Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Pinterest Scavenger Hunt!

This week wraps up my promotion of the book, A Beauty So Rare by Tamera Alexander, and we're ending with a scavenger hunt!  I love scavenger hunts and this one has prizes waiting for 7 dedicated hunters : ).  Tamera Alexander is giving away 7 copies of her most recent novel as prizes.  This is also a Pinterest scavenger hunt, so you'll have to look for the answers to the clues there.  But what if you don't "do" Pinterest?  No worries!  You can still participate.  Go to Tamera Alexander's blog here to find the links and clues.  And have fun!

Here's a little taste of what you'll be getting if you're one of the novel winners:
"Thoughts of the future and what it might hold threatened to crowd out her happiness, but she quickly reined in her thoughts and her fears. The good-byes here are only temporary.  Someday there will be only together forevers."
This quote was very meaningful to me as I lost my beloved grandfather a few months ago.  I still struggle at times when I think about not seeing him again on this earth.  This quote was such a beautiful reminder of what I believe...I will be with him in Heaven one day and will get to experience a wonderful reunion...forever! 

 If you haven't read my own personal review of A Beauty So Rare, go here.  Now let's go on a scavenger hunt! : )

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Inside Story Behind the Cover of A Beauty So Rare

It's been such a privilege to be a part of promoting Tamera Alexander's newest book, A Beauty So Rare.  I've learned a lot about what goes on behind the scenes in writing a novel, and today I wanted to show you a very important aspect of that...the cover!  Some book covers really catch my eye and draw me in.  But I had no idea all that goes on to get that beautiful finished product.  

Through Tamera Alexander's blog, we're able to meet the seamstress who actually made the dress the cover model wore for the photo shoot.  
This is Beth Schoenherr...amazing period seamstress!
To read Tamera's interview with Beth, click here.  Honestly, I love the idea of being able to create and sew something.  I haven't made it past a few little things for my daughter, but a girl can dream, right?!  This interview helped me to see that for a period seamstress, it's not just about cutting and sewing, but the creativity that is behind it all.  Be sure to check it out!

Once the dress is made and the model is chosen, it's now time for a photo shoot.  Doesn't this look fun?!

Now let's add the dress...
and last, but not least, a fabulous backdrop!

Go here to see Tamera's original post on the photo shoot.  I would love to visit this beautiful conservatory.  It looks gorgeous and as I was reading A Beauty So Rare, I could totally picture Eleanor walking through a place like this.  One of the many things I love about beautiful cover art is that it gives me just enough of a mental picture to enhance the book as I read it.

So what do you think?  Here is the final product:

I think it's a winner! : )

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Novel Recipes

I really do enjoy a good recipe.  Whether it be through talking with a friend about a family favorite or reading about it in a blog or magazine, I'm all about jotting down something new to try.  In recent years, I've encountered an especially fun way to learn about a new recipe...through a novel. 

Have you ever read a book and the story keeps coming back to a character's famous recipe? Or a delicious dish that they like to prepare for family and friends?  Honestly, that piques my interest.  With a detailed description, that dish can perk up my senses and make me want to try some--a much different response than just reading something from a recipe book.  When I have tried one out, it did not disappoint!  And I felt almost like I got into the book even more than I did when I read it (ok...I'm not crazy...I just like food and books : )).

As I was reading A Beauty So Rare, there were several scenes that included one of the heroine's signature recipes that she called a "savory custard"...known to many of us as a quiche.  The book's author, Tamera Alexander, shared this tasty recipe with some of her readers and I wanted to share it with you!

Doesn't that look delish?!
Eleanor Braddocks Savory Custard 
(or Ham and Cheddar Quiche)
From the novel A Beauty So Rare 
by Tamera Alexander

Most people think quiche originated in France. Not so. It’s originally a German dish and people referred to them as "savory custards" in the 19th century. Which is accurate since the egg-based mixture forms a luscious-like custard as it bakes.

In my novel, A Beauty So Rare, the second standalone novel in the Belmont Mansion series, the heroine, Eleanor Braddock, is "a cook with a dream." But her dreams don’t quite turn out like she thinks they will. However, her savories always do! 

I hope you enjoy this recipe (or "receipt" as recipes were called in the 1800s) from A Beauty So Rare. For more about A Beauty So Rare and for recipes from all my novels, visit www.TameraAlexander.com.

