Christmas countdown, sort of


December 11, 2017  •  No Comments

Christmas poinsettiaChristmas Eve is two weeks away and the list of things I have left to do is long indeed. Why am I so behind? I blame this weekend’s sunshine, which made indoor activities all but impossible. It was cool, crisp and bright and I had to be out walking. Plus, I had accomplices who enticed me to craft fairs and restaurants. Who doesn’t like wandering among the rows of jams and mittens when there are so many delightful things to look at? And gossip? And tea to be drunk and sinful treats consumed?

I don’t feel too guilty. Christmas is meant to be a time of connection, not check lists, and it will come whether I’ve baked and wrapped and mailed everything or not. What really matters is whether I’ve spent time with those who matter, because it’s far too easy to forget those precious moments of peace and joy.


Royal Enchantment Giveaway!


December 10, 2017  •  1 Comment

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Royal Enchantment by Sharon Ashwood

Royal Enchantment

by Sharon Ashwood

Giveaway ends December 15, 2017.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway


Gifted: The Dark Forgotten


November 28, 2017  •  1 Comment

I took up the Black Friday challenge at Literary Escapism and wrote a short piece featuring my characters enduring a Yuletide shopping experience.  The result is HERE.  I used Perry Baker and Errata Jones because they are one of my favorite couples from the Dark Forgotten series. I wanted to write more about them, and I finally got my wish.  I guess you could say that’s a bit of a Christmas present to myself.

 


‘Tis the season of pumpkin spice


October 22, 2017  •  No Comments
cat and pumpkin

The Demon Lord of Kitty Badness inspects alien intruder

I love, love, love working with fresh local produce and fall means pumpkins, squash, and apples. One of the local farms produces the heritage rouge vif d’etampes variety of pumpkins, which are excellent cooking specimens but no good for carving unless you like humungous, asymmetrical jack o’lanterns. Once a year I bake and freeze a pumpkin or two, and these monsters are big enough to keep me supplied until the next October rolls around. It’s not all that much work and the result is far more economical than buying canned pumpkin. This is a very good thing, since I am a serious addict.

 

My latest discovery is Pumpkin & Apple Spice Muffins. These are fat-free, with the fruit providing a moist texture. This recipe makes 2 dozen. I tend to cook in bulk and freeze, but these are also excellent for bake sale/thank you/bribery purposes.

 

Sift together:

3 cups of flour (plus a bit if the fruit is watery–see below

2 tsp of cinnamon

1 tsp of ginger

3/4 tsp of nutmeg

2 tsp baking soda

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp of salt

1 cup of dried cranberries

1 cup of raw pumpkin seeds

In a large bowl, mix:

6 eggs

1 cup packed brown sugar

2 tsp vanilla extract

1.5 cups unsweetened applesauce

2.5 cups pumpkin (puree in a blender if you’ve baked this from a whole pumpkin to ensure a smooth texture)

 

Fold in the dry ingredients until all is blended.  If you have a very watery batch of pumpkin/apple, add a handful or two of flour. It’s a moist batter but it shouldn’t be runny. Divide into well-greased muffin pans and

bake at 375 degrees F for 20 to 30 minutes. The muffins are done when the tops are firm or a cake tester comes out clean. These are delicious with a sharp cheddar cheese.

 

3 pumpkins

Three pumpkin varieties left to right: rouge vif, jack o’ lantern, and sugar pie.


On a bright, lovely Thanksgiving Day in Canada


October 9, 2017  •  No Comments

It’s traditional at this time of year to think about what we’re grateful for (besides pumpkin pie) and, really, I could go on for pages about how lucky I am in so many ways—from the fact that I’m fed and warm to little things like the perfect daily planner to keep me organized. So, to keep this post regulation length, I’m restricting my list to three things:

Today I finished an online history course and visited the university library for some research materials. I can definitely say that one of the things I’m grateful for is the opportunity to keep learning and indulging my curiosity.

I’m grateful for the people in my life—family, friends, coworkers, and writing partners. It would be impossible to get through my days without them. Period.

And I’m grateful to live where I do, in freedom and safety and in the midst of so much beauty. Plus, it’s grand to be a writer in a city liberally sprinkled with eccentrics and where people-watching is enabled by good weather. Need a character? Go for a stroll around the block and take your pick. Or, if you like, go down the street to the cemetery for some seasonal amusement. There was a Buffy-inspired photo shoot not long ago, not to mention a herd of urban deer rather perplexed by the whole thing.


Peach Cobbler


September 25, 2017  •  No Comments

I made this peach cobbler to get a last taste of Okanagan fruit for the year. I found a few at the farmer’s market and they still smelled like sunshine and summer. I’ve been thinking a lot about our relationship with gardens and all the things that come from them, and of course food is high on that list. Decadent comfort food, in this case!

 

Preheat oven to 350F

Batter:

Melt ½ cup butter and pour into a 9 x 12 pan.

Sift 1 cup flour, 1 cup sugar, 2 tsp baking powder, ¼ tsp salt

Add 2/3 cup milk and 1 egg

Spread batter over butter. Tilt pan to coat batter with excess butter.

 

Peaches:

Peel and section 6 peaches. Frozen peaches can also be used (thaw first). Toss with ½ cup sugar, ½ tsp of nutmeg and 1 tsp cinnamon. Carefully spread fruit mixture over batter.

Bake for 45 minutes. Batter will puff up between the peach slices and turn golden.

 

Note: In order to remove peach skins, place peaches in a bowl and cover with just-boiled water for one or two minutes. The skins will slip right off.

