My Writing Process Blog Hop

I was tagged by the talented, Ronni Arno (author of Rene Reinvented), in the My Writing Process Blog Hop.

So if you’re interested in how I write, read on. If you’re here for a recipe, go to the bottom for the best banana pudding ever!

What am I working on?

I recently finished a middle grade novel, Drive-Through Miracle. It’s about a girl who’s given up all hope that anything good will happen to the people she loves.

That sounds kinda depressing, but I promise there are some funny parts. Like her mom is the head cashier at the local Piggly Wiggly. See, you can’t say Piggly Wiggly without smiling.

You can read the query here.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

My favorite children’s author is Kate DiCamilllo. I love how she makes the reader laugh and cry throughout her books.

Remember in Because of Winn Dixie when the librarian gives Opal a Littmus Lozenge? It tastes sweet—like root beer and strawberry. But there’s also something else—a secret ingredient.

“Sorrow,” Miss Franny said. “Not everybody can taste it. Children, especially, seem to have a hard time tasting it.”

I wish children (and adults, for that matter) never had to taste sadness, but without the storm, there’s no rainbow.

A good book evokes all kinds of human emotions and leads the reader to consider all sorts of possibilities.

Why do I write what I do?

I’m a school counselor in my day job and I love helping kids find their way. One of the best feelings in the world is seeing how you’ve influenced another person.

Writing is like that. It’s reaching one reader at a time and hoping that you leave him or her somehow… different. Happier. Encouraged.

How does your writing process work?

My writing process is a simple three-step process:

1) Observe,

2) Investigate, and

3) Ask what if?

Here’s how it worked with Drive-Through Miracle.

Because I work during the school year, I do most of my writing in the summer. I try to write a first draft during June and July and then I spend the rest of the year revising – working late at night and on the weekend.

Observe. Last summer, on the way to a park where I walk/jog, I noticed a sign along the road.

Drive-Through Prayer

Tuesdays and Thursday, 4:30pm-6:30pm

All Summer Long

I passed this sign 5-6 times a week. And each time I had the same thought: It’s hotter than Hades out here. That’s really nice of someone to sit outside and pray with somebody.

Investigate. Each time I drove by, I’d crane my neck to see the set up. The church was on a hill, and from the road all I could see was the top of a canapycanopy in the parking lot. I just had to see what the drive-through looked like.

So one hot afternoon, I packed a chilled Gatorade and my 14-year-old son in the car and we drove up the hill. I figured this was a one-time trip, so we needed to take note of everything we saw.

As we slowly drove up, we saw a man sitting in a lawn chair under the canopy. His feet were propped on a cooler and he was reading. We stopped at an orange cone and the man walked to my open window.

After some brief introductions, I handed the preacher the Gatorade and told him we appreciated that he was helping people with their burdens. He thanked us for the drink and we were about to drive off when he asked, “What about you folks?”

“Us?”

“Yeah. Can I say a prayer for you?”

My son and I looked at each other. I don’t know why we hadn’t anticipated this, but we hadn’t.

We agreed and he prayed that we would feel God’s blessing that summer.

My son and I drove to the park in silence–both considering the experience we’d just had.

Later that night we talked about how maybe we’d, in some small way, been a blessing to the preacher.

Ask what if. I wondered, what if a girl rode to the drive-through on her bike and asked for prayer? Or what if she rode up on her bike, but she hid in the bushes? And she watched as other folks asked for prayer. What if she saw her best friend ride to the drive-through? What would his burden be?

And that’s how I came to write Drive-Through Miracle.

So, yeah, I felt a blessing that summer.

And that’s my writing process.

I’ve tagged two fellow writers. They will post their writing process next Monday.

If you don’t know them, take some time to meet both. They are incredibly fun and talented writers.

Elizabeth Dunn  liz pic

http://elizabeth-dunn.blogspot.com/

Twitter: @elizabethdunn89

Ella Schwartz   OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

http://ellaschwartz.net/

Twitter: @ellaschwartz

Oh, and here’s the best banana pudding ever!

Luscious Banana Pudding

Ingredients: 1 large package of vanilla (or banana) instant pudding, 2 cups of whole milk, 1 can of sweetened condensed milk, 1 box of vanilla wafers,  4 bananas, and one large container of whipped topping.

Mix pudding and milk until firm. Stir in sweetened condensed milk and whipped topping and mix well. In a large container, alternate vanilla wafers, sliced bananas and pudding mixture. Repeat 2 more times. (For a different look, reserve some of the whipped topping and end with a layer of that on top.)

