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Fighting for my right to write in peace

Whether it was life before Covid-19, most of us probably had some issues carving out time for ourselves. Although, I am very sure that men have as much responsibility and pressures as women, when dad sets aside time and he doesn’t want to be bothered, people listen. As a daughter, girlfriend, significant other, and fiancée I tried and still try not to bother the man in my life when he needs to work, write, or watch football, NCAA basketball, or the PGA,

I have found that as a woman I have a harder time setting those boundaries, but I won’t blame all of it on everyone else. I’ve been at my mother’s (whom I refer to as her mothership) and she tends to walk in while I’m writing and start talking or telling me about something that she wants me to do. Instead of telling her to please give me a moment, I am an oldest child. Most firstborns are what I like to call starter children. We are the kids parents get to practice on until they figure out their parenting style. Traditional, bohemian, militant, or a combination thereof. We are the ones who weather the trial period. That is not to say that we don’t have a right to ask for a little time to ourselves as adults, but it can get a little tricky.

All of that aside, writing is a part of my life every day. Even when I don’t have a pen and paper in hand, I’m thinking about different topics, memories, or funny stories I’d like to incorporate in a blog post or as a part of a novel, or the cookbook I’m working on about my grandmothers’ and their cooking.

More than that, writing is more than just thoughts on paper, it’s the way I can redirect nervous energy when I’m worried. It’s also the way I’ve been able to deal with MS for the past twenty-five years. Chronic diseases and conditions like MS can engulf your life. It can dominate every corner if you let it. My dad told me when I was first hit with the diagnosis, that as long as I had MS, it could never have me. I’ve lived by that creed ever since and it has served me well, in addition to saving me from going into a self-pity hole.

That is why I believe that it’s important to fight for your right to write. If you’re a writer, it’s a part of who you are, which is an artist. And artists over many different mediums from paint to clay to, cameras to musical instruments and more need to exercise that right to keep it strong. Whatever moves you to write, scope out the place and set the time aside for yourself.

Part of my right to writer includes being in the kitchen, which includes going into the test kitchen to work on recipes. I love to work on adaptations of recipes to be sure it’s tasty enough to pass muster. To that end, I am posting a recipe for shepherd’s pie with meat and vegan ground meat. This is a recipe I came across in my Google feed, I’ve tweaked it a bit.

Shepherd’s Pie

Meat Filling:

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup chopped yellow onion

1 lb. 90% lean ground beef -or ground lamb

2 teaspoons dried parsley leaves

2 teaspoons dried thyme leaves

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

2 garlic cloves -minced

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour (gluten-free all-purpose or 1 to 1 gluten-free baking blend)

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 cup beef broth

1 cup frozen mixed peas & carrots*

1/2 cup frozen corn kernels

Vegan Meat Filling

1 pound or package of Vegan ground meat Impossible Burger Ground, Farmland Protein Starters, Good and Gather Ground, Gardein The Ultimate Beefless Ground

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup chopped yellow onion

2 teaspoons dried parsley leaves

2 teaspoons dried thyme leaves

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 tablespoon Vegan Worcestershire sauce

2 garlic cloves -minced

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 cup vegetable broth

1 cup frozen mixed peas & carrots*

1/2 cup frozen corn kernels

Potato Topping:

1 1/2 – 2 lb. russet potatoes -about 2 large potatoes peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes

8 tablespoons unsalted butter -1 stick (vegan butter, margarine)

1/3 cup half & half (rice or soy milk)

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/4 cup parmesan cheese (Thrive Vegan Parmesan-Style Cheese Alternative, Follow Your Heart Dairy-Free Shredded Parmesan, Vegan Soy Free Grated Parmesan Style Topping)

Instructions

Make the Meat or Vegan Meat Filling.

Add the oil to a large skillet and place it over medium-high heat for 2 minutes. Add the onions. Cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the ground beef (or ground lamb or vegan ground) to the skillet and break it apart with a wooden spoon. Add the parsley, thyme, salt, and pepper. Stir well. Cook for 6-8 minutes, until the meat is browned, stirring occasionally.

Add the Worcestershire sauce and garlic. Stir to combine. Cook for 1 minute.

Add the flour and tomato paste. Stir until well incorporated and no clumps of tomato paste remain.

Add the broth, frozen peas and carrots, and frozen corn. Bring the liquid to a boil then reduce to simmer. Simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Set the meat mixture aside. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Make the potato topping.

Place the potatoes in a large pot. Cover the potatoes with water. Bring the water to a boil. Reduce to a simmer. Cook until potatoes are fork tender, 10-15 minutes.

Drain the potatoes in a colander. Return the potatoes to the hot pot. Let the potatoes rest in the hot pot for 1 minute to evaporate any remaining liquid.

Add butter, half & half, garlic powder, salt, and pepper. Mash the potatoes and stir until all the ingredients are mixed together.

Add the parmesan cheese to the potatoes. Stir until well combined.

Assemble the casserole.

Pour the meat mixture into a 9×9 (or 7×11) inch baking dish. Spread it out into an even layer. Spoon the mashed potatoes on top of the meat. Carefully spread into an even layer.

If the baking dish looks very full, place it on a rimmed baking sheet so that the filling doesn’t bubble over into your oven. Bake uncovered for 25-30 minutes.** Cool for 15 minutes before serving.

Notes

*You could use 1/2 cup frozen peas and 1/2 cup frozen sliced carrots.

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It’s about time. Hurry up and wait. It’s a part of more than just a day in the life of a writer or literary agent

The clock is always ticking

A day in the life of a writer can be filled with many things. We have appointments, errands to run, kids to raise, meals to cook, and dry cleaning to pick up. Mix in a day job, career, or business to run, and we have more than enough to keep us occupied. However, I have discovered that in the midst of it all, I find time to write. Most of the time, it’s a welcome relief and a way to put the worries of the day out of my mind. Then there are times when literary inspiration comes at a bad time, particularly when I need to focus on something else that’s pressing. Nevertheless, I’ve got that figured out for the most part.

