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Writer’s Kitchen: Food Bloggers Getting Book Deals


It’s a pretty exciting week for food bloggers. In the past week two of my favorites have announced book deals! Last Thursday, Hannah Queen told her readers over at Honey & Jam that she is now working on writing and photographing a cookbook of cake recipes, tentatively called Farm to Cake (Spring 2015, Stewart, Tabori & Chang). Then today I read over at Not Without Salt that Ashley Rodriguez is living her dream of writing a cookbook of her own, this one a celebration of her marriage with menus and recipes inspired by her Dating My Husband series (to be published around Valentine’s Day 2015 by Running Press). How cool is that? There’s nothing new about food bloggers getting book deals–it’s been happening for a number of years now–but these two are some of the most deserving and I know their books are going to be gorgeous, well-written, and trustworthy.

One final note: One of the great things about food bloggers announcing book deals is that they often do it by sharing a celebratory recipe. Hannah does so with Carrot Cake with Honey Cream Cheese Frosting and Ashley shares the news with Ice Cream Cake with Chocolate Wafers, Hot Fudge, and Candied Cocoa Nibs. So check out their blogs, salivate over the delicious-looking photos, and drop them a note encouraging them in the process–after all, as all writers know, it’s a huge endeavor and the readers part of what helps keep authors going.

Cheers to you both, Hannah and Ashley!

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Writer’s Kitchen: Words and Wine During Travel

Harbourside Seafood Grill Bar Area

Developing a writing ritual or routine is a feat to be celebrated. So what happens when one travels, and as a result uproots all of that progress for a moment in time? For me, traveling is a time of suspension, a hiatus of sorts when all of the routines of life get put on pause and one simply focuses on enjoying the experience. Finding time for things like writing becomes a treat rather than a necessity, and as a result those times of engaging in that activity are often more profitable and enjoyable than they otherwise might be.

Sauvignon Blanc at Harbourside

While traveling to New Zealand earlier this month, I found little time to write. On a whirlwind trip for a travel story I’m working on, there was little opportunity to open my laptop for any purpose aside from planning the next day’s schedule. However, I did manage to slip away to a lovely little bar attached to a fancy seafood restaurant in Auckland’s Viaduct Harbor area for some wine tasting and writing. It was totally by accident; I had caught a cab to the area to meet up with the group I was traveling with, but finding that the event had been canceled due to weather, I found myself with a free hour and a half until dinner. I climbed the stairs up to the Harbourside Seafood Bar and Grill and settled in for some reflection. Harbourside Sign Harbourside Seafood Grill

I always carry a notebook and pen with me, which is a practice I’d encourage every writer to do without fail. Because of that, I was able to find what felt like stolen moments in which to write. I opened the notebook with no expectations other than to allow words to flow freely onto the paper. I chatted with the bartender about New Zealand wines and ordered a Sauvignon Blanc to try. He brought out my glass plus a sample of another of his favorites, and noting my interest in the wines he printed out for me a guide he uses for training the staff on the country’s grape-growing areas. I made notes of the Sauvignon Blancs I had tasted thus far in the trip, marking them on the map the bartender had given me, and I wrote in my notebook.

Harbourside Seafood Grill Stairwell

Nothing I wrote that day–neither the wine notes nor the words that flowed on the pages of my notebook–will make it into published works. Rather, I took the opportunity to synthesize thoughts that have been swirling around in my head and I processed them through the act of writing. The result was the beginning of a weeks’ long journey into discovering my ideals of the writing life and how I might begin to execute them upon returning home.

Those unanticipated moments can be as productive as the ones that are scheduled, if the writer allows him- or herself to take notice. The time I spent that afternoon are still guiding my thoughts as I work through how I want to orchestrate my schedule and time this spring.

How do you utilize those unanticipated moments when they occur? What comes out of them as a result?

Harbourside Seafood Grill Bar

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Scraps to Scrumptious: Post-Flight Dinner

Spicy Tomato Pasta

A few nights ago, after returning home from a trip for a travel piece I’m writing, I needed to make a late dinner. Rummaging through the refrigerator, I threw away remnants of meals from the week before consisting of leftovers we didn’t have time to eat. Virtually all that was left–aside from the food that belongs to our live-in guest–were the typical fridge staples: jams, cheeses, flours, and the like. In such circumstances, however, a well-stocked pantry means that with a little creativity, there’s no excuse to say there’s nothing to eat.

