I leave the stresses of the day behind me as I step out my door. The telephone, the possible writer’s block, the frustrations over my latest recipe, marketing materials… all of it just floats away with the breeze as I feel the sun caress my skin and take in the endless sand beach. I walk to the water’s edge, the wind combing its fingers softly through my hair. I dig my toes in the sand as the water kisses my feet, with rolling waves and white froth. The salty tang of ocean air coats my tongue.
I walk along the beach, each step bringing me farther from my troubles and more into the moment. The day is perfect, the sky a deep blue and the warm air blowing all of my thoughts from my head. I am more present in the now than I have been in months. This is my home. My place to get in touch with myself… The one place where nothing can touch me... Where I feel free.
As I enjoy the sharp cry of the gulls and the children playing in the sand, my characters come back to me and we pick up right where we left off… like old friends. I think I’ve found my muse.
How do you get in touch with your muse?
If you’re like me, you use different foods for various occasions. You probably would also agree that food has its own power and can enhance whatever ambiance you choose to create. It can make or break any occasion, from summer BBQs to a first date. What menu would you prepare for Valentine’s Day? I bet it would be different than the one for a child’s birthday party or the Fourth of July. And if you’ve been told that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, then you know you should pay attention to any menu you put together.
Yes, food can say a lot—from what is in your heart to what is on your mind.
What you put on a plate can reveal what kind of a mood you are in, convey a certain message, cater to a specific theme such as a sporting event or be geared toward a specific audience such as a ladies’ luncheon or tea.
Society makes it easy on us, as it quickly labels foods related to certain situations. We know exactly what to expect from junk food, holiday food, healthy food, party food, finger food, romantic food and so on…
Yet still, each time my co-writer of my upcoming cookbook, Chef Johannes Klapdohr, pairs a dish with a scene from my novel, Pinnacle Lust, I have to take him out of his kitchen and walk him into the pages, between the words of the story so he will feel the emotion that I want him to put on the plate.
What a task…but what a wonderful outcome.
Yes, food can carry out our emotions…so let it speak for itself.
The process of writing a cookbook is far from what I ever imagined. By all means it is unlike anything else I have ever written before. It is a totally different story. I’m finding that each recipe in the cookbook is a project by itself—each dish requires attention and love, just as each of my characters does.
In our cookbook, Chef Johannes and I take pride in creating recipes based on authentic food, history, and stories—plates that are related to places, events, and memories found in Pinnacle Lust. However, we are elevating these dishes so they meet the standards, tastes, lifestyles, and trends of today’s diners.
And once that happens, Chef Johannes—not me—will seal the deal, giving the final okay on each recipe. And with each approval the chef gives, I feel as if we have just given birth…especially if it is for one of my original recipes, just because I’m not a professional chef.
Today, as Chef Johannes presents the spring menu for his restaurant, Library Kitchen and Bar, some of the recipes from our upcoming cookbook will be included on the regular menu and some will be integrated as a daily special. You can discover for yourself the delicious plates we’re preparing in the cookbook before it’s released!
To me, tonight’s reveal feels like magic. My heart is pounding at the thought of these recipes being served live in a top restaurant…that this food will be consumed and judged by top customers and savvy diners like you.
And yes, I will be honest—my stomach is in a knot.
If you’re around the Sapphire, NC area, stop by Library Kitchen and Bar tonight and order a plate. I can’t wait to see what you think.
Michelle (& Chef Johannes)
As an author, being invited to a book club discussion is always exciting and flattering. For me, it’s the icing on the cake. It brings validation to my writing career.
Book club discussions are handled in various ways. As a guest, I tend to go with the flow—I let the members lead the discussion and I try to provide answers to all their questions. I enjoy listening to their take on the story and its characters. Yet, when face to face with my readers, I’m always sure to make this opportunity a special and memorable event.
I expend a lot of effort and thought so the members can learn something for the next book they read. I normally like to tell about how I develop my characters. I share techniques that I’m using, tricks that help me to stay focused and, at times, some secrets from my desk.
