And Cake!

A new summertime cake

Just tried this new very easy cake and I liked it a lot, so I thought I’d share it with you all.

Raspberry Ricotta Cake

1 1/2 C flour
1 C sugar
2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
3 eggs
1 1/2 C ricotta, except that for some mysterious reason, I dislike ricotta, so I used cottage cheese, blending it to smooth out the texture.
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 C butter, melted

1 C frozen raspberries, or I bet fresh would work

Now, here is why the cake is so simple: You make it as though you were making muffins, not as though you were making a cake. In fact, this recipe is more of a breakfast cake or snack cake than a desert cake. I didn’t make any kind of glaze or frosting for it, either, because I like mildly sweet things better than really sweet things in general. I didn’t time the preparation, but I’m guessing from getting out the bowls to putting it in the oven took maybe five minutes.


Whisk together the dry ingredients.

Whisk together the wet ingredients except butter. I used an immersion blender because I wanted to smooth out the cottage cheese anyway.

Fold the flour mixture into the egg mixture. This means stir it in fairly gently with a spoon. Fold in the butter. Fold in 3/4 of the raspberries. Pour the rather thick slightly lumpy batter into a 9 inch square pan you’ve sprayed with oil. Sprinkle the remaining raspberries over the top.

Bake at 350 degrees for 50-60 minutes. Let cool 20 minutes and serve.

I expect this cake would freeze just fine, but I don’t know, because it didn’t last very long. I’m going to make it again soon because we grow our own raspberries and still have quite a lot in the freezer from last year.

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Sparkling muffins

I know, I know, if you sparkle a muffin, you’ll only be contributing to the trend — is something so established still considered a trend? — of turning muffins into cupcakes. And yet sometimes the urge is irresistible.

I made these the other day. They are one of my favorite muffins (of the cupcakey muffin style), so I thought I’d share them with you.


1 C frozen cranberries, chopped. I suggest a food processor to chop the cranberries. You’re not looking to grind them into a paste, so just pulse until they are fairly well chopped.
2 Tbsp sugar
2 C flour
1/3 C sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 C butter
3/4 C orange juice — I use frozen concentrate because I just keep it in the freezer and use it now and then, but I guess fresh would probably be better.
1 egg, slightly beaten

1/4 C butter, melted, for dipping
1/4 C sugar, for dipping

Spray muffin cups with whatever oil spray you prefer. They will stick if you don’t spray the cups. If you use paper cups, put them in the muffin pan and then — this is important — spray the paper cups.

Combine the chopped cranberries with the 2 Tbsp sugar and set aside.

Combine the flour, the 1/3 C sugar, the baking powder, and the salt. Cut in the butter. I suggest cutting the cold butter into roughly Tbsp chunks, adding them to the flour mixture, and then using a Really Sturdy pastry cutter (with FLAT BLADES not ROUND WIRES) to cut in the butter. It only takes a minute if you have chunked the butter rather than dropping a whole stick into the bowl. Incidentally, if you’re not used to cutting in butter, you first press straight down and then twist the cutter in a circular motion. If (when) butter sticks to the cutter, scrape it off with a spoon or knife.

You cut in butter to produce flakier pastries, incidentally. It makes an enormous difference when you make scones, but I’m not certain it honestly matters tremendously for this recipe. The alternative would be to soften the butter (15 seconds in the microwave) and beat it with the egg and sugar, then the orange juice, then add the flour mixed with the baking powder and salt. That would probably work fine, too.

Anyway, provided you cut in the butter the way the recipe directs, you cut it in until the bits of butter are the size of peas or smaller and then stir in the orange juice and egg, mixing gently.

Spoon the batter into the muffin cups. For me, this makes 12 muffins with no batter left over.

Bake the muffins at 350 degrees for 25 minutes or so, until lightly browned. Cool in the pan five minutes. Lift out and set on a rack. If you sprayed the muffin pan, they should lift out easily, or at least mine do. While still warm, dip each muffin in the melted butter and then the sugar. Serve warm, to cries of delight from all.

