Thursday, May 8, 2014

To Die For Chocolate Silk Pie

Easter has been over for about two and a half weeks. This is the time I generally end up with a whole bunch of half-eaten chocolate eggs and bunnies. No, seriously. My kids open each chocolate egg, eat half and then move on to the next one. See:

And that mound of chocolate doesn't even include the stuff my parents sent for Easter from the US. Of course, someone might have gone through the candy and removed a few special things like Jelly Belly jellybeans before delivering the package to the little ones. I will not point fingers nor will I accept blame. (Sorry, Mom. Better send my own package of candy as well next time!)  

Candy stealing aside, every year I end up with a pile of half eaten chocolate. Since my kids have the attention spans of hummingbirds, they will move on to other desserts (like ice cream, cookies, etc) and this chocolate will linger for months until I break down and eat every last drop of it. So, to save my sanity and space in the pantry, I use the chocolate for baking things like...drum roll please... chocolate silk pies. 

Now, my passion for chocolate won't allow me to use just some random recipe. Oh no. I've hunted, pecked and combined different recipes to come up with my very own famous To Die For Chocolate Silk Pie. My friends and family line up for this dessert. I spend a lot of time baking and, by far, this pie is the most requested item I make. I've had friends literally hide it from their spouses so they could eat the pie all by their lonesome. Which, in my opinion, is cause for divorce. I mean, this dessert has a buttery crust and a smooth chocolate center all topped with homemade whipped cream. There would be serious hell to pay if someone hid that from me!

Anyway, this pie is simple and easy to make. First things first, the crust. You'll need:
  • one package of graham crackers OR digestive biscuits
  • 3 TBLS sugar
  • 6 TBLS butter or margarine

Easy, peasy, right? Crumble the biscuits into pieces. You can use a food processor to do this or, if you're a consummate professional like me, just use your hands. When you're done it should look like this:

Then add 3 tablespoons of sugar and 6 tablespoons of melted butter. Give that a mix with a spoon or, you know, your hands again, until it looks like wet sand. 

Spread the mixture into a pie dish and bake it at 350 for 10 mins or so. You'll know it's done when the whole kitchen starts to smell like a buttery biscuit and the edges of the crust are starting to brown, like this:

Set your crust aside to cool. For faster results, pop it into the fridge or the freezer. 

After the crust has cooled, you're ready to make the chocolate center. You'll need:
  • 6 ounces of semisweet chocolate
  • 2 TBLS butter or margarine
  • 2 eggs, separated 
  • 4 TBLS sugar
  • 1 cup whipping cream

Combine the chocolate and the butter into a saucepan. 

Melt the chocolate until it's smooth and silky. I know, I know. All the semi-professional chefs are screaming at their computers right now because I'm not using the double-boil system to melt my chocolate. This is my way to live dangerously. Just let me. 

Once it's melted, you want to add your eggs yolks to the chocolate and mix that together.

Then take your eggs whites, add 2 TBLS of sugar and mix until you have stiff peaks. (tee, hee...stiff peaks...sounds dirty...get it...stiff peaks...oh, never mind.)

As a side note, I have this awesome stand mixer but if you don't have that, you can use a hand mixer instead. It'll get the job done. 

Add the egg whites to the chocolate mixture and carefully fold together. 

Finally, take your whipping cream, add 2 TBLS of sugar and mix until it looks like something that comes out of those nifty whip cream dispensers at Starbucks. 

Then add the whipped cream to the chocolate mixture and gently fold that in. Now dump the whole chocolate mixture into the pie pan and spread evenly across the crust. You'll have something that looks like this:

Finally, the piece de resistance...the whipped cream topping. Take one more cup of whipping cream and 2 TBLS of sugar and whip until the cream holds the shape of the beaters. Then spread that fabulous homemade whipped cream over the top of the chocolate center. You can just slap it on and eat it like that or, if you are channeling your inner Martha Stewart (like I was), you can dust some chocolate over the top and pipe a whipped cream border around the edge.

