Monday, January 22, 2018

America's Test Kitchen: Author Version

Some of my author friends love doing research for their books so much that they keep on deferring the actual writing so they can linger in the library a bit longer. Not me. I love the actual writing so much that I tend to write the book first and then do the research for it afterward.

This is not always a good idea.

It's not always a bad idea, either, as after all, the story is the most important thing, and if it's right, those pesky little real-world details can be tweaked afterward. But sometimes, the after-the-fact research can prove a bit, shall we say, daunting.

My current work-in-progress is a third-grade-level chapter book set in an after-school program, where each book will feature a different camp: cooking camp, robotics camp, graphic novel camp, etc. Book one takes place in the cooking camp, and at least I know how to cook, right? I mean, I have made meals for my family for decades, and a few of them have turned out all okay. Still, I am not what you would call much of a cook. And this book, as you might expect, involves a great deal of cooking. The kids learn how to prepare healthy lunches; they make their own pet treats; there's a whole week devoted to pumpkin delicacies, and another for bake sale goodies; the camp culminates in a Trip around the World international feast.

In her editorial letter to me containing her suggestions for revision, my editor asked, as her final query, with perhaps just a tad of suspicion: "Have you made the food you are describing?"

Um, that would be a NO.

So last week I got busy. I searched for recipes all over the internet and found a bunch for the Morning Glory Muffins the kids make for their healthy lunch week. I combined, altered, tweaked, and experimented, and they turned out SCRUMPTIOUS!
But the make-your-own dog biscuits were a disaster. The dough would NOT stick together. It refused to be rolled out to a half-inch thickness. It was so tough and leathery you could NOT cut it with bone-shaped cookie cutters, even if I had had a bone-shaped cookie cutter, which I didn't. The first batch looked grotesque. (Yes, Tanky-the-dog did eat one happily, but this is the same dog who had to be stopped from eating out of the cat's litter box, so this sets the bar pretty low.)
I tried again, adding a couple of tablespoons of vegetable oil and using smaller cookie cutters, and this time the results were more aesthetically pleasing:
Next up: the cat cookies with tuna fish mixed into them (ick! but, yes, the dog ate one of these, too), and home-made granola (pretty yummy). Still lying ahead, the greatest challenge of all. Nixie's team is the one that makes the saag paneer for the Trip around the World feast. Luckily, I put out a plaintive plea on Facebook for a simplified recipe, and a brilliant children's book author friend, Varsha Bajaj, sent me one, which I'm planning to try, bravely, this afternoon. Wish me luck!

Here, today, I offer you the Morning Glory Muffin recipe. Enjoy!

Morning Glory Muffins

2 cups whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp ground ginger
¼ tsp salt
2 cups grated carrot
2 cup grated apple
½ cup coconut flakes
¼ cup sunflower seeds
3 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
¼ cup orange juice
1/3 cup honey
½ cup vegetable oil
½ cup seedless raisins

Preheat oven to 375.
Combine dry ingredients in large mixing bowl (flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, salt).
Stir in carrots, apples, coconut, walnuts and seeds.
Beat together eggs, vanilla, orange juicy, honey, and oil.
Fold in the raisins.
Spoon into muffin pan (the recipe makes 18 muffins).

Bake for around 18 minutes (a bit less for darker pans).


  1. Cooking camp sounds like fun. The dog biscuits were probably a disaster for your main character too. Good look with the cooking and the book.

  2. Excellent point, Angela! Thanks for the good wishes!