Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Omega Sector Shakshuka

Harlequin authors are sharing their favorite recipes this week. Head on over to Twitter with the hashtag #sweetandspicyholiday to find some great ideas and maybe fine a new author to read! My contribution is Omega Sector Shakshuka! 

Shakshuka is a Northern African/Middle Eastern dish of eggs poached in a sauce of tomatoes, onions, and peppers, often spiced with cumin. It is a common breakfast food, but can be served as any meal.

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 25 minutes
Total Time: 35 minutes
Servings: 5-6 (but it’s so easy to make more or less)

Ingredients:
1 tablespoons olive oil
5-6 eggs
½ medium brown or white onion, peeled and diced
2 clove garlic, minced
1 medium green and/or red bell pepper, chopped
4 cups ripe diced tomatoes, or 2 cans (14 oz. each) diced tomatoes (undrained)
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 teaspoon cumin
2 teaspoon paprika
Chili flakes (sprinkled for spicy flavor)
Pinch of cayenne pepper (to taste)
Pinch of sugar (to taste)
Salt and pepper (to taste)
Chopped parsley (optional)

Besides being totally delish, another great thing about this recipe is its flexibility. Use whatever you want/have on hand in your base: mushrooms, eggplant, spinach, jalapenos, parsley, green chilies… (I once diced potatoes and put them in)

Directions:

1. Heat oil in deep, large pan on medium. Add onion and sauté until softened (3-5 minutes). Add garlic until fragrant (1-2 more minutes), then add peppers (5-7 more minutes).

2. Add tomatoes and tomato paste to pan, stir till blended. Add spices and sugar, stir well, and allow mixture to simmer over medium heat for 5-7 minutes till it starts to reduce. At this point, you can taste the mixture and spice it according to your preferences. Add salt and pepper to taste, more sugar for a sweeter sauce, or more cayenne pepper for a spicier shakshuka

3. Once sufficiently thick, crack in the eggs one by one on top of mixture (as if you were frying them), making sure to space them out evenly. Cover the pan and allow the mixture to simmer and condense for 10-15 minutes, depending on how cooked you prefer your eggs.

4. Once the eggs are cooked, garnish with chopped parsley, and the shakshuka is ready to be served with pita or challah bread!
 


Derek Waterman, the hero in my December Intrigue SPECIAL FORCES SAVIOR did multiple tours in the Middle East during his time in the Army. Shakshuka would undoubtedly been something he became acquainted with there. Quick, easy, made up of whatever is on hand -- the perfect recipe for a solider who wanted to fix his own meal.


Our family of six (including four teenagers!) loves it too. Introduced to us by an Israeli neighbor, this has become a weekly staple in our house, a breakfast food we love to have for dinner!




Be sure to order your copy of SPECIAL FORCES SAVIOR -- Book 1 in the critically acclaimed Omega Sector: Critical Response series. Available Dec 15th.

Book 2 - FULLY COMMITTED is available mid-January. 


Details/excerpts/buy links  HERE.



Excerpt from SPECIAL FORCES SAVIOR.
© 2016 - All rights reserved.

"Did I misread what I saw? Was it all in my imagination?”

Lie to her. That was all he needed to do. One tiny lie, let her down easy, and avert this crisis. Moments passed. It was his tactical advantage and he knew he should take it.

But looking into her precious brown eyes, her sweet face, he couldn’t. “No. You didn’t imagine it.”

She took a step closer. He took a step back.

“Why, Derek?” Her question barely more than a whisper. “Why have you stayed away from me all this time? You’ve had to know I wanted to be with you.”

“Molly, our worlds don’t mix. I’m not the right person for you.”

“Don’t you think I should be the judge of that?”

Thursday, July 23, 2015

A Stanger in a Deutschland: Reflections at Six-Months

Did I mention I'm publishing SIX books in 2016, and am currently in the midst of writing them all? Thus: poor, neglected blog.

Since we've been here in Germany almost seven months, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on how things are going.

Overall, I honestly can say, with Tony the Tiger-like enthusiasm: they're GRRRRRRREAT!