Luscious Banana Pudding

Luscious Banana Pudding

Simple Pimento Cheese

Somebody once came up with an acronym for making good presentations.

KISS – Keep It Simple Stupid.

That’s not a bad idea when it comes to dinner.pimento and salad

I’m something of a pimento cheese connoisseur and after eating it at 2 restaurants (one pretty famous by Atlanta standards) recently, I’ve decided this recipe still tops most.

The key is the grated onion, the roasted red pepper, and a touch of blue cheese.

pimento 1

It really is simple when you have a jar of roasted red peppers on hand. Sadly, I didn’t and had to roast my own. (Use two mini red peppers or half a large one. Drizzle olive oil on top, salt and pepper, and bake at 350 degrees until tender.)

Pimento Cheese

8 ounces sharp cheese, grated

4 ounces medium cheddar or Colby or any other type of cheese, grated

1 tablespoon of blue cheese (I use half a wedge that comes in the 8 oz. Laughing Cow container)

1 tablespoon of grated onion

2 tablespoons of diced roasted red peppers

1/4 – 1/2 cup of mayonnaise (depending on your taste)

salt & pepper to taste

Put all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until blended to the texture you prefer. (Sandwich Thins are used in the picture, but any bread will do fine.)

And for something sweet? It doesn’t get any simpler than this.

rice k

Rice Krispy Treats

1 package of mini marshmallows

3 tablespoons of butter

6 cups of Rice Krispy cereal

Melt the butter in a pan on medium heat, then add the marshmallows. Once the mixture is completely melted, remove from heat and stir in the cereal.

Press the treats into a casserole pan with a spatula that is buttered or covered with wax paper.

The boy and I almost ate the entire pan. Which means my pants will most likely snap, crackle, and pop tomorrow.

What’s your favorite simple meal or dessert?

Semi-Cajun ~ Sausage, Beans, & Rice

I spent one very long, hot summer in New Orleans when I was in college. The highlight was staying in the home of a sweet woman who introduced me to Cajun cooking. Sally was an expert in making a roux and sauces, with her specialty being jambalaya.

I wish I had stolen asked for her recipes, but I didn’t realize at the time how much I’d want them. I blame the heat.

With a little help from Zatarain’s anyone can make a Cajun dish.cajun 2

Sandra Lee has Semi-Homemade and this is what I call Semi-Cajun.

Sausage, Beans, & Rice

1 box of Zatarain’s Black Beans and Rice

2 cups water

2 cups chicken broth

1 cup uncooked rice

1 cup diced Cajun trinity – green or yellow bell pepper,  onion, and celery (Sometimes I don’t have celery and I substitute minced garlic.  I’m sorry, Sally!)

2 T oil

1 lb. smoked sausage, sliced (Kielbasa, Andouille, or any other type)

salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil in a pan and sauté the sliced sausage. Remove the sausage from the pan Cajun 1and sauté diced bell pepper, onion, and celery (or garlic) in the rendered fat.

In another pot, put the contents of the Zatarain’s box, water, 1 cup of chicken broth, and extra cup of rice and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the sausage, vegetables, and remaining chicken broth and simmer for 15-20 more minutes or until the rice is tender.

No one will know you didn’t make it from scratch. I gar-ron-tee!

cajun 3

Simple Chicken Chili to Warm You Up!

Okay, it’s FREEZING everywhere!

Here’s a simple chili that will warm your family. Enjoy and Happy New Year!!

Chicken Chili

1/3 cup diced onionChicken chili

1/3 cup diced green pepper

2 tablespoons oil

1 package chicken chili seasoning

2 cups diced rotisserie chicken

1 can diced tomatoes (for extra kick, use fire roasted style; chop fine if you have folks who don’t like tomatoes)

1 can white navy beans, drained

1 can black beans, rinsed

1 can corn, drained

1 cup water

1 -2 cups chicken stock (depending on how thick you like it)

salt and pepper to taste

Saute onion and green pepper in 2 tablespoons of oil. Whisk together the chicken chili package and water in a large pot and heat on medium high. Add all other ingredients and simmer on the stove for at least 30 minutes or cook in a Crock Pot on low for 2-3 hours or high for 1 hour.

If you make it hotter than some diners like, spoon a dollop of sour cream on top.

