Friday, February 26, 2010

Wine and Whine: I like 'Em Both by Guest Blogger Jessica Conant-Park

Please give a warm welcome to our very special Iron Chef Wine Week guest, mystery author Jessica Conant-Park, co-author of the Gourmet Girl mysteries.
Jessica is a wonderfully witty and talented writer: She pens books with her amazing mom (mystery author Susan Conant) and is married to a pro chef, which gives her sweet insider knowledge on writing about restaurants, professional kitchens, and all things culinary.
Her newest release in her delectable culinary mystery series, COOK THE BOOKS, is coming to book stores on March 2nd. Here's a little taste...

If you can’t stand the heat…

While in her second year of social work school, Chloe Carter gets herself in a pickle by overindulging her beloved godson. To pay her bills, Chloe needs a part-time job. Still smarting over the break-up with her boyfriend, Josh, who took a job as a personal chef in Hawaii, Chloe knows that assisting a cookbook writer may stir up painful memories. But the Gourmet Girl is desperate!

While compiling a book of recipes from Boston’s top chefs, Chloe must deal with a lot of Josh’s friends, including the loud-mouthed, but lovable, Digger. Still, she stays cool until she arrives at Digger’s apartment only to find the building thoroughly charred—and Digger with it.

Chloe knows that Digger was too expert a chef to let a grease fire kill him. His death was murder. Putting her feelings on the back burner, the Gourmet Girl sifts through suspects. But as an executive chef with thorny love life, Digger had enemies by the dozen on his plate. Finding a killer when everyone has a motive is hard enough. Matters will get even stickier if the tragedy brings Josh back to Boston—and back into Chloe’s life.

You can find out more about Jessica and her Gourmet Girl Mysteries (and see more of her wonderful recipes and food thoughts) by visiting her author website by clicking here. And now here's Jessica! ~Cleo

You know what I’m really good at? Whining. Seriously, I love it. I’m great at complaining and pitching dramatic fits. You may think it’s very uncool of me to admit this, but I‘m a grown up now (supposedly) and you should take my admission as an indicator of my being terribly self-aware and comfortable in my own skin.
What I’m particularly good at whining about is the writing process. Every author has a different approach to writing, and while I picture other authors easily coming up with storylines, characters, and scintillating plot elements in a deep, thoughtful, and polite manner, I’m the complete opposite. My proces involves lots of wailing, storming around the house, complaining that I’m miserable and useless and will never get an idea to translate from my messed up brain into any understandable Word document.
I like to think that this makes me the proverbial tortured writer and is a sign of my being a true artist. Ha! I suppose I’m just a high-maintenance drama queen. Whatever. I’ve convinced myself that while words flow easily for every other author (those evil people who write twenty pages a day without blinking), I am the exception to the rule. I whine and struggle and flop myself onto the bed in desperation. Writing is work. Yes, some days are really fun and I barely get up from the computer to acknowledge the real world. But there are a lot of days that are rough.
I like to write cleanly as I go because the editing process is already enough work without adding to it with sloppy sentences and useless dialogue. So that might slow me down some. But it gives me another excuse to whine. “I can’t do this! This book sucks! I’m a failure and will never amount to anything! I don’t wanna do this! This is boring and I hate this stupid scene!”
Now, you may think whining is unproductive and childish, but it actually serves a purpose! If I’m whining about a scene that I don’t want to write, that tells me something. The best piece of advice my mother ever gave me was that if I didn’t want to write it, nobody would want to read it. She’s right.
Sometimes my resistance to writing a particular scene or chapter can show me that I should just take it out because it’s not adding to the story. Other times, when I know a scene is necessary and important, I use my whining as inspiration to make that scene different, maybe adding a quirky theme or funny twist that I hadn’t planned on. If I can entertain myself, then maybe I can entertain the reader. But let’s face, that’s still work. So I’m going to try another approach. I’ll curl up in bed with my laptop and leisurely sip a nice Pinot Grigio while I pen the most brilliant book ever written. Doesn’t that sound romantic? The kid is in bed, the chef is at work, and I will work on a bestseller. Here I go:

8:45 p.m.: Ah, this Pinot is perfectly crisp and full-bodied. I shall now work on a touching scene filled with raw emotion and powerful dialogue that will engage the reader.

9:15 p.m.: Obviously need to top off this glass in order to properly capture characters. Back in a minute…. Okay, am ready. (I type furiously for ten minutes and finish the glass of wine.)

10:00 p.m.: Huh. It seems Word has gone crazy and put offensive red and green marks all over my screen. It’s not Christmas. Do not need colorful decorations adorning my masterpiece. Strongly suspect silly program does not know anything about spelling OR grammar. Will keep writing nonetheless, as I continue to appreciate fine vintage from California. (I look around the room hoping for sudden gift of creativity to strike.) Oh, look! There’s the Rick Springfield Cruise DVD set someone sent me! A quick watch of a few songs from the concert on the lido deck will totally help with smart writing! And this calls for another glass of wine because cruise would most definitely be providing beverages at concert and I must fit in with others.
11:12 p.m.: OMG, love Rick Springfield! Love his biceps! Want to be his guitar. Okay, back to work. Will leave delightful DVD on in background while I write. In fact, will stare at television as I type and let self be inspired by rock God….

11:24 p.m.: Uh-oh. Have done something odd. Fingers were clearly not properly aligned on keyboard as have inserted full paragraph of Webdings symbols. Also typed entire lyrics to “Don’t Talk to Strangers.” Will take this as indication that watching 80s musician takes priority.