The most difficult aspect of writing is when we have to cool our jets waiting for an answer once we have had our work submitted to an agent or a publisher for review. No matter the subject, fiction or nonfiction, writers pour a piece of themselves into every page. In fiction, we know every character intimately, the emotions in every sentence, the setting, and every verb. For nonfiction, we have researched the subjects thoroughly, done our due diligence, used our experience in an authoritative yet approachable manner. The work put into it is all about love. Writers love to write and we accept that all the time we put into our writing, may or may not be rewarded with an offer to publish.

Moreover, even if a writer gets a literary agent who is going to represent them to publishers, there is more time built into that proposition as well. Publishing is notoriously slow when it comes to reviewing manuscripts and that’s not a dig about editors. These days the business of publishing in terms of reading manuscript submissions is something that happens outside of business hours. That is true of literary agents as well and I can speak to that as an agent. I almost never have an opportunity to review a submission during business hours. I read in the evenings before and after dinner. I also spend weekends reading as well. This is an industry filled with hurry up and wait

I understand the frustration from both sides. I try to let writers know that the best thing they can do is to keep on writing. It’s also a good idea to incorporate other creative outlets to help ease anxiety. Cooking, baking, painting, sewing, or drawing, are just a few things that let you focus creativity and nerves in a productive way. I have several personal projects happening at the moment and if I stay too focused on them, I will drive myself crazy. As it is the winter, it’s not like I can go out and take a walk like I do in the warmer months. I use my kitchen as my ashram and experiment with different recipes or work on adapting recipes to make them healthier, gluten- free, or no-sugar. It keeps my mind busy. It wasn’t long before some story issues I couldn’t figure out, became clearer and I picked back up writing again. So, time does have its advantages

Your next big book idea could be a brushstroke or stir away

My advice to writers is always to write. However, when your mind needs a break, use the time to do something else productive. That said, spend time with the people you love, that helps. A little face time with a nephew or a daughter can do wonders. Attend your family’s next Zoom, call a friend, grab a coffee, bundle up and take a walk if it’s a nice, moderate day. Just take a couple of beats. It won’t derail you, but it will help you take your eyes off the clock.

Working on recipes is what I like to do. I also like to share them.

Pasties Pastry Recipe Recipe from New Orleans Kitchen Queens

1 cup all-purpose flour (gluten-free all-purpose flour, 1 to 1 gluten-free baking blend, sorghum, sweet rice, or brown rice flour)

1/4 teaspoon salt

4 ounces (1 sticks) cold unsalted butter (vegan butter)

1/4 cup ice water

In a large bowl combine the flours with the salt. Dice the cold butter into small pieces and add to the flour mixture. With the back of a fork press the butter into the flour until the butter is incorporated (there will still be small pieces of butter in the mixture). Make a well in the center of the dough and pour in the ice water. Gently blend the water into the dough until it forms a solid ball. Wrap the dough ball in plastic and refrigerate for at least on hour before rolling.

Chicken Filled Pasties Recipe adapted from Healthy Nibbles

½ pound chicken breast or tenderloins, cubed

1 large- sweet onion or 2 medium sized onion, diced 

3 garlic cloves, minced

2 large Russet or Yukon potatoes, peeled and diced

2 carrots, peeled and diced

1 medium sweet potato, diced

1 teaspoon ground thyme

½ teaspoon dried rosemary

generous pinch of salt

black pepper

1 large egg, whisked (or 1 tablespoon Aquafaba plus 1 tablespoon water, whisked)

  1. Add diced Russet potatoes and sweet potatoes to a sauce pot. Cover with water, then add a pinch of salt. Cook the potatoes on medium-heat until they are fork tender. Drain and set aside.
  2. In a large skillet, add oil over medium heat. When the oil begins to shimmer, add the carrots and onions. Cook until the onions begin to soften, and the carrots are getting a little tender.
  3. Add the garlic in, and cook for thirty seconds. Stir in the cubed chicken and cook stirring until no longer pink and cooked through.
  4. Add the potatoes. Sprinkle the thyme and rosemary over the chicken mixture. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cook through until heated adjusting seasoning as needed
  5. Let the chicken filling cool before filling the pasties.

INSTRUCTIONS

Preheat oven to 400ºF (200ºC). Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Divide the dough into 4 or six pieces on a well floured surface. Use a floured rolling pin to roll into discs about 8 1/2-inch circles. Turn the dough over frequently to prevent it from sticking to the surface. You can roll all the circles out at once, or do it one at a time, depending on your counter space. If you choose to roll out one at a time, refrigerate the dough in between in circle. Cold is essential for flaky, crumbly, pastry without soggy bottoms.

Take a small handful of filling and place it in the center of the rolled out dough. You want to make sure that there is about an inch of clear space around the edge of the dough. Brush the egg white along this empty space.

Fold the dough over the vegetables to create a semi-circle shape. Do this with confidence! Seal the pastry. You can crimp the edges with a fork or fold it like I did. When I folded the edges of the pasty, I brushed some egg along the edge so that the folds stayed put. Brush some of the egg wash over the entire pasty. Repeat these steps for the rest of the dough.

Place the prepared pasties on the baking sheets and bake for about 30 to 35 minutes, or until the pasties are golden brown.

  • You can make these vegan. Just omit the chicken and replace with more vegetables. Feel free to add traditional swedes (rutabagas) or other vegetables you enjoy.
  • I’ve tried this with shortening and it doesn’t come out the same. It’s a little heavier. Stick with vegan butter, even non-dairy margarine is a good choice.
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Life North of Forty and Fifty: Raise the curtain on you second act

Don’t trust anyone over thirty. It was the bold statement of Boomers in the sixties to early seventies until they themselves crossed the threshold into their thirties. Naturally, it meant they were changing their tunes, proving that both women and men were using their right to change their minds.

The change in attitude led to a new way to look at aging across the board. When going through history’s images of both famous and everyday people, you can see how the very appearance of middle-aged people is vastly different. Simply put, it’s not representative of how your great-grandparents’ aged or of any previous generations prior to the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

The change in aging is not only a result of better technology and medical breakthroughs in treating diseases and conditions that once shortened lifespans, or even the availability of plastic surgery, Botox, and fillers to keep faces looking dewy and tight long after our twenties. It is also due to those who don’t look at middle-age as a time to slow down.

