September 2021 Monthly Letter

Dear Reader,

I hope this finds you and your loved ones safe and well.  Hard to believe it’s September.  We’re 18 months into the pandemic, and now Mother Nature is giving us a pounding.  She sure is pissed at us.

It’s been a hard year and a half.  Just when you thought there was a light at the end of the tunnel, it turns out to be an oncoming train!  It’s no wonder people are on edge, depressed, anxious, and angry.  We’ve got to remember the one thing we can control is how we deal with things.  I probably said that before, and now more than ever we need to hang tight and try to be loose at the same time.  Our mental health is major.

I know people are worried about kids going back to school; what is going to happen for the holidays this year; will the pandemic ever be over; should I hoard toilet paper again?  It’s been a whole lot of crisis management.  But it’s important to stop and smell the flowers, find some beauty, choose to find joy.  It’s out there somewhere.  It doesn’t have to be a big thing.  Watching my hooligan cats gives me great joy.  No matter how hard things get or how bad they are, there has got to be something to be thankful for.

Speaking of cats, Mz. Boo, here’s her latest shenanigan.  I have a Christmas tree in my den.  It’s on a timer and I keep it lit year round.  It’s for my daughter, Patti who passed away at Christmastime several years ago.  One night I got spooked when the lights came on at a different time.  Now some of you know about the ghost named Mary Margaret.  For those of you who don’t, I live in a very old house.  Over a hundred and fifty years.  Lots of history, and apparently there’s some about a young woman named Mary Margaret who shows up occasionally.  I’m not cuckoo.  Many people have experienced her presence.  It’s not scary.  Really.  And if it was I wouldn’t tell you.  I’m Fern Michaels, not Stephen King.  LOL.  Anyway, back to the tree.  A few hours after the lights had mysteriously turned themselves on, the lights went out.  A few hours later they came back on again.  I didn’t know if it was a “sign” from the other side. Maybe Mary Margaret was visiting.  But enough was enough.  As I bent down to look under the tree there was Mz. Boo sitting next to the timer giving me a “what?” kind of look.  Somehow she figured out how to change it.  I kid you not.  A friend of mine told me a story last week about her newly rescued kitten and the momma.  Now she has four who create havoc.  Each night she sets her security alarm before going upstairs to bed.  It was around 2:00AM when she was startled awake by loud voices coming from the living room.  She sat up and grabbed the phone and wondered why the alarm didn’t sound.  She listened for a few more seconds and realized it was Andy Griffin!  The fur rascals knocked the remote on the floor and turned on the TV.  At least it wasn’t the news!  That would have been really scary.

I am very excited about the new books that are coming out in the next two months.  Last month I mentioned a new series about sister and brother who have shops in a large art center.  It’s an interesting and quirky set of characters, mystery, humor, and of course a little romance.  The first book is called Hidden and is on-sale now.  I think you’ll find it very entertaining.  Then in October the new Christmas hardcover, Santa Cruise will be on-sale.  Four friends on a singles cruise and lots of shenanigans—a romp on the high seas.  Actually, the Caribbean.  It’s a fun escape.

This month’s contest is a signed copy of Hidden.

Be well, stay safe. Put fun and joy into your life.

September 2021 Recipes

Pasta Fagioli (pronounced Pasta Fazool) – This should feed at least 6 people — and it freezes well too

Ingredients:

  • 1-2 loaves of Crusty Italian Bread
  • (3) 15 oz cans cannellini beans
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 4 oz pancetta or approx 4 slices bacon, diced
  • 2 tsp minced fresh rosemary
  • 3 cups beef broth
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • 1 cup crushed tomatoes
  • 1 3/4 cups small pasta shells, uncooked
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • crushed red pepper flakes, optional
  • parmesan cheese, optional

Instructions:

  • Drain ONE can of beans and set aside.
  • In a large soup pot, heat olive oil. Add onion and pancetta and sauté until onions are golden, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and rosemary and sauté about 4 additional minutes.
  • Transfer sautéed ingredients to a blender or food processor and add the two other cans of beans (liquid included). Puree until smooth.
  • Add the pureed mixture back into the pot, along with the drained beans, the chicken and beef broth, salt, and crushed tomatoes. Simmer while pasta is cooking.
  • In a separate pot, cook pasta shells until al dente. Box should give you timing.  You don’t want them mushy.
  • Once the pasta is cooked, remove from heat, drain and add to bean mixture.
  • Simmer everything together for 8-10 minutes.
  • If you like a little kick, top with crushed red pepper; Serve, topped with red pepper flakes and parmesan cheese, with crusty bread.