The travel, man, the travel. In case you live under a rock and haven't seen all my social media blasts, all this happened:
Dubrovnik, Croatia

Istanbul, Turkey

Olympia, Greece

Venice, Italy
So yeah, all those places happened since we've been here, plus: Paris, Amsterdam, London, Austria, and Switzerland. Not to mention, I saw a Shakespeare play (Merchant of Venice) performed outdoors at a real, live CASTLE one evening. It was definitely a quintessential "Hey, we live in Europe" moment.
Y'all, we live in EUROPE.
When people told us we should take advantage of travel and opportunities while we were here, we took them at their word. 

Of course, it hasn't all been easy. Kevin's job is significantly harder, or at least the learning curve has been. The hours are longer. The traffic is THE PITS. But he's surviving.

I've pretty much given up on learning German because Mark Twain had it right...


Okay, I haven't given up, but IT'S SO HARD. (Es tut mir leid. Mein Deutsch ist nicht sehr gut. Still, people. Still nicht sehr gut.)

Another difficulty has been the weather: it's been one of the hottest summers anyone can remember. Everyone says we'll be glad to think of this nice warm weather when winter rolls around again and it's so cold.

But right now, it's been in the upper-90s multiple days in a row. AND THERE IS NO AIR CONDITIONING. So basically this:


But except for sleeping with ice packs, the good far outweighs the bad, for sure. We continue to love the adventure, even when we can't watch America Ninja Warrior because it's not on Hulu. 

We play, we fight, we eat, we live. Sometimes it's boring, sometimes it's exciting, sometimes some old German guy is yelling at you outside your car because you accidentally blocked the bike lane while waiting for a red-light to turn. To which you just shrug. 

Basically, this place has just become home.  And what a beautiful place home is:

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Sherlocked - The Event (in Which I Meet Benedict Cumberbatch!!!)

As I’ve announced, I recent signed a new 6-book contract with Harlequin Intrigue. While, I’m thrilled about that, writing six books in 13 months is not leaving me much left over time to write on my blog, or to keep people as updated about our life in Germany as I'd  like to.

Quite a few people have asked why I haven’t posted much about our new house yet. There's a reason; A VERY EXCITING REASON. I can’t officially announce anything right now, but let’s just suffice it to say that we have been contacted about the possibility of telling the story of how we came to choose the house we are in –and not, say, two other houses that we hunted considered-- in a much more public medium, that does not involve my blog.

I can’t help you more than that, people. You either watch HGTV or you don’t.

I’ll keep you posted.

But the other thing I wanted to post about was what me and Kiddo #1 did last week: attended the SHERLOCKED CONVENTION in London (April 24-26).

It was a rather smallish convention (compared to some of the Cons in the States) centered around BBC's Sherlock, but neither my daughter or I had ever been to one, so we had a great time.
Benedict Cumberbatch
AND WE GOT TO MEET BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH. Only maybe for a 15 seconds, but it was still worth it. I’m sure he remembers me.

(Actually, I felt kind of bad for the guy. Taking formal pictures with as many people as he did can’t be easy. He was very stiff. British. Found out later he had a head-cold, so that may have had something to do with it.)

But whatever! I GOT TO MEET BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH, PEOPLE. 

Kiddo #1 was a little disappointed by her brief interaction with BC, but Andrew Scott (Moriarty) and Rupert Graves (Lestrade) more than made up for it with her. They were friendly, genuine, talkative and fun.
 Not as fun as SOME actors are known to be with their fans at Cons….

But still pretty fun.  
Rupert Graves
But, “British reserve” was the order of the day. It was brought up multiple times throughout the talks, a reminder of sorts that this Con would not be like those sordid and unseemly American ones.

We should all behave in proper British manner… because Sherlock would expect us to. Ahem, there may or may not now be restraining orders out against me from multiple actors from the show.
Sherlock Cast
Yes, Janie has trouble remembering not to hug the celebrities.
Lars Mikkelsen
When I told Lars Mikkelsen he scared me so much I almost didn't want a picture, he offered 
to pretend flick my face, as he does as the villain on Season 3. :) Super fun guy

The talks at Sherlocked were plentiful and mostly interesting. A lot of Q&A sessions, and some more formal topics: the women of Sherlock, cosplay, design of the show, etc. Producers Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss (who also plays Mycroft) spoke about the general direction of the show, but never gave any secrets about future episodes away. 

