I may not be writing 10,000 words a day, but based on my current tempo, I do plan to publish four books and two novellas next year. That’s a pretty darn good year in my opinion!

“Success” aka Book Sales. I’ll be totally honest here. I started out the year with a goal to increase my book sales five-fold. Yes, five-fold. And initially, it was working. I was selling more in one month than I’d sold in the previous twelve months! Around May, however, sales started slowing down and I was spending more and more time on marketing. I was also spending more and more time being stressed and depressed. Why can’t I make as much money as all those success stories?

stop comparing 3In September, I finally gave myself permission to stop. Because here’s the thing – what works for one author doesn’t necessarily work for another. Also, it’s important to note many of those success stories are based on the ‘glory’ days of Kindle when there was a fraction of the number of books and authors as there is now. And then there’s the fact that those success stories are often the outliers – not the experience for the everyday writer.

Instead of spending hours and hours on Facebook and Amazon marketing – checking my ads, my sales, readjusting things time and time again – I am now concentrating on writing and publishing more frequently. This will not make me a millionaire. Guess what? I’m okay with that. Daydreams of being a millionaire notwithstanding.

Be you. Not anyone else. What is the lesson to be learned from all of this? It’s simple, really. We writers need to stop comparing ourselves with other writers. I know it’s hard in this day and age when information is not only readily available but constantly shoved down our throats, but I believe if we are conscious of this decision to not compare ourselves, we can do it – or at least stop with the constant comparisons.

What about you? Do you compare yourself with other writers or other writer’s success?

Candy Cane Oreo recipe from Christmas Cupcakes & A Caper #culinarycozy #recipes #foodporn #yummy #baking

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Anna, from the Death by Cupcake series, thinks she can solve crimes with cupcakes. Well, I don’t know about that. What I do know is eating her candy cane Oreo cupcakes makes me forget about my problems. If you’re looking for a fun but not too time-intensive cupcake recipe for the holidays (I cheat with this one and use a cake mix), I recommend this recipe from Christmas Cupcakes & A Caper.

 

 

Ingredients (for 20 cupcakes)

Cupcakes

  • 20 Oreos
  • 1 box Devil’s Food Cake Mix
  • 3 eggs
  • ½ cup oil
  • 1 cup milk
  • ½ cup sour cream

Frosting

  • 4 candy canes
  • Oreos (leftover from above)
  • ¾ cup (170 grams) butter softened
  • 8 ounces (226 grams) cream cheese
  • 3 – 4 Cups of powdered sugar
  • Milk, if needed

Directions

  • Preheat over to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (175 Celsius) and line 2 cupcake trays with cupcake liners.
  • Twist Oreos to break apart and put the side with the most cream, cream-side up into each cupcake liner.

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  • Add eggs, oil, milk, and sour cream to cake mix. Stir until smooth. Fill cupcake liners ¾ full.
  • Bake 15 – 20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

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  • While cupcakes are cooling, make the frosting.
  • Finely crush candy canes (I used a mortar and pestle) and finely crush the other half of the Oreos.

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  • Beat butter and cream cheese until smooth. Add powdered sugar one cup at a time until you get the desired consistency. If it gets too thick, add a bit of milk. Fold in the finely crushed candy canes and Oreos.
  • Frost cooled cupcakes and top with extra Oreos.

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These were a big hit with our dinner guests and my in-laws, although my husband said there was too much frosting. As if. There can never be too much frosting!

Short, short reviews #MondayBlogs #AmReading

The busy holiday season is upon us. My December calendar looks like someone’s pen exploded – it’s chock-full of parties and drinks get-togethers. But no matter how busy I am, I always (!!) find time to read. I’d explode if I couldn’t get a bit of reading in every now and again. I may find time for reading, but I don’t always have time for writing reviews. As a writer I KNOW how important reviews are, however, which leads me to my short, short reviews. Here’s what I’ve been reading and my thoughts on those reads

~ Dark Alpha’s Temptation by Donna Grant ~

Monday blog 2 dec 2019.1

 

There is no escaping a Reaper. I am an elite assassin, part of a brotherhood that only answers to Death. And when Death says your time is up, I’m coming for you…

For centuries, my loyalties lie with Death. She is my mistress and master. I am alive only to do what pleases her. And for Death, I shall battle the evil among us until the bitter end to keep her safe.

~ My Thoughts ~

monday blog 2 dec 2019.5 4 stars

This is my second novel in Donna Grant’s Reaper series and I am planning on going back to read ALL the novels in the series. And probably every series Grant has written. Dark Alpha’s Temptation has everything one expects in a paranormal romance – lots of mysterious happenings, some great suspense, and hot-burn-your-sheets-up sexy times. Mmmm….