For those of you who have been assigned to the local cake sale, here is one of my favorites.  But I warn you, you will want to make one for yourself.  Just yourself.  It’s from Patricia Dorph who gave us her Busch de Noel cake last Christmas.

Patti’s Plum Cake

Ingredients:

  • 9” round pie pan – greased
  • 1 cup butter – softened
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 tsp. Baking Powder
  • Pinch of Salt
  • 2-3 plums cut into slices
  • 2 eggs beaten
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 tsps. Cinnamon
  • 2 tsps. Powdered sugar
  • Juice of lemon

Instructions:

  • Beat sugar into butter; add eggs and vanilla.
  • Add flour and beat mixture well.
  • Spread mixture into greased pan.
  • Starting in the center, place plums on top in wagon-wheel design (spokes coming from the center).
  • Bake 45 minutes – test with a toothpick.
  • Let cool.
  • Sprinkle cinnamon and powdered sugar to taste, squeeze lemon juice over cake top of cake.

August 2021 Monthly Letter

Dear Reader,

I hope this finds you and your loved ones safe and well.  The COVID rollercoaster seems to continue to be in operation.  It’s been so long since this thing started I’ve almost forgotten what life is like without it although my fur family doesn’t have a clue!

Yes, the cats are on a hooligan rampage.  I think they’ve broken everything possible in the house.  I shrug.  It’s just stuff.  So here’s a tip: if you ever adopt young cats lock everything up that has any value, although I think Miz Boo can pick locks.  She surely knows how to turn the water on.  Speaking of which, not sure if I shared this last time but she fell in the toilet.  Henry, my Yorkie was the one who alerted me to the swimming shenanigans.  As crazy as her stunts are she makes me laugh out loud.

August is hot and sticky down here. Every year it seems to get hotter and stickier.  I love to sit on my rocking chairs on my front porch but lately I feel like I’m melting.  Back into the A/C to see what the hooligans have destroyed in the half hour I’m outside.

Lots of new books coming out soon.  Hidden, the first in a new series is coming next month in paperback with an interesting cast of characters.  In October we’ll have Santa Cruise, a madcap adventure on the high seas in hardcover; and then the mass market of The Brightest Star.  Lots of fun and inspiring reading for the fall. I hope you enjoy them.

This month’s contest will be a signed copy of Hidden.  I’m very excited about this new series.

Now on to food!  I’m featuring several recipes from friends for a Southern dinner.  My editor at Kensington, Esi Sogah offered up a flourless cake for dessert.  Many people turn up their nose to collard greens—I for one am one of those people—but this is made with bacon. Everything is better with bacon.  The recipe comes from Ashley Fenimore, a beautiful young pharmacological oncologist who won the Charleston Magazine contest for side vegetables.  Her work is very grueling so she relaxes by cooking.  Another friend Carolyn Williams gave us her family recipe for fried chicken.  And of course, every Southern meal has to have potato salad.

Enjoy the rest of the summer.  Stay cool, stay well, stay safe, and most of all stay sane!

August 2021 Recipes

TUSCAN STYLE COLLARD GREENS (A LITTLE BIT OF ITALY)

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 large bunches local collards
  • 16 oz. low-sodium vegetable broth, divided
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 2 large leeks, washed, white part diced (slice 2-3 rings for garnish)
  • 1/3 lb. pancetta or bacon chopped

DIRECTIONS

  • Cut or tear collard leaves off stems.
  • Clean by rinsing repeatedly in cold water Soak and use a salad spinner if you have one.
  • Cut into two-inch strips.
  • Place in a large pot, cover generously with vegetable broth (reserve 1/3 cup broth for later), and bring to a low boil.
  • Cook until collards are almost tender, about 20 minutes. Drain and set aside.
  • Heat olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat.
  • Sauté garlic for two minutes, or until tender. Using slotted spoon, remove garlic to a bowl.
  • Add diced leeks to pan, and sauté until tender, about 10 minutes—do not brown.
  • Remove leeks to garlic bowl. Add pancetta/bacon to frying pan, and sauté until browned.
  • Return garlic and leeks to pan.
  • Add reserved vegetable broth and collards.
  • Stir gently and thoroughly until collards are completely cooked, about three minutes. Serve.

 

SOUTHERN FRIED CHICKEN

INGREDIENTS

  • Cut up whole chicken
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 3 cups whole wheat flour
  • 2 cup corn meal
  • 2 tablespoons sea salt season salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 3-4 cups Wesson or high heat oil – enough to cover frying pan by at least 1 inch

DIRECTIONS

  • Wash Chicken  – soak in slightly salted water for 10 minutes.
  • Blend dry ingredients and let sit for 10 minutes.
  • Heat oil until a drop of water sizzles.
  • Dip chicken in buttermilk.
  • Dredge chicken through dry ingredients and place in hot oil.
  • Keep an eye on the chicken—when it’s brown on one side turn over and cook other side.