Tonight, I am taking a new approach. I’ll bring my next book into the discussion—a cookbook that is a companion book to my novel, Pinnacle Lust. Actually, I’ll go wild, take my chances and give them a bite of it—I will prepare one of the recipes from the cookbook. I want to bring my readers closer to the flavors and colors that I created in Pinnacle Lust. I’m anxious to know if they will associate the food with the right scene, or if the flavors will make them see any of the characters differently.
With each new novel I write, I bring new flavors and colors into my kitchen and new recipes into its companion book. More books and flavors are scheduled for the future.
What scene or food from Pinnacle Lust piqued your mind and palate? Did reading about any of the foods in the book make you wish you had the recipe?
Schedule a post-read discussion with me and get a real bite from my upcoming cookbook—maybe even a recipe.
It was not the Library Kitchen and Bar that inspired me to write a cookbook, nor was it the reason I chose Chef Johannes as my co-writer—it was all coincidental.
In my January 17 blog, Look What’s Cooking, I wrote about my upcoming Pinnacle Lust companion cookbook. I relayed the moment that I felt ready to start the journey of writing a cookbook and the process of bringing a world-class, Michelin star-trained chef into the project.
Chef Johannes Klapdohr and I go back seventeen years—when he was chef de cuisine of Nikolai’s Roof in downtown Atlanta.
Once I lost my willpower and let fine dining be the primary part of my social life, things rolled fast. First, the pounds piled on. Then, my husband and I were slowly added to many top restaurants’ VIP lists. And after that, it didn’t take long before the chef gave us special attention. Beyond our specific reserved table, there were certain foods that he would prepare especially for us.
But with Chef Johannes, things were different. We booked exclusive events where we rented the entire place, or the entire team, and Johannes always made sure that each event was the one to remember.
Johannes’ culinary skills continuously captured our hearts and stomachs. His pleasant personality and European manners only added to the image of the perfect chef. The only problem was that chefs like Johannes do not stay in one place forever. Sooner or later, they leave to pursue better opportunities where they can grow in their career and touch a new dream.
And so did Johannes. Following his dreams, he left Nikolai’s Roof, leaving behind a large hole in the culinary community of Atlanta as well as many splendid memories in diners’ minds and palates.
So when it was my time to write a cookbook, it was obvious that Johannes Klapdohr would be my first choice for my project.
Upon our reunion, I discovered that he is now the co-owner of the Library Kitchen and Bar. Learning about the place and its history, left me laughing. Seriously, I thought, the Library Kitchen and Bar? I couldn’t believe the serendipity. This was meant to be—a chef and the co-owner of a restaurant named Library Kitchen and Bar is now the co-writer of my cookbook…wow, things must happen for a reason.
The Library Kitchen and Bar was opened just a few months ago on New Year’s eve, set in a 160-year-old structure that was previously home to the historic The Library Club Restaurant. The historic charm and the stylish design, along with the modern paintings and the farm-to-table menu, make the place unique, attractive, and very welcoming. People say it is the trendiest dining spot in the area.
And I think to myself, the world goes ’round.
When you hear St. Patrick’s Day, I doubt you think about martinis. What likely comes to mind is Irish whiskey, beer, and cider. Then maybe you think green.
But the truth remains that there is a martini for every occasion—and most certainly during an Irish-themed holiday where alcohol flows freely.
You really don’t have to be a big drinker to enjoy one green martini this St. Patrick’s Day, nor do you have to be Irish. All you have to be is creative, or just go with the flow…
Let’s get one thing straight: I’m not a big drinker and I’m definitely not Irish.
And when I called Chef Johannes about creating a treat for our readers for the upcoming holiday, he said, “Michelle, I’m not a bartender. I am a chef. And just like you, I’m not Irish. Why not do a dinner recipe, maybe a special casserole—something green?” He hoped to talk me into something different to honor St. Patrick’s Day.
But it all sounded too serious. When it comes to food, the green part sounded too healthy for St. Patrick’s Day. The alternative of green food coloring would not be an option in Chef Johannes’ kitchen (or in mine). I had to turn it down.
So what do you think, casserole or martini? Martini, of course.
But don’t think I got off that easy. I had to promise the chef that next holiday, less drinking, more cooking…. (We shall see.)