Though sparkling cranberry muffins are popular, I’m sure you immediately notice the potential of this techniques for other kinds of muffins. If you sparkle a chocolate or chocolate chip muffin, you may as well give up and call it a cupcake, but you can probably get away with serving most other kinds of sparkled muffins for breakfast. I must admit that I am perfectly capable of eating them for breakfast and then for dessert at dinner, so a batch doesn’t last long at my house.

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Finished! And cake.

If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll know that I finished the first rough draft of KERI yesterday. Right on time!

Woo hoo!

Of course, next comes revision: I have 25 little notes to myself about revisions I need to make. That’s before I send it to Caitlin and get her no-doubt-extensive comments back and do the next round of revision. Hopefully there will be little to do with it after that; always nice when your editor likes your ms. as-is.

My simplest note is: remember Tassel is tall.

My more complicated notes are, you know, complicated.

Anyway, just by chance, I had just made this cheesecake, so I had an appropriate celebratory food on hand. This is my very favorite no-bake summer cheesecake. In the summer, I make it without a crust and spoon the filling into little dessert dishes. Thus, no need to turn on the oven!

Chocolate Marshmallow Cheesecake

1 envelope (2 1/4 tsp) unflavored gelatin
1/4 C cold water
2 8-oz pkg cream cheese, softened
3/4 C sugar
1/3 C cocoa
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 C whipping cream, whipped
2 C mini marshmallows

Put the gelatin in a little pan and add the water. Heat on low to dissolve the gelatin.

Meanwhile, beat the softened cream cheese with the sugar and cocoa. Then beat in the gelatin mixture and vanilla. Then fold in the whipped cream. Then fold in the marshmallows. Poof, you’re done. Spoon into dessert dishes and chill before serving. You can sprinkle a few more marshmallows on top if you care about presentation (I didn’t this time).

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Raspberry truffle brownies

I was kind of going to do a low-carb thing over May, and then I thought maybe June, and now it is pretty clear that isn’t going to happen. Because I keep deciding I just have to have sugar, preferably with cream cheese somewhere in the recipe as well. And chocolate, of course. Besides, there was a potluck, so I had to make something! I made these, which are a big favorite for my mother as well as for me. I’ve seen this recipe in Taste of Home, but it’s a pretty common recipe so I don’t know where it came from originally. But good job, whoever made these brownies first!

Raspberry Truffle Brownies

1/2 C butter
1 1/4 C chocolate chips
2 eggs
3/4 C packed brown sugar
1 tsp instant coffee granules
2 Tbsp water
1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 C all-purpose flour

1 C chocolate chips
8 oz cream cheese
1/2 C powdered sugar
1/3 C seedless raspberry jam

Bar white chocolate, for garnish

Okay, melt the butter and chocolate in the microwave, stirring occasionally. Stir until smooth and set aside to cool slightly. Beat the eggs and brown sugar; dissolve the coffee granules in the water and add to the egg mixture. Beat in the melted chocolate. Whisk the baking powder into the flour and add to the egg mixture.

Pour batter into a greased 9″ square baking dish (line the pan with foil and grease foil for easiest cutting) and bake at 350 degrees for 25-35 minutes, until a toothpick an inch from the center comes out clean. I overbake this recipe from time to time and if you do that, the brownies will be dry. So I’d suggest testing early and often. This is why I give such a large range of baking times.

Melt the chocolate chips with the cream cheese in the microwave. Stir until smooth. Beat in the powdered sugar and raspberry jam. Spread over mostly cool brownies and chill in the fridge for a couple of hours before slicing.

To me, these brownies are tasty but plain-looking. You can spruce up the appearance easily by taking a white chocolate bar and a vegetable peeler. Just hold the chocolate bar over the brownies and peel off shavings and curls. You’ll get bigger, smoother curls on a hot day and little shavings on a cold day, but either way the white chocolate will greatly enhance the look of lots of chocolate desserts, including these brownies.