You're finished product will look like this:

Pop the pie into the fridge to firm up and get nice and cold. Slice and eat. Give one piece to your spouse just to avoid the potential divorce, then hide the rest so you can eat it by yourself later. Oh, you know you will!

Friday, May 2, 2014

Spring is deadly...for my new plants...

Ah, spring...the season of new beginnings. It's the time when animals start getting randy and people flee their apartments chasing the sunlight and warmth. 

It's also when I have to dust off my balconies and actually do something with them. That's annoying. 

Don't get me wrong, I love using my balconies. There's nothing better than drinking morning coffee and listening to the sounds of the city waking up or lounging in my comfy chair with a nice glass of wine and a good book. It's awesome.

What isn't awesome - cleaning the damn balconies every week and keeping my plants alive.  

I have a confession. Most of my Greek counterparts clean their balconies in rain, arctic chills and earthquakes. I don't. In fact, I rarely step onto them in the winter so why in the hell would I waste 45 mins cleaning them every week? That's not only stupid, it's a waste of my time. I'd much rather be writing, or playing with my kids, or hell even exercising. Almost anything would be better than spending time cleaning a balcony no one will care about until the weather improves. 

But now spring has arrived and I actually have to make the balconies look decent. This means scrubbing them till they sparkle. Housecleaning - not my favorite activity. Also, you have to decorate them so they are inviting and pleasant to sit around on.  
And how to you make a balcony look like someone gives a shit? That's right my friends, you add plants. 

Which creates my second problem. If plants were people, I'd be in jail right now for involuntary manslaughter. 

Oh I try. Every year, I try. I keep thinking that my mother genes have to exist in me somewhere. She can just look at a plant and the cottenpickin' thing blooms. I look at them and they turn up their leaves like I have the worst case of halitosis this side of the Atlantic. 

Up until now, the only causalities of my foliage murdering ways has been the plants and my pocketbook. This year, however, things have changed. My son and daughter decided plants are the most fun things ever and want to help me decorate the balconies.

Why? I have absolutely NO idea. I hated when my mother took me to Home Depot's plant department. It was like a lesson in boredom wrapped up in mulch and weeds. To this day, she starts talking about the plants in her yard and I immediately go into a coma. 

Anyway, in an effort to find some new victims plants, we went to a plant fair. Loads of every kind of flower, shrub and seedling you could imagine stretched out as far as the eye could see. I stifled a yawn. My kids, however, - really, my kids, I gave birth to them and everything - were running around looking at all the colorful blooms and talking like two old people planting a garden together. Definitely my mother's love of plants skipped a generation. 

My son, God bless him, was the easier of the two. He took two plants I'm almost certain I'll be able to keep alive. And if I can't, I can easily replace them. You know, like the pet goldfish that mysteriously changes colors slightly while you're at school cuz your mama kept killing it and buying a new one so you wouldn't find out about it. 

My son's selection. I have absolutely NO idea what they are but I've seen them in tons of flower shops so...easily replaceable. 

My daughter, on the other hand, was a bit more determined when it came to her plant. She wanted...a rose bush. A freakin' rose bush. Now roses are beautiful and smell pretty and all that jazz, but they are also notoriously difficult to take care of. I don't have slightest clue what to do with a rose bush. My knowledge of plants is basically water them until they die. That's it. Pruning back a rose bush...fertilizing a rose bush...providing it just the right about of sun. Impossible. I went into a small panic at the flower fair. 

Of course, I tried to talk her out of it. I pointed out all the other lovely, easily replaceable plants - pink ones, purple ones, even some pretty blue ones. She wasn't having any of it. If she had switched to mean, cranky kid it would have been easier but NOOOOO, she was all sweet, charming, cuddly kid. "Please, please, mommy. I really, really want the roses."

ARGH! There's a little secret my kids haven't figured out about me and I secretly dread the day that they do. I can be firm and strict with a tantrum throwing child-terrorist who is screaming and crying for something he/she wants. I cannot, however, be strong when faced with the sweet, polite child who is asking for something in a loving way. 

