The Uber Cookie: Can Your Characters Bake?

I don’t bake a lot. I cook, but my brand of cooking is generally Southern and simple. We eat everyday things like tacos, spaghetti, chicken tenders, that kind of thing. Occasionally I will go out on a limb and make homemade salad dressing. The other night I made homemade croutons. My fare is simple.

I don’t bake. It’s time-consuming, and since we could all stand to lose a few pounds, I just don’t mess with it. But tonight the kids wanted something sweet, and I hadn’t been to the store, so I decided to make some cookies. Below I want to explain the decision-making process that led to the creation of the Uber Cookie.

CookieThe original recipe was from the back of a bag of chocolate chips, and went something like this:

  • 2 1/4 cups of all-purpose flour (1st mistake — I used self-rising)
  • 1 tsp salt (left out — because I used self-rising)
  • 1 tsp baking soda (left out — because I used self-rising)
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened (I used 1/4 of this)
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar (used about one cup)
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar (omitted)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract (forgot)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 cups chocolate chips (used about 1/2 that)
  • 1 cup chopped nuts (left out)
  • Added 1/4 cup oil to make up for missing butter
  • Added 1/2 cup applesauce to make up for missing butter and add more sweetness

So, amazingly enough, out of a ten-item recipe, only one item I got right, and that’s the two large eggs. I plopped those cookies down on a baking sheet, sort of like drop cookies, and baked them. I left them a good distance apart, but once the batter heated up, the spread was on.

Was it a cookie? Was it a cake? Or somewhere in between? The consistency was almost like a dry cake or an airy cookie. It was sweet, but not too sweet. The best word that my husband could come up with was odd. The kids were fascinated with them. They were really excited that I made the cookies.

The next time you have a failure in your kitchen, think about it from your character’s perspective. I’m not a ditz. I know that to have something come out right you have to follow the recipe. I ran into trouble when I didn’t have enough butter, and I didn’t realize until I had already committed. The self-rising flour I thought would be okay to substitute. My daughter was helping, and she would have been really disappointed if I had changed my mind. So, yes, I knew I was in uncharted territory and they may not have been edible, but sometimes you’ve just got to experiment.

So how would an OCD character handle it? Throw the batter away when she realized she didn’t have the butter? Or go across to the neighbor’s and borrow it?

My husband ate a cookie, pronounced them odd, and we had a good laugh. But what if he were a jerk about it? What if I had been trying really hard and he had said I was worthless because I couldn’t bake simple cookies? Would that be the beginning of a drawn-out ugly fight? Would that be the beginning of a female character finding her self-worth again?

Or what about the OCD widower, whose former wife’s sister is a clutzy aunt who is taking care of the kids for the night and they make fun cookies and a huge mess in the kitchen? I could see a Lifetime or Hallmark movie starting with that.

I know. I’m an incurable romantic. How would your character handle a baking experiment gone wrong? Next time you’re stuck, think about it. How do you use your everyday choices in your character’s lives?

The Valentine’s Day Backlash

Glancing at my Facebook feed, I’m not seeing a lot of love for Valentine’s Day these days. A few married couples have tossed out Happy Valentine’s Day wishes to their spouses.  A few moms have wished their children a happy birthday who happen to be born on St. Valentine’s Day. A few singles have posted pictures of a broken heart followed by Happy Single’s Awareness Day (SAD). My circle of friends appear to be over the holiday.

On twitter, the hashtag #CandyHeartRejects continues, and Commander Hatfield @Cmdr_Hadfield is retweeting the best of #ValentineFromSpace.

If you are a romance writer, how your characters deal with this holiday could be very informative.  For example, the stereotype of a man who rails against Valentine’s Day as a made-up holiday comes to mind. However, what if the female character is the one who hates the day and all of the fake love associated with it? One of my long-time male friends from college posted a story on Facebook this morning that his spouse of many years hates Valentine’s Day, and always has.