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A craving for cheesecake

I haven’t been baking a lot lately, but I suddenly developed this terrible NEED for cheesecake, you know how it is. So I made this:

White Chocolate – Coconut Cheesecake

1 crumb crust (I just combine 1 1/2 C or so of very fine vanilla wafer crumbs and enough butter to make it stick together, say about 5 Tbsp)
5 pkg cream cheese (the 8-oz size, of course)
1 C sugar
1 1/2 C white chocolate chips or white chocolate bars, broken up, melted, and cooled slightly. I used Ghirardelli bars, I think.
4 eggs
3/4 C coconut milk (shake the can hard before you open it.
2 tsp coconut extract
1 tsp vanilla extract

3/4 C flaked coconut, toasted.

Make the crust, press into a 10-inch Springform pan, and bake at 350 for ten minutes. While the oven is hot, toast the coconut. It will only take about two or three minutes to toast the coconut. Plan to stir once in the middle.

Soften the cream cheese in the microwave. Add the sugar and beat until smooth. Beat in the white chocolate. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Beat in the coconut milk and extracts. Stir in half the toasted coconut. Pour into prepared crust. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes, turn the heat down to 300 degrees, rotate the cheesecake (assuming your oven does not heat quite evenly), and bake another 15-20 minutes, until it looks set but still jiggles slightly in the center when you gently shake the pan.

Cool in the pan for 5 minutes. Run a knife along the edge to loosen the cheesecake from the rim, but do not remove the rim. Cool, then place in the fridge over night (or for at least six hours; if you make the cheesecake early in the morning, it will certainly be ready by dinnertime.

Sprinkle with the rest of the coconut before serving.

Now, if I were making this again, I would be SO TEMPTED to remove a cup or more of the batter, stir in melted dark chocolate, and swirl it in to the white chocolate base. But I didn’t this time around. Next time, though. And if I did that, btw, I’d also make a chocolate crumb crust, which is just the same only you add 1/4 C of cocoa powder and 1/4 C of powdered sugar to the crumbs when making the crust.

Anyway, this was a good cheesecake, just as easy as any other cheesecake, so if you don’t have a springform pan, you should totally pick one up and start making your own cheesecakes. Wonderful for potlucks, too.

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Suddenly summer

And the garden is abruptly in full swing. You know how it is, if you’re lucky: those first tomatoes dropping warm and velvety into your hand, the prick as you forget about the spines on an eggplant, the taste of a green bean right out there in the garden. I always find myself moving toward vegetarian cooking at this time of year, just trying to keep up!

I’m trying to think of everything I’ve made in the past week or so. There was the potato-pea-carrot curry in coconut milk, that was good. You know how you can make potato pancakes? You can make veggie pancakes, too, with shredded potatoes, zucchini, carrots, green onions, and (if you’re me) a generous spoonful of hot chili paste with mustard seeds. Those were good. I have a lot of Thai chilies, so I need to find the recipe for that chili paste again.

Green beans are excellent just cooked crisp-tender and drizzled with sesame oil and sprinkled with sea salt. I only use sea salt for very plain preparations; in other words, not that often. But it makes a real difference for something like this.

Let’s see.

Jalapenos stuffed with cream cheese, wrapped with bacon, and baked. Those are great. I haven’t made them yet, but I have a lot of jalapenos I need to use, so maybe tomorrow. Cauliflower soup with artichokes and bacon. I didn’t grow the cauliflower, cauliflower is a pain. I got it from a guy at the farmer’s market, who was selling these beautiful heads. I didn’t grow the artichokes, either. Or, for that matter, the bacon.

