Vegetable lasagna! A produce basket in your mouth!

My take on those endless recipe blog posts with photos and cheery instructions you have to scroll through to finally get to the ingredients and recipe itself:

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Vegetable lasagna! Who doesn’t love the oohey-gooey confabulation of ruffled pasta, creamy cheeses, and vegetables all baked to crispy-smooth perfection? And because of the vegetables, you don’t need to feel any guilt at all about this special dish. It’s a veritable produce basket in your mouth!

For years, I’ve used an old family recipe for this splendiferous concoction, something that’s been passed down for, well, days, in our circle. It’s easy! It’s fun! So, enjoy, as I walk you through the steps.

First, cut up the veggies! I like to dice them into small chunks. Squash, onions, peppers, mushrooms, broccoli, even some leftover asparagus from a yummy salmon dinner I made the other night! Here they are all hanging out in the saute pan together!

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Don’t they look just yummy? I threw in some garlic, too, and salt and pepper, of course, along with basil and oregano. Oh, and a can of diced tomatoes! Here’s a picture of them with a wooden spoon joining the fun!

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While they were enjoying their tropical hangout, I put the water on to boil for the pasta. Here is that simmering water, just waiting for the ruffled pasta sheets to be dropped in! Doesn’t it look scrumptious?

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I only cook the pasta for a scant few minutes–oh, maybe two, or three, or four, or five. Who knows? Just long enough so it’s pliable but not overdone. Here are those delish pasta sheets enjoying a sauna in the sieve, along with their friend, the happy wooden spoon!

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Oops, did I forget the ricotta instructions? Well, here they are: scoop a bunch of ricotta from where it’s nestled in its colorful plastic container into a charming bowl. Add basil and garlic salt/powder! Mix! That’s it! No egg. Ooh, ooh, ooh, don’t like those nasty yolky eggs in my ricotta mixture. (But if you do, I won’t judge!) Here’s a photo of that creamy deliciousness I put together, along with its friendly spoon:

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Now it’s time to layer this party for your palate into a square baking dish. I’m only making enough for hubs and me — for dinner and next-day leftovers. So here’s how I pull all this magic into a mouth-watering treat: Layer of veggies, followed by pasta, followed by ricotta mixture, followed by slices of fresh mozzarella, and more veggies…the scrumptiousness is enough to make you swoon! See that plastic container at the top–that’s where I had kept my leftover asparagus! It wants to join the celebration!

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After the last layer is constructed, I toss a little grated parm over all and set this delectable three-story casserole constructed for our cornucopia of cravings into a 350-degree oven. Mmm-mmm. How will we be able to wait for it to be done? Go have a glass of wine with your beloved, set up the table in front of the fireplace, talk about all the wonderful things in your life, and voila! At the end of that time it’s done! You don’t need to limit dining to your kitchen or dining room. Here’s our setup for this fantastic, fabulous, fluffy, filling, fol-de-rol of a feast!  No salad necessary – all those vegetables are enough healthy stuff for a year of eating!

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Oh, and here’s the recipe for this delectable, deliciousness of a dish!

VEGETABLE LASAGNA

  • Vegetables, diced
  • Pasta noodles
  • Garlic, herbs
  • Ricotta cheese
  • Mozzarella cheese

Parboil the pasta, saute the veggies, assemble the dish. Bake until done.

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What happens to characters on “The Office”?

Yesterday, March 24, marked the 15th anniversary of the debut of “The Office” on NBC! How did I miss this? USA TODAY had a nice article about the series, how so many of its actors and writers went on to great careers, how it led to similar storytelling in other series.

Readers of this blog (yes, all five of you) know that I love that series and have written about it in the past when I binge-watched it last year. Now I catch random episodes on the Comedy Central network. It’s my go-to stress reliever show.