 

EASY POTATO SALAD

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 lbs New Potatoes or red potatoes cubed and cooked – let cool a bit
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¾ cup ranch dressing [with or without bacon] or add your own
  • ¼ cup bacon bits or crumbled bacon

DIRECTIONS

  • Mix together and serve or refrigerate for 2 hours and serve.

 

FLOURLESS CHOCOLATE CAKE – ANOTHER CONTEST WINNER!

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 ounces fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened)
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder plus additional for sprinkling

DIRECTIONS

  • Preheat oven to 375°F and butter an 8-inch round baking pan. Line bottom with a round of wax paper and butter paper.
  • Chop chocolate into small pieces.
  • In a double boiler or metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water melt chocolate with butter, stirring, until smooth.
  • Remove top of double boiler or bowl from heat and whisk sugar into chocolate mixture.
  • Add eggs and whisk well.
  • Sift 1/2 cup cocoa powder over chocolate mixture and whisk until just combined.
  • Pour batter into pan and bake in middle of oven 25 minutes, or until top has formed a thin crust.
  • Cool cake in pan on a rack 5 minutes and invert onto a serving plate.
  • Dust cake with additional cocoa powder. (Cake keeps, after being cooled completely, in an airtight container, 1 week.)

July 2021 Monthly Letter

Dear Friends,

July 4th!  Holy firecrackers.  If you are reading this after the holiday I hope you had a blast! 😊

The weather has been extremely hot and steamy, although that’s not new to South Carolina.  It seems like it lasts longer and gets hotter more often.

I’m not going to use the word age.  As far as I’m concerned it’s a three-letter word.  Therefore I shall substitute it for “mature.”  For those on the “mature” side of life, parts start to wear down or wear out. Not much different than a car.  I have a friend who needed both hips replaced.  She said the doctor told her she was “riding on her rims.”  Now she has two chunks of titanium on each side.  In many ways we are lucky we have those options.  This week I had an option to fix my vision.  I needed cataract surgery.  No fun, but I am on the mend. So for any of you who have gone through it, I feel you!

I trust many of you are getting back to a more normal way of living.  Let’s pray we never have to go through something like that again. Now we can actually laugh about hoarding toilet paper. Talk about counting squares!

Most of you know that I have become one of those “Cat Ladies.”  I refrain from inserting the word “Crazy” but give me time.  I have some fun news. Miz Boo, the three legged maniac, is going to be featured on the Chewy.com social media bulletin board.  I can honestly say I love that little hooligan to the moon and back.

As far as book stuff, this month’s contest will be a signed Advance Reading Copy of my Christmas novel, Santa Cruise.  The official on-sale date is October, but I wanted to offer a little Christmas in July.  I am very excited about this book.  It features four friends from college who meet up at a reunion and they plan the unthinkable:  go on a singles cruise.  Lots of madcap adventures on the high seas. But before that is published, I’m launching a new series about a brother and sister who have shops in a large art center.  The first book is called Hidden and will be out in September.  It’s splashed with mystery, suspense, a bit of woo-woo, and of course romance.  It has a very interesting cast of unique characters I hope you will grow to love.

That’s my news for now.  Be safe, be kind, stay cool, and have fun.

All the best,

Fern

July 2021 Recipes

P.S. I LOVE bacon.  I make a salad with a pound of bacon but I’ll share that recipe another time.  With summer Bar-B-Ques I thought you might try a different take on potato salad.  You have to turn on the stove for that one, but the dessert recipe I included is No Bake!

German Potato Salad

  • 5 slices bacon (diced and cooked until crisp)
  • 2 tablespoons bacon drippings
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon prepared mustard
  • 1/2 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 4 cups sliced cooked potatoes – look for thin skinned like red or fingerling
  1. Boil already-sliced potatoes until they are cooked through. Set aside.
  2. Cook the bacon and keep the drippings. Set it aside to cool.
  3. Heat bacon drippings in a pan large enough to add the potatoes.
  4. Blend in flour, sugar, salt, and mustard.
  5. Slowly add vinegar and water, stir until smooth.
  6. Continue cooking over low heat, until thickened.
  7. Add potatoes and heat through, slowly add crumbled bacon-save a few tablespoons for garnish.
  8. Serve warm or room temp.

