Monday, June 14, 2010

Caramel Tollhouse Pie and The Dharma Initiative

For someone who gets a fraction of the sleep she needs, I sure have a lot of dreams. I've spent the last week glued to my laptop; not writing, but watching LOST for the first time. The dream sequences remind me of another show I ended up hopelessly entangled in-- Twin Peaks. If you missed out on Twin Peaks, do yourself a favor and watch it. Right now. I'll wait. Come back when you're done.

Welcome back! Dreams are amazing; sometimes terrifying, sometimes beautiful. Mine are usually a mixture of both, probably due to my unabashed love of Stephen King. I'm a sucker for dreams. Martin Luther King had a dream. Stephenie Meyer had a dream which turned out to be Twilight. A seventeen year old me had a dream and I've held on to it for fifteen years. Don't do the math. I'll have to kill you.

So, anyway, my dream was about a group of kids who take a road trip to the mall in a neighboring county to sample the government's latest attack in the war on drugs. When marijuana is on the verge of legalization, some government lab rats invent a safe, mild hallucinogen they inject into curious teenagers at kiosks in malls. Ever been to See's? Little old ladies in white coats, right? Mine aren't passing out chocolates. These kids find a way to finagle a second dose of the drug, Redemption, and get separated in the maze of shops while lost in a haze of crazy hallucinations.

I tried to write the dream a hundred times, but it never came together. It took fifteen years, a new house, old notebooks, a tweet from an agent looking for YA from a male perspective to put it straight for me. I've got it now. I may be taking a brief hiatus to find out what the freaking crap is going on with The Dharma Initiative on Lost, but then it's right back to plugging away at REM.

My inspiration for this project is a dream, but most of my plot ideas are totally random "what if" musings.  The majority of my dreams would bore you to tears.  You won't be reading about me clutching the dashboard while my eleven year old in the driver's seat drives us down the sidewalk at 60 miles an hour. And you definitely won't read about my passionate love affair with President Obama.

Where does your inspiration come from?

If you're looking for inspiration, try Coconut Tollhouse Pie with Salted Caramel. Food for your muse.

Muse Food (a.k.a. Coconut Tollhouse Pie with Salted Caramel)

9" frozen deep dish pie crust (or use your favorite pie crust recipe)

2 eggs
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup unsalted butter (softened)
1 t vanilla
1 cup chocolate chips
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup shredded coconut (a 6oz bag of frozen coconut is wonderful in this)

Salted Caramel Sauce:
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup unsalted butter (cut into small pieces)
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon sea salt (Fleur de Sel de Guerande, if you can get it)

Vanilla ice cream (optional, but oh so necessary)

For the pie; beat eggs until foamy; add flour and both sugars and beat until combined. Beat in butter and vanilla. Stir in chocolate chips, walnuts and coconut. Spread filling in crust and bake in a preheated 325 degree oven for an hour, or until deep golden brown and set in the center.

For the sauce; place sugar in a saucepan with a heavy bottom and pour water evenly over the surface. Stirring constantly, bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Let the syrup boil, covered and undisturbed for three minutes. Remove lid and stir until dark golden amber in color. Beat in butter and stir in heavy cream. Remove from heat; add vanilla and salt. Let cool.

Serve pie with a big scoop of ice cream and a generous drizzle of caramel.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Spicy chocolate tart and rejection

No, I'm not rejecting you. I love you. I really do! I'm even sharing my chocolate with you, see?

For those of you who are following along; I was just rejected by an incredible agent. Not just an incredible agent, but The Incredible Agent. The crazy thing is I'm totally cool with it. No seriously.

My first project is deep and quiet-- not an easy sell for YA. I realized all of this after it was finished and I'd queried every agent under the sun (and the ones who sit inside reading all day and never see the sun). There's been lots of interest in the project, lots of requests for partials and fulls, but no takers. I'm cool with that. Seriously.

I adore Will and Maggie and will let them stay on my hard drive forever if that's what's in the cards for me. There are bigger, better, and more exciting things in the works right now. My current project is huge. It's really, really huge. I'm even playing around with the notion it might be high concept. With the things I've learned during my querying adventure with WILL & MAGGIE, I'm actually looking forward to starting over with REM. I'm more than cool with it; I'm downright excited and looking forward to it. Seriously!

There are still agents considering my first project but I'm not waiting around for answers anymore. When The Incredible Agent passed, I made up my mind to focus my attention on REM. Hers was the third rejection letter from the three agents who topped my wish list; all (amazingly) requested my full MS and all said pretty much the same thing when they passed. All three letters were warm and personal and laced with compliments. All three letters left the door open for future projects. Future projects like REM. I'm cool with all three letters. Seriously.

Instead of feeling rejected, I feel inspired. I'm pretty sure most agents don't throw praise around lightly so I must be on the right track. I didn't read NO in those letters; I read YOU'RE ALMOST THERE.

I know a lot of you are already represented by fabulous agents (several of you are lucky enough to have landed The Incredible Agent) so this is for those of you who aren't: Be cool with rejections. Build your staircase with them and let them lift you higher. Seriously.

If you can't take the heat, get your arse out of the kitchen. I'm not the first person to say it but I'm probably the first person to bake it. Properly chilled, this spicy chocolate tart is indulgent and silky. The coolness melts away to a slow burn that lingers on your tongue and makes you rush for another bite to extinguish the fire. Enjoy!