You are more likely to find grandmothers and grandfathers taking a spin class, leading yoga sessions, riding bikes, hiking, and going on holidays to show off some pretty tight bodies on the beach or the slopes. The same applies in terms of following their passion and turning a side hustle into a business to embrace entrepreneurship. Others are going back to school to go into another career altogether. Married couples are rediscovering their relationships as men and women, and not just parents and grandparents. Divorced and single men and women are looking to internet dating sites for those over forty and fifty to meet new people and perhaps find the love of their lives to share their second act with. The possibilities are only limited by your imagination.

My second act is the reason I started Still A Chick-Lit. It’s also because of a woman that I had the privilege of working for and calling a friend, Dr. Cecile Forte. I worked with her on her groundbreaking internet radio show Who You Calling Old. Through the show and the many guests we had over the years, I had the opportunity to meet so many people who were doing amazing things in their forties, fifties, sixties, and seventies plus. They were motivated and loving every moment. Dr. Forte used the John Mayer’s Don’t Stop This Train as the apropos theme song for the broadcast. I hope to inspire others to follow their hearts and do what they love.

The world of publishing told me that women my age weren’t chicks anymore. Any novels with characters north of forty and fifty plus should be called hen-lit. While hen-lit is a little better than matron-lit, women generally don’t like to be referred to as hens, unless it’s a bachelorette party in the UK. The image of a group of women cackling like hens comes to mind and that isn’t a cool image to me. Being a chick is a state of mind. It’s feeling confident in your skin. Loving your life, body, and age knowing it’s just a number. I hope my novels will inspire and I am looking forward to relaunching the Still A Chick Lit Podcast at the end of January with the voices of other north of forty and fifty-plus female writers and entrepreneurs who are following their dreams and having the time of the lives.

Still A Chick Lit Podcast on Spotify
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Taking the garden path in 2021 and what’s better than a revenge body

I am still not one for resolutions. To me, the minute folks mention the word, it begins the usual graph chart. Most people are highly motivated in the beginning, then after a few weeks their enthusiasm wanes as winter’s long dark nights take a toll on workout schedules. Finally, most people drop off the chart altogether.

The better idea to me is substitutions instead of resolutions. You can begin making the changes you want to see in yourself by changing your mind set. The focus should be on a healthy body, mind, and spirit. I hear a lot about revenge bodies from people who want to get some sort of cosmic payback on an ex. Since revenge is defined as the action of inflicting hurt or harm on someone for an injury or wrong suffered at their hands. To me, that means it steeped in hate.

The word to substitute in place of revenge is empathy. Although usually applied to others, t it’s important that we empathize with ourselves and come from a place of love. The best revenge might be looking good, but , loving, looking and feeling good about yourself, can’t be topped and unlike revenge, can be served cold, hot, or never.

Now many of us north of forty and fifty chicks are making changes in our diets include more vegetables and/or lean proteins. A salad can combine the best of both in a bowl or on a plate topped with homemade dressing that allows you to control the sodium, sugar, and taste.

One of the most raved about salad dressing is from the Olive Garden. Many people love to fill up on their soup and salad. To that end, I discovered a copycat recipe for it some years ago that I have tweaked a bit. However, you can feel free to make it to your taste.

3 tablespoons white wine vinegar

2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

3 small or 2 large garlic cloves

2 tablespoons Italian seasoning

1 teaspoon sugar (optional)

1/4 cup fresh grated or shredded Parmesan Reggiano (Follow Your Heart Dairy-Free Parmesan, Go Veggie Vegan Parmesan grated, Go Veggie Vegan Soy-free Parmesan grated topping, Violife Parmesan Wedge)

2 tablespoons Pecorino Romano cheese, grated (Field Roast Chao Cheese Creamy is the closest in mimicking the funky saltiness of romano.)

3 tablespoons mayonnaise (regular, light, vegan, olive oil)

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

In a small food processor or mini-chop, pulse the garlic a few times. Add the vinegar and lemon juice. If using sugar, add it with the Italian seasoning, parmesan, Romano, and mayonnaise. Pulse the mixture a few times. Then with the processor running, pour the olive oil. The dressing will appear thick. Taste and adjust the seasoning to your taste.

  • If you don’t want to use Romano cheese, you can add more parmesan cheese
  • Asiago, Grana Padano, or even Taleggio cheese are great substitutes. Use the kind of cheese you prefer
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I was a teenage man snatcher and Martha Stewart is partially to blame

It’s a heck of a thing to call yourself a teenage man snatcher, and to point to Martha Stewart as the reason it happened. Well, I have to be honest, she was just one factor that contributed to my delinquency, and she is in good company. Jane Austen, Edith Wharton, Charlotte Bronte, and Emily Bronte also contributed to my rep as a modern Victorian seductress.

I loved all things baking from a very early age. My dad gave me an Easy Bake oven when I was four, and once I saw a wedding cake, it was all downhill from there. I was hooked on stacking and frosting cakes. Eventually, my baking repertoire grew over time to include cookies, pastries, bread, muffins, and naturally more cakes. At eleven, I had a subscription to the cooking magazine, Cuisine, which eventually became Gourmet. I loved trying new recipes to challenge myself and improve my skills.

I was a teenager in the eighties. It was a time of big hair, shoulder pads, Dallas, and Dynasty. General Hospital’s Luke and Laura were the onscreen soap couple. Cooking shows were limited to PBS on Sundays and for a few precious hours on Monday evenings. I wasn’t allowed to date at the time. So, while other girls were getting ready to go out to a movie on Friday and Saturday night, I was at home or spending the night over my best friend Melissa’s house listening to the Beatles, Adam Ant, Michael Jackson, and Prince. Madonna got some airplay from us too. After all, she was a Leo like Melissa and me. Not to mention, Madonna and I have the same birthday.

