Friday, October 3, 2014

Q&A Friday with Betsy St. Amant + Giveaway!

All's Fair in Love and Cupcakes Betsy St. Amant Zondervan

So excited to have Betsy St. Amant on the blog today! I knew I wanted to have her stop by when I first heard about her latest release, All's Fair in Love and Cupcakes  but was even more delighted to get to meet her at the ACFW conference this last week. Note: she wore really terrific, sparkly shoes to the gala!

Hillary Lodge: Thanks for joining in on the blog! Share with us about your inspiration for the book. 

Betsy St. Amant: The inspiration was simply…cupcakes! I personally love cupcakes  prefer them on my birthday to a real cake! There was a time recently when my sister and I would frequent a local cupcake gallery here in town, and treat ourselves after a bad day (or bad days!). It turned into a background theme for my next story. And besides, who doesn’t love cupcakes? Seemed like a recipe for fun!

Hillary Lodge: I love that it grew out of your sister time! Tell us about Kat - how did she start baking? 

     Betsy St. Amant: Kat grew up baking. She just always felt at home in the kitchen, and found her niche there. She even contributed baked goods to fundraiser for local charities or missions. That was how she served her church and others, through baking. Cupcakes became her favorite because that was the opportunity she was given through her great aunt’s shop. She began experimenting with different fun, outrageous flavors, and got addicted. Unfortunately, she was limited in opportunities to show the world  or even her hometown  what she could do, because of her aunt’s shop rules.

Hillary Lodge: You’ve set the story in Bayou Bend, Lousiana. What does Kat like about it? What are the challenges? 

Saint Cupcake CupcakesBetsy St. Amant: Kat doesn’t like a whole lot about Bayou Bend at the beginning of the story. She needs a perspective change, as most of us do at times. She saw Bayou Bend as the place where she was a misfit, where everyone had their place but her. She wanted to break out and show the world what she could do through her baking, but at the same time, feared having to prove herself. While Bayou Bend was stifling, it was also safe. Too safe, perhaps.

     Hillary Lodge: Tell us about Lucas. How did he and Kat meet? How have they managed to stay in friend territory for so long? 

     Betsy St. Amant: Kat and Lucas have been friends since before high school. They managed to stay in friend territory for so long because of both valuing the friendship so deeply and because of being afraid to risk it for the attempt at more. Also, Kat was involved in a serious relationship for years that kept Lucas at bay in that regard. Yet her heart was always drawn to him, whether she was willing to admit it or not! 

Champagne CupcakesHillary Lodge: That's so sweet! What element of the story do you love the most? 

Betsy St. Amant: I think my favorite part is the best friends to lovers theme. I think the best love stories start on the foundation of friendship. Most happy marriages today seem to start with the same opening line “We were best friends first!” I wanted to explore that for Lucas and Kat.

Hillary Lodge: I love that! Now - let’s talk cupcakes! What cake/frosting flavor combination is your favorite? 

Betsy St. Amant: Oh, that’s such a hard question! No fair! When it comes down to the basics, I prefer vanilla over chocolate. When it comes to more gourmet flavors, I love anything cheesecake or pumpkin or strawberry or citrus. My mom makes a pink lemonade cupcake that is fabulous! Growing up for my birthdays, I always enjoyed the box mix of “Funfetti” cake, where there were sprinkles of color baked into the actual batter. The more colors and sprinkles, the better!

Hillary Lodge: If you could visit one cupcake bakery anywhere in the country, which one would you choose? 

Betsy St. Amant: Georgetown Cupcakes in Washington, from the show, DC Cupcakes with the two sister chefs. Such a fun show, and their cakes look delicious!

Hillary Lodge: Tell us about your writing process. What do you do when you get stuck? 

red velvet cupcake
Betsy St. Amant: Ummm, I eat cupcakes, of course!  No, seriously, I try to do something to obtain some endorphins, like exercise or take a walk. Or I might read a fiction book for fun to jumpstart my creativity and back off that pressure that I put on myself to create. And there is usually a Starbucks white chocolate mocha involved somewhere in that process!

Hillary Lodge: What do you enjoy most about publishing? What do you find most challenging?  

Betsy St. Amant: I think the best part about publishing is the relationship I get to build with my editorial and marketing team. They are just SO fun and I love them all to death. Getting to celebrate each new release or new contract is such a joy. Perhaps the most challenging part about being a published author is finding the time to write and write well. I’m the single mom to a six-year-old girl, work full time outside of my writing, and also freelance for my local newspaper and list hostess for the ACFW writer’s group. I am never, ever, EVER bored!  But writing is my passion and I can’t imagine NOT making it work somehow. God always provides what I need when I need it, be it financially or creatively or emotionally or mentally or spiritually.

