Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Great Barrier Reef

Not only is Australia blessed with some of the most incredible geography on the planet, it is also home to one of the world’s most phenomenal wonders: The Great Barrier Reef. Abounding with an unimaginable variety of sea life, this reef is big enough to be seen from space! It is the largest coral reef in the world, comprising over 3,000 reef systems and hundreds of tropical islands.

If you love SCUBA diving or snorkeling, this is the THE place to go! The colors, creatures and spectacular undersea beauty will take your brea…
um, oxygen away. Even if you’ve never submerged your head, you can sign up for a beginner’s dive or snorkel trip. Diving expeditions depart daily from most of the coastal resorts. No matter where you stay on the reef, you are never more than 20-60 minutes away (by boat) from an excellent dive spot.

So where does one stay to see the reef? Queensland has several great cities with lovely coastal resorts. Here are a few:

Cairns (at left) is a sophisticated city and a perfect place from which to explore Tropical North Queensland with access to the World Heritage listed Reef, Rainforest and Outback.

Townsville sits on Ross Creek and is encircled by many interesting towns and places to see, such as Charters Towers and Ayr. The Great Barrier Reef sprawls to the east,
the Outback beckons to the west, and islands and rainforest entice to the north. Explore away!

In Rockhampton (at right), situated on the Fitzroy River, you’ll be near the beautiful Capricorn Coast
beaches. It is partially surrounded by mountain ranges and is known as the Beef Capital of Australia (complete with a variety of bull statues). Here you can rent a houseboat, peruse the galleries, visit the Cliff Kershaw Gardens or test your bush-walking skills to reach the Mt. Archer Lookout.

While you’re visiting Australia, be sure to sample one of the Aussies’ favorite desserts! Pavlova was named for the Russian ballet dancer Anna Pavlova, who enjoyed this dessert while visiting Australia. It has a crispy meringue outside and a sweet, marshmallowy inside. It is usually topped with whipped cream and a variety of colorful fruits.


4 large egg whites

1 cup superfine (castor) sugar
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1/2 tablespoon cornstarch

1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 1/2 tablespoons granulated white sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Fresh fruit - kiwi, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, passion fruit, peaches, pineapple, or other fruit of your choice

Preheat oven to 250 degrees and place rack in center of oven.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and draw a 7- inch circle on the paper.

Beat the egg whites on medium-high speed until they hold soft peaks. Start adding the sugar, a tablespoon at a time, and continue to beat until the meringue holds very stiff peaks. (Test to make sure the meringue feels smooth, not gritty. If it feels gritty the sugar has not fully dissolved.) Sprinkle the vinegar and cornstarch over the top of the meringue and, with a rubber spatula, fold in.

Gently spread the meringue inside the circle drawn on the parchment paper, smoothing the edges, making sure the edges of the meringue are slightly higher than the center. (You want a slight well in the center of the meringue to place the whipped cream and fruit.)

Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until the outside is dry and takes on a very pale cream color. Turn the oven off, leave the door slightly ajar, and let the meringue cool completely in the oven. (The outside of the meringue will feel firm to the touch, if gently pressed, but as it cools you will get a little cracking and you will see that the inside is soft and marshmallowy.)

The cooled meringue can be made and stored in a cool dry place, in an airtight container, for a few days. Just before serving gently place the meringue onto a serving plate. Whip the cream until soft peaks form. Sweeten with the sugar and vanilla and then mound the softly whipped cream into the center of the meringue. Arrange the fruit randomly, or in a decorative pattern, on top of the cream. Serve immediately as this dessert does not hold for more than a few hours. Serves 6 to 8.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Breathtaking Australia

Famous for koalas, cowboys and wide open spaces, Australia is rugged beauty at its best. Beneath its blue waters is the largest reef on the planet, attracting divers from every corner of the world. Mesmerizing colors and otherworldly plants and creatures inhabit the famous Great Barrier Reef, home of the great white shark and colorful butterfly fish. On land, the beauty continues, with volcanoes, gorges, forests, deserts, waterfalls and the amazing outback. Clearly, there is far too much to cover with one blog entry, so for starters, let’s look at a few great places to visit on the western side of this amazing continent.

Australia has six states—New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Victoria, Western Australia and Tasmania (an island off the southern coast of Victoria). There are also two major mainland territories—the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory (ACT).

The Gibb River Road winds through parts of The Kimberly, a wild, remote and dramatically stunning region in the northern part of Western Australia. Taking a trip along this road will prove to be an adventure you’ll never forget. With scenery that inspired the “Australia” movie, this road will take you on a journey through cascading waterfalls, plateaus, lush forests. You’ll also see open woodlands of gum trees and rivers lined with palms and paperbark trees. Stop and take a scenic flight to experience the true majesty of The Kimberly landscape.
Stop again to hike through Mitchell Plataeu, where the thundering Mitchell Falls will take your breath away! As you follow the road, you’ll come to Mitchell River National Park, home to other beautiful terrain including Merton Falls, Surveyors Pool, the Mitchell and King Edward Rivers. You’ll be amazed by the many ancient rock art sites, most of which have remained untouched for thousands of years.

