When I wrote my blogpost titled “Baking My Way Through Quarantine” back in May, I never thought there’d be another Covid-related installment to that post. But here I am, still weary of venturing out and still baking – a lot! Thankfully, we are all healthy here. I hope you are too. Also thankfully, all my clothes still fit. Did I mention I've been baking a lot?
Speaking of clothes and baking, I bought my first ever baking apron partly because it makes me feel official and serious, but mostly because I'm hopelessly messy.
As before, I've linked recipes below to all of my baking. The only exception is the biscotti, which is a passed-down family recipe. Email me for that one! Also, the brownies and banana bread are from NY Times Cooking, which requires a subscription, but has a free trial. Totally worth it, in my opinion. One baking note, I ran out of the eggs when making the sugar cookies and learned that ¼ cup of plain Greek yogurt works great as a substitution. (Thank you Google!)
If you follow me on Instagram, most of these photos may look familiar. Also, thank you for following me on Instagram! And if you don’t, please come find me - @karenpokras_author -
especially if you want more baking pictures, the latest book news, and extra cute photos of my two black grumpy but lovable editorial assistant cats and adorable foster kittens.
Right – baking. Here we go…
There’s one more and honestly, it could get its own blog post, so I’ll try to give the short and sweet version: I received a request from my Englishman for a childhood favorite he’d been craving. Something this American never heard of called “Malt Loaf.”
After some research, I learned it’s a fruit cake held together with a sticky, yet apparently vitamin-packed ingredient called “malt extract,” which I needed to special order.
Another ingredient, molasses, also proved difficult to find for some odd reason, but I learned it’s easy to make from scratch.
The recipe for malt loaf wasn’t complicated, but I’m not going to lie, malt extract smells awful. And the smell carried through my entire kitchen. After baking, I had to wrap the malt loaf in paper to “mature” for 4-5 days.
Thankfully, the smell mellowed with the maturing process. And there actually was still another baked good, because I wound up making scones a few days later, both to cover the smell and because I wanted an edible British sweet in case the malt loaf was a complete disaster. I substituted dried figs and cherries for currants because that's what I had used in the malt loaf recipe.
In the end, the malt loaf got a thumbs up, although not from me. I was glad I had scones as a backup.
Happy baking and be well!
Book News – Part Two!
Hi there, me again!
I got so excited yesterday talking about my signed Maya Plisetskaya book, that I completely forgot to finish my post with the rest of my book news. So here we go with Book News, Part Deux (told you my Quarantine French lessons were going well!)
Last year, back in 2019 (remember 2019?), while working out the publishing contract for the book that’s coming out next summer – more on that below – my agent emailed to see what I had next in the works. I replied with a horribly written sentence (which I won't repeat here) to describe a story I hadn’t completely worked out in my head.
“I think (it) offers a lot of promise,” my agent replied.
“Great, I’ll keep plugging along on it,” I responded calmly. In reality, I was in a complete panic because the plugging along had stopped weeks before thanks to an awful case of writer’s block.
Being a visual writer, I like to put together collages as I generate ideas. So while I didn't actually have more than a few rough chapters written, I sort of, kind of thought it might turn out like this:
Here is the short and sweet version of what happened:
I turned to a recommended writing book called Save the Cat Writes A Novel (which I have mentioned before.) It not only saved the cat, it saved ME.
Now, months later and after many, many rounds of revisions, I’m excited to say that my story, titled DAISY DEELY KNOWS THE TRUTH is out on submission with publishers.
(Fingers and toes crossed!)
I don’t want to jinx anything, but two weeks before I got the news that my agent was happy with the revisions and wanted to send it out, a piece of my ceiling fell in. I know that’s not actually good news. BUT – in the mess that fell from my ceiling, there was an old empty juice box, presumably left by the original builders in the 1950s.
At first I was convinced it was a sign from my grandmother, whose nickname was Daisy (and the reason I named my main character Daisy in Daisy Deely.) But, my critique partner likes to remind me that I’m surrounded by weird coincidences when I write. Someday, there will be an entire blog post about all of them. It certainly seems to be the case with the Daisy Maid juice box that suddenly fell from my ceiling. Also interesting is that the occurrence of coincidences is an ongoing theme in my Daisy Deely story. Hmmm.
For those who may be curious, here are the deets on DAISY DEELY:
When science-loving Daisy’s mom announces yet another divorce, they find themselves moving to a house that’s rumored to be haunted. With Daisy’s world turned sideways, she navigates her feelings about having parents who each have two divorces under their belts, whether the strange coincidences in the new house have a basis in science, and the true meaning of friendship in her quest to distinguish illusion from truth.
I have announced this book news before, but I will announce it a million more times, because it’s just so exciting. My newest book, THE BACKYARD SECRETS OF DANNY WEXLER comes out next summer. I hope to have a cover to show you soon, but until then, here is the collage I made and summary:
Certain a recent kidnapping is linked to an old Bermuda Triangle alien theory, 11 year old Danny, the only Jewish boy in his town in 1978, tries to prove his hairy-handed piano teacher is involved. But he not only has to fight UFOs, he also has to fight anti-Semitism.
Stay safe and healthy!
Ballet and Books
Hello friends! I hope you’re all healthy and safe! Like most of you, I’m still staying close to home, limiting my contacts, and wearing masks on the rare occasion that I'm out and about. But through all that, I’ve had a busy summer. I’ve been baking a lot (keep watch for another Baking Through Quarantine post coming soon), fostering kittens, and I’ve also been working on some exciting projects.
Yes, I’m talking about book projects!
You may remember back in 2013, I wrote and published a story called Pie and Other Brilliant Ideas about a young girl and her love of ballet. While that book received positive feedback, I decided to pull it from shelves shortly after publishing. It was a lovely story, but it wasn’t the exact story I wanted to write. And back then, I didn’t have the time or ability to write the exact story I wanted to write.
Fast forward to 2020.
I know, I’d rather skip right over it too, but here we are, and I’m feeling inspired.
More importantly, I’m feeling ready, and that means diving deep into research about all things related to training with Russian ballet academies during communist Soviet rule. After just a few weeks, I’ve got pages (and pages) of notes from my research. Much of the research has been fascinating. And while there's been some eye-opening moments, there's also been some amazing surprises. Like this one that came across my doorstep yesterday:
Maya Plisetskaya was not only one of the most celebrated and talented prima ballerinas to come out of the Soviet Union, but she was also a Jewish dancer, entering the Bolshoi Academy under Stalin’s rule. This book is her memoir, and according to the blurb, it tells it all. Everything. I had to have a copy and found one in an online used bookstore. Imagine my SURPRISE when I opened it to find this inscription:
It’s in Russian, and I don’t speak Russian (although my Quarantine French lessons are coming along nicely.) But I put out a call on social media and it turns out someone responded with help! Okay fine, it was my mother. She sent the inscription to a friend of hers who is Russian and this was her response:
I checked the credits on the book. Sure enough the translator’s first name is Antonina ... a formal possibility for Anna.
My first thought was why would the woman who translated the book give away or sell her copy? Her signed copy? Of course, in her defense, my own child did put his signed copy of NATE ROCKS THE WORLD on the top of his giveaway pile last summer. But I’m no Maya Plisetskaya.
Not. Even. Close.
Whatever the reason, it’s now in my hands. The hands of someone who loves both books and ballet. And I couldn’t be happier or feel more inspired.