I had half a box of rigatoni, a can of diced tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes, olives, and chili flakes, and that was almost all I needed to put together a satisfying late-night dinner, a veritable midnight snack.

What are your favorite pantry creations?

Spicy Post-Flight Pasta
A Nooks & Cranberries original

1/2 pound rigatoni
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
6 oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
Small handful of Kalamata olives, sliced lengthwise
4 garlic cloves, pressed
Generous sprinkling of dried chili flakes
1/3 stick butter
1 (15-ounce) can garbanzo beans, drained

Cook pasta according to package directions. Meanwhile, bring diced tomatoes to a simmer in a medium saucepan, then add sun-dried tomatoes, olives, and garlic, and continue to cook, turning up the heat to bring to a light boil. Cook for 5 to 10 minutes, until the liquid reduces slightly. Stir in butter and allow to melt, then add garbanzo beans and cook until heated through. Drain pasta and add to the tomato sauce, stirring to combine. Serve.

Serves 3-4.

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Writer’s Kitchen: Our Favorites So Far

Saffron RisottoJust a few nights ago Sarah and I cooked a special dinner for our husbands to say thanks for all their help so that we could go away for a writers’ retreat. The results–saffron risotto with scallops–was pretty amazing, I have to say, and I only wish we had snapped up some better-quality photos to share with you here before it was all gone! Oh well, we’ll just have to make it again so that we can share it with you here at Writer’s Kitchen. In the meantime, here are some of our favorite Writer’s Kitchen entries to date:

Tea & Cookies for Your Writing Ritual

Last-Minute Holiday Appetizers

What We Eat When We’re Alone

Homemade Chai

Homemade Marshmallows

Absinthe Cake

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Writer’s Kitchen: Asparagus In Celebration of Spring


As February draws to a close and spring nears, menus begin the transition from creamy, rich braises, casseroles, and stews to lighter fare celebrating the shift in seasonal food and the lessened need to eat for a sense of coziness and warmth. Winter greens mingle with spring lettuces, and root vegetables give way to asparagus.

The latter is one of my favorite vegetables, with its quick-cooking time and pretty green stalks making it easy enough for a rushed weeknight meal or elegant enough for company. Simply roasted with olive oil and salt, its toothsome texture and distinct earthy flavor shine. Steam it just until tender and serve with a brightly-flavored sauce, and you’ll take this springtime staple to the next level.


Asparagus with Tarragon Mustard Sauce
Adapted from Simply Classic: A New Collection of Recipes to Celebrate the Northwest, this recipe is perfect for your file of quick and easy recipes to pull out when you’re on deadline but still want something special to serve your family or guests. You can make the sauce while the asparagus steams, and the whole thing should come together in a matter of minutes.

1 1/2 pounds fresh asparagus
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon dried tarragon
1 pinch of sugar
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Remove and discard the tough ends of the asparagus. Steam just until tender. While asparagus is steaming, prepare the sauce by combining all ingredients except the olive oil in a small bowl. Slowly pour in the olive oil, whisking constantly to emulsify. When ready to serve, place asparagus on a platter and pour the sauce on top.

Serves 4-6.

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Writer’s Kitchen: Quick Meals for the Writing Life

Roasted Vegetables

I’m trying to build a repertoire of simple, quick-cooking meals that I can rely on for when it seems there’s no time to cook. As a writer, I have to. There will always be opportunities to create elaborate, multi-step dishes with an ingredient list as long as the alphabet–it’s just part of life of a food writer. But when it comes to feeding my family on a day-to-day basis, sometimes quick, nutritious (and tasty) food is key. I’ve been diving into my stock of old and new family classics as I create a master list of tried-and-true dishes I can prepare even on the most demanding of evenings. A thousand words to cut? Jacques Pepin’s chicken suprêmes in butter with lime juice and herbs will do the trick. Recipe development flooding my kitchen with desserts? Herb-roasted vegetables come together in a snap to balance out all the sugar. And lest I forget, simple is often best–though it’s one of the hardest things for me to remember. In that case, going to the store to pick up a protein and a vegetable with no recipe in mind (gasp!) and forcing myself to cook by instinct should probably happen more often.

What are your go-to meals when you’re tight on time?

Image from Outside Oslo.

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Writer’s Kitchen: Weeknight Pasta with Kale, Zucchini, and Tomatoes

Weeknight Pasta with Tomatoes, Zucchini, and Kale

What are you eating for lunch today? Or dinner? I’m serious–tell me. I don’t want to hear that you’re skipping the meal because you’re on deadline and don’t have time. We all have time, even if just a few minutes while waiting for the computer to restart or while giving ourselves a 15- or 30-minute brain break.