Perfect Sandwiches for College Football and World Series

Do you remember the movie, Mermaids? Every meal was just a bunch of appetizers. That’s not a half bad idea.

sandwiches 2These sandwiches are super easy and perfect for watching college football.

I’m more of a baseball fan, although I have taken a liking to watching a certain college team from Texas get beat (even though it doesn’t happen very often.) Let’s just say their quarterback’s head is a little too big for his helmet. Or his belt buckle is a little too big for his britches. And I’m from Texas!

Anywho, these sandwiches are super easy and de-lish!

Ingredients:

1 stick of butter, softened

2 teaspoons poppy seeds

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon Worchester sauce

1/2 onion, grated

couple of dashes of salt

package of dinner rolls or Hawaiian rolls

package of ham lunch meat or Sunday ham leftovers

package of Swiss cheese slices (about 12 slices)

Mix the first six ingredients together in a small bowl. Slice the rolls horizontally sandwichesand spread the mustard mixture on both sides (tops and bottoms) of the rolls. Place 3-4 ham and cheese slices on the bottoms and put the tops of the rolls back on.

Wrap the sandwiches securely in foil and bake for 10-15 minutes at 350 degrees.

Enjoy! What’s your favorite appetizer?

Quick and Easy Taco Salad

In honor of Labor Day, here’s a recipe idea for dinner that requires very little labor.

Taco Salad taco salad

Ingredients:

chopped lettuce  (I like Romaine best.)

1 diced tomato

1 can of light red kidney beans, drained

2 cups grated cheddar cheese

½ cup diced red onion

1 lb. ground beef, cooked, drained, and seasoned with packet of Taco seasoning according to directions on packet

½ bag of Fritos

Mix the first 5 ingredients for the salad and the Fritos together.  Place in individual bowls. Spoon taco meat on top of each.

Variations:

Salsa – pour a heaping helping of salsa on top.

Thousand Island dressing – pour a heaping helping of the salad dressing on top.

Catalina dressing – pour a heaping helping of Catalina dressing on top.

Guacamole – I think you know where I’m going with this.

Happy Labor Day!

Next up: Hummingbird cake – Labor of love or torture?

Chicken Bacon Quesadillas

It’s hot out! And I’ll do just about anything to avoid turning on the oven in the summer.<!–
This recipe is great for a quick dinner and you won’t sweat making it.

Chicken Bacon Quesadillas

Ingredients:

2 cups rotisserie chicken, diced in small pieces

½ red onion, diced

½ red pepper, diced

1 cup grated cheddar cheese

1 cup grated Monterey jack cheese

8 strips of bacon, cooked and diced

Brown bacon then set aside to drain on a paper towel. Use some of the bacon grease and sauté the diced red onion and red pepper.

Spray top and bottom of the quesadilla/grill. Place one flour tortilla on it. quesadillaSprinkle cheeses, chicken, bacon, onion and red pepper on the tortilla. Top with another flour tortilla and press until lightly browned. Cut into 6-8 triangles and serve with sour cream, tomatoes and lettuce, and black beans*.

*Sauté some garlic, red onion, and red pepper in the leftover bacon grease and add to canned black beans. Salt and pepper to taste. So good!

Note: If you don’t have a quesadilla maker, you can use a Panini press/grill. You can also use a non-stick pan on the stove, but remember to flip it to brown both sides.

20130718-103517.jpg

Easy Peasy Summer Strawberry Shortcake

Berries are in season and they make a quick and tasty addition to any dessert.

This is possibly the simplest dessert you’ll ever make. It’s like a strawberry shortcake, minus the shortcake. I use Pillsbury Flaky Grands Biscuits instead.

photo

Slice 2 cups of strawberries. Add 1 cup of blueberries and stir in  1/4 cup of sugar.

Place the biscuits on a cookie sheet that has been sprayed with a non-stick spray. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a microwave. Brush the tops of the biscuits with the butter and sprinkle granulated sugar on top of each biscuit. Bake at 350 degrees until golden.

Cut each cooled biscuit in half. Place a dollop of *heavy whipping cream on one of the halves and spoon a generous helping of strawberries and blueberries on top. Place the other biscuit half on top or to the side.

*Note:  I use the type of whipping cream that comes in a can to make this recipe even easier. (And then the family proceeds to spray a large helping directly into their mouths. Okay, sometimes I do too.)

Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie & Laundry Challenges

There’s nothing like baseball season to showcase my shortcomings as a mother.

