On Bread and Pumpkin Pie

The holidays are back! As I get older, they whirl back around again with an uncanny speed. I often forget what month I’m in. I have no idea how we are at the end of November, but here we are. This is the time of year I bake the most.

I have two easy bakes to share with you. I’ve been in the throes of finishing book 5 of 5 in my dark fantasy book. “Blood to Bind.”  (Last 5 days to save 50% on the e-book! $2.99. Click here: https://www.amazon.com.au/Blood-Bind-Tales-Darkwood-Book-ebook/dp/B0BLMB5XJF )

I use walks, swims, and bakes as my antidote to the eye-burning task of finding and removing extra words in that manuscript. I promise both of these are easy.

PUMPKIN PIE

Use the recipe on the back of a condensed milk can, and then add lots of extra cinnamon and nutmeg, so it’s a nice dark orange, not that baby puke color. That’s it.

 I buy refrigerator crust. They were out of Pillsbury ones this year, which are BY FAR the most reliable pre-made crust on the market. I used Trader Joes’ version on this one. Now you know I love TJs, but not this crust. Hard to work with, it came out of the package cracked into about 14 fiddly pieces. If that happens to you, stitch it together in the pie tin to an approximate shape, then put it in the oven at 375 for ten minutes. It softens the darn thing so you can use a spoon to smooth over the cracks.

BREAD BOULES

This recipe makes 3 small, or 2 large loaves. Even if you’ve never baked bread before, you can bake this. That is my firm Thanksgiving promise. You need a big bowl to start with, so the bread has room to grow. That one you use to serve salad in will work just fine.

1 ½ packets active dry yeast
3 cups lukewarm water
1 hefty pinch of salt.

Mix these together in your big bowl, and let it sit for 10 minutes. You’ll start to see a few bubbles as the yeast does it thing.

6 ½ cups BREAD flour. Not regular flour.

Add the flour in slowly – I do 3 cups at first, then 2, then 1, then the pesky .5. Mix it in with a spoon and your hand if you need to. You want the flour absorbed. Be gentle and zen. Think happy thoughts. You might even talk to your dough and tell it how lovely it smells.

Cover it loosely (paper towel is fine) for at least 2 hours, until it grows 2x and is flat on top. If it’s cold out it can take longer.

Prep your cookie sheet (or if you’re lucky you have one of those pizza stones) with a thin layer of cornmeal so the bread doesn’t stick.

Sprinkle the top of the dough with a bit of flour, and a bit more for your hands. Use a serrated knife to cut it in half, or thirds. It will be sticky and remind you of playdoh if you’re old enough. Use your hands to form a ball, tucking the ends under. Don’t overthink this, its bread.

Let rest for 40 minutes. It will rise again on your sheet. 20 minutes into this process, heat the oven to 450. Right before it goes into the oven, use the serrated knife again to make a crisscross slash on top of the bread so it can grow in the oven. These should be pretty deep.

Pop a pan of water on a lower rack (this makes steam and is the magic that makes for a crusty loaf). Put your bread in on the rack above it. Bake for 30 minutes. Take it out and let cool on a wire rack.

Or don’t. Hot bread is one of the great joys on this planet but do wait at least 10 minutes to cut it.

On My New Release and Medieval Research

Book 4 of my Darkwood series publishes Sept 29th! I am super excited about this one, “Starcrossed of Darkwood.” As with all the Darkwood books, a fairy tale is twisted. This one is a favorite of mine, Rapunzel. I always felt a little bad for the witch in the story. After all, the husband stole lettuce from her garden… although I suppose demanding a first-born child was excessive for the transgression. Then there’s the part where the witch pushes the prince out of the tower, blinding him on the thorns below… okay, maybe she isn’t that sympathetic after all. But the girl in the tower is, and I thought (as I am wont to do) … what if… she decided going back to the tower was the better choice for her?

This outing in the series follows three women as their fates intertwine. You need to at least read “The Traveller’s Tale” before you read this one. While I do a good job of reminding my wonderful readers about certain plot points, you will miss a lot if you don’t know the backstory of the Travellers and the curse that’s been placed upon them. All my books are only $4.99 in kindle, so you won’t break the bank.

In celebration of this book, which was a bit of a bear to write, I’ve put “The Twins of Darkwood” on sale for .99 cents for the first five days of publication.

I also added a fun bit in this book as an homage to the book series that began my love of fantasy. I specifically placed two references to “The Lord of the Rings” in the book. If you find them, email me at my author address: staceyuptonbracey@eatwriteplay.com I’ll have a little gift for you until supplies run out.

I mentioned this one was a bit of a struggle to write. Not particularly with content, but I was interrupted a lot (by choice) directing back-to-back plays, new play rewrites, and a bit of teaching. I’ve discovered I cannot serve two creative masters. If you’re in my cast, or in my class, you’re getting 100% of me. Same goes for writing when I’m in that groove. I try to put the very best of myself into my books. Starcrossed is also longer than the previous books, coming in at about 109K words as opposed to about 75-80k words (words are writer talk, I know… in pages, 1k words = 4 pages of book.) At the end of my process to get it done on time and out to my Beta readers for their always insightful notes, I was averaging 8k words a day, or 32 pages of book per day, and then still doing the rest of my life. It was a lot. But as I said, I am super happy with the result. My Beta readers said things like, “I couldn’t put it down,” and “Best one yet!” Makes my heart happy. I promise I am a good writer, so if you haven’t ventured into the Darkwood, give “The Traveller’s Tale” a try.