Hellfire and Damnation (a.k.a. Spicy Chocolate Tart)


8 T unsalted butter, melted

1/4 cup granulated sugar

pinch of salt

3/4 t vanilla

1 cup all purpose flour


3 T unsalted butter

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/3 cup cocoa powder

1 cup heavy cream

1/4 cup bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped

1/8 cup kirsch (so very decadent but optional if you don't have any on hand)

1/2 t vanilla

1 t cayenne pepper

1 egg, lightly beaten

Mix crust ingredients in a medium bowl and press thinly and evenly into the bottom and up the sides of a 9 1/2 inch tart pan. If you don't have a tart pan, press the crust into the bottom and 1/2 inch up the sides of a pie tin instead. Bake for 20-25 minutes at 350 degrees or until golden.

Meanwhile: Melt butter, sugar, cocoa powder, and cream in a medium saucepan, stirring until smooth and simmering around the edges. Remove from the heat and stir in chocolate, kirsch, vanilla, and cayenne.

Just before the crust is ready, whisk the egg thoroughly into the hot chocolate mixture. Pour the filling into the hot crust and turn off the oven. Leave the tart in the oven until it is almost set in the center, about 10-12 minutes. It will still quiver when nudged. Refrigerate until firm and serve very cold.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie and Optimism

For years I've deluded myself into believing I was the dreamer in my marriage. I'm the one who looked for the good in people and tried to find the silver lining on all the nasty little clouds life dealt us. The Gunny and his temper always focused on the worst aspects of every situation. It made sense that I was the dreamer. Not so.

The Gunny buys lottery tickets and plans what he's going to do with his money while he waits for the numbers to be drawn. In almost fourteen years of knowing him, the most I've ever seen him win was $6. But he still dreams of making a trip around the country in a brand new RV to surprise our long-distance family members with expensive gifts.

Last year we bought our first house. I took it as it was; a five bedroom house with storage space, a 1 1/2 car garage, and a Big Freaking Barn. The Gunny (who didn't breathe a word of this when we were signing papers) saw a potential sixth bedroom, a garage that could easily be converted to a rec room, and a Big Freaking Barn that sat on the perfect spot for an in-ground swimming pool. When is he going to start on these renovations? Probably never. But he dreamed of something more in this already beautiful house and (more importantly) believes he will some day see it happen.

The 10yo Gunny brought stray dogs home, tried out for sports teams, dreamed of becoming a veterinarian, built forts, opened a watermelon stand on the edge of the farm, and read Black Beauty again and again. I finally got to meet 10yo Gunny when he drove to Arkansas to pick up a bullmastiff puppy he fell in love with online. He pulled up in the driveway and stepped out of the car holding twenty pounds of fuzzy energy and unleashed it onto our terrified children. I was the one who forced him to buy an outdoor dog kennel and a puppy crate for her to sleep in at night. I was the one who woke up and tended to her when she cried. I was the one who washed the blankets in her crate and scooped poop out of the yard. He just reaped the tail-wagging puppy kisses and wrestled with her in the grass with a smile as wide as the Big Freaking Barn.

When I announced I was writing something big- an actual book instead of rambling blog posts- The Gunny's inner dreamer hyperventilated. It wasn't obvious at first, he just made sure I had time alone on the computer so I could work. When he realized I needed a computer of my own, he ran right out and bought one for me. When my writing time stretched late into the night and I crawled into bed at 2am, he kept the kids quiet in the mornings so I could catch up on sleep. I didn't see it then, but he was dreaming of my book becoming a sensation. Where I hoped to one day see my book in print, he saw dollar signs.

Every query I sent off was another anticipated rejection for me. For The Gunny, every query was a potential catapult onto the NYT Bestseller List and a SOON TO BE MADE INTO A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE sticker for the cover of my book.

After fourteen years together I finally understand he's the dreamer and I'm the realist. I may have the imagination in our relationship, but he has the unfailing optimism that scares me to death. While I'm just a dreamer, he's an honest-to-god Dreamer who believes his dreams are all attainable.

Maybe that's why I love him so much.

I'm posting a picture of my fabulous peanut butter pie with this blog post for all you dreamers out there. For all of you Dreamers out there, I'm also posting the recipe. Forget everything you know about chocolate and peanut butter; this is a dessert for grown-ups. The filling is light and mousselike without being overly sweet, and the chocolate ganache is glossy and elegant.

Eternal Optimism (a.k.a. Peanut Butter Pie)


1 1/4 cups graham cracker or chocolate wafer crumbs

3 T granulated sugar

5 T melted butter


8 oz mascarpone cheese (or softened cream cheese)

1 cup high quality creamy peanut butter

1/2 granulated sugar

2 t vanilla

1 cup heavy cream


1/3 cup heavy cream

2 T unsalted butter

4 oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped

Whipped cream (optional)

Combine crust ingredients and press into the bottom and 1/2" up the sides of a 10" springform pan (or all the way up the sides of a 10" pie pan).

Beat cheese, peanut butter, sugar, and vanilla in a large bowl just until smooth. In a separate bowl, beat 1 cup heavy cream until stiff peaks form. Fold half the whipped cream into the peanut butter mixture to lighten it, then fold in the remaining whipped cream. Spread the filling into the pie crust. Refrigerate until firm, about 4 hours.

Bring 1/3 cup heavy cream and butter to a simmer in a saucepan. Remove from heat and immediately stir in chopped chocolate until melted. Let cool to lukewarm and pour over the top of the pie. Refrigerate until the glaze is set, about an hour.

Serve the pie with lightly sweetened whipped cream, if desired.