I still remember the old days of working on the newscast at the TV station I used to work for. Whether I was writing or producing the show, there was seldom a moment from the early part of my shift until the later hours when I felt like I could even leave my desk for a moment. When I needed to fortify myself with a little food before heading up to the booth to produce the show, I’d literally run or jog from my desk to the lunchroom to get my food. And guess what? I’d run back to my desk where I would eat it, hurriedly, not even stealing a moment in which to notice the flavors right there waiting for my tastebuds to notice. That’s a sad story for a food-lover like me.

These days as a freelance writer I still work on deadlines, but I’m dealing with stories due on a given day versus needing to have a show ready to produce by a certain minute and a story ready by a specific second in order for it to be ready for an anchor to read. That doesn’t make the pressure of deadlines any less real, however, and taking the time to stop and get something to eat can sometimes feel like a chore.

Thankfully I have a lot of excuses throughout the day to cook, from having a son who depends on me for his meal preparation to being a food writer who often has to cook as part of the gig. There’s usually something in the fridge to make a quick meal out of when the child is napping and the husband is away at work. But in those times when leftovers are scarce and tight deadlines are looming, it’s good to have a repertoire of quick meals at the ready.

One of my quick meals involves canned chickpeas and other pantry staples, with a handful of fresh herbs tossed in at the end–I’ll have to share that recipe with you soon. Another is canned salmon mixed with some mayonnaise, capers, and herbs, and eaten as a salad on a bed of salad greens or on top of baguette slices. Come to think of it, I’ll have to share that recipe with you too. Do you notice a trend? These recipes involve nutritious items found in a well-stocked pantry.

The recipe I’m sharing with you today comes together quickly and makes several lunch or dinner portions, leaving you with leftovers to reheat the next day. Even if you can’t always personally justify spending a lot of time preparing a meal for yourself when you’re on deadline, I’d like to encourage you to give yourself 30 minutes sometime this week to put something delicious together. I’m speaking to myself as much as you here when I tell you that it is possible. And I’d like to share with you a simple pasta that you can put together in little more time than you need for your brain break.

Weeknight Pasta with Kale, Zucchini, and Tomato Sauce
A Nooks & Cranberries original

1/2 pound rigatoni
extra-virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, pressed
1 zucchini, quartered lengthwise and cut into ¼-inch slices
1 small bunch kale, ribs removed and discarded and leaves cut into thin slices
1 (28 ounce) can diced tomatoes
Dried chili flakes

Bring a pot of water to a boil while you do the dishes, start a load of laundry, and work on prepping the ingredients. When the water has come to a boil, add a little olive oil and generously salt the water. Add pasta and cook according to the package directions.

Meanwhile, heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a large pan until it shimmers, then add garlic and sauté until fragrant and tender (but not so long that it starts to turn golden), about 1 minute. Add zucchini and stir for a minute or two. Add diced tomatoes, juices included, and stir to combine, giving it a minute for the tomatoes to start heating up. Stir in the kale and cover, and cook until the kale is softened and tomatoes are hot.

Drain the pasta, discarding the water, and add to the pan. Stir until combined and serve with a generous sprinkling of dried chili flakes. Eat while sitting at a proper place setting–not at your computer–and then put the leftovers in the fridge and leave all the dishes and cooking equipment in the sink to soak until your next brain break.

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Writer’s Kitchen: Tea & Cookies for Your Writing Ritual

Salted Rye Cookies

When it comes to getting in the mood to write, the process isn’t a lot different, at its core, than getting ready to go to sleep. Consider the bedtime ritual: changing into pajamas, washing your face, dimming the lights, and crawling into bed to read can cue your body that it’s almost time to sleep. Similarly, clearing clutter from your workspace, responding to a couple of nagging e-mails, and finally settling in with a cup of your favorite tea and a cookie can help your brain transition to the creative task of writing.

Of course, every writer’s ritual will differ, and yours may even vary a little from day to day or change considerably from one year to the next. The important thing is consciously eliminating mental distractions and optimizing creative power. For both Sarah and me, tea is a staple in our writing ritual. Whether we’re retreating to our home office spaces or cozying up on the sofa with a blanket and laptop, having something pleasant like tea helps to set the mood.