In The Kimberly’s King Leopold Range Conservation Park, beautiful Bell Gorge is the place for a refreshing swim among scenic water cascades and folded rock formations created over thousands of years. Your camera will get plenty of action here, as Bell Gorge is one of the picturesque gorges in The Kimberly. You can even go camping very close to the gorge. Bell Gorge is about an hour’s drive off the Gibb River Road four wheel drive track, east of Derby.

In my next post, I’ll take you on a virtual underwater trip through Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, and share an Aussie recipe as well.

Monday, November 1, 2010

And The Winner Is....

Congratulations to Amber Robinson, winner of If It Weren't For Us Christians, There'd Be A Lot More Christians!

Amber is the author of Mercy Rising and is heavily involved with Compassion International. You can check out her Website at

Do you have a country that you would like to see featured next (or soon)? Leave a comment and I will put it at the top of my list! And if you have an interesting experience or great recipe to share from someplace you've visited, please mention it and I'll contact you by email.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

If It Weren't For Us Christians...

Huge congrats to my friend Bobby Weaver, whose debut book, If it Weren’t For Us Christians, There’d Be A Lot More Christians, was released earlier this month.


Bobby uses wit, humor and plenty of real life experience to examine some misguided attempts at the “Great Commission.” Without trying to be overly preachy, he has taken a candid approach to suggest Christians rethink their "witness" while being a witness. If it Weren't for Us Christians, is now available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Crossover Publications websites.

So…what sort of examples does he use? Here’s just a taste:

* A pastor in North Carolina leads his congregation to vote nine members out of the church. According to him their sin was voting for the wrong man in the presidential election.

* Two competing churches in Florida put up opposing billboards. One declares, “There ain’t no hell!” The other counters with, “The hell there ain’t!”

* A young man following a car with a “Honk If You Love Jesus” bumper sticker, honks his horn and gets the middle finger from the driver.

Bobby: These are just a few actual examples that have led me to believe that some of us must interpret the Great Commission like this: “Go into the world and scare off as many people from the Christian faith as we possibly can.” Let’s face it, when it comes to spreading the Gospel, we can often be our own worst enemy.

Bobby’s Background: From opening nearly 1,000 retail stores to starting a national newspaper chain, Bobby Weaver seemed to have it all…with one possible exception…a relationship with God. You see, Bobby was on a wrong-way journey when God had another idea and used the most unlikely fellow to help. Would you believe Howard Stern? Yes, the radio shock jock. It was the middle of October in 1996 when Bobby told Howard off on a live radio show. But, believe it or not, it was Howard’s response that ended up totally revolutionizing Bobby’s life.

So, Bobby…Why did you write this book?

A. Well, I knew this one person who loved to judge others. In fact, he did it all the time. And he was one of the worst hypocrites I had ever met. He could talk the talk with the best of them, but when it came to walking the walk, well, that was a different story. I hate to say this about him, but he was one of the most disgusting people I've ever met. Guess where I met him? In a bar? In a topless joint? No, I met him in a mirror. It was me. Once God finally got my attention, he was kind enough to let me live another day, but I'm thinking it was my turn to do something for him...hence, the book.

Wow...that's some pretty honest self-reflection. A lot of people shy away from looking that closely at themselves. Why should people read your book?

A. Because my baby needs a new pair of shoes. No, seriously, I honestly believe that a lot of us Christians do things VERY UNINTENTIONALLY to scare off others from our faith. Some of us (not all, but some) use questionable language, we occasionally gossip, we drive like a NASCAR driver and advertise it with our Christian bumper sticker, and on and on. I have had several people say after reading the book that it points out subtle things we do without ever realizing it. But to keep this book from being a preachy, boring book, I relied on my days as a publisher of Beach Bull to offer this serious matter laced with humor. My favorite comment I have heard about the book is "I couldn't put it down." Of course, I paid them $25 them to say that. (Smiley face goes here!)

Thanks, Bobby! Your answers definitely make me want to read the book, which will be arriving in my mailbox any day now. Remember, all you need to do is leave a comment for a chance to win If It Weren’t For Us Christians….

Since Bobby hails from Florida, let’s go with a Florida recipe for today:


• 3 Tbs. soy sauce
• 1 Tbs. honey
• 1 Tbs. vegetable oil
• 1 tsp. lime juice
• 1 tsp. chopped garlic
• 4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves


1. In a shallow container, blend soy sauce, honey, vegetable oil, lime juice, and garlic. Place chicken breast halves into the mixture, and turn to coat. Cover, and marinate in the refrigerator at least 30 minutes.
2. Lightly oil outdoor grill grate and preheat grill for high heat.
3. Discard marinade, and grill chicken 6 to 8 minutes on each side, until juices run clear.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Cruising Around New Zealand

Many thanks to fellow-traveler Karen Robbins, my guest blogger for today. Unlike me, Karen has actually been to New Zealand! Read about her adventure, then stop by and visit her blog at

Green fields spotted with white lambs. Rocky coastal areas with albatross, soaring above. Towns reminiscent of Scottish heritage. Dramatic cliffs rising
from the sea protecting harbors of quiet waters and lush green foliage. A city vibrant with the enthusiasm of a great sailing event. These are the things I remember most from our visit to New Zealand.