So, my daughter succeeded in melting my resolve. I just couldn't say no. And of course, when I did say yes...her face broke out into the widest, sweetest smile and she hugged me before doing a happy dance. After that, I had to stop myself from buying every rose bush in the fair. I felt like a million bucks and the best mom in the world. 

That is, until I got the damn thing home and realized that I actually have to keep it alive.  

Gorgeous right? By the end of the summer, it won't look nearly so pretty, I promise you.

Of course, if the blasted thing dies, I'll be the worst mommy in the world. The plant killer, the crusher of childhood memories. (My kids never forget anything - they are like baby elephants with crazy good memories. I'll be eating mashed food in the old folks home and my daughter will be telling HER kids about the time she had this lovely rose bush until I killed it and made her cry for a week.) Therefore, readers, I promise to water it, prune it, fertilize it and hang all over it like it's my first grandchild. Damn thing better live. 

Rose plant aside, I've been hard at work scrubbing, re-potting and getting my fingers nails dirty. The results are: 

Balcony one

Balcony Two

My little helpers: the one with the shell is Julia, the furry one is Louisa

Friday, April 25, 2014

Greece? What were you thinking?

Easter marked the anniversary of my move to Greece, so I thought I would address a question I get asked nearly every week: Why did you move to Greece?

I get it from Americans, which seems natural, but I also get it A LOT from Greeks once they find out I'm American.

And whenever someone asks me this question, I just point to my husband and say:

"It's all his fault."

I moved here four years ago. (Gosh, I can't believe it's been that long!) My husband and I met, married and had both of our kids in the states. He's Greek, born and raised in Athens, but went to the US to study and work. Around the time of our first child's birth, his homesickness went into overdrive. With the upcoming birth of our daughter, it got worse. He missed home - his parents, childhood friends and his familiar surroundings. He had been living in the states for almost 12 years at that point and I think he realized that if he was every going to have to opportunity to try and move back to Greece, it had to happen before we really settled down. 

So, with my grudgingly given blessing, he packed a bag and moved. Our agreement was that if he found a job within a year, I would move to Greece and try it. If he didn't find a job, he would move back to the US and we would settle down happily. 

Now I must add as a caveat that EVERYONE - Greek and American alike - told me that my husband would never be able to find a job in Greece. The economy was heading for a downturn (this was at the beginning of the austerity measures) and good, well paying jobs were few and far between. 

I will never again bet against my husband. I swear it. He should be playing the lottery every week because he's bound to win. Whenever you think something is impossible for anyone to accomplish, my hubby somehow manages to pull it off. NINE MONTHS into our "agreement," he was offered a position with a successful company. 


As a result, I left my job as an attorney, packed or sold everything we owned, and boarded a plane with my two kids bound for Greece. 

I bitched and complained the whole way. 

Since the move, there have been tears. There have been fits of frustrated rage. There have been times I was so homesick, I have spent the day watching tv shows just to see moving pictures of the US.

Oh and let's not even mention the amount of chocolate I have consumed in an effort to ease my homesickness. Chocolate chip cookies were a daily staple in our house for a long time. The neighbors - people I had never spoken to before - were being offered cookies by my husband. We had more sweets than any one family could eat in a year due thanks to my busy baking. 

And yet, despite all of my complaining, there have been blessings too. I've made some great friends. I have the ability to see the sea every single day. Breaking with my career as a lawyer has forced me to explore other options I wouldn't have previously thought possible.  

I wrote a book. Then a second one. And I keep writing. Perhaps I would have done the same in the US but not in the same way. I would have waited until my kids were grown and on their own and even then my writing would have been a side thing I did when I wasn't busy with my day job. 

Now I'm lucky enough to have writing be my day job.   

And all because my husband got homesick and I was crazy enough to try this. 

So I challenge you to try something completely different from your own routine. You don't have to move to a foreign country but maybe try a new food, a coffee shop across town or a new outfit. Break out of your old way of doing never know where it might lead you.