Lately, my obsession has led to me wondering what a reunion show might look like. What has happened to the characters in the fifteen years since it began (and in the seven years since it ended in 2013)? Screen Shot 2019-05-03 at 11.49.11 AM

I can think of a few scenarios for some of the characters, but would love to hear other fans’ ideas. Here are mine:

First, I think most, if not all, of the characters who’d moved away from Scranton would have returned by now. Their families are in Scranton, after all, and I could see them wanting to be closer to parents and grandparents as they age, especially the characters with children.

Pam and Jim:  After one of the partners in Jim’s company, Athlead, embezzles money, the business almost collapses, but is absorbed by a multinational. Jim gets a payout from the sale that allows them to move back to Scranton from Texas, which Pam is eager to do because her mother is showing signs of early onset dementia. By now, Pam has tired of being a stay-at-home mom and gotten her real estate license. She discovers she’s great at selling houses, which she often stages using artworks she’s created. Jim becomes the stay-at-home dad.

Dwight and Angela: Angela takes over the Schrute farm business and does a fantastic job running their B and B and selling Schrute Organic Produce (despite the fact that across the road from them is an agri-business farm that uses pesticides and weed killers galore). They now have five children, whom Angela homeschools with stern discipline, and two dozen cats. Dwight, meanwhile, has expanded his real estate holdings (using Pam as a Realtor) to include houses he flips for profit. He also now runs the Dunder-Mifflin Computer company. The paper business has tanked, so Dwight, helped by an investment from Nellie Bertram (who is raising her adopted child in Europe and comes to Scranton occasionally) was able to buy out the branch and reconfigure it into a computer store. He hires young college dropouts to run what he calls their Sehrschlau Bars (German for “very smart”) but who usually just end up Googling solutions to customer problems, including when they go on-site to service computers at local schools, a contract Dwight has landed.

Phyllis: Poor Phyllis is now widowed after a particularly vigorous roll in the hay with Bob Vance, her husband, resulted in him having a fatal heart attack. She now runs Vance Refrigeration and Appliances, having expanded the business to include an array of inexpensive off brands to upscale niche devices for kitchens and more. She needs more office space for her growing business and is using Pam to help her find a good location out of the office park, an activity she keeps secret from Dwight who owns the park and who she views as a competitor because she’s going to add computers to her inventory.

Those are all my thoughts so far. Haven’t figured out what Darryl, Andy, Erin, Kelly, Ryan or others would be doing! Or Michael Scott himself!

Feel free to comment with your own ideas.

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FREE light reads for a short time

March 25, 2020 UPDATE: Thanks to all who took advantage of this free offer! I hope you enjoy these reads and will consider leaving a review at Amazon and/or Goodreads!
Best,
Libby Malin Sternberg
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March 19, 2020
Dear Readers:
If you’re looking for reading material during self-imposed quarantines or social distancing, I’m offering some of my books for free at the Kindle store in the next few days. These are lighter books that should bring a smile to your face. All I ask is, if you do download one of these and read it, you consider leaving a review. (Those are crucial for authors who aren’t well-known or big best-sellers!)

 

Free Thursday, March 19 – Monday, March 23, 2020:

MY OWN PERSONAL SOAP OPERA by Libby Malin
A soap opera head writer finds her world turned upside down by a thief imitating one on the show, and a dashing older man hired to help her rescue the serial from imminent cancellation.
  • “…a world of wit and chaos that is so smart and insightfully written…you get happily lost in the fun!” Booklist
  • “Malin coaxes plenty of laughs…” Publishers Weekly
  • “You’ll not be disappointed. Trust me! Rating: 5 Stars.”―Love Romance Passion
IN SICKNESS AND IN HEALTH by Libby Malin
He thinks his days are numbered, she marries him anyway to be his helpmate (doesn’t hurt that he’s a gajillionaire). She has to learn to be a wife, not a widow, when things take a turn…for the better.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07NWTZ5WQ

