Category Archives: Cooking

PJ’s Pantry and More Fun Stuff

Hey Scriblings,

It feels like ages since I’ve posted here. I missed last month entirely! That’s because I’ve been working diligently on finishing my non-fiction book, OVERCOME your SEDENTARY LIFESTYLE (A Practical Guide to Improving Health, Fitness, and Well-being for Desk Dwellers and Couch Potatoes). I’m finally done with the first draft and working on revisions…yayyy! The book should be available for preorder in November and will release in January, 2016. PJSharon_OvercomeYourSedentaryLifestyle_eCover_800[1]Although writing non-fiction is easier in some ways than novel writing, it still requires a tremendous amount of research to get the facts straight. After all, I’m not just making it up as I go along and people are counting on me to get it right.

Another hold up was that I had written several sections and then decided afterwards that they weren’t quite right for this particular book. One such section was a chapter at the end of the book I was going to call PJ’s Pantry, listing all the healthy foods I stock in my pantry, fridge, and freezer. But once I started researching all of these “healthy” foods, I was shocked–and more than a little disappointed–that some of them were not as healthy as I had thought. With “hidden” chemicals and unhealthy additives, my list quickly grew shorter and shorter! In good conscience, I couldn’t put them in the book without adding all the research I’d done as well.

Since information about which foods are healthy and which are not seems to change daily, I decided instead, to put PJ’s Pantry on my website rather than have it in the book where it would be more difficult to update and change as new information arose. Feel free to stop by and check it out. I’m sure you’ll find some helpful tips on stocking a “healthy” pantry and you may find some interesting tidbits on foods you thought were good for you, and why they may not be.

Eat your heart out, Headless Horseman!
Eat your heart out, Headless Horseman!

In other fun news, I’ll be signing books at the Granville Harvest Fair again this year. If you’re in the New England area and looking for a fun place to hang out with the kids Columbus Day weekend, I hope you’ll stop by. There will be the usual yummy food vendors, pies, crafts, face painting and scarecrow contest, as well as the magnificent quilt display at the old meeting house. And you’ll definitely want to visit the Noble and Cooley Drum factory museum, built in 1854 and still making drums for today’s musicians. I’ll be down next to the library where they’ll be having a huge book sale (all the books you can fit into a bag for $5). You can swing by my tent and grab a book mark and say hi on your way out, LOL. We had wonderful weather last year, so hopefully the sunshine and warmth will be in our favor again.

I’ll leave you all with one of my favorite smoothie recipes.

Green Choco Monkey Smoothie

Inspired by my addiction to the Coco Monkey Smoothie from the Granby Village Health Food Store in Granby, CT., I’ve adapted their recipe and added a few twists.Choco monkey smoothie


1 cup Silk Chocolate Almond Milk

1 tbsp. Almond butter (or organic peanut butter)

1 frozen banana (peeled and cut into pieces)

1 scoop Green’s Organics Superfood (Amazonian Chocolate) powder. (According to the label, 1 scoop has the nutrients equal to 7 servings of fruits and veggies!)

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt

(I also add a tsp. of Maca powder for an extra energy burst)


Blend all ingredients on high (Smoothie setting on Blendtec) for 45-60 seconds until smooth. Drink and enjoy!

Do you have a favorite smoothie recipe you’d care to share?

Return to Downton–Part Two

Hello, my darlings! Suze here. What’s new with you? Lots of things going on in Suze-ville. Like, I heard from my editor and the Berkley team is working on my cover! My Greek restaurant series has a new, adorable name: The Georgie’s Kitchen Mysteries. Book 1 will be called Feta Attraction. I’ll be sure to let you know when I have a release date!

In the meantime, my Downton Abbey obsession continues. If you missed my post from a couple of weeks ago, click here.  So here are some more predictions for the characters of DA:

Lady Mary, what's wrong with you? Are you really going to let Lord Gillingham marry someone else?
Lady Mary, what’s wrong with you? Are you really going to let Lord Gillingham marry someone else?