Our trip to New Zealand, the land of the Kiwi, was back in 2000. It was a Millennium Cruise that began in Auckland in January—the middle of summer in the southern hemisphere. The first round eliminations for the Americas Cup were being conducted and we enjoyed watching the activity as the large sailboats came into the harbor after the races and crews rushed to get them out of the water and cover the keels least someone should copy their secret design.

We stayed one night in Auckland before boarding a Princess Cruise ship to begin our cruise down the east coast of New Zealand and over to Australia. It was a wonderful way to get an introduction to the country.

Our first stop was in the Bay of Islands to the north of Auckland. We anchored in the middle of them and took an excursion in a smaller boat around several interesting natural formations and explored a bit of Urupukapuka Island where Zane Gray is said to have stayed when he came to fish in the area. Serene and exotic, I can imagine he was inspired whether the fish were biting or not.

The Maoris named our next stop Tauranga which means “resting place for canoes.” This was one of the first places the Maoris arrived in New Zealand. In 1769, Captain Cook arrived. His reception here was a little calmer than some of the other places he explored. We had a full day as we explored the Roturura Lake countryside with stops to see some of the wildlife represented at a farm/zoo. The elusive kiwi bird was only a stuffed specimen since the kiwi are entirely night creatures and very shy. At the sheep farm, we watched a demonstration of sheep dogs at work and farmers sheering wool.

At a Maori Village, we were immersed in their culture as we participated in a meal that had been cooked in a fire pit (or so we were told). Pork, sweet potatoes, and all sorts of local produce were arranged in pots at a buffet-style lunch. The Maoris have a strange custom that the men perform. To make themselves look fierce and scare enemies away, they stick their tongues out. We tried not to giggle.

The town of Napier is known for their wool production. Wool was the number one industry in New Zealand for a long time but has since been replaced by tourism. At a nearby sheep farm and processing plane, we watched the sheering, cleaning, dyeing and processing of the sheep skins.
Our last stop on the north island of New Zealand was Wellington, the capital of the country and the birthplace of writer, Katherine Mansfield, who seemed from the literature we read to be a kind of Virginia Wolf personality. She lived from 1888 – 1923. Large red pom-pom type blooms graced tree branches throughout the city’s gardens. They called it the New Zealand Christmas tree because it always blooms around that time of year.

Christchurch, about a third of the way down the east coast of the south island is described as the most English city outside England. Its gardens, 19th century architecture, and antique trams give the city a quaint feeling of Victorian England. The port town of Littleton was easily explored on foot and the harbor area we toured by boat, gave us pastoral scenes of green hills dotted with sheep. Christchurch is also one of the places from which Antarctic exploration teams leave for their tours of duty.

Originally a Presbyterian Scottish settlement, Dunedin, the city located at the head of the Otago harbor maintains its Scottish ambience. While the city is a delight to explore, I found the harbor even more so. It abounds with wildlife. We saw seals, little blue penguins, cormorants, terns, and the big attraction, the albatross. These birds were amazing with a huge wing span that made them look like small jet planes in the air. We were not allowed near the nesting area but from our perch on the sight-seeing boat, we could see a ranger sitting next to one of the large birds. The ranger was probably about six feet tall but sitting, he was smaller than the albatross.

The southernmost part of New Zealand was the most spectacular of the coast line that we saw. We spent a day cruising through Dusky Sound, Doubtful Sound, and into Milford Sound, the most spectacular of the fjords. When we stopped to pick up some passengers who had done an overland/overnight excursion, we could see in the distance snow capped mountains.

As we turned and cruised into the twilight, out toward the Tasman Sea, we bid farewell to the beauty and serenity of New Zealand with a promise to return to the land of the Kiwi.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Land of the Kiwi

Let’s go under the Land Down Under to an almost surreal place of lush rainforests, steaming volcanoes, breathtaking beaches and bigger-than-life fiords. New Zealand is roughly the size of Colorado, but it’s amazing scenery and unusual creatures make it a popular destination for playing, relaxing and thrill-seeking.

The photo at left is Mt. Tongariro, one of three active volcanoes that dominate the landscape of the North Island. It's dramatic beauty made it the perfect spot to shoot parts of the Lord of the Rings triology! I heard parts of Jurassic Park were filmed there as well...or somewhere in NZ.

About a quarter of the country is forested and, thank goodness, protected from exploitation. Let’s hope it stays that way. Only about 4 million people call New Zealand home, making it one of the world’s least crowded countries. If you’re looking for peace, quiet, wide open spaces or deep, dense forests with ginormous ferns...this is the place to go.

Stop by next week for the scoop on places to stay, things to do and a bit about this small country's unusual wildlife. For now, take a look at this New Zealand recipe that would make a perfect Halloween dinner! (And don't worry about trying to find New Zealand pumpkins -- good old American pumpkins work just fine.)

