Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Wednesday's Bake: Personalized Chocolate Chip Cookies

As a mother of five I have made A LOT of chocolate chip cookies. They're the go-to cookie in our house, the after school staple, as well as the usual thing I bake for my husband's weekly visits to school boarding houses. I started with the recipe on the back of the bag of Tollhouse chocolate chips--most people probably know it. But the more cookies I made, the more I tweaked it just a little to fit my own preferences. So today I'm sharing what is essentially a standard recipe... tweaked!

Here it is:

1 cup (2 American sticks, or roughly 225 grams) of salted butter (lots of recipes call for unsalted butter, but I find unsalted butter makes everything taste disgusting. So.)

1/2 cup golden caster sugar (calls for white granulated--this is what I prefer)
1 cup light brown sugar (The original recipe calls for 3/4 cup of each sugar, but I prefer my cookies to have a slightly carmelly taste to offset the chocolate chips)

2 and 1/4 cup flour (I err on having slightly more flour than slightly less)
1 tsp baking soda/bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp salt (I used to make the cookies without salt, but I do find they need the slightest edge of saltiness for flavour)

2 eggs
2 tsps vanilla (that's double the recommended vanilla--I like the taste!)

1 and 1/2 cups chocolate chips (recommended 2 cups, but I prefer a bit less)

The Method:

Cream butter with sugars, add eggs and vanilla, and then add flour, salt, bicarb, and finally chips! Bake on an ungreased tray for 10 minutes in a 350/160 oven.

Simple, really, but I do find the little changes make a difference. What about you? Have you 'tweaked' a recipe in some way to suit your preferences? I'd love to hear about it!

Monday, October 17, 2016

Release Day of A Cotswold Christmas!

I'm excited that the release day of my novella, the start of a new series set in the beautiful Cotswolds, is today! To celebrate I'm hosting a mini-party on my Facebook page, with giveaways, recipes, excerpts, and more. You can find it here. And you can buy A Cotswold Christmas here.

As I wrote this book I found out I would be moving from the Cotswolds, and so it is extra-special and poignant to me, a bit of a homage to a beautiful place that I loved. And there are five more books set in the not-too-quaint village of Wychwood-on-Lea, so plenty of more scope to enjoy this corner of England.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Sprinting through the Days

The last few days have been, for a reason I can't quite put my finger on, a little bit manic. Maybe it's all the harvest services I've had to attend--I definitely don't need to hear a rendition of 'Harvest Samba' again anytime soon. But if you feel like listening to it, you can here. I have listened to primary school children sing this song for 5 years. I'm kind of done with it.

The other day my twelve-year-old son asked me, quite seriously, 'What do you DO all day?' I'm sure many stay-at-home mums can relate to this question, and the desperate need to answer it with a laundry list (literally!) of all the things you do all day. Midway into my explanation of what I did--laundry, housework, errands, cooking, oh--and the full-time job writing I'm supposed to have--my son's expression glazed over. Actually, it was more like two seconds into my vehement description. Still I persevered. When I finished he came to, shook his head, and said, 'That sounds so boring.' Well, sort of, yes.

People these days are talking about mindfulness a lot, and I admit I roll my eyes a bit at the concept. And yet some days I get to bed and I feel like I've barely breathed. Every moment of the day has been relentlessly timetabled--and I don't even have that much to complain about, because my kids aren't in endless activities, I can work from home, and my husband's schedule is somewhat flexible. Yet it still feels BUSY.

I think we all tend towards busy-ness; in some ways it is easier to be busy and not have time than to be relaxed and 'in the moment'. Easier not to have to think about things too deeply or spare too much for impromptu conversations. I am trying to be less busy, or at least more flexible. Trying to look for opportunities to chat to neighbors or other parents at the school gate, to meet people's eyes in the street and smile. Little things, but I think they're important.

And meanwhile I am trying to get the Harvest Samba out of my head. Any tips?

Monday, October 10, 2016

Monday Book: A Yorkshire Christmas

It's Monday, time to spotlight a book from my back list and today, with the frost on the grass and a nip in the air, I am picking my Christmas novella, A Yorkshire Christmas. I loved writing this story, and I also love the novella format. It's long enough to get pretty deep into the characters but it doesn't get messily sprawling or overwhelming. Of course, I'd love to visit Ayesgill Farm again, and I might have to write more stories set in this picturesque corner of Yorkshire (near where I once lived--is there ANYWHERE I haven't lived?! Well, yes, of course, but sometimes I feel like there isn't!!)

