This novel recipe is icing on the cake. Literally.

Another page from Annie Cooper’s Recipe Scrapbook. You might begin to see why Libby struggles with her weight.

Fluffy White Icing
From the kitchens of Fran McCormack & Libby McCormack Cooper
I’m not sure where my mom got this unusual frosting recipe, but it was always a hit, especially when piled high on chocolate cake. Unlike regular buttercream, it stays soft and fluffy instead of developing a crust.  And since I don’t keep Crisco around (does anyone?), I just use more butter.

3 heaping Tablespoons flour
1 cup milk
1 stick butter (1/2 cup)
¼ cup Crisco (I substitute more butter here, another half stick)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Bring flour and milk to soft boil in saucepan and cook until thickened. Cool completely. Transfer to mixing bowl and add remaining ingredients. Beat until fluffy.

Imagining a future

In Life After Life, Kate Atkinson stretched the concept of fiction and challenged readers by exploring multiple futures for her protagonist, Ursula Todd. In A God in Ruins, she does something similar for Ursula’s brother, Teddy, an RAF bomber pilot during WWII. Atkinson calls this a “companion piece” and not a sequel. A master of the omniscient point of view, the author provides the reader with recollections of the past and glimpses of a future. Each character is clear and memorable and gives voice to witty and often conflicting insights. I knew these characters and cared about them. Even the disagreeable ones. Teddy’s daughter is difficult (to say the least) and yet, “He loved Viola as only a parent can love a child, but it was hard work.”
The reader can’t help but notice that after Londoners survived the horrors of The Blitz, Teddy and the RAF inflicted the same kind of terror and destruction on the cities and citizens of Germany. According to the author, bombing crews “… experienced some of the worst combat conditions imaginable and fewer of half of them survived.” Death was everywhere and while he doesn’t talk about it with his family,

Teddy “…made a vow, a private promise to the world in the long dark watches of the night, that if he did survive then in the great afterward he would always try to be kind, to live a good quiet life…And that would be his redemption.”

As I approached the end of the book, I began to worry about what was coming for my beloved and now elderly Teddy Todd. While there is a conceit, Kate Atkinson is so skillful and caring toward her characters that I enjoyed every moment of Teddy’s life.

Soft Ginger Cookies are a snap

 A second helping from Annie Cooper’s Recipe Scrapbook. ginger cookieSoft Ginger Cookies
From the kitchen of Libby McCormack Cooper
My mom adapted this recipe from my Grandmother McCormack’s original that made
crispy gingersnaps. My mom preferred softer, chewier cookies. So do I. These were always the first cookies she made once the weather cooled off in the fall. They make the house smell wonderful. As long as you’re in the mess, you might as make a double batch and put half in the freezer.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. ground ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp baking soda 1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup molasses

  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. Measure flour, ginger, cinnamon, soda, and salt into a medium bowl.
  3. Cream butter until soft, gradually adding sugar, creaming until light and fluffy.
  4. Beat in egg and molasses. Add dry ingredients to creamed mixture a bit at a time to prevent flour from flying everywhere. Blend well.
  5. Form rounded tablespoonfuls of dough into balls. Or do what I do, use that little cookie scoop that’s just the right size.  Roll balls in granulated or fancier Demerara sugar. Place 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheet. GingerMolassesFifteenSpatulas-640x424
  6. Bake in 350 oven for 12-15 minutes or until tops are slightly rounded, crackly and lightly browned.
  7. Remove from cookie sheet. Cool completely on wire rack or waxed paper. Store in airtight container.

Novel food: Claire’s favorite breakfast

This is the first installment of what I hope will be a regular feature here under the category “Annie Cooper’s Recipe Scrapbook.” Second and third helpings will be available in coming weeks.  I’ve wanted to include recipes in my book for some time because I love how Laura Kalpakian included them in her wonderful novel, American Cookery . However, I haven’t been able to do so as elegantly as she did. Yet. For now, consider this an archive (and maybe a teaser) for my book.

Annie, the twenty-something daughter of one of my main characters creates a scrapbook of her family’s favorite recipes as a gift for her mother, Libby McCormack Cooper. Libby’s best friend is Claire Jordan, whose mother contributed this yummy recipe. Each recipe will be accompanied by a few cook’s notes from one of the characters.


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Dutch Babies
From the kitchen of Sylvia Jordan
This big puffy pancake was Claire’s favorite Sunday breakfast. She thought it was magic the way it puffed up in the oven, but was always a little sad when it deflated. It’s the same basic recipe as for Yorkshire Pudding or Popovers. I think the original came from Betty Crocker, but I adapted it for the high altitude of Carson City, Nevada by adding more eggs. For breakfast, serve it with syrup, jam, fresh berries or applesauce. A dollop of whipped cream or yogurt doesn’t hurt.

