Friday, December 22, 2017

Recipe for Swedish Visiting Cake

It's the Friday before Christmas and I'll be making another one of these. This time with gluten-free flour, almond flour, and very little lemon zest. But always with real butter and sliced almonds. Do sprinkle the top with a little extra granulated sugar before baking for a nice glaze. I use my largest glass pie pan and it turns out as a cross between a cake and a giant cookie.

I had my first one ages ago as a gift from a Bishop Hill neighbor and always remembered how soft and tasty it was. Last year, I used the internet to finally track down the recipe. Enjoy.

Swedish Visiting Cake

1 cup sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
Grated zest of 1 lemon (use ½ lemon or none at all)
2 large eggs
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. pure almond extract
1 cup flour (optional: add ¼ c. almond flour, see note below)
1 stick (8 Tbl.) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
About 1/4 cup sliced almonds (blanched or not)

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Butter a seasoned 9-inch cast-iron skillet or other heavy ovenproof skillet, a 9-inch cake pan, or even a pie pan.  You can use a 9-inch cake or pie pan and put parchment on the bottom.  Butter the parchment paper.

Pour the sugar into a medium bowl. Add the zest and blend the zest and sugar together with your fingertips until the sugar is moist and aromatic.

Whisk in the eggs one at a time until well blended. Whisk in the salt and the extracts.

Switch to a rubber spatula and stir in the flour.

Finally, fold in the melted butter.  Scrape the batter into the pan and smooth the top with a rubber spatula.  Scatter the sliced almonds over the top and sprinkle with a little sugar if using.  If you're using a cake or pie pan, place the pan on a baking sheet.

Bake the cake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until it is golden and a little crisp on the outside; the inside will remain moist.  Remove the pan from the oven and let the cake cool for 5 minutes, then run a thin knife around the sides and bottom of the cake to loosen it.  You can serve the cake warm or cooled, directly from the skillet or turned out onto a serving plate.

If adding ¼ cup ground almond flour, increase baking time to 30-35 minutes.

Friday, December 15, 2017

A Panel of READERS

One of the best ideas to come my way popped up at a recent MWC, Midwest Writing Center, programming meeting. MWC wants to put together a panel composed only of READERS who will give writers and authors a chance to learn, first hand, what it is that READERS want. Sounds rather Freudian doesn’t it?

But, psychology aside, it is a solid concept and worth pursuing. Because I’ve been on the receiving end of this equation for three years now. I’ve written before about the benefits of joining LIBRARY book clubs.

My first reason for joining book clubs was to let someone else choose new titles for me. I’d done a round of reading first novels by mystery writers and I was ready to move on, but wasn’t sure how to go about it. So … let someone else pick. LIBRARIANS are a natural. Plus, book clubs sponsored by libraries are, like, FREE for card holders. It was a total win, win situation.

Then I discovered something else. Another freebie. If I went in to a book club meeting, made a few remarks about the monthly book or short story, and then sat back to LISTEN to what the others had to say—I LEARNED something—every time.

Such as:
Character was primary to most readers.
Keep the plot moving.
Write well.
Magical realism is a tough sell.
So is too much sex.
Characters must change and grow.
Don’t kill the dog.
Not everyone will like the book or story.

These topics are familiar subjects of workshops and conferences, but it’s good to hear about them firsthand from knowledgeable, and prodigious READERS. These are the folks we are after. The ones who might buy the books we write. Who will certainly talk about them to their friends. Who will follow our development as authors.

Like I said, a panel of READERS and LIBRARIANS handling questions from an audience of writers and authors is a great idea.

And just to be clear—don’t kill off that dog.

Friday, December 8, 2017

My Bishop Hill Collection

I’m a SAVER. (It’s not just part of my name.) I’m a saver of the sorts of things that clutter up shelves, fill boxes, and overflow closets. The kind of saver who occasionally has to sort through piles of stuff to find the top of the desk.