And, of course, Benedict Cumberbatch brought the house (made up mostly of women) down:
video

The displays/memorabilia were rather lacking… a small costume  section (15-20 costumes from through-out the three seasons), and a few photo ops (the actual 221b door used on the set, a double decker bus with Sherlock/Moriarty’s pictures), Mycroft’s office.

BBC's Sherlock

BBC's Sherlock

BBC's Sherlock

BBC's Sherlock

BBC's Sherlock

BBC's Sherlock
But really, apart from the talks and standing in line to either get pictures or autographs, there wasn’t much to do. Having said that, we made lots of friends, all just as excited as us to be there.

Would I go again? No. There wasn’t enough to it to justify returning. Plus, now that Bendict has the restraining order out against me…

But I had a great time, fan-girling with my girl for a weekend. That definitely made it worthwhile.



Sunday, March 22, 2015

Crafting a Romantic Suspense Series: Omega: CoRD Book 1

I was able to announce last week that I signed a new 6-book contract with Harlequin Intrigue.

For those not overly familiar with Harlequin Intrigue, they release six romantic suspense books every month, of the shorter kind (about 210-225 pages). They're called category romances.  You can find them in bookstores like B&N and Books-A-Million, as well as other shops such Walmart, Target, and drug stores.

Writing for Harlequin is great, a lot of my author-heroes started with them, including Linda Howard, Elizabeth Lowell, and Nora Roberts. Because they publish so many books each month, it allows for many newbie romance authors (like me!) to get their start. But the books are only around on shelves for a month. After that they have to be ordered online.

My first book (PRIMAL INSTINCT) was published by Intrigue in April 2014. I then signed a 4-book contract with them for the Omega Sector (Covert Undercover) Series. Those books released in 2015.
 The new series I'm writing is a spin-off of the Omega Sector Series, called Omega Sector: Critical Response Division, or Omega: CoRD. CoRD is not a covert section of Omega (unlike the original Omega Sector books); everyone involved works out in the open. The six books are based on six different occupations within CoRD, and that is what is each book is tentatively titled right now.

Every couple of weeks I'll be talking about details for one of the books.

Book #1: THE TACTICAL TEAM SPECIALIST
Release date: January or February 2016
 
Hero:  DEREK WATERMAN
Derek was raised on a horse ranch in Wyoming, before spending time in the Army Special Forces, including tours in Afghanistan. He's a warrior at heart, and keeps to himself. His past is a dark place, and the thought of tainting sweet Molly Humphries with that darkness haunts him.

Heroine: MOLLY HUMPHRIES
Molly is a forensic pathologist and head of the lab at Omega: CoRD. She is brilliant, focused and logical, except for when it comes to Derek Waterman.

PLOT (back cover blurb):

I'm HUGELY excited about this book (I've already finished writing it, since it's due to my editor on April 1). Derek and Molly's story came very easily for me and watching them fall in love --despite some pretty hefty danger thrown their way-- was exciting and touching.

A lot of my inspiration for this story stemmed out of this video:

A brainy scientist in love with an alpha hero. She thinks she's irrelevant to him, but couldn't be more wrong. It was the perfect premise for a romantic suspense story. (And of course, if you haven't watched BBC's Sherlock, do so immediately.)

My love for Benedict Cumberbatch is well known, but he wasn't the muse for Derek in the book (I needed someone with guns and fighting skills), but Lousie Brealey's Molly definitely was the muse for my Molly.

And the rest of my inspiration? This picture, guys. This. Picture.:
I love everything about this picture so much. It captures a perfect moment I envisioned between Molly and Derek.

We've got some exciting settings too, in this book. Omega: CoRD headquarters found its home in Colorado Springs, CO and the story makes it way down to the thick rainforests of Columbia. Lots of action happening in both locations: explosions, kidnappings, gunfights in the jungle, fires, breaking and entering... There's definitely enough excitement to move the story along.
 There's an entire Pinterest  board dedicated to the book here. Hope you'll check it out. Looking at it makes me wish the book was coming out before early 2016!  But I think it's going to be a great start to the series. 2016 can't get here fast enough.