I had friends, but my girl circle was fairly small, but I had a lot of guy friends. Who were really friends and not the euphemisms used to define friendship now. Melissa liked being in the kitchen as much as I did. As a result, we were able to monopolize (as other girls and some of their mother’s thought) all of the guys time with scones, chocolate cookies, muffins, and the like. By no means was it a den of ill-repute, we’d either be at Melissa’s house under her parent’s watchful eyes, or at my house with her mothership (my mother) and my younger sister.

In the beginning, learned how to set a table for company from my mother. She worked in my junior high school cafeteria as a lunch lady, but she also worked on and off for Stone catering company. That helped me get a grip on the basics, but I wanted to do it will a little more style. I was fifteen when I went on a mission to find a cookbook that combined both recipes with entertaining. I checked the shelves of my local libraries and bookstores regularly to no avail.

Then one Sunday afternoon PBS had a special on entertaining with a caterer out of Connecticut, Martha Stewart. I’d never heard of her previously, but her name and style made a lasting impression on me. I was fascinated by her attention to detail, her home décor and the way she presented food on a holiday table. Martha was my parents age and everything about her seemed smooth, elegant, and just plain regal. I scoured TV Guide to see when she was going to be on television again. I couldn’t get enough. Then one day at Waldenbooks, I saw it. Entertaining by Martha Stewart. There she was on the cover in a Victorian style white dress presiding over a perfectly decorated table. I was there with my friend Joel, who I begged to buy the book for me. Lucky for me, he bought it with the catch that I’d have him over whenever i made something from the book. That was one of the easiest deals I ever made. There was no way I wasn’t going to cook my way through the book, or die trying.

It felt like my own little storyline was happening in real life. I wasn’t going on dates but I was in the kitchen with Martha and my friend Melissa. I was in my Victorian phase. I loved Gunne Sax dresses and old lace. We made scones, muffins, bread, pies, cakes, and more kinds of biscotti than anyone could shake a stick at. Although I predate Kelis, her Milkshake song is appropriate here, except it wasn’t my milkshake that brought the boys to my yard, it was my pepperoni loaf.

Martha Stewart’s first book was my gateway drug to Cuisinart food processors, Kitchen Aid stand mixers, mini-herb choppers, wedding cake pans, Madeline molds, and more. My entertaining game was on the rise and my guy friends could reap the benefits from my properly set table.

Entertaining worked perfectly, and I had all the eligible guys were at my house and around the kitchen. The funny thing was I didn’t want anything more than friendship. Although I had to admit there was one guy I liked, and my mother was okay with him. My sister didn’t like him that much, but that was neither here nor there at the time. I wasn’t allowed to date, and he was already in college. All the man snatching hullabaloo happened because he was the object of someone else’s affection, and that affection wasn’t returned. I can’t say that I didn’t understand why she and her mother needed a heavy. Who wants to believe a guy rejected them straight out of hand. So, naturally, I was deemed a little Entertaining hussy, tempting men with baked goods and cooked meals. Still, I didn’t let it faze me in the least.


At the height of our entertaining jag, Melissa and I held a formal dinner for all the guys at her house. There was Melissa’s Greek Moussaka, my pepperoni loaf, rolls, roasted vegetables and cake for desert made by me. It was a success and enjoyed thoroughly judging by the number of second helpings and empty plates. It was the only dinner party we ever had as teenagers, but that was okay with us. I had the opportunity to show off my Martha skills long before her name became a verb and before Snoop ever heard of the lady who used to rule over an estate and property in Turkey Hill, Connecticut (at the time). I have come a long way from the wide-eyed sixteen-year-old girl when the first edition of Entertaining was released. My skills have gotten better and while I still prefer to make things from scratch, I am a little more relaxed about it courtesy of another lifestyle/tv-chef maven, Ina Garten, The Barefoot Contessa. I’ve integrated Martha’s penchant for good things, with Ina’s how easy is that philosophy, and the amalgamation works.

I’m no longer a man snatcher and my milkshake is a little thicker, but I still bring all the boys to the table, only this time, the boys are mine and the loves of my life. My twin sons Sean and Scott, who are my ultimate good thing.

I am including one of the first recipes I ever made from Entertaining by Martha Stewart Copyright 1982.

Banana Bread recipe by Martha Stewart adapted for vegan, vegetarian, gluten-sensitivities, low sugar, and no-sugar dietary needs by Chamein Canton

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for pan (vegan butter, margarine)
  • 1 cup sugar (Swerve sweetener, Splenda granulated, coconut, raw cane, or turbinado sugar, pulsed finely)
  • 2 large eggs (4 tablespoons Aquafaba, 1//2 cup silken tofu, pureed with 1/4 teaspoon baking soda, 2 flaxseed or chia seed eggs, or egg replacer)
  • 1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (gluten-free all-purpose flour, 1 to 1 gluten-free all-purpose flour, sorghum, millet, sweet rice, or brown rice flour)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup mashed very ripe bananas
  • 1/2 cup sour cream (dairy; light sour cream, plain yogurt) (non-dairy; soy milk, or almond milk yogurt) (vegan sour cream)
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

Directions

  1. Step 1 Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-by-5-by-3-inch loaf pan; set aside. In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs and beat to incorporate.
  2. Step 2 In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt. Add to the butter mixture and mix until just combined. Add bananas, sour cream, and vanilla; mix to combine. Stir in nuts and pour into prepared pan.
  3. Step 3 Bake until a cake tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, about 1 hour 10 minutes. Let rest in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a rack to cool.

Additional Notes

  1. To make a flax or chia seed egg, mix one tablespoon ground flaxseed/chia seed meal with three tablespoons of water. Mix together, and let sit in your fridge for 15 minutes to set up and thicken.
Flaxseed Egg photo from Chocolate Covered Katie

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Baking, blogging, and writing. Using the pan in pandemic to keep up with both sides of a professional literary life.

