Archive for the ‘Little Gale Gumbo’ Category

Hello, summer! Can we offer you a glass of ice water–or fifty?

As I sit here applying melted chapstick in Charlotte, it’s hard to believe that just a week ago I was standing in ocean waters on a beach in Maine that were chilly enough to numb my calves. As always, returning to see family and friends in the state where I was raised is a gift and one I can’t wait to open every time the school year comes to a close.

Outside the auditorium after the presentation. Take note: crazy prints hide armpit sweat stains.

This trip was particularly special as I had the chance to do some promotion for LITTLE GALE GUMBO, and my upcoming release THE MERMAID COLLECTOR (which, like GUMBO, is also set in coastal Maine–and even bears an iconic Maine lighthouse on it’s cover that I swear I had nothing to do with–how cool is that?)

Not only did I get to attend a book club meeting that included several friends from high school, but I also shared the room with my high school English teacher who is not only a published author in her own right, but someone who was pivotal in my understanding of story structure and prose and the layering of themes. It was, as you can imagine, a very touching event for me.

There was also the chance the participate in the Portland Public Library’s wonderful series, Brown Bag Lunches, where authors get to present their work to readers. (In full fan-girl disclosure, I was there presenting LITTLE GALE GUMBO the week after Richard Ford and the week before Richard Russo–I know! Swoon, right? I melted just a little at that podium. Okay, I melted a lot. )

I also had the absolute pleasure of (finally!) getting to meet the wickedly witty and talented writer, Julia Munroe Martin, whose blog wordsxo many of you are already familiar with. We met for coffee and chatted like old friends for what seemed like ten minutes only to realize two hours later (!) that we’d only covered a fraction of all the things we meant to talk about.

In other news, I’ve started a Facebook page for THE MERMAID COLLECTOR, and I’m looking forward to it being a place where everyone can share their thoughts on the mystique and appeal of mermaids–as well as photos of them in our every day lives. (I’m looking to you, dear Josey! Didn’t you mention mermaid sculptures to me once?) I hope you all will come on over to the page and share in the fun.

Okay, enough goodies from me–How are you all keeping cool, on and off the page?

Who’s writing? Who’s reading? Who’s my hero and managing to do BOTH??

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I hope it’s not too late to send out a hearty Happy Mardi Gras hug to everyone!

Tonight finds me enjoying a new New Orleans tradition my husband has just shared: Eating Zapp’s Spicy Cajun Crawtators potato chips with cream cheese.  (Hey, they don’t call it Low Fat Tuesday!)

Raising a few Abita Turbodogs. Cheers, everyone!

So in honor of the end of carnival season, tell me:
What are you dipping into tonight?

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Little Gale Gumbo has been out in the world now for 14 days. It’s been a wonderful ride so far, and I’ve got lots more road ahead.

But if you’ll forgive a writer getting more mileage out of a cheezy analogy, I’m going to have to pull the car over for a moment. Link-hugs ahead!

There aren’t words (even for a writer!) to express how grateful and touched I have been by the outpouring of support from friends upon my debut’s release, many of whom I was fortunate enough to meet when I first started this blog over a year ago. There’s a wonderful group of writers and readers and just plain fantastic gals I got to know from agent Betsy Lerner’s blog and I have to say even though I haven’t (yet!) had the opportunity to meet them in person, I feel very close to each one through the community of their fabulous blogs. They have been championing my book from the beginning and I wish I could give each and everyone of them a great big hug. Until the time I can, I say thank you Teri, Downith, Amy, Averil, Lyra, MSB, Lisa, Deb, Sherry, Lizi and Laura.

To my Twitter friends, who have and continue to cheer me on, my warmest thanks! Julia, Natalia, Beth, Erika, Jackie, Melissa, Alex, Kimberly, Sarah, Cynthia, Jenny, Amanda, Roz, Jen, Tom, Teresa, Linda , Victoria, Ollin.

And of course, to my fellow debut sisters at the Deb BallLinda, Joanne, Molly and Rachel–who spent a whole week chatting up Little Gale Gumbo. And all the past Debs, including Eleanor, Elise and Kim!

