September 30, 2014, 10.35 am
It's just one week until Hot Chocolate Day, so today I'm posting the first recipe for hot chocolate that I ever learned when I was a kid. This is the kind of hot chocolate that my parents used to make for us after we got back from a cold, exhilarating day of sledding down snowy hills in the middle of a freezing Michigan winter. Bundled up in coats, scarves, hats, boots and mittens, my brothers and I would work together to drag our long, heavy wooden toboggan all the way up each hill, complaining all the way at the effort. FINALLY we'd reach the top, settle onto the toboggan, all three of us in a row (with the youngest in front for safety), and WHOOSH! We'd go flying down the hill, screaming and whooping with excitement, again and again, sometimes for hours (at least in my memory).
By the time we got home every time, our noses were red with cold, our mittens were soaked through with icy melted snow, our fingers were numb, and hot chocolate was the perfect, sweet comfort drink and necessary heat-me-up, both at once.
Here's how our post-sledding hot chocolate was made:
1. Warm up a cup of milk to perfect hot chocolate temperature by pouring it into a saucepan and stirring it regularly over a low heat until it's steaming hot.
2. While the rest of the milk is still in the saucepan, mix a flat tablespoon of plain cocoa powder and two flat tablespoons of sugar together in a mug, along with a tiny bit of cold milk, until they form a thick paste. (Note: I can't honestly remember whether these are supposed to be tablespoons or teaspoons. I know some members of my family use flat tablespoons and others used heaped teaspoons. I prefer the tablespoon version, personally, but I feel guilty about it, so sometimes I use the teaspoon version instead! Your choice is up to you.)
3. Once the milk in the saucepan is hot enough (which you test by tasting it), pour it into the mug over the chocolate paste, and stir it all together until it's blended as perfectly as possible.
Then wrap your cold hands around that nice hot mug and drink in all that cozy, comforting sweetness.
This was the only hot chocolate recipe I used for years - the only one I knew until we visited Edinburgh when I was in my late twenties and went to the amazing Plaisir du Chocolat - and somewhere, we have a picture of me on my twenty-fifth birthday, sitting in our tiny apartment in Vienna with my dog Nika at my feet, beaming as I drank the cup of birthday hot chocolate which Patrick had made me using this recipe. I have a different favorite recipe now, one that's less sweet and more intensely chocolate-rich, but still, every time I make hot chocolate using this first, original recipe, I am filled with comfort and warmth all over again.
More recipes to follow over the next week, leading up to Hot Chocolate Day! Please feel free to play along from home or add your own favorite recipes to the list. :)
September 25, 2014, 12.26 pm
So, the other day I realized: it was just two weeks until the Kat boxed set (A Most Improper Boxed Set) comes out in North America! Whoa, I should really do something about that...er?
Well. Here's the thing. It's been a really loooong last few weeks, between child illnesses, stressful house-hunting, etc. The idea of spurring myself up for self-promotion this week sounded, quite honestly, exhausting.
But then I thought of something that would actually be fun and feel like a party. Because, seriously: Kat's getting a boxed set! That is incredibly cool, and something I really never expected to have happen. It deserves to get some celebration!
So! I hereby declare Tuesday, October 7th, the day of A Most Improper Boxed Set's release, to be:
Hot Chocolate Day!
("Mmm, Hot Chocolate" photo by Aubrey.)
Yes! My dream is that on that day, all over the world, people will drink hot chocolate to celebrate the publication of the Kat boxed set.
You don't have to make any purchases (unless you don't have any chocolate in your house). All you have to do is sip a cup of luscious hot chocolate comfort.
To make that even easier, in the week leading up to October 7th, I'm going to post some of my own favorite hot chocolate recipes. I'd love to share (and learn!) any others, too - if you give me your own favorite recipe, either here in comments or by emailing me, I will add your recipe to the line-up! :)
Hot chocolate, as you guys know, is an obsession of mine. It's my favorite comfort drink in the universe. And basically, the Kat books were hot chocolate for my writer-soul. So it only makes sense that on the day Kat makes her boxed set début, I celebrate by spreading the hot chocolate love as far and wide as possible.