No Bake Cheesecake

  • 1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
  • ⅓ cup white sugar
  • 4 cups frozen whipped topping, thawed
  • 1 (9 inch) prepared graham cracker crust
  • ½ pint sliced fresh strawberries – sprinkled with sugar – set aside
  1. Beat cream cheese and sugar until smooth.
  2. Fold in whipped topping.
  3. Spoon mixture into graham crumb crust. Refrigerate for 2 hours.
  4. Once the cheesecake has set, garnish with sliced strawberries.

June 2021 Monthly Letter

Dear Friends,

It’s hard to believe it’s June already!  I hope you had a good Memorial Day Weekend.  Time to remember and reflect on those who gave everything for our country.  With all the social media and instantaneous information that gets thrown at us every day, it’s important to stop for a moment and reflect.  Reflect on how lucky we are to live in a country where we can celebrate pretty much whatever we want.  Every day should be a day where we remember our blessings and be thankful.  I know I am.  I am thankful for the opportunity to bring you entertaining stories, and thankful to everyone who reads my books.

When I am holed up in my office with my fur menagerie I get engrossed in the characters and the scenarios I create..  Quite frankly I kind of miss them afterward!  It usually takes about a year from the time I turn in a novel until it hits the bookshelves.  I am always delighted when a fan writes and tells me how much they enjoyed a book and what it meant to them.  It’s like a reunion for me and  heartwarming to know I touch people’s lives in a good way.

I am happy to see we are coming out of  the torturous year of the pandemic, and pray everyone can have an enjoyable summer, spending time with friends and family.  How nice it is to be able to see people and hug them again!

As many of you know, I have become a cat-lady.  Well, almost.  Not quite a “crazy-cat-lady” but they do make me crazy! For those of you who are familiar with the feline species you can probably relate. I have 3 rescued cats.  Well Boo, the three-legged cat with the club foot is a born trouble maker.  She just turned a year old last week.  At 2:37 in the middle of the night I thought I was having a home invasion.  I left the remote to the kitchen TV on the counter and she turned it on.  Her club foot gives her just enough leverage to also hit the SOUND button.  You don’t want to know what happened after that.  Three days prior—again in the middle of the night—my dog Harvey started to bark and bark and wouldn’t stop.  I got up.  It was 4:10.  Harvey was alerting me to the flood happening in the kitchen. Boo, with her magic club foot  learned how to turn on the faucet on the bar sink.  You don’t want to know what happened after that either.  Now it takes me 37 minutes at night to batten down the hatches before I go to bed to keep the three of them out of trouble.   They have just about ruined everything.  I’m thinking of moving out to the barn and letting them have the house. “My name is Boo, my name is Tessie, my name is Winnie and we’re the reason we don’t have anything nice anymore.” Yes, they tear up the house, make a racket at night, but truth be told, they make me laugh.  A lot.

I hope you have an enjoyable June…weddings, graduations, celebrations.  Or just make something up!  Live every day to the fullest.  Be safe.  Be kind.  And keep your sense of humor.  Laughter is the best medicine.

This month’s contest is a signed hardcover edition of the first book in a new series.  The book is called Hidden.  The paperback edition will be available in September.  I’m very excited about this new series and will tell you more as we get closer to the publication date.  Included is a beautiful teacup and saucer from my collection.

All the best to you.

Fern

June 2021 Recipes

Summer fun food:
Watermelon Salad

  • Medium watermelon—size depends on how many people—cubed
  • Seedless (Engligh) cucumber – cubed
  • ½ cup chopped mint
  • ¼ cup chopped basil
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 cup crumbled cheese: use either feta, goat, or ricotta salata (hard ricotta cheese…is the best)
  • 4 oz. prosciutto (optional) cut into small bite-size pieces
  1. Combine the watermelon and cucumber in a large bowl
  2. Mix olive oil, vinegar, half the mint and half the basil in a bowl.
  3. Pour over watermelon and cucumber, toss in the cheese, and garnish with the remaining mint and basil.
  4. If you opt for the prosciutto—which gives it a savory addition—add after the olive oil
  5. Not only is it delicious it’s also a very pretty presentation.

Citrus Grilled Shrimp

  • 2 pounds Medium – Large shrimp, peeled and de-veined, tail-on
  • 1 cup Olive oil
  • 2 tablespoon Orange zest
  • 2 tablespoon Lemon zest
  • 2 tablespoon Lime zest
  • 1/2 cup Orange Juice
  • 1/2 cup Lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup Lime juice
  • 3 tablespoons Garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon Ginger, grated
  • 1/4 cup Parsley, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup Cilantro, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon Salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon Pepper
  1. In a large bowl combine the olive oil, zest and juice from oranges, lemons, and limes, minced garlic, ginger, parsley, cilantro, salt, and pepper. Whisk together.
  2. Set 1/2 cup of the marinade to the side.
  3. Place the shrimp into a large freezer bag, or an airtight container and pour the remaining marinade over them. Toss the shrimp to coat and seal them into the container or bag and place them in the refrigerator to marinate for 30 minutes – 1 hour.
  4. Once the shrimp is done marinating take it out of the container, removing any excess marinade as you place the shrimp on skewers. Dispose the remaining marinade after all of the shrimp skewered (keep the small portion you set aside before marinating the shrimp).
  5. Grill for 2-3 minutes per side or until shrimp is pink and cooked through.