P.S. It seems strange to complain sometimes when I have this outside my door. 

Still, you know you feel bad for me. You know you do. 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Exploring Wine and Writing

This past weekend, Hubby asked me to attend a wine and olive oil conference with him. I was working on the computer and heard the vague mention of wine, which caught my attention. The word conference however, had me avoiding his gaze trying to discern how I could turn him down without sounding like a stick in the mud.  

Wine and olive oil? I had this image in my head of olive oil presses and different kinds of wine barrels. Men and woman in business suits, briefcases and tablets wandering around discussing the best way to age wine and get the most oil out of the olives. Not only would it be boring with a capital B but I would fit in as well as a wolf in a sheep pen.  

Then Hubby mentioned that I should bring money because I could buy my wine glass at the door for $3.00.

"Wine glass?" I asked, my voice rising with interest.

"Of course," he answered. "How else are you going to try the wine?"
After that I was in. I mean, come on, who could blame me? A kiddie free afternoon wandering around a huge stadium with a bottomless glass of free wine. Whoo, hooo!

Oh yes, I got tipsy.

The conference was a wino's buffet. There were Merlots and Chardonnays. Sweet red wine and crisp white wine. One industrious company had brought my favorite Greek beverage (which isn't wine, by the way) honeyed Raki. Since they were selling it at a huge discount, I bought some. They even had a new Greek beverage which was a replacement for Tequila called Mekila. 

I tried it. And yes, it was fabulous. 

I also tried a fantastic wine made from sun dried grapes. Holy smokes, I would have stolen the bottle if I could have. It was that good.

Of course, my enthusiasm was somewhat tapered by the fact that I know absolutely NOTHING about wine. I mean, I love to drink it. That's about all I know. Still, using all of the skills I learned in high school drama, I faked my way through. I swirled my glass before sniffing the wine. I learned to say bouquet without looking for a bunch of flowers. I took delicate sips and nodded saying things like, "This has a clean taste" and "Oh, this is fruity."

But really, I had no idea. None. Completely out of my depth and my comfort zone. And poor Hubby, he's so patient with me. At one point, I poked him. 

"Hey, look, those people are pouring the wine from their glass in that bucket on the table. Why waste perfectly good wine?"

"Because they are trying a lot."

I took a big sip from my glass and said, rather loudly, "I'm trying a lot too. Ooooo, that guy just spit what was in his mouth in the bucket. Yuch!"

Hubby handed me some bread. 

So, all in all, I had a great afternoon tasting wine and bread dipped in olive oil. Thinking about it this morning, I realized that I should break out of my shell more often. Even in my writing. I should, every once in a while, test my limits by trying to write something that is completely outside of my comfort zone - like fantasy or sci-fi. It doesn't have to be big, maybe five pages or so. But occasionally stretching myself, my creativity and my ideas might develop into something quite fun. 

Like the wine and olive oil conference, I won't know if I like until I try it. 

What about you? Do you break out of your writing shell and attempt something different?

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Great Spoon Swap

Thing 1 and Thing 2 (otherwise known as my children - see this article for more of an explanation) take their lunches to school. In the US, children buy hot meals or take a sandwich and some chips. In Greece, things work a bit differently. Here, the mom packs a complete meal (pasta, meat and potatoes, etc), the child places it in a small fridge at school and then it is heated up for lunchtime. It sounds complicated but it actually works out quite nicely. 

Due to children being children, the teachers kindly request that no forks are sent with the kids to school. (Because we all know how little ones just love to make swords out of things!) Instead, they ask the parents to include a spoon. 

The spoon/lunch thing was different for me but it worked. Thing 1's kindergarten lunches went swimmingly until sometime in the middle of the year. One day he took my spoon to school and managed to come home with a completely different spoon. Not a little different. A lot different.

I'd sent him with a cheap, run of the mill spoon. You know the kind. - flimsy, no decorations on the handle, bends in the ice cream if its still frozen hard.  