Hillary Lodge: Tell us about your next project! What’s next for you? 

candied banana cupcakes

Betsy St. Amant: Next is the sequel to All’s Fair in Love and Cupcakes, titled Love Arrives in Pieces, and is set for an early summer 2015 release. It’s Kat’s sister’s story, Stella, and will be a doozy!  And of course, Kat and Lucas will make many appearances in the next book, with a few surprises of their own.

Hillary Lodge: That sounds great, Betsy! Thanks for stopping by the blog!

Betsy St. Amant has a heart for three things – chocolate, new shoes and sharing the amazing news of God’s grace through her novels. She lives in Louisiana with her adorable story-telling young daughter, a collection of Austen novels, and an impressive stash of Pickle Pringles. A freelance journalist and fiction author, Betsy is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and is multi-published in Contemporary Romance. Her ninth Love Inspired novel released in January 2014, while her first romance with Zondervan Publishers comes out September 2014. When she’s not reading, writing, or singing along to the Tangled soundtrack with her daughter, Betsy enjoys inspirational speaking and teaching on the craft of writing, and can usually be found somewhere in the vicinity of a white-chocolate mocha.

Enter to win a copy of All's Fair in Love and Cupcakes for your very own below! Rafflecopter giveaway 


Friday, September 12, 2014

Kitchen Questions: Getting Comfortable Cooking with Meats

Last week I had the pleasure of chatting with Sarah Varland, author of Treasure Point Secrets. The conversation ranged over all the things (Sarah's super easy to talk to) before it turned to the kitchen. Sarah mentioned that she struggled with preparing meats. Either she worried that they were underdone, or cooked them until they'd turned to leather. 

I totally understood because as much as I enjoy eating meat, I reeeeeaaaaaally don't like preparing it.

How much? Let's see. I've never cooked chicken that I've not worried about it
having gone bad. Pork is probably the easiest for me, but I'm often at sea with most cuts of beef because I cook it so infrequently.

But over the years as I've continued to cook, I've picked up a few tricks to help prepare meats that are both safe and tasty.

1. A meat thermometer! I can't live without one. Danny gave me a digital one for Christmas (because he knows me), and I've used it often. You'll want to get a read from the center of the thickest portion, and most thermometers come with a sheath that will tell you the safe temperatures for a wide variety of meats, poultry, and seafood.

2. Use a slow-cooker. The long-cooking method will ensure that your meat will be both done and tender. One of my favorite recipes right now is this one from TheKitchn - pork shoulder is a fairly inexpensive cut, you wind up with a lot of meat, and it's very hands-off.

Also, it's extremely versatile. You can make tacos, or eat it over black beans topped with shredded cabbage, chopped radishes, salsa, and avocados. You could add barbeque sauce and make a really delicious sandwich with it. Did I mention you can freeze it in portions? So many options.

3.) Even out the width. Chicken breasts, in particular, can be a pain because of their uneven width - half of it can wind up dry, the other half underdone, and none of it appetizing. To make it easier, you could place the cut between two pieces of plastic wrap and pound it flat with a meat mallet or a household hammer. This is also a great way to get the most servings out of your chicken! Another, faster method is to simply cut the chicken in half laterally, with the thin side on one and the thick on the other. The thick cuts will take longer, of course, but at least they'll be even.

4. Make it small. With small portions of meat - like kabobs or meatballs - it takes very little time to cook through. With kabobs, by the time the meat browns, they're usually done just fine. And, if you use a metal skewer, the heat from the metal will help it cook from the inside too.

Meatballs are fun to make by hand too, even though the rolling part is a time investment. Whether you brown them on the stove first or simply bake them, they cook up quickly and evenly, and the binding ingredients help prevent them from drying out. I'd still take a quick read with the meat thermometer at the end, just to be sure. Meatballs are another great item to prepare and freeze for later.

5.) Have fun with it. True story: to get through the process of dressing a chicken, I narrate the whole process in my best Julia Child voice. It takes the edge off, and we get a roast chicken in the end!

6.) Freeze it. If you're not sure when you're going to cook up the meat, throw it straight in the freezer until you're ready for it. Thaw it in warm water or in a microwave before cooking unless you're planning to cook it in liquid - if that's the case, just add more cooking time and go for it. That way, you'll spend less time worrying if your meat's too far gone.

Those are my tips - what are yours? Do you have any Kitchen Questions you'd like answered? Be sure to leave a comment!