It’s the last Tuesday of 2020 and I don’t think 2021 could arrive any sooner for everyone at this point. Although, there is no need to state the obvious, it’s been an overall rough year for everyone. Everything most of us took for granted like having the choice between getting a cup of coffee or a burger to go, or to stay, for a stretch of time this year, wasn’t even an option. Then there was the change of working from home that required far more adjustment than anyone ever thought it would. Kids, pets, and life at home made it hard for many to stay in work mode. As it turns out, working can be stressful in the office and at home, which was a shock to some people, not me. However, the effects of Covid-19 on an industry like publishing, where socializing in person is just as, if not more important, than emails and posts, it’s been an adjustment. It’s the last Tuesday of 2020 and I don’t think 2021 could arrive any sooner for everyone at this point. Although, there is no need to state the obvious, it’s been an overall rough year for everyone. Everything most of us took for granted like having the choice between getting a cup of coffee or a burger to go, or to stay, for a stretch of time this year, wasn’t even an option. Then there was the change of working from home that required far more adjustment than anyone ever thought it would. Kids, pets, and life at home made it hard for many to stay in work mode. As it turns out, working can be stressful in the office and at home, which was a shock to some people, not me. However, the effects of Covid-19 on an industry like publishing, where socializing in person is just as, if not more important, than emails and posts, it’s been an adjustment.

I’ve been working from home for some time. I have a very small literary agency with a handful of clients. Being a part of the publishing industry, I spend time reviewing the latest signings and deals happening with the Big-Four publishers (it was five, but Random just bought the venerable Simon and Schuster), independent, and boutique publishers. I read Publisher’s Weekly, The New York Times Book Review, to keep up with the industry. I live on Long Island and I spend time in Bethel, Connecticut with my sister’s family where I am Auntie Mimi. In New York I am a part of the otherhood (mothers with adult children, in my case sons)

I’m also a writer and author myself. I’ve been in the publishing industry for close to twenty years. I understand the publishing industry from both sides of the table. Editors, senior and assistant, along with editorial directors and acquisitions editors spend a great deal of time in meetings that aren’t in a conference room. They meet literary agents and authors for coffee, lunch, and cocktails. There are industry dinners where they have an opportunity to talk with other publishing professionals about projects and trends. Agents like having the opportunity to pitch clients in person and to find out what types of projects editors are seeking. We think using the #mswl, is terrific, but have you seen most people’s let alone agent’s Twitter or Facebooks threads, it’s easily lost in a plethora of other tweets, posts, or updates. We were just getting the hang of the new digital submission, when Covid-19 took the social scene away. Now we had to Zoom, and for some editors living in an NYC apartment with children, zooming from their closets was a close to an office situation as they could get.

Combining this with the number of changes that have occurred since the first of my ten books (1 nonfiction, 9 novels) was published in 1998 through the last book in 2015, it’s night and day. The Internet was in its toddler stage in the late nineties and still somewhat of a novelty. Publishers still accepted hard-copy submissions through the mail. You could call and editor or the art department direct without hitting a menu-option. Now it’s all email and pressing phone options if you call. Neither guarantees you’ll get through. In the nineties through the early 2000s, being traditionally published by the aforementioned publishers, was the only way to go. Any other means of publication like hybrid and self-publishing were looked down on as an inferior way to be published or as vanity-publishing adjacent. Now, there’s a self-publishing section in PW. Some of the major traditional publishers, have a waded into self-publishing offering services for people looking to publish their books. A blogger with a large social media following is more likely to get a publishing deal than a previously published author with proven sales and readership. Getting on social media to develop a platform is a little easier for boomers and gen-xers who were always techies or gamers. For some like me, changing from the analog to the digital has been a bit tougher. I believe conversation is an art, and there are things that simply cannot be conveyed through a text or post, unless you’re scream (all-caps) tweeting or texting. Still, I don’t have much choice but to try to figure my way through the maze. There are plenty of bloggers who have developed a lucrative platform and are willing to help you. Some want a lot of money, others don’t want as much, but the problem is how do you know if what they’re going to teach will actually work for you. It’s a lot to process.

To deal with the new world, I head to the kitchen. It’s my personal ashram where I find a way to quiet my thoughts so that I’m able to think without the white noise of our online lives. It allows me to work through professional and personal issues. Writer’s block is a condition no writers wants for any extended period. Novelists, songwriters, television and screenwriters, anyone who depends on words for their livelihood/career. It was the kitchen that made this past year a little easier to cope with and from the number of banana bread posts I saw at the beginning of the lockdown in March, others have discovered what a tasty oasis the kitchen is. Covid-19 also stands for the average number of pounds gained (if it was more, I won’t tell). Being in the kitchen helped me figure out different ways to pitch my clients’ work to publishers. As an added benefit, it helped me tighten up three fiction manuscripts of mine. I was able to compile the recipes for two cookbooks, one of which celebrates my family’s traditions in the kitchen.

I’ve also taken on the daunting task of trying to build an online presence. While I love all of these great articles interviewing people who had blogs, then got a publishing deal for cooking or a memoir or something else, I can’t dwell there. I am having a time figuring all of the ancillary things out. I don’t have time to ponder or mope over why I haven’t been discovered. I was never one for a diary, which is weird because I always loved writing, but I preferred writing stories centered around what did or is happening in my life and around me. I start with a pen and paper, before I type anything into Word. There is something about connecting to the paper that helps writing flow for me. More often than not, I don’t use much of what I wrote by hand, it’s just the runway and taxiing. When I begin typing, my mind takes flight, the words come. That is not to say that I don’t edit and change it extensively. Words have life. They breathe, contract, and change shape.

I find that baking helps the most when I’m writing fiction. There are no bounds to what I can write, but baking is science. It’s orderly. You can’t deviate and add just a pinch more yeast or baking powder. The measurements are precise, there is no free-styling. Somehow, all of it allows my creativity to flow freely. I’ve figured out more plot lines and characters just by sifting, measuring, stirring, and kneading. It’s what works for me in my literary life and has made it possible for me to blog and keep up with my website.

For others it might be painting, drawing, or another form of art that helps their creative juices get going. Physical activity like working out, running, walking, or yoga is helpful for some people. I enjoy doing yoga in the mornings to help center my thoughts and stretch my limbs. It helps with the every day pain of having MS, but it’s baking and writing that sets me free of the condition, even if it’s just for a little while.