Printed from COOKS.COM
2 med. size New Zealand pumpkins
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 round onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
Minced garlic
1 1/2 lb. ground beef, turkey or chicken
1 lg. can sliced mushrooms
1 can cream of chicken soup
2 tbsp. shoyu (soy sauce)
2 tbsp. brown or raw sugar
1 (8 oz.) can water chestnuts, chopped
1 1/2 c. cooked rice
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Wash pumpkins; cut a round hole on top of each pumpkin and use as a cover while baking. Remove seeds and pulp. Set pumpkins aside.
Saute onion, celery and garlic in oil; add ground meat and brown well. Drain excess fat. Add mushrooms, soup, shoyu and sugar. Simmer 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add water chestnuts and cooked rice. Spoon half of mixture in one pumpkin shell and the other half in second pumpkin shell. Place on baking sheet and bake 1 hour or until pumpkin meat is fork tender. Remove and serve hot, scooping out filling as well as pumpkin meat.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Whirlwind Weekend in Indy

Four days at the American Christian Fiction Writers Conference in Indianapolis left my head spinning, but definitely in a GOOD way! The whole experience was a God-given gift, filled with learning, laughter, seeing old friends, meeting new ones, worshipping together and pitching my book to editors. Once again, my sister Patt joined me for the conference. Her presence is always the icing on the cake. Our keynote speaker was Tim Downs, an amazing author who is funny, inspirational and encouraging. We each received a copy of his new book, Wonders Never Cease. Can't wait to read it!

The Hyatt Regency was beautiful and the food was fabulous, especially if you like asparagus, which was served for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Mostly breakfast -- go figure.

And now...the photos. I will attempt to put these in order, but I suspect when I post it they will no longer be in order, so good luck placing names and faces!

Top row, from left to right: 1. Me and my wonderful agent, Terry Burns; 2. Pam Meyers, Donn Taylor and Susan Lyttek; 3. Normandie Ward Fischer and Roger Bruner. Second row: 1. A nice person I met but didn't get her name, Bonnie Calhoun, Terry Burns; 2. My amazing sister, Patt Nicholls; 3. Suzanne Hartmann and Bill Garrison.

Check out this recipe for creme brulee, which was served at the Sunday night awards banquet. It was topped with a cookie (pecan sandy, I believe) half dipped in chocolate. Yum!

Creme Brulee
(Recipe from Alton Brown of Food Network's Good Eats)

1 quart heavy cream
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
1 cup vanilla sugar, divided
6 large egg yolks
2 quarts hot water

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Place the cream, vanilla bean and its pulp into a medium saucepan set over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat, cover and allow to sit for 15 minutes. Remove the vanilla bean and reserve for another use.
In a medium bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup sugar and the egg yolks until well blended and it just starts to lighten in color. Add the cream a little at a time, stirring continually. Pour the liquid into 6 (7 to 8-ounce) ramekins. Place the ramekins into a large cake pan or roasting pan. Pour enough hot water into the pan to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake just until the creme brulee is set, but still trembling in the center, approximately 40 to 45 minutes. Remove the ramekins from the roasting pan and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 3 days.

Remove the creme brulee from the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes prior to browning the sugar on top. Divide the remaining 1/2 cup vanilla sugar equally among the 6 dishes and spread evenly on top. Using a torch, melt the sugar and form a crispy top. Allow the creme brulee to sit for at least 5 minutes before serving.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Indianapolis or Bust

I'll soon be heading out to Indianapolis, Indiana for the 3-day American Christian Fiction Writers conference which is sure to be always. There is nothing like spending time with "your own kind of people." In this case, fellow Christians who also happen to love writing and reading fiction. There will be writers from novices to best-selling authors, as well as editors and agents. I will have the opportunity to spend some time with my agent and many friends who I only get to see once a year. Additionally, I will have time to talk with editors in hopes they will take interest in my manuscripts. Prayers welcome!

No doubt the meals will be fabulous! Look for a post on Indianapolis next week, complete with a recipe based on one of my scrumptious hotel meals.

Thank you to all who wrote to tell me they enjoyed the interview with author Cynthia Ruchti. Those who left comments were entered into a drawing for her latest release, A Door County Christmas.


Kathryn Page Camp!

Congratulations, Kathryn!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Lighthouses and Fish Boils

Welcome to the Cape Cod of the West, complete with 10 lighthouses, 5 beautiful state parks and 300 miles of shoreline! Door County, Wisconsin is located on a peninsula surrounded by the cool blue waters of Lake Michigan. It is a place of endless beaches, fish boils, breathtaking sunrises and art galleries. Here you can do it all, or do nothing at all. Some of the favorite area activities are winery tours, lighthouse tours, biking, canoeing, antiquing and fishing. And if you like beaches, grab a towel and get ready for Midwest beaches at their best! Flat or dunes, crowded or secluded. You can go wild on a wave runner or sit quietly with a good book. Morning person? Watch the sun rise over the eastern side. Night owl? Enjoy a golden sunset on the western side.

If you go, check out the Sturgeon Bay Fish Canal and Coast Guard Station. It may not sound like the primo vacation stop, but you won’t be disappointed. The lighthouse and breakwater pier are two of the most photographed subjects in the country. Or…visit Mountain Park on Washington Island and climb the 184 steps to the top of the wooden lookout tower for an amazing view of Door Country.