I’m not a hoarder. I wouldn’t go that far. I’ve moved too often and too recently to qualify for that title. Every move, you see, demands reorganization and therefore some jettisoning of acquired material possessions. A brutal process to be sure. But the absolute essentials always make it through. The essentials in this case are items of my collection of Bishop Hill memorabilia.

It’s like I always knew I’d need them for give-away contests.

The most recent additions to my collection are going to be used first. I shopped for these last February at the Colony Store. They are the crochet snowflakes handmade by Bishop Hill’s favorite Swede (in my opinion), Ulla Voss. Not to be confused with Ulla Olson, a character from my novel. I needed a U name for a plot point and couldn’t think of a better name to borrow. I bought six of Ulla’s snowflakes and decided to give the first four away in pairs. The others will be partnered with some cute keychains and a fox.

Why a fox?

I’m glad you asked. Years ago, when I still lived in Bishop Hill, I was up in the middle of a winter’s night with a bad cold. When I wasn’t coughing, I heard the most horrendous sound coming closer to my house. I watched out my window as the noisy culprit revealed itself to be a lonely fox walking down the street calling out for company. That was memorable. So was reading The Fox Hunt by Sven Nordqvist. Both experiences influenced me when it came time to write my own version of a Swedish fairy tale that’s in Winter Worlds: Three Stories. So, it’s all good.

After those items are gone, I have more in reserve. As I said before, I do like to save things.

Such as:
Illinois road maps from 2008. That would be the year of the action in Clouds Over Bishop Hill. Did I plan that? No. I saved those maps because the governor at the time was in trouble. Y’all remember Rod R. Blagojevich?

Some target silhouettes of a squirrel. Those date from the time a black squirrel decided to live in, and chew on, Bishop Hill’s wooden water tower. I wrote about it for the Galva News. I won an award for the photograph of the resulting monster ice cycle. The paper targets are suitable for framing.

Oldest by far are a few copies of the Bishop Hill Children’s Activity Book created by Sherry Cosentine and Deborah Rickman in 1980. These came from someone else’s cleaning binge. I’ll gladly share.

So, let the contests begin.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Holiday Cheer

I’ve sat at a small table in the Colony Blacksmith Shop on two recent occasions: Ag Days, and the first Weekend of Christmas Market. Those Bishop Hill events are also known as Jordsbruksdagarna and Julmarknad. No matter what you called them, or how you spell them, they were a treat to experience this year. Not for old time’s sake, but for the new.

My “new time” involves having that small table loaded with copies of my book and talking to people about it and Bishop Hill. It’s easier to talk about Bishop Hill first. Turns out, I have a lot of experience to share about living there and about working in the Blacksmith Shop. I loved pointing to the massive timbers overhead and describing how difficult it was to pound a nail into them. Modern nails are no match for age-hardened walnut. Fortunately, the Blacksmith Shop has been retrofitted with modern amenities on the inside leaving the outside still as it was in the mid-1800s. Adaptive reuse at its best.

The highlights of last weekend were:

First, talking to the people who were totally new to Bishop Hill. It was their first trip and I got to plug the Olof Krans paintings. That’s a natural, since they are a vital part of the plot for my mystery. I directed the newbies down the street to the world’s largest collection. Hope they got there.

Second, listening to the young woman from Kewanee who made it a point to buy books written by local authors. Love her.

Third, the big guy who walked by and said over his shoulder, “You wrote a good book.” Simple, direct, and now etched into my memory.

I’ll be at the Blacksmith Shop for this Saturday’s round two of Christmas Market. It will be my last time this year.

I’ve always liked St. Lucia Nights, but the drive back to Iowa in the dark is just too daunting for me these days. Deer and headlight glare are obstacles I’d rather not take on. Which is too bad, because the village takes on a lovely glow in the dark. With a touch of snow and no wind it becomes the perfect event. But do dress warm.