On the other hand, I did grow the lovely pink eggplant I used to make eggplant with spicy tomato sauce. Also the tomatoes. This year I’m growing almost no kinds of tomatoes but Principe Borghese and Old Brooks. Those varieties are extraordinarily resistant to cracking and catfacing, which is a quality I put right behind flavor and way ahead of color or shape.

I have exactly one zucchini plant. It’s doing a little better than seems strictly required. The whole-wheat zucchini chocolate chip bread I made was good, but you know what turned out to be actually fabulous? The zucchini coconut muffins. These are, not to put too fine a point on it, the best zucchini quick bread I’ve ever made.

If you, too, love coconut, and if you either grow zucchini or expect a friend or neighbor to force zucchini upon you, then you might want to try this recipe.

Zucchini-Coconut Muffins

2 eggs
1/3 C honey
½ C vegetable oil
1/3 C brown sugar
½ tsp coconut extract
1 C all-purpose flour
1 C white whole wheat flour
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp salt
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
8 oz grated zucchini (about one small-medium; if it takes a third of one zucchini, then you know you let the zucchini get way too big before you picked it). There is no need to squeeze the zucchini dry after grating it; you actually want the moisture in the batter.
4 oz shredded sweetened coconut

Combine the eggs, honey, oil, brown sugar and coconut extract in a large bowl. Beat or whisk to combine. Combine the flour, white whole wheat flour, ginger, salt, baking powder and baking soda in a smaller bowl. Add to the sugar mixture and stir until partly combined. Add the zucchini and coconut and stir until pretty well combined; the batter will be a bit lumpy, especially with the zucchini in it.

Spray a 12-cup muffin pan with cooking spray. Spoon the batter into the muffin cups. Don’t worry if they are pretty full. The muffins rise some, but not so much that they will be a problem.

Bake at 350 degrees for 24-32 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in a muffin comes out clean and the tops are a shade of golden-brown that pleases you. Cool the whole pan on a rack for eight minutes, then gently lift out the muffins. I only had one muffin rip in half out of 24, so they’re not too hard to handle.

Okay, as a bonus, and because these zucchini muffins are very good but not the very best quickbread I’ve made this year:

King Arthur’s Flour’s Broonie

This recipe is from the King Arthur’s Flour WHOLE GRAIN BAKING. I made it almost like the recipe says, and it is just wonderful. It is like an oatmeal muffin crossed with gingerbread, and I don’t know if that sounds good to you, but trust me, it is great.

1 ½ C old-fashioned rolled oats
1 C barley flour — which I have handy, but if you don’t, you could probably substitute white whole wheat flour or whatever you have.
1 C all-purpose flour
½ C brown sugar
1 ½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda – which the recipe didn’t call for, but with buttermilk, it seemed like a good idea.
1 ½ tsp ground ginger – I used a generous 2 tsp
½ tsp salt
½ C butter
3 eggs
1 C buttermilk
¼ C molasses
½ C diced crystallized ginger

Combine the dry ingredients in a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the butter, in pieces, and pulse to cut in. (The recipe suggests a pastry cutter, which is fine, and I have a very nice pastry cutter, but there’s no question that cutting butter into flour is much, much easier with a food processor.)

Whisk or beat together the eggs, buttermilk, and molasses. Pour in the flour-butter mixture and stir until evenly moistened. Stir in the crystallized ginger.

Pour into a greased loaf pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 50-55 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool eight minutes on a rack. Turn out of pan and cool completely. King Arthur’s Flour recommends that you cool this bread, wrap it well, and slice it the next day. Good for you if you have enough self-control to wait! I promise you, it is excellent sliced while still slightly warm.


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I’m sick and tired of this no-carb diet

And anyway, I had a potluck to attend. I wanted to make Maggie Stiefvater’s November Cakes, trying out my idea about using more orange extract, but I didn’t have any cream with which to make the caramel glaze, so instead I made these brownies.

Of course there is nothing unusual about cheesecake-layered brownies, but this particular recipe is very good and very reliable, and I invite you all to try them next time you have a party to attend.