 


And suddenly fall


September 20, 2017  •  No Comments

In our corner of the world, fall arrives without preamble. One day it’s all sandals and ice cream, and the next woolly sweaters.  Sure, there are subtle signs, like the kajillion spiders turning the yard into a hazard course. There is mist on the windows, a hankering for soup, and a need to locate missing socks. Most of all, there is an air of nostalgia, a kind of gold-hazed memory of new scribblers and fresh beginnings. September to me has always been the real New Year.

There are down sides, too, like the stubborn debate of whether or not to turn on the heat (I finally gave in last night) and the need to leave the house with sunglasses AND an umbrella just in case. But the chilly evenings provide a nice excuse for hot chocolate and the premiere of Outlander, or my personal fave, Poldark. It’s time to cocoon and surrender to the charms of a great story. Oh, and lest one forget, there’s some books about a chocolate shop to binge read . . .


Fashion Advice for the GQ Pirate


August 21, 2017  •  No Comments

The hero of my story KISS IN THE DARK, is Daniel Blackthorne aka the Wolf of the West. He’s a ghost, a pirate, and of course he’s lovely to look at. However, coming up with details about his wardrobe took a little bit of historical sleuthing. What does the GQ pirate wear?  The last time he went shopping for clothes was about 1850, so how is he dressed while he sweeps my heroine off her feet?

Now, while the current go-to image of a pirate is Captain Jack Sparrow, that wasn’t quite the look for Daniel. For one thing, Daniel is sober most of the time. He’s also good enough at his–ahem–work that he has cash to spend on a tailor. He moves in polite society and is just as comfortable on a ballroom floor as he is brawling in a tavern. No dreadlocks or eyeliner, although there are definite hints of the bad boy in his dark curly hair and bright blue eyes. But what about the clothes?

Men’s clothing in the mid-Victorian period began to look very much like modern formal dress. The overall cut had moved on from Mr. Darcy-style breeches and starched collars to long trousers and more relaxed neckwear. Although cravats were still seen, the first neckties put in an appearance around this period.

Daniel would have worn a fitted coat for any but the most casual wear. Most were single-breasted and the image with a back view shows the accentuated waist and double buttons at the back of a typical frock coat from 1845. Formal daytime wear typically had the front panels of the coat cut away to show the garments beneath. While men’s clothing stuck to the sober hues of the Regency period, waistcoats were the exception. Bright colors, embroidery, and luxurious fabrics were a must for the well-dressed young man. The example below is from 1855. Note the collar has no lapels to speak of and the bottom sits at the natural waist.  These details change from decade to decade and make it relatively easy to date waistcoats.

The illustrated fashion plate of three men dates from 1856. The man on the left is showing off his trim figure and fancy waistcoat. Obviously he’s the young and wealthy man about town, while the others show what a sober statesman or a rising professional man might wear.

Daniel Blackthorne is tall, so he wears his frock coat well. However, I’m fairly certain after wearing the same garments for around 170 years, he’s ready for a change. I wonder what he’ll make of Paris Fashion Week?


Botanical Tales


August 18, 2017  •  No Comments

Those who follow me on Instagram (RowanAshArt) will know that I have a great interest in plants and flowers. It’s not just because the botanical world is photogenic enough to overcome my poor photography skills. Somewhere in the distant mists of childhood I decided I wanted to become a herbologist. Why? Maybe it was all the herbal healers that showed up in the fantasy books I read. Anyhow, herbology got laughed right out of the career counsellor’s office and I took an English degree instead because, y’know, we have to be practical.

Fast forward to the present. I’m still interested and have done some learning along the way. I’m in a pitched battle with Things That Munch in the garden, but have had a few victories, including a very healthy bay tree and a rosemary that will eventually take over Vancouver Island. With luck, I may even have tomatoes this year. It’s all about figuring out what plants go in what location and how many plants it takes to yield enough material to be useful once the deer, bugs, and rabbits help themselves.

But beyond all that, I’ve grown interested in the history and literary applications of gardening. There’s the whole murder mystery connection, with Brother Cadfael and his herbarium. There’s also the metaphor of gardening and the mind. I’m in the very early stages of developing a character with an exceptional garden, but it’s as much an expression of her past and her aspirations as of her green thumb. It’s a historical setting, so the extravagant Victorian glass houses and hand-drawn etchings of botanical specimens are part of her world. That Victorian mix of science, superstition, and adventure—not to mention their mania for collecting and codifying everything—are intoxicating to me. It’s great fun to have something in common with a character because we can both enjoy ourselves during the research process.


Sunday Tea and Turtles


August 14, 2017  •  No Comments

This past week was my Mom’s birthday and so celebrations were in order. We went to the Abkhazi Gardens, which dates from 1946 when the Prince and Princess Abkhazi moved there. Facts about the garden and its history can be found HERE.

We began our tour with elevenses. For those who didn’t grow up with a British father or have hobbits for their BFFs, this is kind of like a light tea or not-quite-lunch. In this case, it consisted of a sandwich and dessert spread that occupied one plate instead of the three-tiered affairs reserved for those having the actual tea. I think those portions might have been enough to feed an army of orcs or at least gardeners. Believe me, the elevenses was delicious and quite enough food.

From there, we ambled through the garden. While the property is not huge, the views are spectacular and the variety of plants fascinating. We were too late for the display of rhododendrons, but there were lilies as tall as me and pools replete with lily pads and turtles. There is a turtle in my pond picture, but he’s hard to see.  Here’s the detail:

 

There was also a specimen called Miss Wilmott’s Ghost. I actually know this plant as sea holly, but it does have personality. I gather it became Miss Wilmott’s ghost because she scattered seeds when she went visiting and they’d come up the next spring wherever she’d been.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And here’s just one of the huge lilies:


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