And I could go on, you all know I could.

So to everyone who has been so kind, who gave feedback and cheer, I am so grateful.

Now, back on the road…and I can’t wait to get into the celebration lane for all of you whose books are coming out next!

In the meantime, I’d love to give away a copy of Little Gale Gumbo! (Open to anyone ANYWHERE. Well, let’s say in this galaxy…)

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I can hardly believe it was almost a year and a half ago that I first learned NAL would be publishing my debut novel LITTLE GALE GUMBO on October 4th, 2011. That date seemed a million days away. Now a million days has dwindled down to seven.

Having not had the experience of a book release before now, I’m not sure how the fever/fervor rates just yet–but I do know that I’ve been busy and I know you all have too. My blog subscriptions arrive in my inbox to taunt me of all your adventures and discoveries and I want you all to know I will be back to your wonderful blogs soon to catch up.

In the meantime, I thought I’d share a few tidbits here.

LITTLE GALE GUMBO got a very kind (and starred!) review from Library Journal. Thank you, Ms. Donohue!

To escape an abusive relationship, Camille Bergeron fled her beloved New Orleans in 1977 with her two teenage daughters, Dahlia and Josie, winding up on Little Gale Island off the coast of Maine—a place as geographically and culturally distant from their home as possible. Opening a Creole restaurant, the Bergerons soon win over the locals, becoming as much a part of the island’s culture as lobster fishing. Most important for Camille, she wins the heart of Ben Haskell, their landlord, who becomes a stable fixture in their lives. Yet Camille’s daughters remain scarred by the chaos of their early childhood. Dahlia vows she will never let a man hurt her as her father hurt her mother, and Josie maintains her idealism and romanticism despite the challenges of adulthood. When their father arrives on the island, bringing trouble with him, Dahlia and Josie, along with Ben’s son, Matthew, must come to terms with their pasts.
Verdict A debut like this doesn’t come along often—this is women’s fiction to be savored, just like a bowl of Camille’s delicious gumbo. And like gumbo, it’s the blend of ingredients that makes the difference. Marks’s combination of strong female characters, New Orleans culture, and light suspense is a winner.—Nanette Donohue, Champaign P.L., IL

If you haven’t been over to the Debutante Ball, stop on by this week–the subject is Banned Books Week and we’d love to hear from you. Today, my post explains how I didn’t know a bloody thing about the dreadful practice of book banning until I saw the movie Footloose in 1984.

I finally set up a website which will have more goodies in the days/weeks to come but I’d love to hear your thoughts in the meantime. I also added an excerpt from the book so you can get a “taste” of GUMBO, as it were.

Okay, so that’s enough about me right now. I’d really love to hear what you all have been up to, what projects, writing/reading/and otherwise, are landing or exiting your plate.

The floor is yours…

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As you may have read in my post on my journey to publication, my husband and I left New Orleans three days after Hurricane Katrina made landfall. This coming weekend will be an emotional commemoration, especially for those of us who no longer live in New Orleans but still feel a deep affection and longing for the city that, every day, continues to rise above the challenges it has faced.

As my forthcoming novel LITTLE GALE GUMBO is in part a tribute to my love of New Orleans and its unmatched culture and history, I thought I would offer another tribute with today’s post by giving our family recipe for red beans and rice, a quintessential New Orleans dish that is traditionally made on Monday (wash-day) but can certainly be made and savored any day (or days!) of the week.

1. Soak one bag of dried beans overnight in enough water that it rises about an inch above the beans. (Don’t use canned beans–they don’t come close–you need the starch of the dried beans to thicken the sauce.)

2. Add beans and water to pot (cast iron is preferable if you have it, or something equally sturdy–we were at a friend’s house here and didn’t have our trusty pot) as well as one onion, chopped, and several cloves of crushed garlic.

3. Heat over medium/high heat until boiling; add several bay leaves, 2 tablespoons of fresh thyme (dried is fine too), salt and pepper to taste.