What if Valentine’s Day was also your wedding anniversary, but then there’s an ugly divorce? Would the day forever be tainted, even if you are close to finding new love?

What if a character is not very materialistic and a new beau gives an expensive bracelet for Valentine’s Day hoping to impress, but it has the opposite effect?

What if a first-date on Valentine’s Day goes awry because the fancy restaurant loses the reservation?

Why can’t I get these people out of my head?

Happy Valentine’s Day. 

What are your feelings about Valentine’s Day? Which stereotype do you match, or do you have a unique story?  I remember when I was single it was a very depressing holiday for me. Now that I’m married with kids, we typically avoid going out because of all the crowds.

Finding Time to [Insert Activity Here]

Everywhere I look, writers are looking for time to write. There are only 24 hours in the day, and when you subtract sleep, working at your full-time job (which most of us do), taking care of children and the house, that doesn’t leave much.  People who don’t write are having the same issues fitting in their hobbies, whether it be playing board games, golfing, running, sewing, or baking.

At our house, my hobby is writing fiction, and my husband plays golf. As a a family, we like to put puzzles together, play board games, and going exploring/hiking at battlefields. Lately, I think we have done a good job fitting together all sorts of things we like to do.

Writing is a solitary hobby. If I spent all of my spare time at a keyboard, I wouldn’t be a very good wife or mother. So here’s to our attempt to find balance.

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Here are a few tips to make the most of your day:

  • Make an appointment with yourself. Instead of just saying I’ll fit it in later, give yourself a specific time and stick to it. Be as specific as possible. For example, at 9:00 after the kids are in bed I’m going to work on revising Chapter 7. Or, While the kids are at basketball practice I’m going to the gym to exercise.
  • Set realistic goals and deadlines. It helps you find time to make those edits if you know you’ve committed to have them by a certain date. This can be problematic if you are an indie writer. First drafts and edits can drag out longer than they need to. I am guilty of this.
  • Brainstorm constantly. I’m using Evernote on my phone and computer to track random thoughts about characters, future scenes, and plot ideas for future projects. We all have dead time, whether it’s standing in line at the grocery store, waiting at the DMV office, or waiting for a child’s event to start.  Fill it by typing away on your little phone, and you’ll be amazed what gems you can keep.  Quietly type in bits of conversation that you may overhear to study later and perhaps throw in as dialog. Everyone else will think you are just playing a game.
  • Cut back on scheduled events. You don’t have to attend every invitation that comes through your inbox or even your mailbox. Be choosy with your time. If you are going out of a sense of obligation and not enjoyment, sometimes you can bow out and send a gift instead.
  • Cut back on the frequency of “maintenance” activities. Grocery shop only once a week instead of making multiple trips to the store. Don’t go shopping at all unless it’s something you absolutely have to have. Cook enough for two meals and have the second portion later.
  • Delegate. My kids are old enough now that they are helping with laundry and household chores. As they get older, this will increase. It’s important that every child learn what it takes to make a household run smoothly.
  • Hire it out if you can. My husband and I agreed a while back that we would have a lawn service because it’s not something that either one of us enjoys. Soon I hope to add a house-cleaning service into the mix.
  • Cut back on television, and the Internet. I know, ouch, right? Enough said.

These are just some ideas. Don’t feel guilty about finding time for fun. Our lives shouldn’t be all drudgery. Sometimes we get sucked into doing nothing but work, kid’s activities, cleaning, and sleep.

Take time to do a puzzle.

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Or go to a battlefield. Here’s a picture from a trip we recently took to a local battlefield where participants were dressed in period costumes from the Revolutionary War.

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Carve out time with the family to go on hikes, explore local battlefields, and play games. Carve out time for yourself to do what you like, too. I think it’s important for kids to know that mom and dad have interests away from them, whether it’s golf, writing fiction, or going to a movie for a girls’ night or afternoon out. Laundry can wait.

(Note these pictures are all mine. Please do not use without permission)