8 oz cream cheese, softened
1/3 C sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 egg
4 Tbsp flour

2 1/2 oz unsweetened chocolate
1/2 C. (1 stick) butter
3/4 C flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 C sugar

Beat together filling ingredients and set aside.

Melt chocolate and butter in microwave, stir until smooth, set aside.

Combine flour, baking powder, and salt.

Beat eggs, vanilla, and sugar until smooth. Beat in chocolate mixture. Beat in flour mixture, on low speed. Spread slightly less than half the batter in a greased 8 x 8 pan. Spread filling over bottom layer of brownies. Dollop rest of brownie batter over filling and spread out until it more or less covers the filling. You do not have to achieve perfect coverage when doing this.

Bake at 350 degrees (340 degrees for a glass pan) for 40-45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out with moist crumbs clinging to it. Cool the brownies in the pan. Cool completely before slicing, if you have sufficient self control. I have to say that slicing off a little taste before the brownies are completely cool doesn’t seem to have any negative effects on the brownies, but they are easiest to slice if chilled. Because of the cheesecake layer, they should be chilled to store, if they last that long.

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November cakes

Do you remember the November cakes from Maggie Stiefvater’s SCORPIO RACES?

Well, if you’re food-focused like me and really wanted to try a November cake, here is Maggie’s recipe, and here are a zillion pictures of the November cakes her readers made.

Think of them as cinnamon rolls, only made with a touch of orange rather than cinnamon. Me, I like the look of that recipe, but I think I will add 1/4 tsp orange extract to the glaze as well as the filling. and the icing. And maybe the dough, too. I mean, if you’re going to have a hint of orange, why not a very definite hint?

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Archon . . . plus a Cavalier party

It was quite a weekend! Ending up with my catching a virus or something, so sorry for the delay, but I was a bit out of it for a couple days.

Okay, so, First the Archon report.

I really enjoyed it! Well, that’s a given, of course. I do wonder if attendance was down this year, though. The halls and dealer’s room and art show seemed as crowded as ever, but the panels and readings were rather sparsely attended – all the panels and readings, as far as I could tell. Virtually no attendees came to the readings. I mean, *I* went to one set of readings, because Gilman (of “The Ice Owl” fame) was going to be there, and Brian Katcher (Almost Perfect, which I loved), and Mark Tiedemann, whom I know. And I was glad I went. Attendees who didn’t go missed out. All the readings were good and Brian Katcher’s, from a book that won’t be out till 2015, was really good and very funny. I hope he remembers to remind me when it’s out. I definitely want a copy.

At my own reading, I actually just read a brief selection from ISLANDS because nobody there had read it, so why not? But I was slightly disappointed, after preparing and timing a selection from BLACK DOG.

Now, on Friday, I was on a panel that discussed the importance of editing your work. I wasn’t supposed to be on that panel, but I walked in and Mark Tiedemann immediately invited me to join the panel, which was really nice since I’d almost always rather be on the panel than in the audience. So we talked about “big” editing and the importance of your agent / editor / beta reader when you get to the stage where you can’t tell whether your finished book is any good or not. I think we all agreed that you do indeed get to that stage! Writing groups came up and of course I said vehemently that I hate ‘em and would never join one, and Mark said how they can turn into round-robin ego support groups and how useless that is. But he did suggest that maybe beginning writers might benefit from joining a writer’s group for six months and then quitting while it was still helpful. He went to Clarion, and he found that helpful. And some of the other panelists did like writer’s groups – they must be more social than I am (not hard).

But we *all* agreed that line editing is important and can’t be too strict and that “all right” is TWO WORDS. TWO. WORDS.

So, anyway! I totally hadn’t realized that on Saturday I was scheduled for three back-to-back panels, from 11:00 AM straight through to 2:30 PM. Whoa. That was crazy. Next year I will be careful not to let that happen.