Mrs. Hughes:  Guilt from the lie she told Mr. Bates continues to eat away at her.  So she hatches a plan to exact revenge on Lord Gillingham’s valet. Throwing everyone off the scent by saying she is needed by an elderly aunt suffering from the gout in the Outer Hebrides, Mrs. Hughes steals the estate car and travels to Gillingham’s estate. She lures the valet outside under cover of darkness and promptly dispatches him, stuffing his body into the trunk then driving back to the Abbey.  The next day, she presents Mrs. Patmore with a large amount of ground meat and requests that she make pasties.

Alfred: Fresh from his disappointment at not being accepted into the chef school, Alfred continues to hone his craft in the Downton kitchens.  After catching James kissing Ivy in the scullery, he secretly laces one of the savories (which he whipped up from some of the leftover meat he found in the newfangled refrigerator) with a powerful laxative and offers it to James. But before James can take it from the tray, Molesley swoops in and pops the tainted treat into his mouth. He spends the next few hours in the servants’ loo, lamenting his lowly, not-able-to-get-a-buttling-job state.

Carson: Carson refuses to eat the pasties, having seen what Mrs. Hughes has done. Although he now realizes he loves her passionately, his respect for her is erased and he knows he can no longer stay at Downton. He retires to his room and makes plans for his return to the stage. Working feverishly, in a single night he blocks out the choreography for a new production: The Downton Burlesque Revue.

Cousin Rose. Cousin Rose, desperate for a part in Carson’s show, enlists the aid of the Countess’s new maid (what’s-her-name) and her mad sewing skills to make her a costume–complete with rip-away bodice and a fan made from feathers pinched from the hats of The Dowager Countess and Isobel Crawley.  She wows Carson and it’s off to London with the two of them, where they mingle with all the wrong sorts of people. The Downton Burlesque Revue? It’s a smash!

Edith. Jealous, Edith decides she also wants to be in the show, so she steals Rose’s costume and tries it on. However, due to the fact that her midsection is swelling noticeably, she cannot fit into the tights and skirt.  Her cries of anguish can be heard all the way to Germany.

That’s all for now. Do you watch Downton Abbey? What do you think should happen?

Holiday Happenings!

Merry Christmas Eve!

PJ Sharon here, there, and everywhere, currently coming to you from the coziness of my living tree I’m wrapping last minute packages and the smell of fresh baked cornbread is wafting in from the kitchen. I hope you’re all taking some time off during the holidays to spend with loved ones. I’m grabbing a few days off, but since writers are never totally on vacation, here’s what I’ll be up to until the end of the month.

For the past ten days, I’ve been part of the Sleigh Bells Ring, Are you Listening, giant audiobook giveaway hosted by Rita Award winning author, Wendy Lindstrom. Today is the last day to enter if you want to be in the running for a chance to win some awesome audiobooks, an MP3 Player, or even an iPod Nano! Just click here to bring you to the Sleigh Bells Ring are you Listening contest page where you’ll find a Rafflecopter entry form. It’s super easy, and only takes a minute, I promise!Sleighbells ring promo pic You might even win an audiobook of HEAVEN IS FOR HEROES.

I’m also participating in the Awesome Indies Holiday Book Bonanza, where dozens of e-books are on sale for only .99 cents between December 26-30th.aia_holidays (1) If you aren’t familiar with Awesome Indies, it’s a great organization of Industry professionals who read, rate, and review books by Independently published authors. They have very stringent criteria that have to be met, so you can rest assured that approved books are top notch! I’m proud to say, WANING MOON and WESTERN DESERT made the cut and are now listed on their front page! For my writing friends out there, check out their website at for some invaluable resource material (check out their criteria for submission info).

While WANING MOON, book one in the Chronicles of Lily Carmichael is only .99 cents, WESTERN DESERT, book two in the trilogy is up for FREE from December 26-28th.

Available NOW!
Available NOW!