One funny fact about this novella is last year, a year after its release, it was given a new cover for the UK:

And this cover gave the book a new lease on life! It was in the top 100 at Amazon UK for several weeks, which just goes to show you may not be able to judge a book by its cover, but they do matter!

Here is the blurb: Wealthy New York City girl Claire Lindell isn’t looking for a Christmas miracle or happiness when she abruptly decides to hole up for the holiday at her godmother’s cottage in a little Yorkshire village, and lick her wounds from a near disastrous romantic decision.

After her car skids into a snow bank, Claire may have accidently found her perfect Christmas and the family and love she’s craved when she offers Noah Bradford of Ayesgill Farm help to push the back end of one of his sheep out of the icy mud, even if she’s going to ruin a brand new pair of Prada boots during the rescue.

What’s a little leather when love’s on the line?

And the link to buy it is here

Also my new Christmas novella, A Cotswold Christmas (do you sense a theme?) is out next week and the link to buy it is here


Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Wednesday's Bake: Streusel Coffee Cake

It's GBBO tonight, and as usual I'm celebrating with another bake--this one a family favourite for breakfast or brunch. UK readers, coffee cake in the US is not cake with coffee as an ingredient, but rather a morning cake to serve with coffee-delicious!


For topping:

1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup butter at room temperature
1 tsp cinnamon

(I tend to use a bit more sugar than flour)

For cake:

1 and 1/2 cups flour
2 and 1/2 tsps baking powder
1 egg, beaten
3/4 cup sugar (I use golden caster)
1/3 cup melted butter
1/2 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp cinnamon (optional--if you want the cake to be cinnamon flavoured as well)
The Method:

For topping, cut butter into flour, sugar and cinnamon until crumbly.

For cake, mix flour and baking powder. Add sugar to butter and egg; add milk and vanilla the mix with flour. Spread batter in greased 8 or 9 in cake pan. Bake in a 160/325 oven for 30 minutes. Thanks to Southern Food for the recipe!

Monday, October 3, 2016

Monday's Book: This Fragile Life

Monday is the day on the blog when I highlight one of my past books, and today I decided to pick This Fragile Life, which was my first women's fiction published with Carina in 2013. I'm working on my third story for Carina, currently titled A Good Neighbour, and it's reminded me a little bit of This Fragile Life.

This Fragile Life is, I must confess, the book I am proudest of. It's also the book that is closest to my heart, and the one that was, perhaps surprisingly, the easiest to write. This book flowed from my fingertips--for the most part--and I never really questioned myself during the writing of it. Really, it was a joy to write, but heartbreaking too, because of the subject matter.

Here is the blurb:
You love your best friend.
You trust her with your life.
But could you give her the most precious gift of all?
Alex’s life is a mess. She’s barely holding down a job, only just affording her apartment, and can’t remember when she was last in a relationship. An unexpected pregnancy is the last thing she needs.
Martha’s life is on track. She’s got the highflying career, the gorgeous home and the loving husband. But one big thing is missing. Five rounds of IVF and still no baby.
The solution seems simple.
Alex knows that Martha can give her child everything that she can’t provide. But Martha’s world may not be as perfect as it seems, and letting go isn’t as easy as Alex expected it to be.
Now they face a decision that could shatter their friendship forever.

I've really enjoyed the reviews of this book, because I took a risk in not having a hint of a major plot point in the story blurb, so it would come as a surprise to the reader (and if you haven't read the book, hopefully I haven't spoiled anything for you!) I didn't want people to assume this is just another 'surrogacy story', because it isn't. And overall, the reviews have been positive about not revealing the surprise, so the reader is able to go on the same journey as the characters.

Now I am working on a similar story, in that it is set in New York City, has a dual narrative, and deals with some tricky and emotive issues--plus it has a 'twist' in the middle of the story. (I'm wary of using the word 'twist' because it seems overdone in fiction these days--so many books are advertised as having a twist you won't see coming, and so you spend the whole book looking for it).

Anyway, if you haven't read This Fragile Life, you can find information and all the buy links here.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Dog Walk

One of the lovely things about having a dog is when I'm stuck at a point in my story I can always go for a walk. The other day I needed to mull over some plot points of my latest book, all while enjoying the lovely scenery of Vauxhall Field:

Here is a shot of the Monnow River, which runs near our house:

And here is a view of the fields with the Monmouth town centre in the distance. You can see the spire of the priory church:

Walking in such lovely surroundings is always restorative, but unfortunately I am still stuck on my story! Maybe I need to take another walk...