Like eating? Fish boils are one of the big things here. They are often done outside in a big kettle over a fire, but you can make a stovetop version too. (See recipe below.) Basically a fish boil is fish, potatoes and onions all boiled together in salted water. Not a fish lover? Don’t worry – there’s plenty of other good stuff to eat in Door County! Here’s a link to Door County’s Dining Guide and Fish Boils brochure:


Notes: Use large fish such as lake trout, browns, steelhead, whitefish or coho. Fresh fish are preferred but frozen may also be used. Allow frozen fish to stand at room temperature until they have thawed. Select or cut uniform size potatoes to insure proper cooking. Use scrubbed new potatoes if available. Cut a thin slice from each end. Do not peel.
Onions optional. Peel whole fresh onions. Allow one per portion.

6 med. sized potatoes
6 onions (optional)
1 c. salt
4 lbs. fresh fish steaks (about 12 steaks)
Drawn butter, parsley and lemon

1. Heat 5 quarts water. Bring to boil.
2. Boil potatoes with salt 18 minutes; place potatoes in basket and lower into boiling water. Cover. Bring to a boil. Add onions and 1 cup salt. Cover and start on medium heat. Boil 18 minutes. Regulate heat to produce a steady roll action boil with vents open.
3. Boil fish 12 minutes and test for doneness: add fish. Cover and boil 12 minutes. To test for doneness spear a potato and a fish steak. Do not over cook. The cooking time may vary 2-3 minutes either way depending upon the size of the potatoes and the size of the fish steaks. Cook fish only until it can be flaked easily with fork.
4. Drain and serve with drawn butter, parsley and lemon.
5. Trimmings: Cole slaw, pickles, garlic bread, butter for potatoes, a beverage and pie are the traditional fare of the fish boil.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Two Great Books - One Great State

Wonderful, wild, woodsy Wisconsin is one of my favorite states – maybe because of so many great vacation memories with family and friends. I love the big sky, the cornfields and cow pastures, the broken down barns. Lakes and rivers abound, and oh, when the sun sets over a Wisconsin lake, it looks like a little piece of Heaven. And here’s a confession, I even love the tacky, touristy, Water Park Capital of the World. Yep, Wisconsin Dells, with its endless shops full of tee-shirts, Indian moccasins, wooden boxes, fudge and cheese, has a special place in my heart.

Today I’d like to introduce an author whose debut novel is set in Wisconsin. Cynthia Ruchti’s first book, They Almost Always Come Home, is catching rave reviews nationwide and beyond. The plot revolves around Libby and Greg, whose marriage is sputtering in the wake of their daughter's death, for which Greg is responsible. Libby considers leaving, until she is faced with the prospect of becoming a widow when Greg fails to return from a solo trip to the Canadian wilderness. Libby enlists the help of her father-in-law and best friend as she searches for Greg. What the trio discovers topples Libby’s presumptions about her husband and rearranges her faith.

In addition to her novel, Cynthia also has a novella in a 4-author collection titled A Door County Christmas, also set in Wisconsin, which just released on Wednesday, Sept. 1. Here’s Amazon’s

Peer behind the closed doors of a Wisconsin tourist town gone dormant for the winter season. Watch as the drama and romance start to heat up—just as Lola the innkeeper promised her four single friends a year ago when she gifted them with her prayers and a Christmas cactus. Will each woman find love—along with cactus blooms—as promised?

LEAVE A COMMENT FOR A COPY OF A DOOR COUNTY CHRISTMAS! (And check out my next post for more about beautiful Door County, located on a peninsula in northeast Wisconsin.)

And now, meet Cynthia!

Q. They Almost Always Come Home is quite a success story, but writers know these dreams don’t come true overnight. How long have you been trying to get it published?

A. For 31 years, I’ve written short bits of fiction for the radio drama/devotional program The Heartbeat of the Home. But it wasn’t until just a few years ago that I seriously pursued the idea of writing a complete novel or novella. When I attended ACFW’s (then ACRW) first national conference in Kansas City, the pursuit kicked into higher gear. That was in 2002. In 2008, this project—They Almost Always Come Home—was a Genesis Contest finalist. Within a month after receiving that honor, the project was contracted with Abingdon Press Fiction. Because of the subject matter of the story, I’d have to say I’ve been working on the plot for all of my married life!

Q. What is the message you’re hoping readers get from your book?

A. Although the story is driven by the characters and their adventures, both emotional and physical, a breeze blows through each scene. It smells like hope. It caresses wounded souls. It glows in the dark. It whispers the words, “Take another look.” At life. At love. At marriage. At faith. At friendship.

Q. That answer is certainly a testament to your writing skills. It's no wonder the book is a success! A Door County Christmas just released a few days ago. What are your hopes for it and what is next on your writing agenda?

A. I can picture A Door County Christmas (Barbour Publishing Christmas novella collection with Eileen Key, Rachael Phillips, and Becky Melby) as a fun hostess gift, Christmas present, thank you for a teacher or Sunday school teacher, or even a Joy-to-the-World gift for a friend or secret pal. Each of the four stories celebrates the wonder of humor, the delight of a great setting, the fact that we’re all “characters,” and the awe of the Savior’s birth. It’s style is far more lighthearted than They Almost Always Come Home, but I hope my readers find the same “voice” in both books…and those yet to come. I’m waiting word on a couple of projects that are dear to my heart.