The truth is, writing is work, no matter how fun it may be at times. So we as writers deserve a little something special to indulge in while we work. And that brings me to what I’ve been wanting to share with you: salted rye cookies. I baked a batch of these cookies a couple of weeks ago and was stunned by the range of flavors dancing in my mouth in one bite. At once, the bright flavor of citrus exploded on my tongue, accentuated somehow by the crystals of salt on the rim. As the initial flavor subsided, it morphed into a warm, soft orange and the foundation of rye gently came through.

Salted Rye Cookies

These cookies are not for the faint of heart. But if your palate appreciates cookies and pastries with a savory touch, you may find that your first bite leads to another and then another and another. As I kept coming back to these cookies it occurred to me that they would be a perfect pairing for lapsang souchong, an ancient Chinese tea imbued with the aroma and flavors of the smoking pine fire it is dried upon. Lapsang souchong is bold and serious, and not for everyone, however. If your tastes lean more toward floral or citrus teas, the bergamot streaming through a cup of Earl Grey would also complement the cookies.

Salted Rye Cookies
Adapted from Epicurious and Liana Krissoff (Whole Grains for a New Generation)

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus a pinch
1/2 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
2 1/2 cups whole (dark) rye flour
3 tablespoons demerara sugar

Cream the butter and granulated sugar together until light and fluffy, using an electric mixer. Add the egg, a pinch of salt, and the orange zest, and continue to beat until combined. Mix in the flour, a little at a time, and then turn out the dough and shape it into two logs about 2 inches in diameter. Wrap each log in plastic wrap and chill for about an hour until firm.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and prepare your baking sheets by lining them with parchment paper. Combine the remaining kosher salt and the demerara sugar and spread it on a clean workspace. Unwrap the cookie dough and roll each log in the sugar and salt mixture to coat. Slice the logs into cookies approximately 1/8-inch thick and place them on the cookie sheets about 1 inch apart.

Bake for about 16 minutes until the cookies start to turn light brown around the edges, rotating the pan midway through baking if necessary. Remove the cookies from the pan immediately and allow to cool on a wire rack.

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Writer’s Kitchen: Easy Make-Ahead Coffee Cake for When You’re on Deadline

Coffee Cake

The art of simplicity is something I’m working on mastering when it comes to cooking. As a food-lover who bakes for fun, geeks out on taking photos of what I cook, collects cookbooks, and writes about food both in blogs and print publications, I have an eye for fancy food that’s just too time-consuming to make on an average day–especially when the responsibilities of writing and motherhood leave little extra time for complicated cooking. And that’s where recipes like this sleep-over coffee cake come in handy.

My husband and I had some friends over to watch the Seahawks game on Sunday morning, and when planning the breakfast menu, I needed items that would be quick and easy to prepare with little effort required on the morning of the event. So the night before, I hard-boiled a bunch of eggs and stirred together a coffee cake that would sit, chilling, overnight, only needing to be baked the next morning.

In addition to being prepared the night before, the cake’s batter also comes together quickly and easily. All the ingredients are stirred together at once; there’s no creaming the butter and sugar then adding eggs followed by flour here!

I’d encourage you to file this recipe away for those times when you want something special to serve your family or friends, even if you’re on deadline. I promise that it’ll take you no longer than 15 minutes to prep the night before, and no more than 5 minutes active time in the morning. Serve on a pretty plate with some fresh fruit and your guests will be in for a special treat.

Sleep-over Coffee Cake
This coffee cake–adapted from Simply Classic: A New Collection of Recipes to Celebrate the Northwest, from the Junior League of Seattle–looks rather simple, with a deep brown color that’s consistent from the cake to the topping. If you want a little more of a crunchy topping, I suppose you could increase the amount of nuts, but I like it just the way it is. While I’m at it, let me just say how much I love this cookbook. My mom gave it to me some years ago, and it’s one of those books that I feel confident in, knowing that virtually every recipe is going to turn out great.


2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 cup buttermilk
2/3 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons dry milk powder
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt


1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 cup butter

The night before: Put all the cake ingredients in the bowl of an electric mixer, and mix at low speed until combined. This might take several minutes. While it’s mixing, butter and flour a 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Pour the batter into the pan and spread it evenly throughout the pan with a spatula. Combine the brown sugar, walnuts, and nutmeg in a small bowl and sprinkle over the batter. Cover and chill overnight.

The morning of: When you wake up in the morning, preheat your oven to 350 and melt the remaining 1/4 cup of butter. Pour the butter over the top of the coffee cake and slide the pan into the oven. Bake for about 30 minutes, until the cake is a rich brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Serves 8-10.