Now that there are vaccines available, I believe the world will return to a new normal. I am quite sure that pre-pandemic life won’t return as we knew it. Time is going to be the key for the industries that were affected and that may not be enough to resurrect many businesses. I suppose hope springs eternal for writers, as much as I prefer to bake my own treats, I’m looking forward to having sitting in a bakery café, diner, or coffeehouse and watching as people from all walks of life interact with each other before they go about their day. Covid-19 has proven just how social we are. I will still be in the kitchen cooking and baking, but I won’t take seeing people in person for granted again. Apparently, we’re all people who need people.

I love to share recipes, particularly when it’s cake. Chocolate was a weakness for my Grandma Salley. She kept Hershey’s Kisses in the pocket of her aprons. She’d sneak and give us a couple when my mother wasn’t looking. Chocolate is something I love to bake with, but as I gathered recipes for the Cooking with My Nanas cookbook, I wanted to be sure to include every dietary need. Family is about everyone at the table enjoying a meal together. What’s the fun if some members only have a bowl of fruit for dessert. I know it’s healthier, but who wants that when everyone else has chocolate.

I found this recipe for Gluten-free Chocolate Cake on What the Fork Blog, which was adapted from Ina Garten

Chocolate Cake

For the Cake

  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose gluten free flour (all-purpose flour)
  • 3/4 teaspoon xanthan gum (omit if your gluten-free blend contains it) (omit if using regular all-purpose flour)
  • 2 cups granulated sugar (Swerve sweetener, Splenda granulated, coconut, turbinado, or golden sugar pulsed fine)
  • 3/4 cups cocoa powder*
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk (or 1 cup unsweetened coconut, rice, almond, or soy milk + 1 tablespoon white vinegar)
  • 1/2 cup avocado oil (or canola oil)
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature (1/4 cup Aquafaba, 1/2 cup silken-tofu pureed with 1/4 teaspoon baking soda, 2 flaxseed or chia seed eggs, or egg replacer)
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup hot coffee

For the Frosting

  • 1 cup salted butter, softened (vegan butter)
  • 3 cups powdered sugar (organic confectioner’s sugar,. Swerve confectioner’s sugar substitute)
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream (full-fat coconut milk)
  • 1 tablespoon golden syrup, light corn syrup, or brown rice syrup, optional

Instructions

Instructions

To make the Cake:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and spray 2 8-inch cake pans with non-stick spray. Line the bottom of the pans with parchment paper and spray that parchment paper with non-stick spray.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, sift together the flour, xanthan gum, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Use the paddle attachment to mix the dry ingredients on low speed.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, buttermilk, oil and vanilla.
  4. With the mixer running on low speed, slowly pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Mix until completely combined.
  5. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and pour in the hot coffee. Mix on low until incorporated.
  6. Pour the batter (it will be very thin and pretty liquidy) evenly between the two pans. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 – 40 minutes. (Mine take about 37 minutes.)
  7. Cool the cakes on a wire rack (in the pan) for 20 minutes. Carefully remove the cakes from the pans and cool completely on a wire rack.
  8. When the cakes are cool, prepare the buttercream.

To make the chocolate buttercream:

  1. Add the butter to the bowl of a stand mixer and beat until completely smooth. Add the powdered sugar and cocoa powder and mix on low to combine. Mix in the vanilla extract and heavy cream.
  2. Turn the mixer to a medium-high speed and beat for 1-2 minutes or until the frosting is light and fluffy.
  3. Frost the cake as desired!
Italian Butter Cookies and Linzer cookies
Uncategorized

Duchess Potatoes A recipe for a luscious side dish for the holidays, and Duchess Cauliflower its slimmed-down, vegan version

Duchess Potatoes by Cook’s Country

3 ½ pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and sliced ½ inch think

2/3 cup half and half

1 large egg, separated, plus 2 large yolks

Salt and pepper, to taste

Pinch of fresh ground nutmeg

10 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

  1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 450 degrees. Grease 13 by 9-inch baking dish. Place potatoes in large saucepan and add cold water to cover by I inch. Bring to simmer over medium-high heat. Adjust heat to maintain gentle simmer and cook until paring knife can be slipped into and out of centers of potatoes no resistance, 18 to 22 minutes. Drain potatoes.
  2. While potatoes cook, combine half-and-half, 3 egg yolks, 1 3/4 teaspoons salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and nutmeg in bowl. Set aside.
  3. Place now-empty saucepan over low heat; set ricer or food mill over saucepan. Working in batches, transfer potatoes to hopper and process. Using rubber spatula, stir in 8 tablespoons melted butter until incorporated. Stir in reserved half-and-half mixture until combined. Transfer potatoes to prepared dish and smooth into even layer.
  4. Combine egg white, remaining 2 tablespoons melted butter, and pinch salt in bowl and beat with fork until combined. Pour egg white mixture over potatoes, tilting dish so mixture evenly covers surface. Using flat side of paring knife, make series of 1/2 -inch deep, 1/4-inch-vvide parallel grooves across surface of casserole. Make second series of parallel grooves across surface, at angle to first series, to create crosshatch pattern. Bake casserole until golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes, rotating dish halfway through baking. Let cool for 20 minutes. Serve.

TO MAKE AHEAD: At end of stop 3, wrap dish in plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 24 hours. To serve, top and score casserole as directed in step 4 and bake in 375-degree oven for 45 to 50 minutes

Vegan Low Carb Duchess Cauliflower

2 medium or 1 large head cauliflower, cored and broken down into florets (can be large)

2/3 cup rice or soy milk cold, mix in 1 teaspoon of cornstarch (or gluten-free cornstarch) just before adding to the mashed cauliflower

10 tablespoons vegan butter (1 stick plus 2 tablespoons)

¾ teaspoon kosher or fine sea salt

¼ teaspoon pepper

Pinch of fresh nutmeg

Here are the Egg replacement choices for three yolks, and one egg white. Choose from the following and make the selection that works for you best.