4. When mixture begins to boil, lower heat to simmer and cover. Leave simmering for at least two hours, stirring occasionally. Add coins of smoked sausage (such as andouille or smoked turkey sausage–it must be smoked otherwise it will fall apart on you when sliced/cooked) to the beans to warm the sausage but don’t overcook. The beans will thicken considerably.

5. Turn off heat. Serve over rice with as much hot sauce as you care for. You can serve immediately or the next day–personally, we prefer to cook it the night before and let it sit in the fridge overnight–the flavors get better with time.

Not too hard to make, very hard not to eat. Enjoy!

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In LITTLE GALE GUMBO, one of Camille Bergeron’s signature Creole treats are her creamy pralines. Pronounced Praw-leen, these pecan-laden discs are nothing short of perfection and were a source of addiction for me during the years that I lived in New Orleans.

So when my husband and I relocated/returned to Maine after Hurricane Katrina, I could think of no quicker balm to soothe my heartache than to finally try my hand at the confection that I had adored, the confection that above all others–except a Hubig’s coconut pie or a Cafe Du Monde beignet–says New Orleans to me and always will.

But with so many recipes and variations out there on the internet, who to ask for a tried and true version? I decided to consult my husband’s great-grandmother, a native Louisianan who had been making pralines for well over fifty years. Her recipe was very simple, she assured me,  explaining the short list of ingredients. It certainly sounded easy enough, so I set about getting the sugar and cream, vanilla and  pecans, and later that day, I followed her “easy” instructions.

Well. Instead of producing a dozen shiny, beautiful pralines, I ended up with piles of brown goo that eventually hardened on the bottom of our apartment’s freezer and had to be removed with a paint scraper when we finally moved. As I should have expected, like so many things, ease comes from experience. Ian’s great-grandmother knew when her praline syrup was ready simply by rolling a portion into a little ball. I would need to use a candy thermometer. At least, for a few years. Or twenty.

But this time out, I’m ready. I’ve got the scraper standing by, but I’m so confident I won’t be needing it that I haven’t cleaned it of its five layers of paint from our old house. Heck, I haven’t even made room in the freezer–how’s that for cocky? Ian assures me that just by him, a native New Orleanian, being in the same kitchen (he was absent during my first attempt) that I can’t fail this time.

So here we go. Turn up the music, brew some chicory coffee, and let’s make pralines.

What you’ll need:

pinch of salt
3/4 cup each brown and white sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup evaporated milk
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup halved pecans
a candy thermometer
and a cookie sheet lined with wax paper

1. In a good, heavy-bottomed saucepan, add sugars, salt and milk.

2. Heat on low/medium heat and stir constantly, the mixture will turn the color of caramel

3. Bring to boil and insert candy thermometer (continue stirring) and let temp. hit around 235 degrees.  At that point, take off heat.

4. Add vanilla, butter and pecans and blend gently

5. Drop onto wax paper, let cool

6. Once cooled, they should have a slight shine and peel easily off paper

7.  And, lo! Pralines!

And how are they? Not too shabby for a second attempt. They taste close to the ones I used to get in New Orleans, though they are a tad on the gritty side (maybe I let the sugar get too hot? Or let it get too cool before dropping the syrup on the sheet?) and I might chop the pecans next time into quarters rather than halves so the syrup can flatten out more (I recall pralines being thinner than mine).

Not bad at all.

But I bet they’d be even better with a cafe au lait…

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There’s a fantastic Mexican restaurant in Camden, Maine called Blue Sky Cantina. The owner Ron and his wife Jennifer make authentic Mexican dishes with a regional twist, adding local seafood to some of their dishes, such as fish tacos made with haddock that are out of this world. They own a second restaurant down the road in Rockland called Big Fish Cafe and that menu includes even more seafood-based temptations, such as Scallop-Sweet Potato Chowder and Lobster Nachos. Having written a novel about a Creole woman who opens up an authentic New Orleans cafe on an island in Maine, I appreciated hearing Ron’s story of how he and his wife came to bring authentic Mexican food from the West Coast to Maine.

If you’re ever in Midcoast Maine, stop in and feast.

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