I’m pretty sure Kyra and I would be great buddies. I especially liked how she did things the ‘human’ way. She’s humble, but knows she can kick some ass when necessary. And Dubhan? He can eat crackers in my bed any time. I liked how the story of him becoming a reaper is interwoven into this story.

And now I need to read the next novel, because Grant may have given us a HEA with Kyra and Dubhan but there are still things amiss amongst the Fae and dragons. Impatiently waiting ….

Baiting Him by Aurora Rose Reynolds ~

monday blog 2 dec 2019.2Chrissie doesn’t have time for guys, hot or otherwise; most days, she barely has time to sleep. With a thriving bakery that demands her attention and plenty of proof that relationships aren’t worth the trouble, she’s content to go it alone. Too bad she’s unwittingly baited Mr. Tall, Dark, and Way Too Gorgeous—and he’s just waiting for a chance to bite.

Gaston is used to getting what he wants, but he also knows nothing good ever comes easy. From the moment he meets Chrissie, he realizes that this woman who makes him laugh, smells like cupcakes, and looks like a tasty snack is going to be his greatest challenge. And if he’s lucky, she’ll be his biggest reward.

But someone else wants to catch Gaston at all costs—even if it means endangering the lives of the people he loves. Somehow Gaston must thwart danger and convince Chrissie that he’s the perfect catch.

~ My Thoughts ~

monday blog 2 dec 2019.5 3 stars

Baiting Him is typical Aurora Rose Reynolds. Instalove and a bit of suspense all wrapped up in a sexy package. Yes, please! I love me some instalove and sexy times. Unfortunately, this story didn’t capture me as much as previous stories from Reynolds. (The Underground Kings remains my favorite series.)  Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed Chrissie and Gaston’s story and ate it up in one sitting, but I didn’t find the dialogue as witty as usual and the suspense was predictable.  I will continue to devour her stories but this wasn’t my favorite, although I still recommend it to die-hard readers of the genre.

~ Chosen Mate by Katie Reus ~

monday blog 2 dec 2019.3Her past has taught her to be wary…

With an abusive relationship behind her, wolf shifter Leslie is quietly raising her young son in the Kendrick pack. If she’s occasionally lonely, it’s a small price to pay for her son’s safety. And if she’s secretly longing for pack alpha Malcolm Kendrick, well…she’s keeping that fantasy to herself. Experience has made her a realist, and they’re far too different to work.

This alpha is about to stake his claim…

She has no idea Malcolm wants her just as fiercely. That he’s been subtly courting her for a year. But subtlety has gotten him nowhere—even if he thought it was the best choice after what she’d been through. He wanted to make sure Leslie didn’t feel obligated to him, that she was truly ready to move on. Now that he knows she is, he’s determined to make sure it’s with him. And when a threat from her past surfaces, he’ll eliminate anyone who would dare to hurt his mate.

~ My Thoughts ~

monday blog 2 dec 2019.5 4 stars

I love me some paranormal romance, and Katie Reus happens to be one of my favorites. Gimme. Gimme. The Crescent Moon series is made up of several novellas that are less intense than her usual fare (e.g. the Darkness series).  Leslie is coming off a bad relationship – the worst – and Malcolm knows she’s his true mate but has to ease into things with her. Malcolm sucks at easing into things. There is a bit of suspense, but this story is mostly about Leslie and Malcolm. It’s nice and short. Perfect for the busy holiday season.

Bishop’s Queen by Katie Reus ~

Monday Blog 2 dec 2019.4He doesn’t believe in fairy-tale endings…

They used to call Evan Bishop the golden boy. He had it all and was about to close the business deal of a lifetime, then marry the woman of his dreams. But everything goes to hell when a faceless enemy wants to destroy his family’s empire and see him dead. Except the bomb meant to kill him fails. He wakes up from a coma to find his face scarred and his brother missing and wanted for murder. Now that he’s damaged, he hides away from the world—including the woman he loves. He refuses to be a burden to her, so even though it destroys him, he sets her free.

She’s about to prove him wrong…

Isla MacDonald isn’t walking away from Evan just because he’s decided to shut her out of his life. He blames himself for the bombing that got her father killed and nearly killed him—but he’s wrong. After all attempts to see him fail, with a broken heart she tries to resume her life and take over her father’s firm. Though it’s not her dream, she wants to honor his legacy and finish the deal that will save thousands of jobs. But when someone tries to kill her—twice—she needs a bodyguard. To her surprise Evan steps up and insists on protecting her, putting on a show as the caring fiancé. But he won’t let her back into his life or into his heart. To have any chance at a future together, they’ll have to resurrect the past and stay alive long enough to expose the man determined to see them both dead.