  • “…an excellent story that should be well-received by readers of all types. I recommend it to lovers of romance, drama, Christian fiction, and Hallmark movies.” Gina Rae Mitchell
WOMAN WITH A PARASOL by Libby Malin
When her recently widowed mother asks Belle to accompany her on a tour of France, she is not prepared for the family secrets about to be revealed.
  • “…a fast-paced, whirlwind journey through France for protagonist  Belle and her mother… alluring content–notably, a mother’s attempts to bond with her daughter and the disclosure of a dark family affair.” BookLife Prize
 
REESE’S SUMMER OF PROMISE by Libby Malin
The first in the Tales of Bethany Beach series, a sweet romance about betrayed lovers learning to trust again.
Thanks!
Libby Malin Sternberg

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Humor in the Time of Covid-19

MY TRIP TO WEGMANS TODAY
As recorded in my war-scarred journal

Dear Diary,

I just returned from the battlefield of Wegmans where I attempted with Ma and Pa to stock up on provisions sorely needed. It was a mission not for the faint-hearted, but we persevered.

Ma’s resolve nearly gave way when we first caught sight of the Mediterranean Bar, their gleaming stainless steel containers reflecting the emptiness of our hearts. Only the hottest marinated peppers and olives remained in that artisanal outpost.

When we made our way through the detritus of flattened cardboard boxes on otherwise empty pallets, a grizzled bearded man approached. He carried a ripped UNESCO shopping bag and muttered over and over “flatten the curve,” which we later learned was the battle cry of his family as they fought in the First Siege of the Ultra-Soft, Four-Ply Charmin Mega-rolls. It left many scarred and nothing left, we hear tell, but the Second Siege was far worse, by all accounts.

It’s hard to describe the barrenness of the hand-sanitizer section. To this moment, I shudder at the memory of stories told in that antiseptic wasteland. “One man,” a sad youngster related, “reached out for a bottle just as a woman swooped in something fierce, her metallic Gucci bag a-swingin’ so hard that it. . .” He couldn’t finish, just shook his head slowly. “He won’t be needin’ anything for his hands no more.”

But ‘twas the meat department that shook our souls. There we heard a mother sob that she’d been in the Grass-Fed Organic Ground Beef War and thought they’d prevailed, just to return and face the taunting ignominious defeat of empty shelves, the only things left being Lamb for Stew and Mike’s Gourmet Chicken Curry Sauce. “How can I make chicken curry,” she wailed, “without organic air-dried chicken?” How, indeed.

Over in dairy, nary a container of soy or almond milk was to found. Only the white devil liquid itself was on the shelves, whole milk and heavy cream, a veritable cliff of containers behind misted chilled doors.

The bakery was little better. Though they had their crusty Tuscan bread boules on display, not a one was sliced, and we couldn’t bring ourselves to bother the beleaguered workers. Besides, they had sharp knives and a gleam in their eyes.

Ma’s heart nearly broke and she suppressed a sob herself when we came upon the empty hot bar. No Asian delights, no chicken wings, no arancini or truffled mac ’n cheese. Just darkness. As dark as our souls.

Until Pa reminded us that the hot bar doesn’t open for an hour.

Our spirits thus revived, we made our way to the frozen foods. Ice cream. Shelves of it. We sank to our knees in gratitude. Thus renewed, we rose and ambled toward checkout.

Waiting to fight another day,

Augustus

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Oops, I did it again

A couple years ago, I very happily reported here that I’d sold a “book of my heart,” which is a term authors use to describe a book they’ve written not to market trends but because they felt compelled to tell that particular story.

That book, Fall from Grace, was released by Bancroft Press in 2018. My favorite review of it came from Midwest Book Reviews, which called it “a novel for our times.”

As I reported at the time, it was a novel that didn’t fit easily into any of the categories traditional  publishing houses use to market books to booksellers (stores, in particular). It was a faith-drenched book about a broken marriage, but it dealt with mainline Protestantism and evangelicals, their world views, how people in both groups try to live Godly lives, even if they don’t always agree on what that means.

