Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Gone Fishin'

I'm taking a few days off from blogging in order to recreate (or shall I say,"re-create"). I'll be catching up on reading, writing and relaxing, but please do join me back in August.

Happy summer!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Best Blackberry Recipe Contest Winner!

Drumroll, please!!!

We have a winner! The winning contribution for the Best Blackberry Recipe came from writer Jean Ann Williams of Santa Maria, CA. Jean Ann’s recipe, On-Top-of-the-Stove Blackberry Cobbler, has been in her family for three generations and originated in Oregon, the birthplace of Blackberry Banquet. It's one of those old-fashioned recipes that doesn't require many ingredients or measuring because you suit it to your own taste.

Congratulations to Jean Ann and a huge thanks to all of the other entrants. It was fun baking, assembling and tasting the various recipes; and it truly was a difficult decision to make. In fact, I couldn’t decide alone—I ended up soliciting a “panel” of judges for their opinions. What was one judge's comment on Jean's winning entry? "It's like blackberry pie in a cup!" So, without further ado, here is the winning recipe:

By Jean Ann Williams

1. As many blackberries you managed to pick.
2. Sugar to taste and added in before dough strips.
3. Favorite pie dough recipe made with shortening or lard, not butter.

Prepare pie dough for either one or two crust pie, depending on how many berries.

Wash berries in a colander, careful not to squeeze berries and therefore losing juices. Dump into a pot, not filling more than 2/3 full. DO NOT ADD WATER! Simmer on low to medium heat. Stir occasionally. Add the sugar to taste.

Pull an apricot-sized ball of pie dough and roll thin on a cutting board. Cut long strips like for lattice weave about ¾ inches wide. Then, cut the lattice in half to accommodate layering into pot of berries.

Once berries juices flow and thicken and boil slightly, add first layer of dough strips. Let simmer for five minutes to set the dough, and then stir into berries. Repeat the rolling of dough and continue this until all dough is gone or you have enough dough to suit you in cobbler. After last layer of dough is stirred in, let simmer for five more minutes. Take off stove and let cool to warm in the pot or in bowls.

This cobbler is very tasty warm and with a side of ice cream. IF you have leftovers, refrigerate. Eating cold is another treat, but if you wish to reheat, then add a bit of water to stir into bottom of pan so as not to scorch.

I make this for at least twelve servings and use the double pie dough recipe (with maybe a little leftover). We’ve never measured our ingredients, except for the dough and it always comes out tasty. Did I say never add water when making? That is a sure way to lose some of your rich berry flavors. Enjoy! Our family has for three generations.

My own notes: (from Terry)
Because I’m one of those people who likes things in measurements, I'll share the amounts I used:
four 6-oz. containers of berries (fresh berries are unavailable where I live)
½ cup sugar
Also, I kept a lid on the pot while it simmered to retain the heat and “bake” the piecrust pieces.
I served in custard cups with a choice of vanilla ice cream or whipped cream for my judging team.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Blackberry Banquet's Youngest Fan

Children's author Debbi Florence sent me this photo. I think this little cutie pie has got to be Blackberry Banquet's youngest fan (or maybe she's just fascinated by her foot ;-).

It just goes to show that you're never too young to appreciate a good book!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Children's Book Council News

The Children's Book Council has featured Blackberry Banquet on its 2008 July/August "Summertime Fun" list! Check it out--the ten books are about all kinds of summer fun. Pick yourself a reading treat from the list, pour yourself a frosty glass of lemonade, and settle down into a shady spot for some fun and relaxation.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

SCBWI Summer Conference Tips

More Tips for Sailing Through the SCBWI Summer Conference

It’s almost that time again—the SCBWI Summer Conference is rapidly approaching. Unfortunately, I have to miss it this year, but since I’ve been a few times, I thought I’d offer up some tips from my own past experiences.

1. Take a sweater or jacket. While the hotel is lovely, the meeting rooms and ballroom can be freezing! Of course, they can be stiflingly warm too. Take a cue from the Boy Scouts. Be prepared.

2. Map out your sessions. I like to determine my breakout sessions in advance, highlighting which ones pique my interest, but I also keep my ear out for other people who might have heard the speakers in other sessions. That way, if I get a sense that the speaker doesn’t offer what I’m looking for I can change plans. I usually have a first and second choice highlighted on my conference flier. I’ve also found that it helps to read the books of the speakers you know you’ll be hearing.

3. Wear comfortable shoes. Even though we’re in the same hotel all day, there are three levels for conferencing, plus the treks to our rooms and dining opportunities. No one wants his or her piggies to be crying at the end of the day.

4. Food: IMHO, there are slim options for eating at the hotel: one nice restaurant—overpriced in my opinion, a poolside cafĂ©, and the lounge/bar. For lunch, usually there’s a sandwich cart in the hotel lobby (sandwich, chips, soda/water), except on Sunday, due to the Golden Kite Luncheon. Last year, both my roommate and I found the sandwiches dry and overpriced ($7.50 for a sandwich, $3.00 for an apple, $4.50 for a small bottle of water). Oh, and speaking of the Golden Kite Luncheon (or as it’s affectionately called, “the parade of chicken breasts”), the dessert is always to die for! I’ve never been disappointedJ.