1 oz. vodka
1 oz. crème de mint (green)
2 oz. Godiva white chocolate liqueur
1 oz. crème de cacao (white)
½ oz. half and half
Mix vodka, Godiva liqueur, crème de cacao liqueur, crème de mint, and half and half in a martini shaker with several ice cubes.
Shake and strain into a chilled martini glass for the traditional martini experience, or use whatever glass you have on hand.
Garnish with mint leaf on top.
FYI, this martini was tested last night at Fogo De Chao in Atlanta and was more than just approved—the next time you dine there, ask Pedro, the bartender, or Justin, the manager, for Chef Johannes’ Greeni Martini.
Happy St. Patty’s Day!
Michelle (& Chef Johannes)
It has been a few long weeks since I’ve been in the bookstore and I am still bothered by that one particular book. I tend to choose books by their cover and title, and that day was no different. I noticed the book The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena and grabbed it. I turned it over, looking for the blurb and reviews. The story is about a couple who leave their baby alone in her crib while they attend a party next door, counting on a baby monitor to protect their child. They come back home to a missing baby and no leads. The setup sounds intriguing.
Although the book and the blurb were attractive, as well as the review, in the end I just couldn’t get over the fact that these parents left their baby alone—for a party. What kind of parent does that sort of thing? I was angry with the mother for being so careless. How can a mother gamble with the safety of her child to please her husband? The thought made me so angry that I just couldn’t bring myself to buy the book. I couldn’t see myself having any sympathy for the mother at any point.
Perhaps that says something about the reality of the situation. We hear of babies dying because parents forget them in a hot car in a parking lot at work. There are plenty of horror stories of negligence and tragedy in the news. I understand these horrors are very real. The question becomes do I want to read about such things? I’m afraid I’d be far too frustrated with the characters to empathize. So I’ll leave this one alone.
But what if I’m missing out on a good read. Maybe there’s some twist that makes the story amazing. It left me wondering, should I let go of my perceived morality and read the book or should I stick to my beliefs?
What kinds of things hold you back when you want to buy a book or watch a movie? Are there any moral dilemmas that are deal breakers for you? And what sort of things make you take a chance on a book?
Books are more than just a read.
I find writing and cooking to be similar in many ways. Both take creativity and passion. The process is grueling, requiring time and patience to complete revisions and edits and lots of taste tests and reviews. There are so many different palates out there, what one will love, another will hate.
The skill needed for both crafts is often underestimated. We have all written things in our lives. We often do it for work or perhaps we remember writing short stories in school. And we all cook, every day. We feed ourselves and our families. We think these are things that everyone can do. But both are crafts that get better with practice and information. In both writing and cooking I believe spice is the secret ingredient that elevates a dish or a manuscript.
Last week an old friend from Israel came to visit. She handed me a small gift, a basket containing five little bottles. “This is for you,” she said. “I thought it might come in handy while you are working on your cookbook.”
I was very excited. I couldn’t ask for a nicer, more thoughtful gift. And along with the spices, I got a story…
My friend, a certified skipper, arrived after crossing the Atlantic in a sailing yacht from the Canary Islands to the Caribbean on a 21 day excursion as part of a flotilla of 10 other yachts. While they were stopped at Grenada she quickly learned how important nutmeg is there. People call it Nutmeg Island as it’s their number one industry. I was enthralled by the history of nutmeg as countries tried to control the resource throughout centuries. It wasn’t until 1796 when the British took over the Moloccas and spread the cultivation of nutmeg to other East Indian islands and then to the Caribbean. Then they realized that Grenada had the perfect environment to grow nutmeg.
The story captivated me. Through the excitement and appreciation, however, I felt bad that she knew more about nutmeg than I did…although I was the one who aspired to be a chef. Research was in order. I rushed to find out all I could about nutmeg and here are the five most important things to know about this spice.
Nutmeg is a great asset to any chef. It is essential to béchamel sauce and also goes well with baked or roasted fruit. Many chefs use it in custards, eggnog, punches, pasta and vegetables dishes such as creamed spinach.
Spices are powerful. It’s amazing how a tiny pinch of any spice can make all the difference in a finished dish.
What are your favorite spices and herbs?
Here it comes again, the loved—or the dreaded—Valentine’s Day. It’s on everyone’s mind.