Q. Do you have a favorite recipe to share with Taste the World followers?

A. My husband and I planted blueberries in our Wisconsin yard a couple of years ago. They’ll soon yield enough of a harvest to make one of my favorite easy recipes. It’s as refreshing as an iced dessert.


In a custard cup, put a half cup of blueberries (fresh are great, but frozen are even better). Drop a generous tablespoon of sour cream on top of the berries. Sprinkle with a teaspoon or more of brown sugar (dark brown sugar deepens the flavor). That’s it. There’s something about the cool berries, the smooth sour cream, and the sweetening of the brown sugar that meld into lusciousness. Blueberry DEEEEE-light!

Thank you, Cynthia. It has been a pleasure to virtually meet you! Can't wait to see you in flesh-n-blood at the ACFW conference.

Learn more about Cynthia and her books on these websites:

Monday, August 30, 2010

Dreaming of Seychelles

Exotic Seychelles, located off the coast of East Africa, is the ninth smallest country in the world. A pilot friend of mine once referred to it as Europe’s Hawaii, and said its dramatic geography takes your breath away. From the photos I’ve seen, he’s right!

Seychelles (pronounced say shells) is an archipelago of 115 islands
in the Indian Ocean. Just over 80,000 people call these islands home. Most of the islands are granitic (a new word for me). They have huge granite boulders like those seen in the photo. These boulders, combined with the lovely sand, colorful flowers and pristine waters combine to make Seychelles’ beaches among the most stunning in the world.

As you might imagine, Seychelles is a diver’s paradise. The island reefs are blessed with prolific marine life including Butterfly, Angel and Soldier fish, as well as octopus, spiny lobster and a plethora of nudibranchs, such as the Spanish Dancer (see photo). Don’t feel bad if you’ve never heard of a nudibranch. I’m a diver and wasn’t familiar with the term either. It’s a shell-less mollusk, like a snail without a shell. They can be flat or rounded like a worm and come in amazingly brilliant colors.

The land has many types of wildlife as well. In fact, the island of Aldabra has the largest population of giant tortoises in the world. Amidst the islands you’ll also find some of the rarest flora and fauna on Earth!

All this writing is making me hungry. Time to turn to FOOD! Here’s a great banana-type dessert for those of you with a sweet tooth. (The black things in the photo are vanilla pods.)

Daube de Banane

* 1 vanilla pod, split
1 tsp. ground nutmeg
2 ½ cups coconut milk
3 cinnamon sticks
3 large ripe plantains
3 Tbs. sugar
1 tsp. salt

Peel the plantains, cut in half and then half again lengthwise. Place the cinnamon leaves or sticks in the bottom of a pan. Place the cut plantains on top (with the cut side uppermost) then sprinkle the sugar, salt and nutmeg powder on top. Add the split vanilla pod (see note) then cover with the coconut milk. Bring to a boil and cook for 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium and cook for a further 35 minutes. Arrange on a plate and serve.

*Note: I don’t know how easy it is to find a vanilla pod in U.S. stores. I may be tempted to substitute a teaspoon of vanilla extract.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Belgium's Bruges

My last post featured author Maureen Lang, whose new release, Whisper on the Wind, is primarily set in Belgium. For a chance to win her book, leave a comment on this post or the previous one by Friday, Aug. 13 – maybe this Friday the 13th will be your lucky day! And speaking of winners, Lynda Schab won the copy of Lost Island Smugglers by Max Elliot Anderson!

Now….more about breathtaking Belgium!

Belgium is made up of three regions:

Brussles is the diplomatic center of Europe, as it is home to both the European Union and NATO.

Flanders is flat and home to Antwerp, Bruges, and Ghent.
Wallonia contains the Ardennes Mountains with extensive forests, rolling hills and age old mountains. This area is also home to the Ardennes horse, one of the oldest breeds of draft horse. Just look at the muscles on that beautiful creature!

As in any country, there are so many wonderful places to visit in Belgium, but today I’m going to focus on just one – Bruges, considered by some to be the “Venice of the North.” With it’s picturesque canals, historic Old Town (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), cobblestone streets and medieval structures, Bruges is a tourists delight. I like that you can get around without a car – walking and boating is really all you need in this very popular and pretty city. If you go, don’t miss Belfry Tower (88 steps to the top!) in the Market Square, and romantic Minnewater Park. Also in Bruges you’ll find the famous Church of Our Lady where you can view the painting of the Madonna by Michelangelo and the Gothic tombs of Burgundy. You gotta love Gothic tombs!

And what would a post on Belgium be without a mention of chocolate? To many, Belgium chocolatiers make the best in the world. Try this recipe from Wittamer Chocolatier in Brussles. And if you go, be sure to take a chocolate tour. Your concierge can arrange one for you. Would that be awesome, or what?

Wittamer's Belgian Hot Chocolate
Four to six servings
Use real Belgium chocolate for best results.

