Gluten-free cut-out cookie success!

Our family has been living with celiac disease for a little over two years now. In that time, I’ve converted many of my favorite recipes to gluten-free versions. The one recipe that eluded me happened to be my favorite food on the planet: cut-out cookies. I’ve tried various gluten-free versions, but just didn’t care for the results. So, I experimented. By combining two different cookie recipes and making a few tweaks, I’m finally happy with the results! Here’s the recipe:

Gluten-free cut-out cookies

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups Cup4Cup gluten-free flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ cup softened butter
  • 1 egg at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

In a bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

Beat sugar and butter together until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl. Add egg and vanilla, mix until smooth. Slowly add flour mixture until dough forms.

Wrap dough in plastic and refrigerate at least one hour. (I chilled it overnight, but it was very hard the next day, so I had to let it warm up a little.)

Preheat oven to 350 F.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out a portion of the dough to about 1/8 inch to ¼ inch thick. Cut with cookie cutters. Bake on parchment paper-lined cookie sheet for 5 – 6 minutes. Cool completely before frosting.

making-cut-outs

Frosting ingredients:

  • 2 ¾ cups powdered sugar
  • 1/3 cup softened butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 tablespoons milk

Combine all ingredients and beat at low speed until smooth. Color with food coloring if desired. If you’re like me, double the frosting recipe, load the cookies up, and keep any leftover frosting in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

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Since this site is about writing, I’d really like to tie in cut-out cookies to one of our books. Ummm…. Well, since I can’t think of any cookie-related scenes, I’ll just recommend Deception Al Dente. It takes place at a restaurant and can be found here.

Are you a cut-out cookie fan? What’s your favorite Christmas cookie?

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Happy Dysfunctional Thanksgiving!

Looking for a fast, fun, wacky mystery to read while prepping for Thanksgiving and enjoying leftovers? The Sound of Sirens is just the thing! Here’s a quick excerpt:

As the applause died down, Tommy said, “Well now, I guess it’s time for grace.” He closed his eyes and bowed his head. Everyone in the room followed suit. I know this because I peeked to make sure I wasn’t the only idiot sitting there with my eyes closed. “Dear Lord, thank you for the gifts you have bestowed upon us. Thank you for the bounty of food we are fortunate enough to enjoy here today, for the love of family and friends, and for success in our endeavors. Amen.” A hushed repetition of “amen” swept through the room like a gentle wave.

I had already picked up my fork, ready to dive into the salad that had just been placed in front of me, when I realized that Tommy wasn’t quite done yet. Still standing there with his eyes closed, he launched into the most beautiful rendition of Amazing Grace I’d ever heard. He sang without microphone or accompaniment, his voice the only instrument needed. As the final note faded away, he opened his eyes, looking almost surprised to see us all there. I was, once again, filled with the sense of contentment that his singing had brought on before. Tommy then smiled and said, “Let’s eat!”

From the salad to the turkey with all the trimmings to the plum pudding and pumpkin pie, the meal was one of the best I ever had. And, being friends with Chef Al, I’ve had some pretty darn good food. I was vaguely aware of the polite dinner conversation going on around me but didn’t contribute much, seeing as I was too busy stuffing my face.

“Isn’t that right, Josie dear?” Mom asked me just as I’d taken a bite of plum pudding.

“Whuh?” I asked through the mouthful of sweet fruity spicy goodness.

Mom gave me an exasperated look, quickly disguised it with a smile, and said, “I was just telling John here that you’re a private investigator.”

“Yah yam.” I said with my still-full mouth. Hurriedly swallowing the huge bite, I clarified, “Yeah, I am.”

“How neat!” The middle-aged guy who must have been John said.

“Fascinating!” chimed in the blonde next to him, who must have been his wife.

“Yup,” I confirmed and took another bite.

“What kind of cases do you handle?” John asked.

“Anything juicy?” Blondie inquired.

I made apologetic gestures while chewing.

“Mostly divorces,” Al explained on my behalf. I nodded and rolled my eyes to express my frustration with the current state of the private detective industry in America.

“Oh,” John said, sounding disappointed.

“Oh!” Blondie said, sounding intrigued.