April 2021 Monthly Letter

Dear Friends,

Hooray for Spring!  The rebirth from the darkness.  Well, it sure has been a long, dark year.  Looking at the flowers starting to bloom gives me hope we will be moving in a brighter and better direction.  We have to think that way otherwise we would be depressed, and I know so many people are feeling down and exhausted.  COVID overload.   It’s been hard, challenging, and a whole lot of anxiety.  When will this ever end?  At least we don’t have to worry about standing in lines hoping to get our one roll of toilet paper.  See?  Things are looking up already!

I know the holidays are once again predicated on COVID, which can be a good excuse to avoid the in-laws!  Kidding.  But…if it suits you, enjoy it while you can.  See?  Another upside to the pandemic!   But seriously, it will be wonderful to get back to some semblance of normal like hugging your friends and family and be able to enjoy people in person.  Enough Zooming, please.

We’re still waiting on some family members to get their vaccine.  I know it’s been frustrating getting appointments but remember, we have never been through anything like this in our lifetimes.  It wasn’t planned and everyone was reacting to the latest news and updates. Yep.  It’s been a drama alright, more for some than others and I feel for anyone who lost a loved one.   I’ve been there and I know.    But we have come a long way and must press forward.  Appreciate what we have and look forward to a brighter tomorrow and the days ahead. Count our blessings no matter how small.

My newest book No Way Out is available now and has been getting very nice reviews. As an FYI, it’s more of a “cozy” than a thriller.  No blood or guts.  It’s a mystery wrapped in a puzzle in a small town.   I want to thank the fans who take the time to read my books and also write about them.

I wish everyone a blessed holiday no matter what you practice as long as you practice kindness in the mix.  Be well.  Be safe.  Be kind.  Keep your sense of humor.  keep reading, and cooking!

This month’s contest will be for a signed first edition of No Way Out.  My publisher just told me they have to go back to press!  Exciting!

All the best,

Fern

April 2021 Recipes

Stuffed Shells
1 lb. of large macaroni shells
2 cups Ricotta cheese – please don’t’ ruin it with cottage cheese!
1 cup parmesian or romano – grated
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley – the dried stuff doesn’t do it
½ cup chopped fresh basil – this you can substitute for 2 tsps. Dried basil
2 eggs

Marinara sauce: If you want to save time and have EXCELLENT sauce get a couple of jars of RAO’s. Most grocery stores carry that brand now. It comes from a family recipe at Rao’s Italian Restaurant in the Bronx. The restaurant has only 10 tables and is considered THE hardest place to get a reservation. For real. It’s not even knowing someone. It’s knowing someone who owns a slot who would be willing to give it up for you!

Cook the pasta al dente according to the package. You don’t want them to get too mushy because you will be stuffing them and then baking them.
Drain and let them cool down a bit so you can handle them.

While the pasta is cooking – 10-12 minutes prepare the mixture

Beat the eggs and mix ricotta and parmesan cheeses and herbs and blend. (The mozzarella goes on later.)
Fill each cooked shell with egg/cheese mix.

Preheat oven to 325.

Put a small layer of sauce on the bottom of a large baking dish.
Lay stuffed shells on top of the sauce. Its ok to overlap them if necessary
Top the shells with more sauce, sprinkle with shredded mozzarella
Bake for 20 minutes.

They’ll think you have an Italian chef in your kitchen!

Short Ribs Slow Cooker
This is SO easy!
2 lbs. short ribs
3 large peeled carrots cut into chunks
3 cloves garlic – sliced
1 onion sliced (can use leeks if you want)
1 8oz. package of mushrooms (optional)
2 tsps. Thyme
1 8oz. can of beef broth
2 cups red wine or alcohol free wine

Salt the ribs on both sides and brown in a little olive oil– 2 minutes on each side
Remove from pan and set aside.
Saute the onion and garlic in same pan used for browning the short ribs until wilted.

In crock pot add broth, thyme, wine, carrots, mushrooms if desired, then add the wilted onions and garlic and short ribs to the crock pot.
Set on low for 8 hours.
The meat will fall off the bone!