Egg yolk replacements

  • 3 tablespoons Aquafaba (3 yolks)
  • Mix 1 tablespoon of soy protein powder with 3 tablespoons of water, per egg (3 tablespoons soy protein powder with about a ½ cup of water = 3 yolks)
  • Puree ¾  cup silken tofu plus ½  teaspoon baking powder (3 yolks)

Egg White Replacements

  • 1 tablespoon Aquafaba (1 large egg white)
  1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 450 degrees. Grease 13 by 9-inch baking dish. Place cauliflower in large saucepan and add cold water to cover by I inch. Bring to simmer over medium-high heat. Adjust heat to maintain gentle simmer and cook until soft enough to be pierced with a fork or a paring knife.  About 18 to 22 minutes. Drain cauliflower
  2. While the cauliflower cooks, combine rice or soy milk with the vegan equivalent of 3 egg yolks, 1 3/4 teaspoons salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and nutmeg in bowl. Set aside.
  3. Place now-empty saucepan over low heat; set ricer or food mill over saucepan. Working in batches, transfer potatoes to hopper and process. Using rubber spatula, stir in 8 tablespoons melted butter until incorporated. Stir in reserved half-and-half mixture until combined. Transfer potatoes to prepared dish and smooth into even layer.
  4. Combine egg white, remaining 2 tablespoons melted butter, and pinch salt in bowl and beat with fork until combined. Pour egg white mixture over potatoes, tilting dish so mixture evenly covers surface. Using flat side of paring knife, make series of 1/2 -inch deep, 1/4-inch-vvide parallel grooves across surface of casserole. Make second series of parallel grooves across surface, at angle to first series, to create crosshatch pattern. Bake casserole until golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes, rotating dish halfway through baking. Let cool for 20 minutes. Serve.

TO MAKE AHEAD: At end of stop 3, wrap dish in plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 24 hours. To serve, top and score casserole as directed in step 4 and bake in 375-degree oven for 45 to 50 minutes

Uncategorized

Veggies- Got to get more into our lives…deliciously

Eat your vegetables. Perhaps as a kid, you heard them from your mother, father, or grandmother. I believe we knew veggies were good for us, but there wasn’t much focus on finding a way to play veggies up. They were always boiled, steamed, and on occasion, roasted.

Then there was a Renaissance for vegetables that I credit to Julia Child and Mastering the Art of French Cooking. France, like many other European countries made vegetables stand out whether as a part of a dish or on its own. Veggies could go from being good for us, to being good to eat. YUM!

Now that being a vegetarian isn’t just for health nuts and kooks, chefs and home cooks are doing more to honor vegetables by giving them a starring role for dinner. Veggies aren’t just supporting players, vegetables are stars. To that end, we have seen a number of celebrity and television chefs incorporating more veggie focused meals in the programs and cookbooks. One of the chefs is Jamie Oliver. It’s obvious that Jamie enjoys cooking, and I am sure that as a dad, he loves to make good food for his kids to eat. For his program Jamie’s Ultimate Veg, he kicks up vegetables a couple of notches by focusing on bringing out their inherent flavor with spices, herbs, and cooking techniques that won’t leave the family looking for a steak.

When I saw the episode with Green Mac-n-Cheese, I was intrigued by the flavor profile. Leeks, garlic, and thyme, are all flavors that appealed to me. Combine it with cheese and broccoli, and you have a recipe for a party in my mouth. I decided to make it and share with my dad and vegetarian uncle. Everyone was happy. Although, I have to admit, presentation wise all that green, isn’t as pretty as some dishes, but it certainly is delish.

In the interest of being inclusive, I’ve tested different ingredients for vegan and dairy-free diets too.

Green Mac-N-Cheese by Jamie Oliver, Ultimate Veg (adapted by C. Canton)

Ingredients

1 large leek

3 cloves of garlic

(1 3/4 cups) purple sprouting or you stem broccoli

40 g (2 1/2 tablespoons) unsalted butter (vegan butter, margarine)

½ a bunch of fresh thyme , (15g)

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour (gluten-free all-purpose flour, brown or sweet rice flour)

4 1/4 cups of 2% milk (rice or soy milk)

450 g (1 3/4 cups) macaroni elbows (gluten-free elbows)

30 g (3/8 cup, 6 tablespoons) Parmesan cheese (Daiya parmesan cheese or Daiya provolone slices)

150 g (5.29 ounces) Cheddar cheese (Daiya Cheddar Shreds)

100 g (2/3 cup, 4 ounces) baby spinach

50 g (1/2 cup, 1.3 ounces) flaked almonds

Method

Preheat the oven to 350ºF

Trim, halve and wash the leek and peel the garlic, then finely slice with the broccoli stalks, reserving the florets for later. Place the sliced veg in a large casserole pan over a medium heat with the butter, then strip in the thyme leaves and cook for 15 minutes, or until softened, stirring regularly. Stir in the flour, followed slowly by the milk, then simmer for 10 minutes, or until thickened, stirring regularly. Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a large pan of boiling salted water for 5 minutes, then drain.

Grate the Parmesan and most of the Cheddar into the sauce, and mix well. Tip into a blender, add the spinach and blend until smooth – you may need to work in batches. Season to perfection with sea salt and black pepper, then stir through the pasta and broccoli florets, loosening with a splash of milk, if needed. Transfer to a 25cm x 35cm baking dish, grate over the remaining Cheddar and scatter over the almonds. Bake for 30 minutes, or until beautifully golden and bubbling.

Jamie Oliver’s Greens Mac-N- Cheese

Adaptable Recipes, Uncategorized

A sweet way to celebrate Chanukah and the holidays with the kids

If you are like me, when you get up in the morning you feel like you did any other day when you were say thirty-three. In my mind that’s how old I am. Then I get up in three moves more like a faulty lawn chair, than a nimble thirty-something. However, there is a bright side for those of us who are north of forty and fifty plus. We are at an age when we can enjoy children as parents, or as dare I say Glam-parents. I have yet to find the appropriate word that doesn’t evoke visions of rocking chairs and knitting needles. Although, I have a few friends who have been creative when it comes to how their precious grandchildren refer to them. One of my favorites is Gigi.