Thanksgiving dinner with the family can be murder. Especially when someone is actually trying to kill you.

Thanksgiving dinner with the family can be murder. Especially when someone is actually trying to kill you.

The Sound of Sirens, book two of the José Picada series, can be found on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and MuseItUp.

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My Ghost Story

It’s that time of year again! As Halloween approaches, I’d like to share an excerpt from my ghost story, Dream Shade, with you.

dream shade 300dpi

Hearing the bus before it came around the curve in the road, I sighed, dreading its approach. The bus ride itself didn’t bother me, it was what waited for us at the end of the ride: another day in the purgatory known as Frakes Senior High. Our school district was set up in kind of a strange way. Lots of little elementary schools channeled into two junior high schools for grades seven through nine, which then congealed into the sprawling senior high where the inmates spent the remainder of our time. So, as a sophomore, this was my first year in senior high. We were about six weeks into the school year, and I still felt completely out of place.

My friend Anna sat in our usual seat, her nose buried in a book. The curly black cloud of her hair could be seen haloing out around the volume. Fabulous. She’s hooked again. When Anna was really into a book, the rest of the world pretty much ceased to exist to her. Over the summer, she had read Lord of the Rings, and I’d barely seen her for weeks. Please don’t let it be another trilogy.

I sat down next to her. “Hi, Anna!”

“Hey,” she muttered distractedly.

“Whatcha reading?”

Twilight.

Oh, crap. Weren’t there like four or five huge volumes in that series? She’d be obsessed for the next month.

“You should read it,” she said without taking her eyes off the page. “It’s really good.”

“Those vampire books? You know I don’t like horror.”

“Vampires, yes. Horror, no. It’s more like a love story.”

“Ugh, even worse!”

She sighed and put her book down in her lap, glancing at me. “You look awful. Are you feeling okay?”

“Yeah, I’m okay, just tired. I had a bad dream and couldn’t get back to sleep.” Gazing out the window, I watched the red, orange, and yellow blur of autumnal trees rolling past. “At least, I think it was a dream.”

“What do you mean, you think it was a dream?”

I thought about her question while opening my peanut-butter bar and starting to munch. “God, these things are dry!” I grimaced. “Should’ve grabbed a bottle of water to wash it down.”

“Sarah, stop stalling and answer my question. Either you had a dream or you didn’t. So what’s going on?”

“I’m not sure. See, I woke up from what was most definitely a dream, a very nice dream—”

“Featuring Nate Spencer?”

I blushed a little; busted. “Maybe. Anyway, I saw something moving across my room.” Telling her about it made me shiver. “It must have been a dream, right? Things like that just don’t happen.”

Anna gave it some thought. I liked the way she really considered a question before giving an answer. Sometimes the wait was a little annoying, but I was used to it by now. We’d been friends for a long time, and I knew that her thoughts were worth waiting for.

“Well,” she finally said, “It could have been like a dream within a dream. Like, you thought you woke up, but really your dream just shifted. Or it could have been a pre-seizure aura. Is there a history of epilepsy in your family?”

Where the heck did she come up with this stuff? Sometimes having a brainiac for a best friend could be a little weird.

“Um, no. No epilepsy.”

“Well, that’s good. Of course, you wouldn’t have taken any mood-altering substances, so that’s out.”

“Right. No drugs.”

“Then maybe…no, it couldn’t be that.”

“Couldn’t be what?”

“I don’t want to freak you out or anything.” Her brown eyes intensified.

“Anna, I know that look. What are you thinking?”

“I know you don’t like horror. Or anything…supernatural.”

“Spit it out!”

Anna gave me a look of utmost seriousness. Her flawless, light brown skin flushed slightly with excitement. Whatever thought was running around that brain of hers, it had her pretty jazzed.

“It could have been,” she paused, her intense eyes gleaming, “a paranormal event.”

“A what?”

“A ghost.”

My bark of laughter sounded totally fake even to my own ears. “Yeah, right,” I scoffed. Despite my bravado, a shiver ran down my spine.

If you’d like to read more of Dream Shade, you can find it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and MuseItUp Publishing. Happy Halloween!