 Bookmark this page and come back during the sale for easy links to the books on Amazon or find links on the Awesome Indies Holiday Bonanza Book sale page. With all those new Kindles under Christmas trees everywhere, I couldn’t think of a better time to offer WESTERN DESERT up for FREE! If you’ve got teen readers at home or enjoy reading YA dystopian romance yourself, here is your chance to get both books for less than a dollar. It doesn’t get much better than that!

Please help me spread the word about this great opportunity by sharing this post on your Facebook page, twitter, or other social media. Simply click on the social media button of choice below and add a note of encouragement for friends to download WESTERN DESERT for FREE from Thursday to Saturday this week. Promotions like this are the best way authors can give back to readers, and readers can show their support of their favorite authors by spreading the news, leaving reviews, and chatting about the books with friends and family. As always, your support is greatly appreciated and means the world to me. May you be blessed with good health, peace, prosperity, balance and harmony in the coming year!

So that’s where I’ll be and what I’ll be up to for the next week or so. In the meantime, enjoy the holidays, squeeze in some “healthy” food choices, and plan a nice hike for after your Christmas dinner.

I’m making our traditional spiral ham. How about you?

Devilishly Delicious

Hey, all, Suze here. Here’s a quick and easy recipe for you in case you need to bring something to a holiday potluck–Deviled Eggs. They might seem a little bit old-fashioned, but people love them. Bonus? They’re very inexpensive to make. (Let somebody else bring the shrimp, LOL!) This recipe can be easily halved if you don’t have a big crowd. Sorry there’s no picture, but here’s how I do it:

Suze’s Deviled Eggs

  • 1 dozen medium or large eggs (tip: buy your eggs at least a week in advance and of course keep in the fridge–super-fresh eggs are difficult to peel)
  • 1 tablespoon mustard (whatever you have on hand–but I like a spicy brown mustard like Gulden’s)
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup mayonnaise (I like the kind that’s made with olive oil, such as Hellman’s)
  • 2 tablespoons sweet pickle relish (dill pickle relish is also delicious, for a different taste)
  • Pinch each of salt and pepper

First, boil the eggs. Here’s how to do it to get a perfectly yellow yolk, with no ugly green ring (that comes from overcooking). Place your eggs in a large saucepan (I use a Dutch oven) and cover with cold water. Turn on the heat, cover the pot, and bring the water up to a boil. Now set a kitchen timer and allow the eggs to boil for 4 minutes (medium eggs) or 6 minutes (large eggs). Remove the pot from the burner, keep the lid on, and leave the eggs sitting in the hot water for 7 minutes (medium eggs) or 9 minutes (large eggs). Do not walk away and forget them! Immediately plunge the eggs into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process. At this point you can let them cool in the fridge until you are ready to assemble them.

Peel the eggs. To do this, hopefully without damaging the whites, give the egg a firm but gentle tap on the counter to crack the shell. Roll it around in your hand to further break and loosen the shell, then begin to carefully peel the egg. Give the denuded egg a rinse to remove any stray bits of shell, and set it on a paper towel to drain/dry. Repeat till all the eggs are finished.

Slice the eggs. Using a sharp knife, slice the eggs in half lengthwise, popping the yolk out into a separate bowl. Wipe the knife with a paper towel in between to keep your whites looking nice.

Mix the filling. Using a fork, mash up the yolks into a fine crumble. Add the mustard, pickle relish, salt, pepper. Add the mayonnaise, starting with the smallest amount and adding more as needed–you can always add more, but you can’t take it out! Don’t make the mixture too runny, otherwise it won’t stay in the egg. Mix up and taste for seasoning.

Stuff it! Now comes the fun part. Using a decorator doohickey (I have one from Pampered Chef) or a teaspoon and a knife (same way you would make a drop cookie), fill each egg. Not too full, or you may run out of filling before you get to all the eggs. You can always go back and add more at the end.

Decorate. If you want to get extra fancy, you can add a tiny decoration to each egg. Some suggestions are: little sweet gherkin pickles sliced into rounds; sliced pimiento-stuffed olives; a wee sprig of fresh dill; a few (well-drained) capers; an itty-bitty slice of roasted red pepper. Some people like to sprinkle paprika over the eggs for color, but I don’t really care for the raw paprika taste so I don’t do this.