Adapted from The Great Book of Chocolate

1 quart half-and-half or whole milk
8 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
4 ounces milk chocolate, finely chopped
tiny pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1. Warm about one-third of the half-and-half or milk, with the chopped chocolates and salt, stirring until the chocolate is melted.

2. Whisk in the remaining half-and-half or milk, heating until the mixture is warmed through. Add the cinnamon.

3. Use a hand-held blender, or a whisk, and mix the hot chocolate until it's completely smooth. Serve very warm.

At Wittamer, it's served with a poof of whipped cream and chocolate curls.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Breathtaking Belgium

Beautiful Belgium is the setting for a new release by Maureen Lang, author of 7 books including one of my favorites, My Sister Dilly. (Check it out, you won’t be sorry!) Slated for publication next month, Whisper on the Wind takes place in Brussels at the height of World War I. A small, underground newspaper is the only way for the frightened people of this occupied city to receive news of the war, but publishing it is a dangerous pursuit for Edward Kirkland. When Isa Lassone, a Belgian-American socialite, tries to rescue him, she is drawn into his world, as well as his heart.

Note from Maureen: Technically Whisper on the Wind is the second book in The Great War series, but after deciding to take the cover art for the series in a new direction, we’ve pulled the first book, Look to the East (winner of the Inspirational Reader’s Choice Contest and finalist in the Carol Award). So for the time being Look to the East isn’t available, at least until we design a new cover -- but it will be re-released late next year after Springtime of the Spirit, the next book in the series. Each book is an entirely independent read with a new set of characters, making all of this possible. I guess you might call Look to the East with its upcoming new look the 3rd book and this one, Whisper on the Wind, the new first!

Q. Maureen, did you travel to Brussels to research this book? If so, please tell us a bit about the city and some of your favorite spots.

A. I was thrilled to go to Belgium a couple of years ago when I was in the editing phase of writing this book. Walking the same steps my characters would have walked was unbelievably exciting! But it was also practical, because it gave me such a strong sense of “place.” History is a huge factor over there, and they certainly haven’t forgotten this period. There is a number of WWI monuments, and the people we spoke to very knowledgeable about what went on during the First World War (1914-1918). So much of their country was occupied, and so many battles were fought on their land—so many lives lost—that they will probably never forget.

I have so many favorite memories of my trip there, but I would have to say one of my favorite spots was the center of Brussels, the Grand Place. In my story, the Germans make their headquarters right here. It was easy to imagine the sound of German boots on the cobble stone, lines of soldiers snaking through the narrow arteries leading to this lovely square—so full of dramatic history. I loved it, and from the pictures I’m sure you can see why.

Speaking of how the Belgians recall First World War history, this is a picture of the Menin Gate in the city of Ypres (pronounced E-pra but I also heard it called “Eeps” by at least one local). Every single night of the year they gather to remember those who gave their lives on Belgian soil to defend Belgian’s right to independence. A ceremony every night of the year! Buglers play, soldiers march, and descendants of those who died place a wreath of poppies on the monument. It’s incredibly moving.

Q. How many books will there be in The Great War series? Do you have them all planned out?

A. As mentioned above, we’ve done a bit of juggling so Whisper on the Wind unveils the new look for the series. The next book is titled Springtime of the Spirit and is set just after the war has ended, and then we’ll backtrack to Look to the East with its new look (yet to be designed). So there will be a total of three books in the series, each book containing a stand-alone story.

Q. Tell us about the main characters in Whisper on the Wind. Why is Edward willing to risk his life to publish the newspaper, and what is Isa’s motivation for rescuing him?

A. Although my character Edward wasn’t born in Belgium, it’s been his homeland for most of his life. When Germany invades Belgium on its way to conquer France, Edward wants to join the fight—but not being a citizen, he’s prevented from joining the small Belgian army. Germany, of course, completely overwhelms the Belgians and one of the first things the Germans do is take over all of the newspapers. Edward joins a small group of patriotic Belgians to produce a lone voice of opposition, one that gives the Belgian people hope and basically thumbs its nose against the German army. What makes this story so special to me is that it’s based on an actual newspaper of the time, La Libre Belgique (Free Belgium) which is still in print today.

In the story, my heroine Isa was taken to America just before the German invasion, and it takes her two years to smuggle herself back into the occupied country to bring Edward and his mother out. But while Edward wants his mother to go, he refuses to leave because he won’t give up working on the paper. It’s dangerous and few people will risk so much for it Isa soon wants to join him. Of course, being the heroine, she won’t take no for an answer. Together they risk their lives to offer hope to an occupied country, and Edward finally sees Isa for what she is: all grown up and in love with him. It doesn’t take Edward long to realize just how grown up —and irresistible — she is.

Q. Can we get a sneak peak at the next book in the series?
A. As I mentioned, Springtime of the Spirit is the title of the next book, which will release in the spring of 2011. Being German myself, I’ve always wanted to write a book where the Germans are finally the sympathetic characters. At this time in history, just before the brief German Weimar Republic was established, all of Germany was in terrible turmoil. They basically had to redefine what kind of government they wanted, and as with many power shifts of history, this one came with bloodshed. Basically my heroine is torn between a communist revolutionary and a soldier who only wants what’s best for her—but because of the guilt she carries from her father’s war profiteering, she isn’t sure which man can bring her happiness—each with such different politics and faith. The story was not only a fun challenge to write, but I learned a lot!