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Hello again!

Hi! It’s good to see you. I’m sorry we’ve been away for so long. Dave and I have both been super busy with family stuff, so we haven’t had time to blog. In fact, the last time we posted around here, it was a guest appearance by our author friend J.Q. Rose. Coincidentally, J.Q. is back again today to tell us about a special offer. Take it away, J.Q.!

romance-and-mystery-authors-on-writing-cover

Need help with your writing? Fifteen romance and mystery authors share writing tips they have gleaned from their experiences as “on-the-job” writers. The tips are organized into the main topics of writing, publishing, and marketing. The novelists also reveal the “light bulb moments” in their writing journey, questions they are asked most often, and the best advice on writing they have received. By offering their expertise, the authors hope to smooth the sometimes rocky road for new writers toward a rewarding career in writing.

As a contributor to this ebook, I’m excited to help J.Q. spread the word! This handy guide is FREE September 14 – 16, 2016! Download it via Amazon here.

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Author J.Q. Rose: Just a Normal Gal

Brainerd & Fraser: We’re excited to have one of our favorite author friends here for a guest post. Please welcome J.Q. Rose – writer, retired florist, and an undertaker’s daughter. Does that last one surprise you? Read on for more!

Do Childhood Experiences Impact a Writer’s Storytelling?

By J.Q. Rose

I always thought of writers as eccentric, peculiar people. But my perception changed when a ghost story sprang from my own mind. Deadly Undertaking, my latest romantic suspense e-book, includes a shadow man, Henry. He’s a ghost or a spirit from another world and shows up in Lauren Staab’s life when she least expects him.

Please don’t jump to conclusions about me as a writer, because even if I am a storyteller who thinks up fun romances, murders, and spirits, I am not an eccentric, peculiar person. I’m just a regular woman who is a wife, mother, grandmother. I like eating a burger at McDonalds, shopping at Walmart, and reading mystery novels. But, perhaps some would think my childhood was unconventional. You see, my father was an embalmer and funeral director. I was reared in a funeral home.

For most of my growing up years, a dead body was laid out in a casket several days in a row in our living room which converted to the funeral chapel. In fact, sometimes we’d have more than one body in our home. The embalming room was in the back of the house, and yes, I wore lots of perfume and soap to cover the pungent odor of formaldehyde on my clothes and hair.

We had knee caps for ashtrays in the private area of our home…not in the public area because that may upset some folks. But Dad was a heavy smoker, so he appreciated having the convenience of an ashtray nearby at all times.

In our kitchen, boxes of ashes of the departed sat in the pantry shelves next to the canned green beans and corn. Some families squabbled over who was going to pay the funeral expenses for their dearly departed, so they never showed up to claim the ashes for fear of being left with the debt. In one case the family of Ida Mayberry never claimed their sweet aunt. So Aunt Ida took up residence in the cupboard next to the pork and beans.

Life as an undertaker’s daughter did not seem to be any big deal. My friends, well, most of them, were happy to come over and play hide and seek in the casket room or to swipe flowers out of the funeral arrangements to put in our hair for dress up.

My girlfriends did get upset when one of the spirits who regularly hung out in the funeral home flew by. The whoosh of air was the only indicator of their presence. Yes, I lost a couple of friends that way because they were scared to death…well, not literally. They just were creeped out especially when one of the spirits would knock over the Barbie doll house or send the family of Barbies swirling around the room.

Needless to say, I enjoyed going to my friend’s house. It was a treat to open their pantry door to get a can of pineapple and not see the boxed ashes of poor Aunt Ida. I could never shake the sadness I felt for her because no one cared enough to bury her ashes or at least sprinkle them on their garden.

So, yes, some may believe it was an unusual childhood compared to the experiences of others. But I felt loved, secure, and safe at all times. And that’s what counts for a kid.

The growing up years certainly shape the adult one becomes. I don’t know if my childhood affected my personality or writing talent, but I can assure you I am a normal, well-rounded person, not eccentric or peculiar at all. In fact I got rid of the knee cap ash trays just last week. I do have Aunt Ida in the cupboard. Her family never claimed her and I have grown attached to her company.

