Tag Archives: Kansas

Fruitcake, balls and tornadoes

Like Ahab hunting Moby Dick, I’ve been on an obsessive search–to find those big, fat, shiny ornaments you hang on deciduous trees outside. Finally, I hit the target. I mean Target, the store. That’s where I found them. And I’ve hung them outside as my own clenched-fist protest against the winter sky–its shortening days and longer nights:

christmas 2012 big ornaments

Speaking of things Christmasy, let’s take a break from making fruitcake jokes to actually make…fruitcake. Or, rather, fruitcake bar cookies. Believe it or not, until I was in my twenties, I’d never tasted fruitcake. But after I married, I discovered that my mother-in-law not only liked it, she made batches of it every Christmas, all soaked in apple brandy, to send as gifts to friends and relatives. Her recipe was very good–a dark, dense cake filled with candied citron, orange peel, cherries and nuts and raisins, too. When she lived in Maryland, she’d go to Lexington market to find these candied treasures.

She is gone now, and I can’t recreate her fruitcake success. Her recipe was for many cakes–I tried one year to make only one loaf by doing lots of math (long division, even!) with the recipe. Me + lots of math = not-so-good-fruitcake.

Not to worry — she also left us a recipe for fruitcake bar cookies, a lighter batter but still moist and sweet. So if you happen to be among the few, the happy few, who enjoy fruitcake, here’s the recipe:

EDITH STERNBERG’S FRUITCAKE BARS

Cream together:

  • 1/2 cup butter (one stick)
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tbsns milk

Sift:

  • 1 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tspn cinnamon
  • (dash of nutmeg if desired)

Mix dry and wet ingredients. Batter is VERY thick.

Add: 1/2 cup raisins, 1/4 cup candied cherries, 1/4 cup candied orange peel, 1/4 cup pineapple — whatever candied fruits you like and, really, as many of them as you like.

Spread with spoon (or your clean fingers!) in a greased 9 x 13 pan and bake at 350 for 1/2 hour. Cool and cut into bars.

Fruitcake cookie

Fruitcake cookie

I saved the recipe in my new recipe book. The one I made. Yes, I did.

Finally, a note about a previous post…

I wrote about my recent trip to Kansas where I met long-time writer pals for the very first time after corresponding with them for more than ten years. In looking through my photos of that trip, I came across this one, from the Kansas City Airport:

ks tornado shelter sign

Hmm….I guess they have tornadoes out there sometimes. Would make a great setting for a fantasy tale….

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A twelve-year writer’s journey

About a dozen years ago, I made two amazing friends. We met on the internet through Romance Writers of America. RWA had set up some email discussion groups that proved to be a trove of information, shared by the writers on the groups– on what editors were looking for, how to format manuscripts, contests open to unpublished authors, conferences that were coming up, general encouragement for those of us still struggling to get our books into print and cheerleading for those who got “the call” from agent and/or editor.

Out of the multitude of voices on those lists, two writers and I seemed to click. We started emailing each other privately, off the various lists. It was pure happenstance that of the three of us, two lived in Kansas. (I lived in Vermont at the time, then eventually moved to Pennsylvania.) A spine-tingling discovery, however, was this: when sharing our various addresses, Writer A learned that Writer B was living in a house Writer A had lived in years ago! If any of us had written that into a story, we envisioned an editor red-penciling it with a note: “Too coincidental and not necessary to advance the story. Change.”

Together, we went through the nail-biting waits to hear back from agents and editors, the celebrations when agents offered representation and contracts appeared. Writer B sold first, to a Penguin imprint, Writer A not long after to another Penguin imprint. And, although I’d sold a YA mystery to a small press, I didn’t join my friends in Big Publisher Land until a year or so after them, when I, too, got a call,  from Harlequin offering a contract on a “chick lit” novel.

After we’d all sold, our conversations turned to other topics, but our worries didn’t end. We discussed book marketing, we anguished over the nail-biting wait for sales numbers and reviews, we commiserated when agents and editors were sometimes unresponsive, and we analyzed why some writers were realizing great success and how we could try to emulate them. Or not.

While our correspondence began focused on writing and the publishing business, it moved on to more personal news–deaths in our families, serious illness, our hopes and fears for our children (two of us have kids), job changes, divorce and remarriage for one in the group, a move to another state for me, and the deployment of two sons among us to Afghanistan at roughly the same time. We never stopped talking about writing, but it seemed to consume less and less of our friendly chatter, with more and more attention spent on what really mattered in our lives–our families.

Writers A and B were able to meet during this time, of course, both being in the Sunflower State. But I, hundreds of miles away, never got to see these wonderful women face-to-face. I did talk to them on the phone occasionally–usually conversations when the publishing business was throwing challenges our way. I remember very well being on the phone with Writer B anguishing over whether to drop a prestigious agent whom I believed wasn’t really representing my best interests when said agent interrupted the call for our ultimate break-up talk.

We’ve laughed, too, until we’ve cried, usually over the lunacy we sometimes observe in the book business, getting into ever-more-ridiculous Round Robin emails with each other filled with fantastical scenarios about…well, I won’t tell. 🙂

As much as I wanted to meet them, a big obstacle stood in my way. I’m excruciatingly afraid of flying, a fear I developed later in life for no reason I can figure. It’s such a painful experience that my husband drove us all the way from PA to Mississippi last year to attend our son’s graduation from pilot training at a U.S. Air Force base rather than ask me to get on a plane myself. We enjoyed that journey, but I didn’t want to put him through that kind of long drive again.

But then, our Air Force son got posted to….Kansas. Wichita, to be exact. And he and his wife invited us out for Thanksgiving. My husband started mulling our route, being careful to include a stop to see my writer friends. But I just couldn’t make him give up so much time on the road behind the wheel, simply because I couldn’t bring myself to fly.

The solution: better living through chemistry! I asked a doctor about my problem, and she suggested Valium. It helped tremendously, allowing me to control my nerves.

So, last week, we flew to Kansas City, and at long last–after twelve years of sharing stories with each other (real stories and fictional stories), we finally met! My writer friends and me! They are, from left to right, below: me, Jerri Corgiat and Karen Brichoux. Look them up on Amazon to see what wonderful writers they are.

Me, Jerri Corgiat, Karen Brichoux
Together at last!

I thought the meeting would feel strange, but it felt as if we’d been getting together regularly all these years. Maybe that’s a testament to their writer voices–“hearing” them through their notes for so long, it was as if I’d been seeing them all along. It’s an evening I will treasure, along with the rest of a phenomenal holiday, seeing the wonderful state of Kansas and being lovingly hosted by my son and daughter-in-law in their cozy Wichita home.

I can’t say enough, in fact, about how exciting and fantastic this trip was, from start to finish. Since I focus on many writerly things here, I won’t go into detail about the Wichita visit, but it will be a gilded memory for me–seeing my son and daughter-in-law so happy, and enjoying their company.

Now that this trip is finished, I look forward to future ones–and seeing my friends more often.

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