For dinners, my pals and I hoof it down the street to the mall (less than ten-minutes) where there is a variety of eateries at the food court. Saturday night we nosh at the poolside gala (a fun munch and mingle kind of thing—live music and a costume contest).
The only eating issue I’ve had is on Sunday night, but what I’ve found to work is that room service, while a bit spendy, offers large enough portions to share with my roommate. Plus, I usually take some snacks with me (fruit, granola bars), so there’s enough to tide me over.

I honestly don’t know much about the breakfasts, other than the muffins, etc. that I’ve seen sold at the lounge/bar. I usually bring some homemade muffins/scones so I don’t have to waste my morning time standing in a line. Last year, the coffeemakers were removed from the rooms (this in new since Hilton took over) but there’s free coffee in the lobby until around 11:00 or so.

5. Bring a book bag and money. Of course, there will be books sold and after hearing all of the fabulous authors, you’ll want to buy their books. Here’s a hot tip: the “cash” line is always shorter than the “credit card” line, so if you’re comfortable with it, bring some spare cash with you (hotel rooms do have safes for locking up your valuables).
Additionally, there are usually freebies (catalogs, posters, writing guidelines from various publishers, promotional materials from authors/illustrators).
Now, I have to say that “freebies” doesn’t mean taking an author’s book from the display table. Eh-hem...yes, one year I took a copy of my new joke book to proudly display and by the end of the first day, someone had stolen it. Yep, stolen it! Can you believe that? And I’ve known other authors who had the same thing happen to them. I’d like to imagine a child somewhere is enjoying that book, and doesn’t know that how it came to land in his hands.

6. Take care of yourself. This is a personal one, because we’re all different, but I’ve learned to allow some “down time” for myself because four days of listening, learning, schmoozing and just plain hanging out with my writer and illustrator pals is fantastically exhausting. I bring a swimsuit for the Jacuzzi. Some folks participate in the yoga class. If you read my post on getting a good night’s sleep while traveling, you know that I bring a headset with quiet music. In essence, take care of yourself! It’s so very easy to overdo it.

7. Step out of your shell (if you have one). I know this is tough for a lot of people. The second conference I attended I didn’t know a single person. It was quite intimidating. I roomed with complete strangers who also didn’t know another soul in attendance. But I immediately discovered that children’s writers are some of the friendliest people on the planet. One way to break the ice with people is to notice where they’re from (it’s on the nametags they give us) and strike up a conversation about that. If you’re waiting for a session to begin, chat with the person next to you. Ask them what kind of writing they do, if they’re published. Heck, you could even ask if they’ve read any good books lately! Remember, we all have a common bond of writing/illustrating for children, so there are a many interesting things to talk about.

8. Parking: If you carpool with a friend, drop the friend and all the luggage off at the hotel front then park the car. It’s a bit of a haul to lug all your bags from the hotel to the parking structure in the back. Or you can use the valet parking (for an extra fee).

9. Etiquette: Please don’t shove your manuscript under a restroom stall at an editor. It makes us all look bad. Manners, manners, manners! And I’m serious.

10. Expectations. Don’t expect to come home with a book contract in hand. That just doesn’t happen. What you will come home with is 1) newfound knowledge and insight, 2) new friends/colleagues, 3) editorial hope. By this, I mean that you will have heard editors speak and have the hope that because you better understand what their needs are, your work might find a place with them. This takes time—time for you to go home and re-evaluate your work (now that you have this newfound knowledge), time to further polish it, time to compose a well-thought out cover letter, and time for the editor to read it. That’s your hope.

Notes from last year:

11. Coffee-aholics: Request a coffeemaker for your room, or bring you own (I have a small single-cup coffeemaker I got from Brookstone that I love). Last year, there was a Starbucks in the hotel lobby, but if you don’t want to leave your room for your morning cup o’ joe, then you should plan in advance.

12. Manuscript Critique. If you’re doing a paid ms critique, bring an extra copy for you to make marks on as your reviewer is making comments. And write down in advance any questions you have. It’s easy to forget questions when nerves get a stranglehold on you.

Enjoy and happy conferencing!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Catching Up: Recipe Contest Reminder + More

Time is sailing by during my visit to Oregon. I had a fun reading of Blackberry Banquet last weekend at the Hood River Library, followed by a book signing at the Waucoma Bookstore, a fabulous indie located in downtown Hood River. The folks there are terrific and I’m happy to say the store is going strong. They have a nice children’s section and are they’re very supportive of local educators. It's my kind of bookstore!

I also wanted to remind folks that only two days are left to enter the Blackberry Recipe Contest I’m holding here on my blog. The deadline is July 10. Please scroll down to find the contest details. I’m salivating just thinking about all of the delicious recipes I get to make in helping me determine a winner; and for those of you who are waiting to the last minute (perhaps adding a final touch to that perfect blackberry cheesecake recipe), I’m looking forward to receiving your recipes soon.

Happy baking!