Brainerd & Fraser: Spooky, J.Q.! We love it! Now let’s hear more about your latest book…

Deadly Undertaking by J.Q. Rose

400x600 Rose-DeadlyUndertaking-Payloadz

A handsome detective, a shadow man, and a murder victim kill Lauren’s plan for a simple life.

Back of the Book:

Lauren Staab knew there would be dead bodies around when she returned home. After all, her family is in the funeral business, Staab and Blood Funeral Home. Still, finding an extra body on the floor of the garage between the hearse and the flower car shocked her. Lauren’s plan to return to her hometown to help care for her mother and keep the books for the funeral home suddenly turns upside down in a struggle to prove she and her family are not guilty of murdering the man. But will the real killer return for her, her dad, her brother? Her mother’s secrets, a killer, a handsome policeman, and a shadow man muddle up her intention to have a simple life. Welcome home, Lauren!

Find the book on AmazonAmazon UKBarnes and Noble, and Kobo.

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Author J.Q. Rose

After writing feature articles in magazines, newspapers, and online magazines for over fifteen years, J.Q. Rose entered the world of fiction. Her published mysteries are Sunshine Boulevard, Coda to Murder, and Deadly Undertaking. Blogging, photography, Pegs and Jokers board games, and travel are the things that keep her out of trouble. She and her husband, Gardener Ted, spend winters in Florida and summers up north camping and hunting toads, frogs, and salamanders with her four grandsons and granddaughter.

Connect with J.Q. Rose online at J.Q. Rose blogFacebookGoogle+, Amazon Author PageGoodreads, and Pinterest.

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Author Interview with David Fraser

Yes, David Fraser is my writing partner here at Driving Blind Productions. So why am I interviewing my own writing partner? Well, we both branch out and work on solo projects from time to time. (Such as my YA paranormal romance Dream Shade, a blend of mystery, ghost story, and teen angst.) Dave decided to launch a blog tour promoting his latest solo project, The Dragon-Kitty. My son Cale stepped in to take Dave’s place and help me conduct this author interview with, er, Dave. Confused yet? We are, too.

dk2

The, um, unique cover.

Part 1 of Dave’s blog tour can be found on Stuart R. West’s site. We highly recommend reading that part, too. It’s totally worth the click. Okay, so without further ado, here’s David Fraser, author of The Dragon-Kitty, interviewed by Cale Gillan and Heather Fraser Brainerd…

Heather and Cale: What inspired you to write The Dragon-Kitty?

David Fraser: I have a regular writing partner with whom I write. See that? That was some fancy wordsmithing right there. Anyway, back to the question. I felt like it was time to see what I could do solo. I felt the need to spread my wings and soar like an eagle. Or possibly a buffalo rushing over a cliff.

H&C: Did you take inspiration from any other novels?

DF: Yes.

H&C: Which actor do you envision portraying Percy Potter in the movie?

DF: Well, nobody, since the Percy Potter character was eliminated in the final round of edits. I guess you must have read an early version. I found that the book became too overpopulated once the rocket crashed on Mars and all those Martian vikings came into the story. I had to get rid of some characters. One of the first casualties was Percy, whose parts were divided between President Obama and Rudolph, Percy’s talking dog. So to sort of answer your question, I can see President Obama playing President Obama and Anthony Hopkins as Rudolph.

H&C: Do you plan on a sequel to The Dragon-Kitty?

DF: No, but I’m considering a prequel trilogy. Those never go wrong. (Question: Did I just give a subtle jab at Star Wars Episode 1-3 or The Hobbit? The answer: Yes.)

H&C: And speaking of Star Wars, favorite Jar Jar scene?

DF: Oh, gosh. There are just too many great ones from which to choose. That was me wordsmithing again. I’d have to say the part where he starts freaking out in the submarine and Obi-Wan uses The Force to put him to sleep. For those who have not seen the movie, that’s “put him to sleep” in the literal sense, not the “my dog was getting too darn old” sense.

Interesting. Time for the rapid fire round!

Han or Greedo?

We must examine the situation from both cases:

1) Greedo shot first.