That’s it! What appetizers always make an appearance on your holiday table?

All Jammed Up

Hey, friends, Suze here. It’s June, and you know what that means in New England–fiddleheads, asparagus, and strawberries.

th[1]You don’t know what a fiddlehead is? It’s an edible fern still in its curled-up stage, and, yes, it looks like the scroll-y end of a violin. The season is super short–like about 10 days or so because they have zero shelf life and must be picked locally, one by one. They taste something like a cross between asparagus, green beans, and broccoli. Lightly steamed and tossed with a bit of butter or olive oil and perhaps a bit of lemon juice or white balsamic vinegar, they’re delicious. And all the more delectable because they’re so fleeting. Wait one day too long and they’re a full-flown fern!

But enough about vegetables. Let’s talk about strawberries. How I love those bright red June jewels, sensual and juicy. I love them right out of the garden, their flavor intensified by the warmth of the sun. I love them sliced and tossed with just a bit of sugar, or a drizzle of real maple syrup or honey, to bring out their natural juice and sweetness, or unsweetened and topped with thick, creamy vanilla Greek yogurt. Sigh. If I didn’t have a whole flat of berries in my refrigerator, I’d want to go to the pick-your-own farm right now!

One of my favorite things to do with strawberries (and other berries too) is to make jam. If you’ve never canned anything, it might seem a little daunting, but I’m here to tell you that homemade strawberry jam is the perfect way to start your canning career. With just a bit of advance organization, it’s super easy! One taste of freshly made strawberry jam on a whole grain English muffin and you will never, ever go back to any jam you buy in the store, I guarantee. And if you make a batch or two now, you can give jars away as holiday gifts. This is a perfect recipe for sharing with friends, family and neighbors.

So here’s how to do it:

Buy your jars. I like the eight-ounce crystal quilted jelly jars made by Ball because they’re so pretty! Here in New England you can buy the jars at most grocery stores, as well as farm supply stores such as Agway and Tractor Supply. I think I’ve seen them at Walmart too. The jars themselves are reusable pretty much indefinitely as long as they aren’t chipped or cracked, so when you give away your jam, be sure to ask for your jars back eventually.

The jars will come with a two-piece lid: a metal ring and a round, flat metal top with a special coating on the underside. The metal rings can also be reused unless they are rusty, but you will need to buy new tops every time (you can buy them separately).

Buy your pectin. Pectin is a natural fruit-based gelling agent (it’s abundant in apples, for example). It comes in different forms, such as a liquid, but I prefer Sure-Jel Lower Sugar Recipe (the kind in the pink box). I have not always had good luck with other brands, but Sure-Jel has never failed me, so I stick with it. This is usually found right next to the canning jars, or sometimes near Jell-O and instant pudding in the grocery store.

Buy your berries. Get your fruit from a local farm if you possibly can. You’re supporting your neighbors and small business as well as getting a quality product. Organic is always best! You can either buy the berries already picked and pay a couple of bucks more, or get some exercise and pick them yourself. You will need about six heaping quarts of berries, or about six pounds. (Get another couple of quarts to eat fresh). To correctly pick a berry, hold the stem between your index and middle fingers and pull gently. The berry will pop off along with its little green top. Leaving the top intact keeps the fruit fresher longer.

Which berries to pick? You want them to be firm and bright red–not orangey-red or greenish-white, which means they’re underripe. Not purple-red and mushy, which means they’re overripe. The best way to judge ripeness is to taste one. It should be firm, sweet but slightly tart. If it’s extra sweet and squishy, pass it by. If you’re really not sure, err on the side of less ripe than overripe for the best tasting jam.

Take them home–do not wash until just before you’re ready to use them!–and put them in your fridge for up to a day or two.

Prepare your jars. Run the jars, lids and rings through your dishwasher while you prepare the berries (below). Keep the jars hot in the dishwasher.