In place of my cruddy spoon, Thing 1 had come home with this beautiful piece of cutlery. Seriously, I could hardly believe someone had entrusted it to a five year old. It was heavy and made of quality material. Gorgeous swirls on the handle. This puppy wasn't going to bend in the ice cream. No surrey. This spoon was the real deal.  

When I asked Thing 1 where my spoon was, his eyebrows creased in confusion. It seemed he was as surprised as I to see the new spoon. (Apparently, in kindergarten, you can switch spoons without even realizing it.)

Knowing that the owner of this beautiful spoon would be horrified when she discovered my cheap knock off in her child's lunch box, I washed and returned the cutlery the next day. I explained to Thing 1 that he must return the spoon to the right child and then bring me back mine. He nodded solemnly. 

When he returned that afternoon, Thing 1 had a completely different spoon in his bag. 

Unfortunately, it wasn't mine. 

Thus began the Great Spoon Swap. I would send Thing 1 to school with one spoon, he would return with another. At one point, he returned mysteriously with two spoons (neither mine, of course). We never did manage to locate my original spoon. 

I thought the Great Spoon Swap was a boy thing until Thing 2 started kindergarten this year and the whole mess started all over again!

So this morning, while packing lunches, it occurred to me that I was having a great swap of my own. Not of spoons, of course, but of the first chapter of my new manuscript. 

I'm more than halfway through writing this MS and I still haven't been able to decide on Chapter 1. For me, by far, the opening of the book is the most difficult to pin point down. Many writers struggle in the middle or in knowing when the story is over. For me, it's the first line...the first paragraph...the whole first chapter. 

I've written three different beginnings so far and, while I have one that is my favorite, I'm still on the fence. I've been swapping them back and forth within the MS. I let some time go by, work on a different section, and then every few days re-read the first chapter. Inevitably, I end up swapping it with another and starting the process all over again. 

And, of course, that makes me wonder if I haven't quite found the right one yet. Maybe I should write a fourth...perhaps that will be the one I'm magically happy with. 

Or it could be, of course, that I'm a commitment-phobe. My favorite might be the right one and I'm just nervous. So much needs to happen in that first chapter. Does it catch the reader's attention? Keep them wanting more? Give enough backstory for the reader to care about the protagonist but not so much the chapter is bogged down?

It's a fine balance and not one I think I've found yet. 

What about you? Do you struggle with the beginning - the first chapter, the first line - of your MS?

Monday, January 20, 2014

Dr. Seuss, bring your box!

Thing 1 and Thing 2 live in my house. Normal, sane individuals (otherwise known as family and friends) generally refer to Thing 1 and Thing 2 as my children.

If you have no idea who Thing 1 and Thing 2 are, you must, MUST, stop everything you are doing and go to your nearest bookstore. Once inside you will ask the man/woman behind the counter for THE CAT IN THE HAT. Or, in case they don't (gasp) have THE CAT IN THE HAT, you can ask for THE CAT IN THE HAT RETURNS.

Once you have purchased said book, you MUST promptly read it. Laughing aloud is permitted and strongly encouraged. End sidenote.

Alright, so as I was saying, Thing 1 and Thing 2 live in my house. My son (Thing 1) is almost 8. My daughter (Thing 2) is 5. Remember that scene in the book where Thing 1 and Thing 2 are flying kites in the house? Yes, fiction has become my reality.

Everyday is something new with Thing 1 and Thing 2. Without fail, there is loads of fun but there is also fighting, an obscene amount of noise, and a constant stream of mess. I won't even dare to mention the amount of food necessary to keep Thing 1 and Thing 2 in working order. Yikes. 

As you might have guessed, this makes writing very difficult.

Imagine trying to put together a full sentence on paper when this is the conversation happening in the very next room.

Thing 1: Do it. It glows. 

Thing 2: Really? 

Thing 1: Yes, watch. I'll show you. 

Laughter ensues. The door to Thing 2's closet closes and now laughter is muffled. 