1 old-fashioned unbaked pie crust (recipe below)
1 large onion, diced (or sliced if you like larger pieces of onion in your savory)
2 tablespoons butter
1 pound cooked ham diced into cubes (if using bacon, use 8 slices, fried chewy, not too crisp)
8 large eggs
1-1/2 cups heavy cream or half-and-half
1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper, or to taste (I always go heavier on the pepper, personal preference)
1 3/4 cups sharp cheddar cheese, grated

Sauté onion in the butter in a skillet over medium-low heat for about 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onion is golden brown. Set aside to cool.
Chop the ham into bite-sized pieces (or fry your bacon until chewy, then chop). Set aside to cool. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Roll out pie crust and press into a deep dish pie plate. A medium-sized iron skillet works wonderfully for making a savory custard (and is what Eleanor used). The crust comes out divine. I just happened to use a pie plate this time.
Whip the eggs, cream, salt and pepper in a large bowl, then mix in the onions, ham (or bacon), and cheese. Pour the mixture into the pie crust. Cover the pie plate (or skillet) lightly with aluminum foil and bake for 40 to 45 minutes. Remove the foil and continue baking for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the quiche is set and the crust is golden brown. QUICK BAKING TIPS: The quiche may still seem a little loose when you first remove it from the oven, but it will firm up nicely once removed from the heat. Also, watch that lovely crust so the edges don’t get overly brown. I use a silicone pie crust shield if that starts to happen. Those are a fabulous invention (but foil crimped around the edges works just as well).
Remove from the oven and allow the savory custard to rest for 10 to 15 minutes before diving in. It’s so good, and just like Eleanor Braddock would make. It’s also delicious left over and warmed up the next day.

Eleanor Braddocks Old-Fashioned Pie Crust
(makes two large crusts)
From the novel A Beauty So Rare 
by Tamera Alexander

This is a wonderful crust that I’ve been using for years. Eleanor would likely have used lard in place of Crisco (since lard was cheaper than butter in her day), and you may too, if you prefer. Yes, lard is still available on most grocery shelves, although I’m pretty sure I just felt you shudder! 

This pie crust "freezes beautifully " as they say in Steel Magnolias (instructions on freezing below), so even though I may need only one pie crust at the moment, I always use this recipe and make a second, and freeze it for later. Makes that next pie (or savory custard) go twice as fast!

1 ½ cups Crisco (or lard)
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 egg
5 tablespoons ice water 
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon salt

In a large bowl, using a pastry cutter (or two knives will do the job), gradually work the Crisco into the flour for 3 to 4 minutes until it resembles coarse meal. In a smaller bowl, whip the egg and then pour it into the flour/shortening mixture. Add 5 tablespoons of ice-cold water, 1 tablespoon of white vinegar and 1 teaspoon of salt. Stir gently until all ingredients are blended well.
Halve the dough. Form 2 evenly-sized balls of dough and place each into large sealable plastic bags. Using a rolling pin, slightly flatten each to about 1/2 inch thickness to make rolling easier later. Seal the bags and place them in the freezer until you need them. (If you’re using the crusts immediately, it’s still a good idea to let them chill in the freezer for about 15- 20 minutes. They’ll be much easier to work with.) 
When you’re ready to roll the dough for your crust, remove from the freezer and allow to thaw for 15 minutes (if it’s frozen). On a well-floured surface, roll the dough, starting at the center and working your way out. Sprinkle flour over the top of the dough if it’s too moist. If the dough starts to stick to the countertop, use a metal spatula and gently scrape it up and flip it over and continue rolling until it’s about ½ inch larger in diameter than your pie plate (or iron skillet).
Using a spatula, carefully lift the dough from the surface of the counter into the pie pan. (I sometimes fold my well-floured dough in half and then "unfold" it onto iron skillet. Or you can lop it over your rolling pin. That works well, too.) Gently press the dough against the sides of the pan or skillet, getting it all tucked in. Then crimp the edges in whatever way you prefer. And now, you’re ready for that yummy savory custard filling above, or maybe for a fruit pie.
I look forward to trying this out myself!  If this dish sounds good to you...you may like to try the shortbread cookie recipe : ).

Eleanor Braddock's Shortbread
(from the novel "A Beauty So Rare")
3/4 cup butter at room temp (1 1/2 sticks)
1/2 cup powdered sugar*
1/3 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups flour (sifted)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees, then spray a smaller (8-9 inch) cast-iron skillet very lightly with non-stick cooking spray. You don't need that much spray. Trust me, the butter in the recipe will take care of that.
Cream the butter until light and fluffy. Add the powdered sugar, then the vanilla. Next, work in the flour. You can either mix the flour in with an electric mixer, or you can get into the 1860s way of doing things and knead the dough on an unfloured surface until it's nice and smooth. Press the dough into the iron skillet (or you can use a pretty shortbread pan too). Bake for 30-35 minutes until golden brown. Cool for about 10-15 minutes then flip the pan over onto a wooden cutting board. Cut the shortbread into pieces while still warm. It "sets up" as it cools. Or serve it warm. Serves 10-12. And it really does. This stuff is rich and delicious. Hope you enjoy. 