If Greedo was sitting two feet away, with his weapon drawn and aimed, and he still missed, he deserved to get fried. If you’re out there trying to be a bounty hunter, but you can’t hit a target that close, you won’t last long regardless of whether you shoot first or second. But let’s suppose for a moment that he was trying to miss. Why? Probably just to put a little scare into Han. If Greedo is such a great bounty hunter, he should know his quarry’s propensity toward violence. Firing a warning shot into the wall right next to Han’s head? That’s a great way to provoke return fire.

2) Han shot first.

While we don’t know all the details of Han’s background, we can tell by the fact that he frequents this hive of scum and villainy, not to mention his work for the vile gangster Jabba the Hutt, that he…hang on a second. This is supposed to be the rapid-fire round, isn’t it? Sorry.

Han.

Sebastian Shaw’s ghost or Hayden Christensen’s ghost?

Patrick Swayze’s ghost.

Merry or Pippin?

Mary Poppins.

Legolas or Will Turner?

Legolas, but from LotR, not The Hobbit.

Cedric or Edward?

And here we are. The Sophie’s Choice of Pattinsonian greatness. It’s common to say that something like this is an impossible decision. That it’s like having to choose a favorite child. Well, it really isn’t impossible. Even if they won’t admit it, every parent has a favorite child. Mine is Becky. I pick Edward.

Excerpt from The Dragon-Kitty:

“Holy cow, Rudolph,” said President Obama as he peered through the keyhole of the conference room door. “They’ve got the whole kit and caboodle in there.”

“Both the kit and the caboodle? I didn’t think Mars had any caboodles left,” said Rudolph. The lack of caboodles was one of the reasons he had signed up for the mission. If there was one thing he hated, it was caboodles. If there were two things, it was caboodles and coconuts. Stupid, hairy coconuts. What even were they? Fruit? Seeds? Nuts? Some weird hybridization of all three? Just the thought of them made Rudolph growl.

“Stop thinking about coconuts. We’ve got work to do,” said President Obama.

“How did you know I was thinking about coconuts?”

“I’m psychic, remember?”

“Well, do your psychic thing through the door. Why do they need a caboodle?”

President Obama pressed his forehead against the door, one eye open and one closed. A single bead of sweat trickled down the back of his neck and disappeared into his spacesuit. “I can’t quite make out what they’re thinking. Something about…someone listening in at the door. I wonder what that’s all about.”

He found out soon enough, as the door flew open and President Obama found himself staring at a Martian viking, complete with green skin, outfit made of fur, and horned helmet tipped at a jaunty angle.

When Rudolph was younger, he thought jaunty referred to a skin discoloration due to liver issues. It wasn’t until his sophomore year at Harvard that he finally learned that was called jaundice. But that doesn’t really play into the current story. It was just sort of an interesting aside. Well, it was an aside.

The viking, who stood more than eight feet tall, grabbed the front of President Obama’s spacesuit and lifted him until they were eye to eye. “And who might you be?” asked the viking with his Swedish/Martian accent.

“I’m President Obama,” said President Obama, “and I’m here to bring you hope.”

“And change,” added Rudolph.

“Yes, and change.”

The viking grinned. “Oh, goody. We need some hope and change around here. And some new patio doors. Did you bring any of those, too?” He turned and took President Obama into the conference room.

Rudolph rushed to follow, but the door slammed in his face. Lacking opposable thumbs, he wasn’t able to turn the knob. You’d think evolution would have provided him with proper thumbs before the ability to speak, but no. He’d have to find another way in.

David Fraser's author photo

David Fraser’s author photo

There you have it. More typical zaniness from my brother and writing partner, David Fraser. Since The Dragon-Kitty isn’t in stores yet and has no release date (and, to be honest, I highly doubt its existence at all other than a few random excerpts), you can find our real books here and here. Happy reading!

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Tune into Hummingbird Place

Please join me tonight at 7 pm Eastern for my guest appearance on the Hummingbird Place podcast. If you don’t have time tonight, no worries – just click on the link and you can listen anytime. Since it’s a ghostly time of year, we will be discussing my YA paranormal romance Dream Shade. Hope you can join us!

dream shade 300dpi

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