Each game, I’m reminded that I don’t put in the same amount of effort into cleaning baseball pants as the other moms do. My son’s once white pants now have permanent Texas Longhorn brown stains thanks to our Georgia clay.

Luckily, he doesn’t seem to mind. I thought maybe nobody would notice, but when one of the boys came home with us after a game, his mother asked me not to wash his uniform. I didn’t take it personally.

He has another pair, but that’s another story. And I blame his father.

This year my #15 needed a blue batting helmet so his dad thought he’d save some money and spray paint his nice green helmet navy blue.

I said it was a bad idea. A very bad idea. But when it comes to saving money, I have no credibility. My husband is the King of Coupons, the Sultan of Save. Unfortunately, he’s not the Michelangelo of spray paint. Picasso? Maybe.

One Saturday the boys were waiting for the game ahead of theirs to finish. They were sitting on the hill and comparing batting averages, making bets, stuffing sunflower seeds in their mouths, doing whatever they do before a game.

Oh, and sitting on their helmets. Yes, that’s right. When my kid got up, he had nice blue streaks on his cheeks.

We got some good news this week. Before the big tournament in July, the team is buying new pants. I’m really going to try this time. Pre-treat. Soak in hot water. Add an oxy booster.

Or I could just spend my energy on pie.

peanut butter pie

Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie

Ingredients

  • 2 cups chocolate graham cracker crumbs
  • ¼ cup melted butter
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1 cup smooth peanut butter
  • 1 pound cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup chopped roasted, salted peanuts
  • 1 pint heavy whipping cream (this will make about 5-6 cups.) Whip in a chilled bowl until thick, then beat in ¼ cup confectioner’s sugar to sweeten it.
  • 1 can of Hershey’s chocolate syrup to drizzle on top (but not the entire can!)

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

To make chocolate crust:

In a food processor, grind enough chocolate graham crackers (about 2 sleeves) until fine. Add 1 tablespoon of granulated sugar, ¼ cup melted butter, and a pinch of salt and pulse a few times.

Press the graham cracker mixture into a 9-inch spring-form pan. Bake until golden and crisp, about 6 to 8 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool completely.

Using an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese with sugar until smooth. Add 1 cup peanut butter and beat until smooth. Add the milk and  ½ teaspoon of vanilla and beat well. Fold 5 cups of the sweetened whipped cream into the peanut butter mixture and spoon into the prepared pan. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, about 2-3 hours. Remove from the refrigerator and garnish with chopped peanuts and chocolate syrup. If there is any remaining whipped cream, place a dollop on or beside the piece of pie. You can also put a strawberry or two on the plate for dipping (or just to pretend you’re healthy).

Vending Machine Surprises

My son has a fascination with vending machines.  If it was the type that stored year-old Funyuns and Oreos, I’d be okay. But he’s fascinated with the other type. The kind found in movie theater restrooms.

This didn’t happen when he went in the Ladies’ restroom with me. Is 13 too old to still go in the Moms’ restroom?

The other day I discovered a tiny empty box in the little compartment near the car door handle. It read:

Protocol – When life just can’t wait. Contains one.

One what? And I thought those things were supposed to prevent life.

His father had picked him up from the movies the day before. Why couldn’t he notice these things and talk about them without even involving me?

It was a good thing my husband was driving when I made this little discovery. Curious George was in the backseat and we were headed to…church. The discussion would have to wait.

I thought about it all through the sermon.  Each possible scenario started with… these items are used by some people… And they all ended with…So never ever put your hands on a restroom vending machine again!

Then I thought,

Wait a minute, what if the box didn’t belong to my son? What if my husband had bought the little treasure?

That possible conversation scenario took a much uglier turn. For some highlights, see this.

On the way home I settled on my lecture. Basically, it was a lecture I’d make my husband give. Then I saw a tiny plastic bottle roll by my feet.

Okay, so it was watermelon sour drops. Who knew?photo[3]

Last weekend we traveled out of state to attend a family wedding. On the way home he spent a little too much time in the truck stop restroom. When he came out, he asked for a quarter.

Does he listen to anything I say?

He explained it was for the scale that told his fortune. Okay, I was a little curious. Why don’t they ever have these in the Ladies’ restroom?

When he came back, he told me what it said. It was definitely advice worth taking.

photo[1]Of course that was after the message that told him his lucky lotto numbers.

What are you gonna do?