~ My Thoughts ~

monday blog 2 dec 2019.5 4 stars

Another Katie Reus novel? Yes, PLEASE! I loved Bishop’s Knight and could not wait to get my hands on this next novel in the series. Reus had done an excellent job in the previous novel of whetting our appetite for the next installment – little teases here and there. Gimme! Gimme!

Oh boy is Evan a jerk! Ugh! You are in love with Isla, show it! And not by taking all the decisions away from her. And Isla? Come on, girl! Demand his love or walk away. I did feel there was slightly too much introspection with their love story. The self-doubt and self-recrimination drove me batty at times. I also didn’t understand why Reus made the couple have a large age gap. It never affects the story except to drive me batty in regards to Isla running this huge company. At her age? Yeah, no, I wasn’t buying it. But the sexy scenes? Oh yeah. I’ll take more of those, please.

The bad guy is a tiny bit predictable, but that’s okay. It didn’t affect the suspense one bit. The suspense and mystery aspect were the best parts of the novel.  I’m now anxiously awaiting Bishop’s Endgame.  I recommend this one for lovers or romantic suspense.

What are you reading this week?

Don’t miss your pre-order deadline! #WriterWednesday #AmWriting #BookMarketing

Amazon allows indie authors to put a book up for pre-order as early as one year before the release date. And how awesome is that? If you are unable to write as quick as the dickens but want to profit from having a series of books, pre-orders are the way to go. After all, you want readers not only excited about the next book in the series but able to get their hands on that book (even if it is only as a pre-order). I could wax poetic about pre-orders for a while, but that’s not what this blog post is about. This blog post is about why you don’t want to miss your pre-order deadline.

Amazon penalties.

pre orders

Classic Peanuts by Charles Schultz

As an indie writer, the absolutely last thing you want is for Amazon to penalize you in any way. Trust me, I know. Yesterday, they decided one of my novels is a get skinny quick scheme and now I can’t use Amazon ads service. It takes forever to get out of the Amazon penalty box. If you cancel a pre-order on Amazon, you won’t be able to set up a pre-order for any eBook for one year. One year! Yikes! That’s some penalty. Trust me, you want to stay out of the box.

Reader expectations.

Not meeting reader expectations is actually the reason I started writing this blog post. Let me explain. I have a huge wish list on Amazon. HUGE! I check it every day to see if any books I’ve been eagerly awaiting have been released. One of my wish list books changed its release date to a month later. Bummer, but I can deal. Mostly. (Amazon allows you to delay your release date up to 30 days ONCE. After that, it’s into the penalty box.) But then I went to my wish list on the date of release and the book had disappeared. Poof! Where did it go? I searched for the book. Nothing. Then, I searched for the author. The book was no longer on the author’s Amazon page.

I was annoyed. This isn’t the first time this particular author promised a novel and then didn’t deliver. My response? I stopped following the author. I’m done. There’s nothing worse than having your expectations crushed. And this is exactly the reason why I advise indie authors to stick to their pre-release deadlines. As much as possible, of course. Life happens.

~~

For information about Amazon pre-orders, head over to KDP. Avoid the Amazon penalty box and angry readers and meet your pre-release deadline!

Review of The Red Tent #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview #AmReading #Theredtent #AnitaDiamant

red tent coverOctober’s book club selection was The Red Tent by Anita Diamant. Apparently, if you are a woman, you HAVE to read it. I’m normally one of those people who hears I have to do something and runs in the other direction. Unfortunately, my book club votes on which book to read rather than allowing me to choose all the books (bummer, right?), because the description of The Red Tent didn’t tickle my fancy. I suffered through a history of the bible course in college and that was about enough of biblical characters for me, thank you very much.

 

~ Blurb ~

Her name is Dinah. In the Bible, her life is only hinted at in a brief and violent detour within the more familiar chapters of the Book of Genesis that are about her father, Jacob, and his dozen sons. Told in Dinah’s voice, this novel reveals the traditions and turmoils of ancient womanhood–the world of the red tent. It begins with the story of her mothers–Leah, Rachel, Zilpah, and Bilhah–the four wives of Jacob. They love Dinah and give her gifts that sustain her through a hard-working youth, a calling to midwifery, and a new home in a foreign land. Dinah’s story reaches out from a remarkable period of early history and creates an intimate connection with the past. Deeply affecting, The Red Tent combines rich storytelling with a valuable achievement in modern fiction: a new view of biblical women’s society.