More details about Book 2 in the series (THE FORENSIC ARTIST) soon!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

A Stranger in a Deutschland - The Plight of the Garbage Disposal

I realize an official update has been a long time in coming... that is because of some SUPER- AWESOME good news in my writing career that I will be announcing soon. (Just suffice to say I've had other places to be spending my writing hours).

But hey, we're still in Germany!!

We have now officially been here two full months. Let's just cut to the chase: I miss ChickFilA and Target and all my friends and family (probably in that order, sorry Mom).

But what I miss most of all?
My garbage disposal

Seriously, there are no garbage disposals here. You would be amazed at how that has changed my whole life, especially since I'm dealing with a family a six and the trash pick up is once every two weeks.

I won't go into too much detail, but it has changed what I cook, how I cook it, the portion sizes I serve and a number of other things.

I don't know exactly how garbage disposals work, but I'm pretty sure there is magic and fairies involved because in the United States you put your unused food items in your sink you run some water, turn on a light switch and Voila! the food disappears. Dispose-All

Yeah, that doesn't happen here. 

Now if my kids don't quite finish everything on their plates then it has to be raked into the garbage can. Which is fine until the next day when the little pieces of food from last night start to smell. Which is fine because we can take it outside.  EXCEPT outside we get one small Oscar-the-Grouch size trash can to hold everything for two weeks. That's usually full by day 3.

So... lots of Lysol. And smaller serving sizes so everyone finishes everything on our plates.

But honestly, despite the what's-that-smell factor in our house, things have really taken a turn for the better. 

The Broken Foot
Kids really seem to be adjusting, fitting in. Nobody is crawling into my bed crying. Nobody is asking if we can move back "home". Everyone has made friends; sports and activities have started, things seem to be working their way back to normal.

We have had some problems... Captain Awesome tripped on some stairs (at an indoor amusement park) and broke his foot. True story. They thought he would need surgery but fortunately didn't. He's been wearing a boot for a month, but should hopefully be out of that soon.

I almost flooded our entire apartment because I forgot to dump the water reservoir of the clothes dryer.  Evidently the same fairies who don't magically take the food away when we put it down the sink don't take the water away from the dryer and it has to be emptied manually after every couple of laundry loads.

PS -- I knew this, but forgot. Hand me the mop, I won't forget again.

Oh yeah, and there was the time I gave my kids wine coolers thinking it was lemonade, since evidently alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks are just randomly interspersed on the German grocery shelves. Probably would've been a better day for everyone if I'd have just let them drink it. 

But despite all any of this, the good has by far out-weighed the bad. 

For example, went to Paris for a three-day weekend:
Hey, Kiddo #4 kind of looks like Mona Lisa
Notre Dame and Venus de Milo at the Louvre
In case anyone wonders: Kid #3 has worn shorts EVERYDAY since we've been here, no matter what weather
It was a great trip full of laughter, EuroDisney and lots of eating. My boys even wore "European swimming trunks" in order to be able to use the indoor water park at our hotel. But they wouldn't let me take pictures. :)  They went ice-skating on the Eiffel Tower.

These are things I know they will remember for the rest of their lives. It was a wonderful trip, exactly what our family needed.

We bought a second car to use while we're here! 
Um yeah, that is not it, much to Capt Awesome's dismay.

We bought a Mazda 3 hatchback.  But more than just getting a car, it was an important moment for us because we managed to buy it from a German man who spoke about as much English as we did German. There was a lot of Google Translate use going on. It was a big stretch out of our comfort zone, but because the Euro is struggling so much (thanks, Greece!) we were able to get a much better deal than if we tried to buy from an American and pay dollars for a vehicle.

So far the car has been wonderful. And super-great on gas.

In February, Capt Awesome and I won free concert tickets for my birthday and met Lionel Richie! 
Yeah, we partied All Night Long.

But most importantly, we FOUND A PERMANENT HOUSE! 

It was a matter of being at the right place at the right time (or, God looking out for us). This house was listed as available right when I happened to be looking at the housing site and I scheduled us the first appointment. Within a couple of hours there were twenty people on the waiting list for it.

It has five bedrooms, two bonus rooms (one is GIANT that the boys have decided to share) and, wait for it... 3 full bathrooms.