8:23 a.m.: Have written three pages of complete garbage and have raging headache. New method of writing assistance has proven ineffective. Also, have sustained hip injury, possibly related to jumping off of bed in joyous “Jessie’s Girl” dance move. Have plenty to whine about today. Oh! Have come full circle!

Oh, well. It seems my whine and wine strategy didn’t pan out very well. But I’m not giving up either one of them. COOK THE BOOKS, the fifth Gourmet Girl mystery, comes out on Tuesday and I plan on celebrating release day with an extravagant parade and a full glass.

MY Recipe: I’m nuts about that hottie chef Jamie Oliver (pictured left) and regularly use recipes from his cookbooks. This is my knockoff of one of his dishes, and it’s a good excuse to open a nice bottle of white wine. Don’t use a three-dollar bottle, please. You’ll wreck the dish and have a vile hangover from drinking the rest.

WHINING CHICKEN (or whatever you choose to call it)

2 tablespoons flour 

Salt and pepper 

1 whole chicken, cut up 

1 onion, thinly sliced
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil 

6 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced 

1 1/2 cups white wine

4-6 anchovy fillets 

1/4 cup pitted calamata olives
¼ cup green olives
5 ripe plum tomatoes, halved, seeded and coarsely chopped, or 1 can of whole plum tomatoes with most of the liquid drained from the can.
2 big handfuls of arugula

Combine flour with salt and pepper to taste. Add the chicken pieces and toss until evenly coated. Heat the olive oil in a large casserole dish over medium-high heat Add chicken pieces, and brown on one side, about 5 minutes. Turn the chicken, and add the onions and garlic. Continue to fry until the onions soften and garlic is soft but not brown. Add the wine and when it comes to a boil, add the anchovies, olives, and tomatoes.

Partly cover the pan and reduce heat to medium low. Simmer until chicken is cooked and tender, and broth is reduced to a rich sauce, 15 to 20 minutes. Check for seasoning and add salt and pepper as needed. Just before serving, remove the pot from the heat and toss in the arugula, letting it wilt in the sauce. That’s it!

Jessica, thank you again
for joining us today!

On Sale March 2nd!

Jessica's official author website here.


a set of COOKIE CUTTERS from Wilton!

Check back on March 2, when the cookie cutter winner
will be announced -- oh heck, check back every day!
There's always something fun going on!


  1. And just what do you say after that? Jess, you're a nut. I'm not sure what *kind* of nut, other than mostly harmless, but ...yeah, definitely a nut. Glad we're FB friends so I get up to the minute updates of your nuttiness!

  2. Jess, you just had me cracking up! I guess I'll have to Just Say No to wine and writing. LOVE your chicken recipe...thanks for visiting us at the Mystery Lovers' Kitchen today!


  3. Love Jamie Oliver and can't wait to check out your book :)

  4. Jessica, that was downright hysterical. I feel exactly that way all the time. Is it a writer's curse? You're right, the wine doesn't help the writing process, [neither does the whine] but there are occasions for wine and you're meal sounds like the perfect occasion. Love the chicken recipe.

    Thanks! Can't wait to read your book! ~ Avery

  5. too much fun... i loved reading every word, thanks for the insight, and hope the girls let you come back often

  6. I just added this one to my Friday Finds list :)

  7. I love cookbooks, I am off to some goodwills to find some more. I also think Jamie is cute :)
    I love to get my hands on your book too.

  8. Jessica, this is hilarious. Thank you for trying out the anti-whine wine writing program for me. Are you quite sure you did it right? I had such high hopes . . .

    Your recipe sounds just wonderful! It's on my must-make-this list.

    Thanks for joining us today!

    ~ Krista

  9. Loved the description of writing with wine :) From now on I will think of my rough drafts as being decorated for the holidays! Red and green all the way.

  10. I'm Jessica's mother, so if she really were a whiner, it would be my fault!

    I'm posting with a message from Jessica. She lives in southern New Hampshire, where everyone has something to whine about right now. A storm has caused major power outages. Our guess is that Jessica's house won't have electricity for a few days.

    So, Jessica says hello. She adds that it would great if anyone wants to post a link to this blog on Facebook or Twitter.

    Susan Conant

  11. Hi, Susan, I can do that! Tell Jess hi back for us and that we're thinking of her.

  12. Jessica Conant-ParkFebruary 27, 2010 at 9:46 PM

    Sorry I missed everything yesterday! Just got power back on a little while ago. Ugh, what a drag. You can only imagine the whining that went on... And no wine in the house. Will make up for that later! Glad everyone enjoyed the blog and I had a great time writing it.

  13. The way I see it, it's your party and you can whine if you want to you, whine if you want to...

    In the meantime...a terrific chicken recipe...

    Aww, the gnashing of teeth trying to stir up those creative doesn't help. Only makes you bite your tongue, I think.

  14. This was a fun whine interview with recipe.

    Glad your power is back on.

  15. Hilarious and spot on portrayal of the writing process. Must check out your book!!

  16. Thank you, thank you for all of the nice words about my blog! And Juju, thanks for posting me on your gorgeous site! I appreciate all the support about my whining... makes me feel less like I should try and behave like a responsible adult. It's much easier this way.

    Hope you ladies enjoy COOK THE BOOKS. It really is my favorite of the series, and there are some great recipes in this one. :)