The first was the one on Alien Manners. One of the other panelists really stressed the biological underpinnings of behavior, and that was a great point, and I suggested looking at Octavia Butler’s Oankali series, which starts with DAWN, to see an alien species whose instincts are nonhuman. I’ve always wondered whether Butler actually realized that she’d set up a species whose primary difference from humans is that they, unlike humans, can’t override their instincts?

I love the topic of behavior and instinct, but the topic of manners isn’t exactly the same thing, right? I absolutely recommended Cherryh’s Foreigner series and warned the attendees that they should expect the entire first book to be an intro, because I know the slow start can turn off readers. And I suggested that when you’re creating an alien species, or a nonhuman fantasy species, that it needs to be exotic enough to seem nonhuman, yet familiar enough to modern American sensibilities to appeal to readers. Which is actually something my brother pointed out about Gillian Bradshaw’s historical novels, that Bradshaw captures the exotic feel of classical Greece and Rome, but tones down the brutality of those societies so that modern readers can be comfortable reading her books. And of course a historical novel can be just like a fantasy in that the society you’re working in has to be, or at least should be, different from modern American society.

And an attendee asked about creating a star-spanning civilization containing lots of species and how would you handle that? And one of my co-panelists started talking about how, realistically, fear and the necessity of self-preservation in the face of the alien would be such a constraint on that kind of society. And I said, Well, yes, but if you want to write book with that kind of setting, who cares whether it’s realistic? It just needs to be well-written. You just wave your hands and declare that you DO have that kind of civilization, and then you write the story you want to write. I said story telling is the goal and used Tanya Huff’s military SF Valor series as an example, because it’s just like that. It’s such a good series that nobody’s going to fret about how much sense it makes, or doesn’t make.

Then I ran to the other end of the convention center, not quite knocking anybody flying, and arrived, panting, for the panel on writing for YA readers. There was only one other panelist, and he turned out not to write SFF, and I’m afraid he wasn’t a very assertive panelist, and I did try not to totally take over the panel, but I’m afraid with rather limited success. Of course this is a common panel topic. We talked about pacing and the need for tight plotting and how the YA protagonists have to drive the story and how they need to be operating “under the radar” and evading adult control. And I said that agent Kristen Nelson’s (of Pub Rants) opinion is that in YA, the protagonist has to take the first irrevocable steps out of childhood and into adulthood, because I think that might be true and I know it’s one helpful thing to think about when writing YA. It was a good panel, I think, even if I did wind up dominating the panel maybe too much. Sorry, co-panelist! The audience was good. People asked a lot of good questions.

Then I rushed *back* to the other end of the convention center and did the writing workshop. I really wished I could tell the participants that I loved their novel fragments and thought that they were just this close to publication, but of course I couldn’t. We talked about beginning your novel and I explained, for example, how saying “the young man” or “the petite woman” as description had the effect of pushing the reader away from the protagonist, because the pov protagonist would never think of himself (or herself) in those terms, see? So you fall out of their point of view the minute you do that. So even a seemingly tiny phrase like that counts as “telling rather than showing” and is in fact a worse problem than all kinds of “telling” that might at first glance seem much more extreme. And I handed out all those novel beginnings I typed up earlier. I was really glad I’d taken plenty of time to think about the strengths and weaknesses of the fragments way in advance.

Then I staggered off on a quest to find lunch. At three. I never miss meals. I’m surprised I didn’t faint on the way.

Then, fortified, I went to the dealer’s room and bought – let’s see here – I have a list – right, here we go: Traitor’s Gate by Kate Elliot, Mad Ship and Ship of Destiny by Robin Hobb (now I need the first book in that trilogy), Forest Mage by Robin Hobb (I see now it is the second book of a series), Labyrinth by Kate Moss, Heart of Light by Sarah A Hoyt, Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi, and Enchanted Glass by Diana Wynn Jones. I got most of those used because it turns out that Glen Cook may be closing up shop as a book dealer, so he had a lot of books available for half price or a dollar apiece or whatever. I think my TBR pile is back up in the region of seventy books or so again.

