January 2012

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26 Jan The Best Crispy-Chewy Coconut Cookies Ever


Well, in my opinion, at least. I cobbled together two or three other recipes to come up with this, and experimented on my own with chopping the coconut finer and finer. I’m very pleased with the result, which combines the crispness of a shortbread with the chewiness of coconut. The trick is whizzing the coconut in the food processor until it’s chopped very very fine. The original cup of shredded coconut should be reduced to a rounded half-cup when finely chopped.

The chopped coconut also makes slicing the cookies easier, and I love slice-and-bake refrigerator cookies—so easy.

It occurs to me that if you like Mounds candy bars (which I do), you might like these with a bittersweet chocolate frosting instead of the plain (but deliciously vanilla-y) powdered-sugar glaze.

Here’s the recipe:

Coconut Cookies

1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1 1/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 cup sweetened shredded coconut, chopped very fine in food processor

Cream together the butter, sugar, vanilla and salt until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg. Mix in the flour until just blended. Fold in the coconut. Roll dough into a log with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least two hours.

Preheat the oven to 350°. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Slice dough into quarter-inch (or so) slices and bake just until golden around the edges, 12-15 minutes. Cool and ice thinly with powdered sugar glaze.

Naturally I had to look up some of the history of coconut as a foodstuff. Rather to my surprise, I found that the nux indica, the Indian nut, was at least known in Europe as a botanical curiosity as early as Marco Polo, and possibly earlier. The term “coconut” itself is later, and derives from the Portuguese and Spanish “coco,” “grinning face,” as a description of the face-like markings at the base of the shell. Vasco da Gama (who died in 1524) is supposed to have brought coconuts to Europe from India. So it’s entirely possible that the Este and the Medici, living in very wealthy Italian courts in the mid-sixteenth-century, could have been served coconut as an expensive and exotic delicacy. Rinette in faraway Scotland? Sadly I think it’s pretty certain she never tasted the sweet, chewy deliciousness that is the coconut.

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23 Jan A Silent House

The doggies are spending the day at the Canine Health Club, Day Surgery Center and Spa (aka the vet’s) to get their teeth cleaned, claws clipped, bloodwork done, and other delights. They got no breakfast this morning, and they were NOT amused. Hopefully all will go well and they will be home by dinnertime. But the house is unnaturally quiet without them. And how will I get my cardio without getting up to let them in and out a couple of thousand times a day?

I am presently re-acquainting myself with the third-person viewpoint. I’d never written anything in first person until I wrote The Second Duchess, and I found I really loved the sense of seeing and feeling and touching and tasting right along with Barbara and Lucrezia, and also with my beloved Rinette in The Flower Reader. But The Alchemist Prince is turning out to be a different animal altogether. There’s so much happening to so many fascinating people that there’s no way one (or even two or three) characters can be present for all of it. And I want it all—I can’t bear to leave any of it out…

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20 Jan Blogs are In Out In

I started out keeping a pretty personal blog—writing about the beagles, of course, but also cooking and baking and reading and gardening and stargazing and history and general barefoot living here in the house with three pear trees. Well, two pear trees now. Vale, third pear tree. But anyway.

Then I got caught up in Being an Author. Everything I read and everyone I spoke to encouraged me to “have a presence” on Facebook and Twitter and Google+ and LinkedIn and every other social networking site in the known universe. Blogging was out, I was assured. No one cared. No one would read anything longer than 140 characters anyway.

I tried. I really tried. But all that social networking is so not me. I feel awkward doing it, just as I feel awkward walking up to a stranger (or for that matter, an acquaintance) at a big party and saying, “Hi, there, here I am, let’s talk about something.” The down-to-the-bone truth is that I am an introvert’s introvert. I like to sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the death of kings (sometimes literally, given my favorite subject matter of the sixteenth century) with one other person. One a really good day, two other people. I liked blogging because it was like talking to one person. You. Yes, you.

Then a couple of weeks ago, I came across this on tribalwriter.com, Justine Musk’s intense and sometimes terrifying blog. (A blog? Oh, wait, are blogs not dead after all?) She is writing about reading a book and getting online to “prolong the experience of the novel by remaining in contact with the author’s voice.” She says:

What I wanted to find wasn’t standard self-promotion….but the author’s own personal idea-space, where she had offloaded enough of her mind and voice and personality (through blog posts and ongoing conversations) to invite me in relationship with her brand.

Now I do flinch a little at “offloaded” and “brand,” but in general that post hit me right between the eyes. Maybe I didn’t have to force myself to socialize in a way that felt so unnatural to me. Maybe I could simply go back to writing here, talking to one person in a little more depth and detail. I cannot tell you what a relief that was.

So I’ll be blogging more and social-networking less. I am happy! Thank you, Justine Musk, for twisting the lens and bringing that into lovely satisfying sharp focus for me.

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11 Jan The Flower Reader in the UK

I am so happy to be able to announce that The Flower Reader will be released in the UK (including Australia/New Zealand) by Random House/Preface. The publication date is set for June, so readers in the UK and Australia (you know who you are) should be able to find The Flower Reader in local shops only a couple of months after the US release.

I am absolutely over the moon! Preface has also bought the UK/ANZ rights to The Second Duchess, for publication in 2013, and to my new book, tentatively titled The Alchemist Prince (more Medici! more murders! exotic alchemical experiments! and Barbara of Austria’s little sister Giovanna!), which is scheduled for 2014.

In a press release from Preface, my wonderful editor Rosie de Courcy said:

From the moment I read the first sentence of The Flower Reader, I was spellbound and had butterflies in my stomach. I adore the mixture of romance, history and menace which is the hallmark of Elizabeth’s writing.


The Flower Reader is also going to Germany and Italy so far, so my heroine Rinette and I have an exciting year coming up. I am so grateful to everyone who read and reviewed and talked about The Second Duchess, because by doing that you helped make The Flower Reader a reality.

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10 Jan Barefoot Again

Our trip to Nashville was wonderful, but oh, what a delight it is to be barefoot again after four whole days of wearing shoes. I am so not a shoe person.

Of course I have to post a picture of our Bella. Beauty and the Beast was wonderful, Bella as Belle was simply spectacular, her brother Isaiah was fall-off-the-chair funny as Le Fou, and the rest of the cast was terrific.

Give me a day to catch my breath and then I have something lovely to share.

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01 Jan Freckled Paws and Hoppin’ Jim


Kalo Podariko! (“Happy First Foot,” the Greek wish for a happy new year.) The first foot over our threshold this morning (as it is pretty much every morning) was a freckled beagle paw belonging to our Miss Cress. I love her freckles—I’ve given her freckled paws to Seilie, Rinette’s little hound in The Flower Reader. Since Cressie is a typically beagle “merry little hound,” I think she’ll bring us happiness in the year to come.

Living in Texas as we do, we’re also supposed to eat black-eyed peas for luck on New Year’s day—the dish is called “Hoppin’ John,” the etymology of which is obscure. Sadly, the Broadcasting Legend™ and I don’t really like black-eyed peas. Heresy, I know. What we’ve done is create our own version, which we call “Hoppin’ Jim.” Heh. It’s a sort of bean soup made with ordinary white beans and the bone from the Christmas ham, and it is delicious. I’d post a recipe, but none of the things Jim cooks actually have recipes. He’d say something like, “Well, you take the ham bone and put in the beans and some other stuff and simmer it all afternoon.” Right.

I like vegetables—shredded carrots and greens of some sort—in my Hoppin’ Jim, but I have to add those separately so as not to sully the purity of the original.

Warmest new year wishes to all, and God bless us every one.