*Did you know that in 1851, Oliver Chase (of NECCO Wafer fame) developed a mill for powdering sugar which he used in his candy making process? But if a cook wanted powdered sugar back then, refined loaf sugar was pounded into a fine powder in a mortar and pestle. So much easier today, huh?
**If you make this recipe (or if you’ve read A Beauty So Rare), I’d love to hear from you. You can write me through my website at http://www.tameraalexander.com/contact.html.**

If you'd like to see several more recipes that are from Tamera's books (all of them look delicious!) you can click here.

I also had to throw in a link to one of my favorite cookie recipes.  It's from a novel called Hattaras Girl by Alice Wisler.  I posted it on this blog a while back but here is where you can find the Bailey House lemon cookie recipe.

Are you hungry now?! : )

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Reviewer's Bookshelf: "A Beauty So Rare" by Tamera Alexander

Step into post-Civil War South as you dive into the pages of A Beauty So Rare, the latest novel by author Tamera Alexander.  Eleanor Braddock is a woman dedicated to serving others. Whether it be serving as a nurse during the Civil War, meeting the needs of her aging father, or feeding the poor in the Nashville community, Eleanor's inner beauty shines bright.  It's her outer beauty that seems to be in question.  Described as plain and not as attractive as other women in her social circle, she is often reminded that she is close to "aging out" of potential marriage opportunities.  When her father's illness causes her to face new financial challenges, Eleanor is taken in by her aunt, Adelicia Acklen Cheatham of Belmont Mansion.  It is there that she meets "Marcus Geoffrey", also known as Archduke Marcus Gottfried of Austria.  Marcus has a passion for botany and architecture and wants to make a name for himself in both areas, on his own merit and without any influence from his royal roots.  He has a lot to prove, and so does Eleanor.  As they strive to do just that, their lives and hearts will collide.

When I read the prologue, I was immediately drawn in to this story as I had just finished reading a few books about the roles of women as nurses in the Civil War.  Eleanor Braddock was easy to relate to as well.  She wasn't portrayed as a glamorous beauty, but what I consider to be a regular girl.  Although I couldn't help feeling a little sorry for her at the beginning of the novel as she was so often referred to as plain and someone men weren't really attracted to.  When she first met Marcus and he was drawn to her, I couldn't help but think, "why?"  But as the book went on I could see why.

Marcus was described as very handsome, so why would a plain woman like Eleanor even spark his interest?  We learn that Marcus isn't just a handsome face, he has a brilliant mind for cross breeding plants and flowers and has a talent for architecture.  In Austria, he was known as a bit of a playboy, with money, women, and resources at his fingertips.  Coming to America was not just a way to flee a family scandal, but to also make a fresh start.  When Marcus saw the way Eleanor didn't fawn over him, but treated him as a equal, it was a reality check.  He also observed her inner beauty and the "plain" woman before him blossomed.  Reading the interactions between the two of them over the course of the novel definitely made his attraction to her more believable.

For me, the first part of this novel was a lot about setting the scene, getting to know the characters, and understanding them.  The next part is what really drew me in.  It's when the different characters began interacting more, developed relationships and feelings among each another--I began to feel like I was part of their world.  I was imagining the beautiful flowers in the conservatory at Belmont, I pictured Eleanor helping the abandoned widows and young children in the poor areas of Nashville, and my heart skipped a beat as Marcus and Eleanor shared a special moment.  Let's just say that when I finished the novel I was feeling a little withdrawal. : )

A Beauty So Rare was a delightful trip into history, filled with real-life places and people.  But it also helped me to remember the inner beauty that is created when Christ shines through us.  In a world that focuses so much on outward appearance, it was refreshing to see a heroine who was beautiful from the inside out.

Some of my favorite lines: "The good-byes here are only temporary.  Someday there will be only together forevers." What a beautiful reminder!

**I received this book for free from Bethany House publishers to give an unbiased review**

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

An Author's Inspiration

I just finished Tamera Alexander's newest book, A Beauty So Rare, last night.  I can't wait to share my review with you later on this week!  One thing I love about Tamera's books, especially the ones that have taken place in Nashville, TN, is the inclusion of real places and people.  A Beauty So Rare is no exception.  It incorporates not only the city of Nashville, but the Belmont mansion, it's owner, Adelicia Acklen Cheatham, and other historical events happening during that time in our nation's history.  For that reason, I felt like I stepped into the pages of history as I was reading this novel.  Even though our two main characters are fictional, they most certainly came to life for me.  In light of this, I wanted to share a video that Tamera has made sharing her inspiration for A Beauty So Rare.  It's a great way to see this story through the author's eyes.  Hope you enjoy!  And stay tuned later in the week for more of my personal thoughts on this novel. : )