Please join me! October seventh: HOT CHOCOLATE DAY. I'll be there! And so will Kat's beautiful boxed set. :)
September 20, 2014, 10.27 am
Today is Day 11 of child illness in our house (first Baby X was sick for 6 days, then MrD took over the horrible stomach bug marathon), so you can probably guess how this week has gone. So let's talk about something different!
I'm reading lots of eighteenth-century letters, diaries and memoirs right now as research for a secret project that's making me really happy. Of course, this is making me really, really miss the incredible Special Collections (and the general 18th-century lit section) at the Brotherton Graduate Library at the University of Leeds, which is where I used to do most of my historical novel research (when, er, I was really supposed to be working on my thesis...but never mind that part). Luckily, though, almost all the eighteenth-century manuscripts I need have been digitised by various libraries and are available online even for those of us who live in small towns without research libraries.
Last night, as I was up (and up...and up...) with Baby X throughout the night, I started reading The Memoirs of the Margravine of Anspach, the full title of which is The beautiful Lady Craven; the original memoirs of Elizabeth, baroness Craven, afterwards margravine of Anspach and Bayreuth and princess Berkeley of the Holy Roman empire (1750-1828) and good Lord. If you have ever wondered whether people like Lady Catherine de Bourgh, from Pride and Prejudice, really existed...well, wonder no more! Because here she is.
Lady Craven/the Margravine/Princess Berkeley traveled all over the place from her teenage years onward, and her memoirs are some of the most entertaining that I've read in a long time...but that's partly because my jaw keeps dropping open at the nonstop, completely un-self-conscious heaps of self-praise that she throws in at every point. She is only too happy to tell us (again and again!) that everyone from her birth onward (except for her entirely evil and unappreciative mother, who was "over-indulged" and allowed far too much freedom by her father) was amazed by the obvious fact that she was always SO much more intelligent than anyone else around her in any situation; that she was clearly the most beautiful girl EVER and everyone else agreed on it throughout her life, even though her evil mother refused to tell her so (I have to admit to feeling a bit of sneaking sympathy with her mother by about 30 pages in); that her older sister doted upon her, of course (as was only natural - she was an angel!), but that sister was still indolent and stupid, very much unlike her; that...well, the list goes on and on, and you can imagine my eyebrows rising higher and higher with every new point. But I couldn't stop reading!
I can't say I would ever want to meet Lady Craven, but her memoir is a total page-turner, and it's definitely reminded me of just how deliciously fun historical research can be (and it's suggested some fabulous new characters for my own fiction, of course). Plus, in some perfectly meta world that mixed together literary characters of all sorts, both real and fictional, I would love to put her and Lady Catherine de Bourgh in a room together and see who exploded first. ;)
What about you guys? What have you been reading lately?
September 12, 2014, 10.09 am
Well, today is Day 3 of Baby X's nasty stomach bug, and it's the worst day yet, so it's been a long week over here, and honestly, you do not want to hear the details.
So I thought, instead of talking about what's actually been going on over here, I'd let myself escape for a while. Here are five things I'm fantasizing about this Friday, as Baby X sleeps on my lap and an Enya CD from my college years plays in the background. ("Sail away, sail away, sail away...")
1. A short story collection. Honestly, this is hugely unlikely - it is SO RARE for authors to sell short story collections! - which is why this is pure fantasy on my part...but yeah. I've sold about 35 short stories in the last 10 years (mostly for adults, but with a few YA stories mixed in), and it is a total fantasy of mine to publish a collection one day.
2. A trip to Paris. Today it sounds so appealing to hop on a train to London, change trains for the EuroStar, and land in Paris for a long weekend. Sipping thick, dark hot chocolate in a Parisian chocolaterie, wandering through a Parisian stationery store or art museum...mmm. One day this fantasy will come true, I swear!