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Kindle vs. Overdrive vs. Oyster - an E-reader Roundup

Shiloh the Cavalier King Charles with Book, by Hillary Manton Lodge
He's an accomplished reader, Shiloh.

I don't know that I've mentioned this on the blog or not, but I'm a complete e-book convert, and have been ever since we left Eugene.

When we moved, packed the books I couldn't live without and hauled them with me to Portland, to Memphis, to the corporate apartment in Richland. I got to reunite with my full library once we moved into the Richland house, but by then we'd been moving and traveling for nearly a full year.

By then, the full practicality of the ebook had set in. I loved having a library on my phone, a book that lit itself, a volume I couldn't lose my place in.

Once we settled in Richland, I got a library card and tried my hand at library downloads. I swapped between the library and Kindle books, sometimes buying books I'd gotten through the library loan because I'd highlighted so many things (Anna Quindlen's Still Life in Breadcrumbs). Between the lack of late fees and the end of hunting down stray library volumes, library ebooks found their place in rotation.

But I still bumped up against the limits of the two - sometimes libraries wouldn't have anything I was interested in, but didn't want to spend the money for a Kindle book as fast as I could read.

Enter Oyster.

And technically, enter Kindle Unlimited. Priced the same, same concept - a library of books to choose from with a single monthly fee. No wait times, no check outs, no expiration dates.

Since the price for both is roughly the same as the average Kindle book, I figured if I got two solid reads out of it per month, a book subscription service would make sense. So I checked out the offerings.

While things may improve, the Kindle Unlimited selection is thin. I looked up authors I enjoyed, and they were either missing or only containing volumes I'd already purchased.

Oyster on the other hand had a wider range of books I'd recognized and meant to read over the years - but hadn't. So - now that I'm using three fairly different reading apparatuses, here are my thoughts - 


Kindle App Screen
Simple to navigate, thoughtful design, and lots of features. You can organize your books into collections, search within books, bookmark, highlight, and look up unfamiliar words.

It's simple to move books in and out of your carousel, though getting a book permanently off requires some work on Amazon.

Really, it's the slickest of the three, and it makes sense why - you're paying for the content. Sure, you can stick to the free and discounted books, but otherwise it can add up quickly.

But if you're dying to read Rainbow Rowell's latest? Kindle is there for you.


Overdrive App Screen
There's a lot to like about library ebooks. First, it's free. Secondly, the catalog changes, and thirdly, you'll also find audiobooks.

So that's fun. It also includes many of the same features as Kindle, such as the ability to highlight text and change the page layout. And while most libraries put limits on the amount of books checked out, you do have the option of returning books early to make room for more.

The downside is that sometimes the library selection can be spotty, or you'll find yourself waiting an age for something that's new and popular.

Also, the app itself is occasionally buggy. Sometimes it'll forget which book you're reading, or start over in the same spot repeatedly, never mind where you actually left off.

But - it's free. So as long as you take the time to look through the catalog and get yourself on the right waiting lists, you'll have a long (but not too long) list of books to choose from.


Oyster App Screen
Don't get me wrong, there are major changes that need to happen. First, the search is clunky. If you're using "Paris" as a search term, there's no way to differentiate between title, author, or subject. 

Also, if you're searching through books for a while, there's no good way to get back to the original screen other than to page back several times.

Books you've been reading are kept in a separate list from the books to your Booklist pile, but there's no way to remove a book. So if you start it and hate it, you still have to look at the cover until it gets bumped far enough down the timeline.

In their promotions, Oyster talks a lot about its aesthetic appeal. And it's true - the navigation pages as well as the reader itself are all very nice to look at - colorful and crisp. But navigating within the book is clunky - you can skip from chapter to chapter, but you can't search for text within the book, or for a specific location or page number.

All of those issues aside, I'm still using it. The catalogue is varied with a nice selection of popular and literary fiction, as well as a number of non-fiction volumes. I admit I haven't explored them much, but I have been impressed with the number of cookbooks I've seen.

I reasoned that it was worth the subscription if I read two solid books a month, and so far I'm averaging three or four.

Overall? I'm using Oyster a lot, and enjoyed using it to read The Hundred-Foot Journey (QUITE different from the film, but certainly worth the read). The library is nice but takes more work, although I'm on the wait list for Gone Girl. And I'm mainly using Kindle to read previously purchased titles, but as soon as the new Susanna Kearsley comes out, you can be sure I'll be glued to it for a few days!

Cavalier King Charles Spaniel sleeping book
Shiloh, at rest. On my book.

What about you? What's your favorite method of reading? Do you prefer paper or electronic versions?