That said, it’s the time of year when all the wonder of the world is in a child’s eyes. Granted, we are in the midst of some very trying times with the pandemic, but we can find ways to share the joy with our families, show our love, and face these challenges with resilience. One way to do that is in the kitchen. This recipe is for Sufganiyah. It is a round jelly doughnut eaten in Israel and around the world on the Jewish festival of Hanukkah. The doughnut is deep-fried in oil, filled with jam or custard, and then topped with powdered sugar. The doughnut recipe originated in Europe in the 1500s and by the 1800s was known as a Berliner in Germany.

The recipe for Sufganiyot is from The Children’s Jewish Holiday Kitchen by J Nathan. It was released by Random House in 1995. I’ve adapted the recipe for other dietary needs like gluten-sensitivities, low or no sugar diets, vegetarians and vegans.

Sufganiyah or Sufganiyot recipe by J Nathan adapted by me

INGREDIENTS

  1. 1 scant tablespoon (1 package) dry yeast
    4 tablespoons sugar (Swerve sweetener, Splenda granulated, Golden sugar, coconut, turbinado, or raw cane sugar pulsed, )
    3/4 cup lukewarm milk or warm water* (dairy: whole, or 3/4 cup of 2% plus 2 tablespoons of half and half or light cream) (almond, soy, rice, or light coconut milk)
    2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (gluten-free all-purpose flour, sorghum, brown or sweet rice flour, almond flour works when combined 1 1/2 cups almond flour plus 1/2 cup corn flour)
    Pinch of salt
    1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    2 eggs, separated (for the yolks 1/2 cup silken tofu plus 1/4 teaspoon baking soda, or 2 tablespoons of soy lecithin) (whites 1/4 cup Aquafaba)
    2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) unsalted butter or pareve margarine, softened* (vegan butter or margarine)
    Apricot or strawberry preserves
    Sugar (Granulated or confectioner’s sugar, Swerve confectioner’s sugar substitute)
    Vegetable oil for deep-frying

*Use butter and milk if serving at a milk meal, and water and pareve margarine for a meat meal

  • The reason for the use of the combination of almond flour and cornflour is so that the doughnuts will be light and airy. Almond flour is essentially ground almonds and nuts don’t lend easily to being fried. The addition of cornflour lightens it to make it easier to fry. You can also use arrowroot.

PREPARATION

Child: Mix together the yeast, 2 tablespoons of the sugar, and the milk. Let sit to make sure it bubbles.
Child: Sift the flour and mix it with the remaining sugar, salt, cinnamon, egg yolks, and the yeast mixture.
Adult with Child: Knead the dough until it forms a ball. Add the butter or margarine. Knead some more, until the butter is well absorbed. Cover with a towel and let rise overnight in the refrigerator.
Adult: Roll out the dough to a thickness of 1/8 inch.
Child: Cut out the dough into 24 rounds with a juice glass, or any object about 2 inches in diameter. Take 1/2 teaspoon of preserves and place in the center of 12 rounds. Top with the other 12. Press down at edges, sealing with egg whites. Crimping with the thumb and second finger is best. Let rise for about 30 minutes.
Adult: Heat 2 inches of oil to about 375°. Drop the doughnuts into the hot oil, about 5 at a time. Turn to brown on both sides. Drain on paper towels.
Child: Roll the doughnuts in sugar.

Adaptable Recipes

Tuesday morning Bakery Style Blueberry Muffins

Once again tis the season. The holidays look different for all of us this year, but that doesn’t mean we can’t begin the month on a sweet note, and set the tone to be merry.

This recipe is based on the Brown Eyed Baker’s recipe. I’ve adapted it for:

  • Vegans- including dairy allergies
  • Gluten sensitivities
  • Low-sugar and sugar free diets
  • Vegetarians

Bakery-Style blueberry muffins by the Brown Eyed Baker adapted by me

INGREDIENTS:

 2 cups all-purpose flour (gluten-free all-purpose flour, 1 to 1 gluten-free baking blend, sorghum, brown rice, almond, or sweet rice flour)

 1 tablespoon baking powder

 ½ Teaspoon salt

 1  egg (3 tablespoons Aquafaba, ¼ cup silken-tofu plus 1/8 teaspoon baking soda, 1 flaxseed or chia seed egg, or egg replacer)

 1 Cup granulated sugar (Swerve sweetener, Splenda granulated, coconut, raw cane, or turbinado sugar, pulsed)

 4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly (vegan butter, margarine)

 1¼ Cups sour cream (dairy: light sour cream, plain Greek yogurt) (non-dairy: almond, soy, rice, or light coconut milk)

1 teaspoon vanilla

¼ teaspoon lemon or orange extract (optional)

 1½ Cups frozen or fresh blueberries

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a standard 12-cup muffin tin (or line with paper liners) and set aside.

Whisk the flour, baking powder and salt in a large bowl until combined.

Whisk the egg in a separate medium bowl until well-combined and light-colored, about 20 seconds. Add the sugar and whisk vigorously until thick, about 30 seconds. Add the melted butter in 2 additions, whisking gently to combine after each addition. Add the vanilla, then the sour cream in 2 additions, whisking just to combine.

Add the blueberries to the dry ingredients and gently toss just to combine. Add the sour cream mixture and fold with a rubber spatula until the batter comes together and the blueberries are evenly distributed, 25 to 30 seconds. Small spots of flour may remain and the batter will be very thick. Do not overmix.

Divide the batter among the muffin cups Bake until the muffins are light golden brown and a toothpick or thin knife inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Immediately remove muffins to a wire rack and cool for at least 5 minutes. Serve immediately or at room temperature. Store leftovers in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 4 days or in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

RECIPE NOTES:

Sour cream: You can substitute buttermilk or plain yogurt for the sour cream.

Blueberries: Frozen blueberries can be used; no need to thaw them or alter the recipe.