The book was dinged by some readers who posted reviews on Amazon, but it was clear these readers were expecting a traditional Christian fiction read, an “inspirational” novel where there’s no hint of impropriety, not even a mild curse word. (For my thoughts on that, here’s a post about Christian fiction.)

To that censorious reader, I offer a proactive apology: Sorry, but I did it again. I wrote another novel with faith issues that contains bad language at times. I haven’t sold this novel yet to a publisher. Maybe I never will. Maybe I’ll self-publish it at some point.

Titled The Reed Boat (for now, at least), here’s the story:

When her billionaire older husband discards everything to become a minister, young Emily Pendleton supports his decision–until she discovers he intends to discard her and her baby, too. As she raises her daughter alone, she seeks another tossed-aside item, a cheap cross necklace her late mother had given her that holds a key to a heartbreaking past. A novel about the sacrifices women make for their children, The Reed Boat is ultimately a story about mothers protecting children from unscrupulous men.

The reason this book will probably be a hard sell in the publishing world is because it contains a subtle pro-life message. Trust me, it doesn’t hammer the issue or hit you over the head with it. If you’re among the majority of Americans who want abortion to remain legal but only under certain circumstances (53 percent, according to Gallup in 2019), then this story will not offend.

gettyimages-200569519-001-2048x2048I suspect, however, that the publishing world isn’t filled with those kinds of Americans. I suspect the publishing world is populated by people who hold the view that abortion should be legal under any circumstance, with no restrictions at all (25 percent, according to the Gallup poll mentioned above). So even if a book is primarily about keeping innocents safe from men who might harm them, it will have a hard time finding a home in the publishing world if there’s even a hint of sympathy for the pro-life stance.

I’d love to be proven wrong on that. If there’s an editor out there reading this who doesn’t hold that view, I’ll happily send you a copy of the manuscript.

What about Christian fiction publishing? Maybe it might fit there, but not in Christian romance, because The Reed Boat has no clear romance HEA. And I do include some language that those publishers might believe is problematic.

Again, I’d enjoy being proven wrong on this supposition, as well, and I’d gladly email the book to Christian fiction editors willing to give it a read.

I’m happy to report, in fact, that there is, as of this writing, one editor looking at the manuscript, and I’m querying some agents, too, about it, most of whom I’ve not yet heard from. It’s early days yet, though, on that process.

I don’t know if The Reed Boat will eventually … sail. But I do know sometimes authors feel compelled to tell a story, whether it’s their muse or the Spirit moving them. The Reed Boat is that kind of story for me.

 

 

 

 

 

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Book Review: Courting Mr. Lincoln by Louis Bayard

If  emotive storytelling appeals to you, then hurry and place Courting Mr. Lincoln, a historical novel by Louis Bayard, in your Amazon cart.

The “courting” in this tale is twofold: set in the early 1840s, it tells how Joshua Speed educates Lincoln in society’s ways so he can actually court Mary Todd, who is in Springfield, Illinois visiting her sister with marriage on her mind. Young, frontier-rough Abe Lincoln is a boarder in Joshua Speed’s rooms above Speed’s general store. The two men share a bed, in fact, something not unusual at that time.

They also share a deep friendship, a love for each other, and a great respect for virtues of fidelity and honesty. Those characteristics cause Abe the most pain, when he comes to realize that his toast to “bachelorhood” is taken by Speed as an oath:

“I thought we made a vow,” (Speed) said. “Never again to think of marrying, do you remember? Because we couldn’t be satisfied with anybody who’d be blockhead enough to have us. We made a toast to bachelorhood. To brotherhood. Do you recall?”

Lincoln agonizes over breaking this “vow,” such as it is, without adequately taking into account Speed’s feelings, which have grown very deep for this unusual blossoming politician who already seems to have a great destiny before him. Some historians speculate if this relationship was more than friendship.