Prepare your berries. Fill up your colander with berries and give them a quick rinse under cold running water, draining well. Hull the strawberries by circling the pointy tip of a paring knife around the green top, then discard the tops. Quarter the fruit and place in a bowl. Every once in a while, squish the berries with a potato masher. You want juice and bits of berry to equal six cups. When you get to six cups, you’re done and can eat the rest.

OK, I promise, the time-consuming part is done! Now with a bit of organization, you will have jam cooling on your counter in about thirty minutes.

Set up the following on the counter right next to your stove:

  • Newspaper or paper grocery bags to reduce mess (cover the counter)
  • A plus/minus one cup ladle
  • A long-handled large spoon, wooden or metal
  • A canning funnel, if you have one. Not strictly necessary, but these wide-bottom funnels are inexpensive (get them where you buy your jars or order online if you’ve got the time) and make filling the jars easier. If you don’t have one, don’t sweat it. You can just carefully ladle your jam into the jars.
  • A clean, lint-free dishcloth (the microfiber ones work well)
  • Your jars, still hot from the dishwasher
  • Your metal rings
  • Your flat metal lids, sitting in a pan or bowl of very hot water
  • A bowl containing 3-3/4 cups of granulated (white) sugar
  • A bowl containing 1/4 cup of granulated (white sugar) mixed with the contents of your box of pectin (Sure-Jel)

Now you’re cooking! These last steps go fast, and you can’t stop in the middle of the process, so make sure you won’t be interrupted.

Place your six cups of mashed berries/juice in a very large saucepan (I use my mother-in-law’s old copper-bottomed Revereware dutch oven), along with the sugar-pectin mixture. Give it a good stir and turn up the heat to high. Continue to stir until the mixture comes to a full rolling boil. What that means is that as you continue to stir, the mixture continues to boil. If you stir and the boiling bubbles subside, it’s not there yet.

When you get to the full rolling boil (usually takes about five minutes on my stove), carefully add the rest of the sugar (the 3-3/4 cups) and stir. BE CAREFUL! Working with anything this hot requires caution. Stir the mixture gently until it comes back to a full rolling boil (usually less than five minutes). Now check your watch or the kitchen clock, and boil and stir for exactly one minute, then shut off the burner.

Immediately ladle the hot mixture into one of your jars, leaving about 1/8 to 1/4 inch of space between the level of the fruit and the lip of the jar. Do not fill all the way to the top, and do not leave too much space. Using the lint-free cloth dipped in water and rung out, wipe the lip of the jar. It must be perfectly clean (water droplets are okay) in order to seal. Now place a flat metal lid (shake the water off) on the jar, and screw the metal ring onto that. Immediately turn the jar upside down on the newspaper.

Working quickly, repeat the process until your jars are filled. If you have not quite enough to fill the last jar properly, don’t worry. You will just keep that jar in your fridge and use it first (it’ll probably be gone that same day!). Wait five minutes, then turn your jars right side up and allow them to cool, undisturbed and out of any drafts. Eventually you will hear a satisfying “pop” as the jars seal. In a couple of hours, check your seals by pressing down on the flat metal lid. If there is any play in the lid, your jar may not have sealed and you should put it in the fridge rather than on the pantry shelf.

Caveat: The instructions inside the Sure-Jel package call for you to process the jars in a boiling water bath. This involves setting a rack inside a very large stock pot, filling with water, and boiling the filled, sealed jars of jam for ten or fifteen minutes. Honestly, I don’t do this. The turning-the-jars-upside-down method is an older technique that I’ve been using for years. Strawberries, and other fruits, have a high acid content that naturally inhibits growth of any nasty stuff.

You should make the decision whether to do further processing based on your comfort level. If you’re really worried, you could always just keep your jars in the fridge. They will last a long time.

And that’s it! Ever wanted to try canning? Once you get the hang of it, it’s not scary or intimidating, and the results are so worth it. Let me know if you have any questions about the process. If you’re not interested in canning, tell me about your local farm stand or your favorite place to buy fresh fruits and veggies.