~ My Review ~

(Contains spoilers)

red tent family treeIt took me approximately 2,919 years to read the first fifty pages of The Red Tent. Slight exaggeration. I did find the start of the novel to be a slog to get through. This family is impossible to keep straight! Thirteen children, four wives… all with impossible to pronounce names. Too bad I didn’t discover the family tree until after I finished the novel.

I finally gave up on trying to remember who was who and things went much better. Once I got over the names, I had to get over the sister wives issue. Somehow Jacob had four wives and still had time to be gentle and loving to each of them. Not only did he have time for them but he was apparently a gentle lover. Hmmm… If you’re his only daughter, though, he won’t be able to recognize you. He will, however, avenge you by killing your beloved and his entire family. Oh my. The family saga aspect of the novel was obviously not my favorite part.

I also struggled with the blatant sexism portrayed in the novel. I realize this is historically accurate, but it only served to remind me that there are many cultures where treating women as second class citizens remains the norm. I usually enjoy novels that take me away from my daily life instead of reminding me there’s a lot in society we still need to improve.

The description of the daily life in Dinah’s time period is the crowning achievement of this novel. The herbs they used for midwifery, for example, was incredibly detailed as was the description of what daily life looked like for women of the time period. It made me more than a bit thankful for living in a modern age.

As someone who studied history, I enjoyed the descriptions of the locations and the various tribes. The landscapes and rivers were easily recognizable despite the passage of thousands of years. Thanks to Diamant’s descriptive voice, I could imagine what Ancient Egypt was like when Dinah arrived there.

Although there were aspects of the novel I appreciated, I wouldn’t have slogged through those fifty pages had it not been for my book club. If you enjoy historical novels, give it a try.

That time I almost bought a house of ill repute #Memoir #Nonfiction #TrueStory #CreativeNonfiction #ThisIsMyLife

lady justice

What I thought being a lawyer would be like. It wasn’t. 

After working as a lawyer for a decade, I was done. D-O-N-E! Done! I loved law school. Loved it! But the actual practice of law – yuck. Hated it! I tried – literally – ever legal job I could land. I worked for the government, non-profits, boutique law firms, big corporate firms, etc. etc. Spoiler alert – they all sucked.

Law was obviously not for me. Okay, then. What now? After much soul searching and having a billion ideas shot down by the hubby, I decided to start a spa. But not just any spa – a weight loss spa. There was no way we could set something like that up in the Netherlands. The housing prices are obnoxious in this country. We decided to start our search in Belgium.

While scrolling through the property listings one day, I found a place near Spa-Franorchamps. It’s a beautiful location and not too far from the Netherlands. Score! I called the real estate agent to arrange a viewing. She was overly cautious when I spoke to her. “It was a private club,” she said. I had no idea what she meant. Just like any other time I didn’t understand what was going on, I plowed forth.

When we arrived at the location, nothing seemed amiss from the outside. It was a large house with lots of property – exactly what I was looking for. The first rooms were fine as well – kitchen, living room, etc. Then, we went upstairs and toured bedroom after bedroom after bedroom. Each room had not only its only sink – which is normal for older houses in the region – but also its own toilet right in the middle of the room without no type of separation for privacy. Okay, this is getting weird.

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The Belgium Ardennes region.  By Jean-Pol GRANDMONT – Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=895642

Then, we entered the master bathroom. The entire thing was pink with gold trimmings. Not only were the faucets gold but they were shaped like dolphins. At this point, I’m starting to get a bit giggly. We walked through the connecting door to the bedroom and lo and behold there was a mirror so the occupants of the bedroom could watch the goings on in the bathroom. My imagination starts running wild.

We moved on to the attached ‘club’. I thought an attached club would be super handy for my business idea. I could turn it into a gym or restaurant. What I walked into was a strip club complete with stripper poles on each table – each glass table. The glass tables threw me for a loop. I don’t think I want to see a strange man’s lap when he’s  watching a pole dancer. Nope. No, siree bob.

I quickly marched onto the attached pool – another reason I thought this property would be perfect. A pool is a necessity for a weight loss resort. The pool needed some reconstruction. No biggie. No, the problem was the hubby who kept making snide remarks about how much we’d need to clean it. I was losing my battle not to laugh.

red-deer-76961_1920The view from the pool was gorgeous. The property included several acres of land. And deer. Yes, a herd of deer came with the property. What also came with the property? A restrictive clause in which we had to promise not to eat the herd of deer. At that point, all hope was lost. I quickly thanked the realtor and hurried to the car where I collapsed in fits of giggles.

We ended up not buying the property.