We’ve all been taught that the only recipe for Valentine’s Day is something for two. Singles tend to believe that they are outsiders and the holiday is not meant for them. Greeting cards and jewelry store commercials make it sound as if we are all in line for Cupid’s arrow.
However, Cupid—the god of desire, erotic love, attraction, and affection—shoots his arrows at the target of his choosing, and on his own schedule. Yet the holiday marketing targets couples for Valentine’s Day, even though some of us might not always have a date for February 14.
So on this Valentine’s Day, I wanted to offer my readers something special—something to warm everyone’s heart, whether you’re spending Valentine’s Day solo or with the one you love.
I racked my brain, trying to find a way to beat Cupid to the punch, or at least to shoot my own arrow…and if not at my readers’ hearts, then at their stomachs. I took this idea to my co-writer of my cookbook, Chef Johannes, and together we created a delicious chocolate martini made especially for you to enjoy on this Valentine’s Day, or any day.
And the best thing about this recipe…if you drink enough of these, you may even forget that it’s Valentine’s Day.
Chocolate Martini (1 Serving)
1 ounce Vanilla Vodka
1½ ounces Godiva Dark Chocolate liqueur
1½ ounces Crème de Cacao liqueur
½ ounce Grand Marnier
2 ounces Whipping Cream
4 ounces Cacao Powder for rim garnish
1 Orange for twist and wedge
Cut one orange wedge and run around the rim of martini glass. Tip: Hold the martini glass upside down to avoid orange juice from running into the glass.
Spread cacao powder evenly on a plate larger than the rim of the martini glass.
Lightly dip the rim in the chocolate powder to coat then chill the martini glass in freezer for 20-30 minutes. Tip: Glasses can be prepared in advance and kept in the freezer for a few days.
Mix vanilla vodka, Godiva liqueur, Crème de Cacao liqueur, Grand Marnier and whipping cream in a martini shaker with several ice cubes.
Shake and strain into the chilled martini glass. Tip: If you don’t have a martini glass, use whatever glass you prefer.
Optional, garnish with orange twist on the rim of the glass and sprinkle drink with cacao powder using a fine sieve.
We hope our arrow hits its mark and that our chocolate martini makes your Valentine’s Day the most memorable ever.
Michelle (& Chef Johannes)
Earlier in January, I wrote a blog about my collaboration with Chef Johannes Klapdohr, and our cookbook to be released later this year. The blog reached many followers and received numerous comments. As you know, I’m very particular about taking the time to answer each of you—I take your comments very seriously.
What might surprise you is the impact that you have on my work. One of my fans commented about the desire for gluten-free recipes. I was asked if we would consider including gluten-free options in our book.
My first reaction was to inform that fan that the cookbook wouldn’t follow a gluten-free diet—or any other particular diet for that matter. I thought the cookbook was unique enough with its connection to my novel, Pinnacle Lust. I was ready to explain that Chef Johannes and I have been working on this book for several months now and we’ve designed specific recipes to follow the novel itself.
But then I got to thinking: Why not listen to my fans? If one person asks for gluten-free recipes, there must be many others out there who could benefit from it. I should not waste the suggestion.
I quickly glanced over the recipes going into the cookbook and realized that actually we have several gluten-free recipes (like our delicious creamy hummus or the irresistible stuffed grape leaves cooked in red wine that you’ll have to try!).
Taking this reader’s comment to heart, I called Chef Johannes and asked his opinion of somehow putting the two together. Could we stick to our concept and still please individuals who are seeking gluten-free recipes? You bet. Chef Johannes’ creativity, knowledge, and understanding hit me again. “Of course. It’s simple,” he said. “We won’t add or change any recipes but just point out all the recipes that are gluten free.
Johannes and I have prided ourselves on creating recipes that will cater to all palates and cuisines, and are constantly looking for ways to make this book appeal to everyone. So why not add gluten-free options? Perhaps this will help our cookbook reach more people, as gluten-free recipes are very popular right now.
I would have never considered highlighting gluten-free dietary options in the book until my fan made that request. It just goes to show that reader’s comments are highly treasured. Thank you to everyone who reads my work, and even greater thanks to those who leave comments and suggestions!
Michelle (& Chef Johannes)