I started book 5 this week. The main part of this series will have been completed and published in 15 months, from the first “what if” to the finish. Five full books and a 30k novella. Not bad for my first foray into series writing.

Book 5 will be my most intensive (by far) for research, as a chunk of it takes place on a medieval Caravel, which was a marvel of a ship created by the Portuguese in 1450, just in time for my novel. It was fast, could tack against the wind, and allowed the Spice Trade to flourish.

I know nothing about ships or sailing (although I watched the entirety of “Black Sails,” which I wholeheartedly recommend.) You just need to get through the gratuitous smut of the first few episodes and let the characters settle. I might watch it again. It takes place a little later than my books, but the basic sailing things are there. Avast mates!

I started writing book five three days ago. Here is a partial list of my look-up history:

Saint who walled herself in on purpose (an anchorite)

Vlad the Impaler

How did letters travel without messengers?

Were messenger birds used in Medieval Times (sources say mostly yes)

Can ships carry a trebuchet (which is by far my favorite Medieval weapon)

Carrack Ships (too big, I went with the smaller Caravel)

Where did sailors sleep on the ship?

How did caravels steer (hint, not a wheel)

Best dates to curse someone

Poisons made from natural things

Can drinking blood prolong life (jury is out)

Various iterations of “Beauty and the Beast” (the retelling I am using for this book)

Medieval healing and surgery

What do nuns eat in Medieval times (mostly vegetarian)

Could Medieval nuns marry (yes)

Legends of the Three Fates

Legends of Sirens and Mermaids

What was Chania harbor like in medieval times

The Spice Route–Land and Sea

As you can tell, lots of exciting things to write about in this next one. It’s mostly outlined, as I’ve known for quite some time where this one was headed and how things end up. For my loose ends, I have 2-3 more novellas I’ll pack into a single collection of a book, and then a duology with my wonderful characters Aisha and Malik in the spring of next year.

So, come on and visit the Darkwood with me. You’ll be glad you did! You can find all the books on Amazon, in both paperback and ebook, and I am in KU as well. Go here to check out the 5-star series–> https://www.amazon.com/Stacey-Upton-Bracey/e/B07NZDGRPJ

On Drive-Thru Carwashes and Completion Blues

White soap suds streaming down the side of the windows, preventing any view of the outside world. The sinister slap of long cloths sliding over the hood of the car like a giant squid trying to devour it. Brushes attacking the sides of the car. Jets of water streaming all around, your car turned into a submersible. Gusts of air blasting down onto your vehicle, and then finally, daylight ahead.

Ah, the drive-thru car wash.

While it is fun being driven through a car wash as a passenger, I discovered this week that it’s like a visit to the tower of terror when I’m the one trying to line up my car wheels with the track that will pull me through. Sullen men wave you forward (honestly, I don’t blame them, it looks like a steamy, horrible job) and then their hand flies up for you to stop. Then you have to put your car in neutral.

I didn’t know how to get to neutral right away, so I nearly killed the guy guiding me in. I completely deserved the nasty look he gave me. Then, at the end of it, I wasn’t sure when to put the car in drive again, so the car tracking behind me came perilously close to ripping off the back bumper of my car.

Is a clean car really worth all the aggravation?

I used to enjoy going to the car dealership (Sewell in Dallas) where they offer free car washes for as long as you own a car purchased from them. They have a nice waiting area with one of those coffee machines that can produce hot chocolate as well, and if you time it right, fresh cookies. I got out of the habit during Covid lockdown, and it’s a bit of a drive.

So I gird my courage to the sticking point* and brave the dreaded drive-thru thing, instead. It’s a part of adulting I could do without.

In other news, after four 12-hour days in a row of final edits, I finished the 4th book in my “Tales of Darkwood” dark fantasy/twisted fairy tale series yesterday, on schedule thank you very much, and passed it off to my wonderful proofreader. It’s a chonky book, clocking in at 109,000 words, give or take. My other books have been around 80,000. These characters (it’s a spin on Rapunzel) had a lot to say. I am happy with the book, and love my cover. It’s taken a lot longer to write this one than the others in the series, as I directed two plays, resumed my role as a theatre critic, saw Mom and Dad through a long hospital stay, and published a fun little Mermaid Paranormal Romance short as well as did a polish on my play during the space of writing it. So instead of my normal two to three month writing process, this one took me four and a half months. That’s a long time to be immersed in another world, even one as interesting as 1450s Stuttgart, Germany, where magic still floats on the edge of reality.

Rather than elation at completing another book, which you’d expect, I felt glum. I missed my quirky, difficult characters this morning. I’d planned to start straightaway on book 5 today.. instead, I walked around the mall for exercise and people watching (too hot for a long walk outside), talked to friends, checked in on others, and ate a giant bowl of popcorn while watching a silly movie. That sent me into a carb coma, from which I awoke on the couch two hours later, with the movie long finished, with creases on the side of my face.

It’s my form of going on a bender, I suppose. It might have been self-care, but my choice of food was a little… not in the self-care category. The popcorn was loaded with salt, paprika, and parmesan cheese.

Not so bad, all told, I suppose. Right?

I’ll start the next book tomorrow. Lord knows what carb-laden mourning I’ll do when I finish that one, which should wrap up the entire series. Pasta Carbonara, perhaps, with a side of fresh Italian bread, slathered in butter… well, now that I’m writing that down, it sounds pretty good. Motivating, even.

What is your go-to when you need a break from your work?

*bonus points for anyone who knows what this quote is from.