To find out more about Maureen Lang and her books, go to

Q. Do you have a Belgium recipe to share with Taste the World readers?

A. I found this recipe online, and added some notes and modification. It’s certainly tasty, but in the end I did have a little trouble cutting the slices. I admit I’ve never called myself a great cook, and I firmly believe there is an art to candy making (a gift I evidently don’t have!). But I thought the name was so fun I had to share!

Blood Sausage Candy
1 pound of milk chocolate (I used Dove because that’s my favorite)
1 square of unsweetened baker’s chocolate
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla, but use 1½ if using imitation flavoring
1 cup chopped nuts, I used regular peanuts for a familiar candy-bar flavor but if you have a favorite type of nut, go with that
2 cups powdered sugar, approximately

Melt chocolates together; years ago I lost my double-boiler in a move, so I improvised and just used two different-sized sauce pans. In the larger one I added some water, then placed the smaller pan on top, one big enough to fit like a double boiler (so the water won’t bubble up around it or get into the chocolate). The size of your small pan will tell you how much water to use; the point is you don’t want it to boil over the sides. It doesn’t take much to provide the heat you need to melt the chocolate. And of course, if you have a double boiler, so much the better!

In a separate bowl beat the egg and add to melted chocolates. Add the teaspoon of vanilla, nuts, and powdered sugar. Mix in enough powdered sugar to make the dough soft, but not sticky, and not so much that it’s dry (or it will crumble when you cut it later). Hand mixing (literally) to work in the powdered sugar works best.

Roll into logs, about an inch around. Roll into wax paper and refrigerate until firm. Slice thinly or into bite sized chunks. Can be frozen. Laugh over the name, then enjoy!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Island Dreams

Want to buy an island? Florida boasts 10,000, many of which are for sale. In fact, if you want to check out the prices of islands throughout the U.S., it’s kind of fun to go to this website:

But if you’re like me and can only afford to visit them, here’s the scoop on three popular Florida islands. I’ve intentionally left out the famous Keys for two reasons. 1) I could do a whole week or two just on the Keys; and 2) I’m saving them in hopes my novel set in the Florida Keys grabs the interest of an editor. It was just completed a couple of months ago after a year and a half of blood, sweat and tears…and prayers, of course.

So off we go to three absolutely beautiful tropical venues on our lovely but oil-damaged Gulf of Mexico. And if you haven’t read my previous post yet, scroll down for an interview with author Max Elliot Anderson and a chance to win his latest book for boys, Lost Island Smugglers. Comments must be posted by midnight, Friday, Aug. 6.

Marco Island (pictured above), famous for its fabulous sport fishing, is located off Florida’s southwest coast. It’s the largest of the Ten Thousand Islands (has anyone actually counted them?) and offers nearly four miles of sweeping sands and aquamarine waters, including inland waterways that are home to thousands of exotic birds. If you go, check out Rookery Bay Environmental Learning Center which offers tours of research labs, a huge auditorioum, visitor’s center, 2,300 gallon aquarium, nature reserve, gallery and picnic area.

Sanibel is considered North America’s shelling capital, with more than 400 species of shells that wash up on its beautiful beaches. Conch shells are the most common, but shellers like me delight in finding many rare varieties too, like the Lion’s Paw (pictured at right). When you’re tired of shells, dine in some of the excellent restaurants, go golfing, play tennis, fish, bike or canoe – there is no lack of things to do on this gorgeous island. And somewhere on Marco there’s a place that sells awesome gelato – it’s the first place I ever tasted what has become one of my favorite desserts. If you go, Fly into Fort Meyers International Airport. It’s just a short drive from there.

I’ve never been to Anna Maria Island, but you gotta love the name. It’s not famous for spectacular beaches or the most recreational opportunities, but Anna Maria will provide beautiful ocean sunsets and secluded beaches, peace and quiet. One of the cool things about this island is that it doesn’t have any fast food or convenience franchises, chain stores, high rises or a stoplight…and the community intends to keep it that way. Favorite activities include boat charters, ultralight air tours, kayaking and parasailing. You’ll find Anna Maria just south of Tampa Bay and west of Bradenton.

Enjoy this recipe from Andy’s Island Seafood (pictured at left), located in Matlacha (pronounced "MAT-la-shay"), an old fishing village on Pine Island (near Fort Meyers), chock full of art galleries and island charm.


1 ½ lbs. wild Florida shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 cup diced pineapple
½ cup diced water chestnuts
2 Tbs. fresh Florida lime juice
2 Tbs. olive oil
2 Tbs. Florida honey
1 Tbs. minced garlic
2 tsp. soy sauce.

Combine all ingredients and toss well. Chill for 2 hours. Drain and place on broiler pan. Broil 3-4” from heat source for 3-4 minutes or until shrimp are opaque and pineapple
begins to brown.