The last thing for me on Saturday was the dog panel, and it had been moved so that it was opposite the masquerade, unfortunately. So I and the other panelists chatted with the tiny number of attendees who came to the panel and told stories about our dogs and every now and then we gave a nod to the official topic, which was of course the role of dogs in SFF. We didn’t do more than make vague gestures toward that topic, though. I’ll just say here, though, that to me some of the best “real dogs” in SFF are Ash in Robin McKinley’s Deerskin; the Cardigan Welsh Corgi in Duranna Durgin’s A Feral Darkness; and the pekes in Barbara Hambly’s Bride of the Rat God, which is a great book, btw, and has that campy title for a very good reason, and you should all go find a copy. Pekingese are far from my favorite breed, but Hambly makes me love hers. Though, admittedly, they are actually just “mostly real dogs”, as in the course of the book, we find out that pekes were really bred to hunt demons.

And in the “humanized dog” category? My favorites are Sirius in Diana Wynne Jones’ Dogsbody, and the dogs in Dodie Smith’s novel 101 Dalmations (yes, really).

Then, on Sunday? Well, on Sunday, there was the very important Cavalier Halloween party, so you see why I couldn’t be at Archon on Sunday! Naturally, I had to go home Saturday night, get up early Sunday, bathe dogs, make my special entry for the Halloween-themed potluck, load all my dogs up (five at the moment), and drive back to St Louis in time to set up the obstacle course and help organize the entry forms for all the contests. Very important!

I set up a half-rally / half obstacle course. Tunnels and jumps and a figure eight around distractions and stuff. Lots of people entered in the novice category. I swear I hadn’t shown the obstacles to my girls ahead of time, but in fact my Giedre won the novice category. And Pippa won the pro category, which was just for dogs who already have performance titles. Somebody else won “best trick” – deservedly, I should add, she’d taught her dog all kinds of tricks. My friend Deb won “cutest puppy” – that’s mostly dependent on age, since the younger the puppy, the more likely it is to win. The costume contest was great, and there was a tie – both entries in owner-dog duo costumes were great. One woman dressed as Princess Leia and dressed her dog up as Yoda!

So, to wind all this up: Here’s my entry for best Halloween-themed potluck item – not sure whether to call it a cookie or a pie or a cake! It is a giant cake-type chocolate-chip cookie, spread with nutella and sprinkled with chopped twix candy bars, gummy worms, and candy corns. Then I arranged chocolate cookie mice around the rim. I expected to win this category, and I did, by a satisfying landslide.

In case you happen to want to try this, here is the recipe:

Giant Chocolate-Chip Cookie:

This makes a nice, cakey, soft chocolate-chip cookie, which is perfect for this recipe.

¼ C shortening
¼ C sugar
½ C brown sugar
1 egg
½ C evaporated milk
½ tsp vanilla
1 ¼ C plus 2 Tbsp Flour
¼ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
3 oz (1/2 C) chocolate chips
½ C nutella
A dozen gummy worms
A small handful candy corns
About eight fun-sized twix candy bars, cut into thirds

Beat the shortening, sugar, and brown sugar. Beat in egg. Beat in evaporated milk and vanilla. Combine dry ingredients and beat in on low. Spray a pizza pan with cooking spray and spread cookie batter onto pan. Bake at 375 degrees for about 30-35 minutes, until golden-brown and a toothpick in the center comes out clean (if you hit a chocolate chip, it won’t come out clean, so poke it again if you think it’s done; it probably is). Let rest on rack until mostly cool. Spread with nutella and sprinkle with other toppings, leaving space around the rim for the mice.