Both men end up leaving each other for marriage. Speed eventually marries Fanny Henning after returning to his native Louisville, Kentucky, and Lincoln weds Mary Todd, but not without first breaking their engagement, as he sorts out, in this telling, if he’s worthy of her and whether he’s been unfaithful to his friend and that “oath” they made to each other.

The story is told from two alternating points of view, both in third-person: Joshua’s and Mary’s. Mary Todd has received some shabby treatment over the years, with an emphasis on her involuntary commitment to a mental institution years after her husband’s death, so it was refreshing to read this sympathetic take on her character. Bayard paints a portrait of a wildly intelligent woman who was Lincoln’s equal intellectually, perhaps the main reason he was attracted to her. Screen Shot 2020-02-12 at 6.58.44 AM

Louis Bayard is a master at historical fiction, using details about dress, etiquette, speech, and more to set you smack-dab in the time he’s placed his stories. In Courting Mr. Lincoln you can smell the mud-clogged streets of 1840 Springfield, Illinois, hear the buzz of horse flies when windows are left open in warm weather, see the perspiring faces of party-goers crammed into small rooms with blazing hearths. You’ll want to read more of his oeuvres after this well-done novel, and perhaps more history of Lincoln, too. I’ve already ordered the book of letters from Lincoln to Speed that Bayard mentions in his acknowledgments.

One final note: If you go to Amazon to order this book, you’ll see it’s highly ranked in “LGBT” literary fiction and historical fiction. It is definitely a story of male love, but it is in no way sexually explicit. It is first and foremost a beautiful story of transcendent love, devotion, and destiny, a small piece of a history of a very great life. I highly recommend it to all readers.

 

 

 

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Tackling the controversial

I finished writing a book recently. Titled The Reed Boat, it’s probably classified as upmarket women’s fiction. It has faith overtones, though, so maybe it could fit into the Christian fiction market, too. That said, it really has only the same amount of faith references that most novels of the previous centuries had. Nowadays, most novels are aggressively secular, so if you do have spiritual elements in a story, it can be ghettoized in the Christian fiction market (not a bad place to be, mind you, but it will probably limit your readership to some degree).

Though it’s mostly a story about a woman’s search for something in her late mother’s past, it touches on, very late in the story, a controversial topic.

Here’s the pitch for the book:

When her billionaire older husband discards everything to become a minister, young Emily Pendleton supports his decision–until she discovers he intends to discard her and her baby, too. As she raises her daughter alone, she seeks another tossed-aside item, a cheap cross necklace her late mother had given her that holds the key to a heartbreaking past. A novel about the sacrifices women make to protect their children, The Reed Boat holds a subtle pro-life message that even pro-choice women should be able to understand and accept–it’s about protecting girls from unscrupulous men.

I debated whether to throw in that last sentence because I know that touching on the topic of abortion in a mainstream novel is like touching the third rail, sure to result in sparks, maybe even electrocution. But I felt I needed to insert that reference because, otherwise, agents I’m trying to interest in the novel might be upset that I didn’t warn them.

But here’s the thing: the opinions expressed by the characters in my novel echo those of the majority of Americans. If you look at Gallup polls on the topic of abortion, for example, you might be surprised to find that the views one often sees represented in news stories about abortion are at the extreme–illegal under all circumstances or legal under all circumstances. The majority of Americans polled (53 percent) actually believe it should be legal only under certain circumstances. gettyimages-200569519-001-2048x2048

So my characters’ views — expressed late in the novel, as I mentioned above — might align more with that majority middle ground. The reason I write “might” is because I don’t include a big polemic coming from the mouths of those characters. Like most people, they don’t sit around discussing abortion. They just…take care of their families, especially their daughters.

I don’t know if The Reed Boat will snag an agent, let alone an editor. It’s not a book about abortion. It just glances the topic at the very end. But it’s such a controversial subject that I felt the need to alert potential agents to it. Maybe that’s the wrong approach. Would love to hear opinions. Post a comment here or feel free to email me at Libby488 (at) yahoo (dot) com.

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