¼ cup vegetable oil or butter (or combination)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
½ teaspoon salt
4 eggs (2 at lower elevation)
Preheat oven temperature to 450°F (425°F for a glass pan.) Place oil and/or butter in 9-inch square pan or cast iron skillet. Put pan in oven and heat until hot. Meanwhile, beat flour, milk, salt and the eggs with wire whisk just until smooth. Pour batter into hot pan of oil. Bake 18 to 23 minutes or puffy and golden brown. Cut into squares or wedges.

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One novel idea about getting smarter, not just older

100 day
The kindergartners dressed as if they were 100 years old on the 100th day of school.

This post is in response to a brief blog-versation I had with the charming Brian over at Bonnywood Manor after he kindly nominated me for a Liebster Award. Liebster means “favorite” in German and the nomination carries along with it some obligations, which I am politely, humbly, and gratefully ignoring. Brian was curious about my creative process and the critique group to which I belong. Therefore, instead of accepting the award, I wrote this. If you have something to say about writing, creativity, or lifelong learning, please do so in the comments. I’d love to hear your thoughts. XO


In this photo, my granddaughter is celebrating her 100th day of kindergarten and being “100 DAYS SMARTER.” It got me thinking, shouldn’t we all celebrate getting smarter? Am I still learning?
I like to think so, but some of that learning is accidental. For example, perhaps we should have gotten an estimate to replace the roof on this twenty-year-old house before we made our offer. Or maybe drinking several cups of tea with my sushi at dinner the other night wasn’t such a good idea. I guess that’s what they mean by “live and learn.”

Other times, however, I’ve set out to learn a new skill. On purpose. I’ve put myself in the uncomfortable situation of being potentially and embarrassingly bad at something. Like blogging. Or yoga. In short, I’ve risked failure. At my age, being new at anything is refreshing—scary and humbling–but refreshing. Even exhilarating.
Case in point, at the urging of my friend, Joan, I wrote a “novel” in 2009 during NaNoWriMo. The quotes are because my “novel” was merely 70,000 words of collected scenes and sketches, held together with hope, Dove wrappers, and sticky notes. It added up to a word count, but little else. I knew I needed help massaging it into something meaningful (readable even?), but what kind of help? How much? And who do I ask?
Enter another friend, Marilee, who just happened to be a legendary writing instructor at Western Nevada College and founder of Lone Mountain Writers, a local critique group. LMW has been meeting every other week for over twenty years and has among its past and present members several published poets and authors such as romance writer, Wilma Counts. Marilee invited me to join. I accepted.
During my first few meetings, I observed the protocol and learned the ground rules. Up to four pieces are emailed to the group ahead of time so we have a chance to read deeply and make notes. Submissions can be up to fifteen pages. The group responds round-robin style with each of our oral comments limited to two or three minutes, all while the author remains stoically silent. We hand over our marked up copy to the author who only at the end may ask questions, defend, or clarify something.
I was profoundly impressed by the variety and quality of writing. Many people were working on novels. And for the most part, they didn’t need help with grammar or punctuation. The discussions focused on elements of fiction: plot, point of view, character, structure, pacing, voice, etc. These are the things a reader may not even notice, except in their absence. It’s what makes a reader want to invest time and thought and heart in the work. That stuff.
Consequently, I waited months before I worked up the courage to submit. I’d been writing personal narratives and opinions for years, but fiction was new to me. I polished my first chapters until (I thought) they sparkled. I just knew the group would be blown away by my literary genius. Instead, what I heard–repeatedly–was, “This is excellent writing, but you don’t have a story here.” Apparently, what I had was a mess of good writing.

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But the story in my head kept pushing me forward. It wouldn’t let me give up.

So I kept listening and learning. I read books on writing and revising. I rewrote and resubmitted. I attended a local writers conference and got feedback from a real, live editor. I “killed my darlings,” deleting lovely little bits of writing that didn’t serve my story. I learned not to take any critique personally and to listen to those who shared my vision for my story. I smiled and respectfully set aside advice from those who wanted my story to become theirs. (It needs more explosions! How about some robots?)

Now, five years and countless drafts and revisions later, what I hear is, “This is the best thing you’ve submitted,” and “I finally like this character. I understand her now.” Whew.
So while I may not have a cute hat to wear to celebrate getting smarter, I nonetheless feel a sense of accomplishment. That’s enough to keep me going. Good thing, because it’s not done yet. But neither am I. I’ve invested too much time and energy to quit now. I’m smart enough to know that.come this far2