Chocolate mice

2/3 C semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 C coarsely chopped crumbs from crushed chocolate wafer cookies or chocolate animal crackers – I suggest a food processor for this job.
½ C very fine crumbs from those cookies, sifted out when you crush the cookies.
1/3 C sour cream
Candy sequins, for eyes – look in the baking aisle with the decorating supplies.
3 strips chocolate licorice, for tails – I can’t find string licorice, but you can cut normal licorice into very fine lengths for tails.
Sliced almonds, for ears

Melt chocolate. Stir in coarse crumbs. Stir in sour cream. Roll into a dozen or so rough balls. Then take each piece and roll into a smooth ball, then shape into a fat torpedo shape with a pointy end for the nose and a rounded end for the tail. Place the sequins in the right spots for eyes. Roll the mouse in the fine crumbs. Stick a toothpick in the round end to make a hole and insert the tails. Find a couple of matching almond slices and insert them for ears. Set the finished mice in place around the rim of the cookie. Prepare to enjoy your guests’ expressions when you bite a mouse in half – it’s not like they look *that* real, and yet they kind of do.

The mice are best a day or so after making them, so that the crumbs have time to soften and the whole thing melds into a fudgy whole. Because of the sour cream, it’s probably best to refrigerate the mice to store. They’re not only strangely cute, but quite tasty, so you might not have to worry about that for very long!

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And for Father’s Day —

I’m sure it won’t surprise you to hear I made a cake! Since my Dad has a sweet tooth, this was a no-brainer thing to do.

I was in a mood to experiment, so I made this possibly somewhat odd cake:

Chocolate Mayonnaise Layer Cake

I admit I also made this because I accidentally opened a jar of mayonnaise when I already had one open. They were both big jars and it takes me a loooong time to go through a jar of mayonnaise, so this cake was a way to speed up the process.

The cake wasn’t at all bad. Decent chocolately taste and a nice moist crumb. I present it here in case you also find yourself needing to find room for two open jars of mayonnaise in the fridge. Or, for that matter, out of butter, since that plus a couple eggs is what the mayonnaise is replacing.

2 oz semisweet chocolate
2/3 C cocoa
1 3/4 C boiling water
2 3/4 C all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 C dark brown sugar (or actually I used light brown, not like it makes any difference)
1 C sugar
1 1/3 C mayonnaise (I would not expect results to be as good using low-fat or fat-free; I used Helman’s regular mayonnaise)
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla

Frosting of your choice — since this was my Dad, I used a chocolate peanut butter frosting that I figured he would like, and since it was Father’s Day, I dusted stars over the frosted cake with gold dust. But use whatever you like.

So, the cake:

Combine the chocolate and cocoa and pour over the boiling water; whisk until smooth.

Combine dry ingredients.

Beat together the sugars and mayonnaise — beat for 3 minutes. Then beat in the eggs one at a time. Then add the dry ingredients 1/4 at a time, alternately with thirds of the chocolate mixture.

Line three eight-inch cake pans with parchment paper. Or I used 2 nine-inch cake pans plus one giant cupcake dish.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30-32 minutes, until a tester comes out clean. Let cakes cool ten minutes, turn out onto racks, and cool completely. Assemble, frost with whatever frosting you decided to use. In case you also like peanut butter, here is a good chocolate-peanut-butter frosting, good for a father with a sweet tooth:

8 oz semisweet chocolate
3/4 C peanut butter
1 C heavy cream
1 C powdered sugar

Heat the cream and pour over the chocolate and peanut butter; whisk until smooth. Whisk in the powdered sugar, more or less a cup or to taste. Frost cake; chill to set frosting; use your handy star decal to dust gold dust stars over cake, and serve to general acclaim.

Also! In case you’re keeping track of my progress in other realms, possibly more relevant to you as readers . . . I have now cut SIXTY SEVEN pages from my WIP, dropping its current length back to a mere 154 pages. Ouch!

But! A) I like the 154 pages I have now quite a lot better than I liked the 221 I had before , and B) Some of the cut pages are simply going to move to a new home in a later chapter, so that cut wasn’t as extreme as it seems.

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