By the time we got to the third bathroom when we were touring it, I was in tears I was so happy. It was far and beyond, bigger and better and more open than anything we'd seen. Plus, it's near the base (so there are a ton of kids around), little shops and cafes, and the train.

Most importantly, it's in the town of Boeblingen... pronounced Boob-lingen, so my boys think that is hi-larious. We move in on March 23.

So all-in-all, we're settling in well. I definitely post more updates on Facebook, so hang with me there if you're looking for more up-to-date stuff (friend me here or like my author page here). But I'll be sure to update here when we're in the new house and after our trip to Amsterdam in April to see the tulips. :) #adventuresinGermany

Sunday, January 18, 2015

A Stranger in a Deutschland: Continuing our Adjustration

Oh man, have you ever read such a boo-hoo post as my last one about Surviving Our First Week in Germany? The adjustration (thanks to my writing buddy Tracey Livesay for the word!) continues to be tough.

Seriously, when Kiddo #1 crawls into bed with you one night crying because she misses her friends and everything is so hard, you can't help but wonder if MAYBE YOU'VE MADE THE WORST MISTAKE IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD.

When Kiddo #3 comes home from school in tears multiple days in a row because he can't seem to make any friends, you wonder it again.

When Kiddo #4 won't get off Oovoo because she talks to her USA friends 24/7... same.

When Kiddo #2 plays X-box Live with his bestie from Virginia all night... well, actually that's just normal and has been happening for years

Yeah... still a lot of adjustration going on in the Crouch family.

But three things have happened in the last week that has made life in our household a little better.

1. WE FOUND THE EXCHANGE and COMMISSARY!
Despite Capt Awesome's nearly 20 years with the DoD, we've never been part of a military base before with our everyday lives. So although I had heard of the Exchange in Norfolk, I didn't really know what it was.
The Panzer Base Exchange

Well, it's a big ol' store that sells just about everything. Kind of a cross between a Walmart and a TJ Maxx (because it is always changing what's in stock). You have to have a military ID to shop there (which I have) and prices are about the same as in the USA, but with no tax.

We'd been here 10 days before we made it into the Exchange, and I can't tell you our relief our entire family felt to go somewhere where everyone spoke English, all the packaging was in English, and they took credit cards with no problems.

Between the Exchange and the Commissary (military grocery store) we were able to find stuff that made life a little easier....
 Do I want to shop there all the time? No. Will I be going there at least a couple times a month? Bet on it.

2. OUR UNACCOMPANIED BAGGAGE ARRIVED!
We had three ways of getting all of our stuff over to Germany, so had to prioritize everything into 3 groups.

Our luggage in Norfolk
Batch #1 - Checked Luggage: Everything we couldn't live without, but was small enough to fit in suitcases and fly with us from VA to Germany. This included clothes, toiletries, the X-box, some school supplies, laptops, and various converters/adapters we'd need right away. Fortunately we were able to take as many suitcases as we wanted for free, which ended up being something like 14 checked pieces and 12 carry-ons...


Batch #2 - Unaccompanied Baggage: About 3 weeks before we moved, we were able to ship over up to 1000 pounds of non-furniture items. Anything that we would would want before the majority of our house-hold goods arrived. We shipped some coats, a few games, more school stuff, my computer printer, all my cooking spices and Kiddo #1's guitar. That arrived this week! It's amazing what some stuffed animals, familiar blankets and coffee mugs will do for morale.
UAB stuff may not have been a lot, but my favorite coffee mug made me feel better!

(The rest of our stuff will arrive with Batch #3- Household Goods after we've found our permanent home, sometime hopefully in February/March)

But the best thing that happened this week is..
#3: OUR DOG JUNIE B GOT HERE!

Junie was accompanied by our friend Carol Ann, who has been watching Junie since we left. Junie couldn't travel with us because dogs can't be flown into Stuttgart, they have to be flown into Frankfurt to be checked out by the German vet. But fortunately there's no quarantine time required in Germany, so OUR FAMILY IS TOGETHER AGAIN.


So, all in all, a better week as the adjustration continues. Next week's goal: ACTUALLY GETTING SOME WRITING ON MY NEW BOOK DONE. We'll see.