Me: Hey, you two, what are you doing?

Door to closet opens. Laughter has mysteriously stopped.

Thing 1 and Thing 2: Playing. 

Hmmm. I have now stopped writing and I am currently wondering if I should leave my desk to investigate what constitutes "playing."

Thing 1: Okay, now you do it. 

Thing 2: No, I want that one. 

Thing 1: Okay here. Put it up your nose.

At the mention of nose, I have now launched myself from my desk chair and hightailed it to Thing 2's room. There I discover Thing 1 and Thing 2 standing next to the open closet door with stickers in their hands. 

Me: What are you sticking up your nose?

Thing 1 and Thing 2 are smart. They are looking very guilty and no one is talking. 

Me: I asked you a question. What are you sticking up your nose?

Thing 2: Thing 1 told me to do it.

Thing 1: Did not. 

Eventually I was able to get the complete story out of Thing 1. He was attempting to show Thing 2 that if you put a glow-in-the-dark sticker up your nose, your nose will glow. Basically, they were playing some kind of bizarre Rudolph game. 

This prompted yet another lecture to Thing 1 and Thing 2 about noses. We don't put anything up them. Not our finger, not our friends' fingers and most definitely NOT stickers.   


At least it made good fodder for my blog!

Does anyone else have anyone or anything creating a distraction? A Thing 1 or Thing 2 of your own perhaps?

BTW: Animals can count as a Thing 1 or Thing 2. I have a dog and I swear she's on a mission to be Thing 3. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Map, compass and cheeseburgers.

I got lost yesterday.

For those of you who know me well, this probably isn't news. I couldn't find my way around most places with a map and a compass. If I ever got dropped in the woods and was told to find my way out, I would likely be discovered by some fisherman in 2016. (Very hungry for a cheeseburger BTW because all I've been eating is berries.)

I'm no Katniss and I have no illusions of this fact. Hubby, however, still manages to forget that my ability to get lost is as natural as blinking.

He sent me on a mission to retrieve some papers for the new car we are buying. Now I was with Hubby when we went to look at the car. I had a general idea of where the guy's auto shop was. But general doesn't really cut it in Greece.

To give you an idea of what streets in Greece look like, I'll use Google Maps.

This is downtown Houston. Even though I have grown up in Houston, I can still get lost. 

Notice that it's a lovely grid. Most normal people would be able to traverse these streets without much trouble.

Now here's a section of Pireaus.

Not so grid like, is it?

Needless to say, I found the guy and was able to retrieve the papers but...well, we won't mention how long it took me.

It struck me, while I was meandering around, that the road to publication - and more importantly my writing career as a whole - won't look like Houston with it's clear street signs, easy grid pattern, and simple turns.  

No, for most authors, it looks far more like Piraeus - crazy, winding streets without signs and multiple decisions to make. You could easily find yourself at a dead end. Or you might take one street only to be deposited in an unexpected place. Oh and as for the turns - you can take one and still be completely lost without any clear view ahead.

So for those on the Piraeus route, what's a writer to do?

There's a great blog article written by Dan Holloway that helps to answer this very question. (To see the article go here.)

Dan says to make a goal for your writing. I completely agree with him.

Without an overall direction for your writing career, it could be extremely easy to lose yourself on such a winding path. You could end up doing things that you don't really want to or, worse, afraid to move forward on things that you would truly love to do. How will you decide which road to go down? Which opportunities to take? Which stories to write?

As an author, having a vision for your writing career will make it easier to make decisions when you stumble upon some of the forks in the road. And chances are, if you have a long writing career, there will be a lot of forks.  

Self-publication or tradition? 
Romance or YA? 
Blog or no blog? 

These are only the easy decisions. 

Take a minute, take a hour...heck take some days. Figure out what it is you want from your writing. Then put it on paper. It's your map and your gut is your compass. 

I'll be happy to buy you the first cheeseburger when you make it out of the woods. Or Piraeus. Whichever comes first.