3. A house of our own. When we came home from our American trip, we found out that we had two months to find a new rental house. Wahhh. We've loved our current rental house, but we're not having a lot of luck so far finding a new one that we like even half as much. Househunting for another rental - where, of course, we'll still live on someone else's whim, keeping the house only until they want it again - is a disheartening process. So, right now I'm fantasizing about a house that belongs just to us, where we can stay for as long as we like, even if that's our whole lives...
4. Oh, and heck, I'll take a cabin, too. A cabin in the woods, by a lake, preferably. Why not? ;)
5. And hey, a writing retreat with friends would be lovely, too.
But right now, I'd settle for a decent (i.e., at least 4-hour-long) night of sleep.
What about you guys? What are your personal fantasies today?
September 2, 2014, 11.23 am
1. First of all, the big news: I'm going to be one of the book reviewers at Urban Fantasy Magazine! It's a new online magazine of urban fantasy for adults that will be publishing its first issue in November. I'm already working on my first couple of reviews. If you write urban fantasy novels and want to get them reviewed there, please contact the editors.
There are a few of us doing reviews, so when you're deciding which reviewer to request, do keep in mind that my tastes tend to run toward the more fun/romantic end of urban fantasy rather than the darker/grittier end of the genre. I also love books where the magic feels very real and genuinely magical, and I love books with an intense focus on character. (For instance, I absolutely adored V.E. Schwab's Vicious, which was dark and romance-free but had the most fabulous characters I'd read in a long time.)
Just a few examples of other urban fantasy novels I've really enjoyed include most of Ilona Andrews's books, Patricia Briggs's first few Alpha and Omega books, G. Willow Wilson's Alif the Unseen (if that counts as urban fantasy? still debating in my head), Kat Richardson's Greywalker novels, and Mike Carey's Felix Castor novels. (I would say Deb Coates's books, too, but those are clearly rural fantasy, not urban fantasy, so...?)
2. In a totally different genre, I read my favorite MG novel in months this weekend, Dana Alison Levy's The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher, which was hilarious, moving, sweet, smart and wonderful. It'll sit on my bookshelf of favorite MG family novels next to the Penderwicks, Hilary McKay's Casson Family books, and Susie Day's Pea's Book... series. You can read my full Goodreads review here.
3. Years ago, back when I was writing a romance book blog under my married name, I reviewed a book I absolutely LOVED, Rose Lerner's A Lily Among Thorns, a Regency romance for adults. It still stands out in my memory as my favorite book that I ever reviewed on that blog - it was so smart, so fun, so genuinely romantic...and also so different, in a couple of key ways, from most of what I was reading in the genre at the time. It just got re-issued, today, from a different publisher, and in honor of the republication, here's a link to my original review (updated to include the new cover and info at the end).
4. And some really lovely reviews have been coming in for my Kat novella, Courting Magic - yay! Here are some from Brandy at Random Musings of a Bibliophile, from Quinn at KidsReads.com, and from A Library Mama. A couple of quick snippets from the reviews:
Quinn says: "...And did I mention that it’s funny? I started reading this on the subway and within a few pages I was practically laughing out loud with delight. I’m sure everyone around me thought I was insane. Consider yourself warned." A Library Mama says "...Burgis crams a lot of wonderful into a very short number of pages without things feeling rushed."
And Brandy says, "...Basically this book was all that I could have asked for. Happiness bubbled up inside me as I was reading it, like I was a bottle of soda being shaken up. It just made me effervescent when I was done, walking around grinning like a fool."
And I was beaming when I finished reading the reviews. :) I am SO GRATEFUL to everyone who's read or reviewed my novella! Thanks so much, guys. (And a quick reminder: you can read the first two chapters of Courting Magic here.)
Whew! Now time to get back to my reading. :)