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Crock Pot Peanut Clusters

peanut clusters imageAs we welcome the season of gift giving and neighborly greetings, a good friend shared this recipe with me last year. You may have seen this before, but if you haven’t tried it, please do! I found it to be the easiest way to make these delicious treats. No mess, no worry about scorching ingredients, and with the exception of the time it “cooks” in your crock pot, you’ll spend 20 minutes of your time to produce about 8 dozen clusters. Great return on your time investment!


  • 2 lb. dry roasted, salted peanuts
  • (1) 12 oz. package semi-sweet chocolate morsels
  • 2.5 lb. white almond bark
  • 4 oz. package of German’s Sweet Baking Chocolate

Spray inside of crock pot with cooking spray, then layer (in order) peanuts, chocolate chips, dark chocolate, and almond bark. Do not stir, and cook on low for 3 hours.

Photo clusters in the makingThen stir, and drop tablespoon-sized drops (smaller if you prefer) on waxed paper. Allow to cool completely before serving. These freeze well.

These make a great gift! I fill cellophane bags (available at the craft store) and tie with a festive ribbon.

Clusters in bag

Queen Bee’s Shells & Cheese

QueenBeeShellsCheeseHere it is, a long-time favorite and one of my mother’s specialties.

Queen Bee’s Shells & Cheese

This recipe will fill a 4 quart casserole dish (15x10x2)

  • 1 package original Velveeta
  • 2 – 3 cups Half & Half
  • ¾ cup real butter (1 ½ sticks)
  • ¼ tsp. garlic powder
  • 8 oz. package of shredded sharp cheddar cheese (hold back 1/3 of the package for topping)
  • 4 oz. fresh grated Parmesan or Romano cheese (or a combination of the two)
  • Your choice of the following: 2-4 oz. of smoked cheddar or gouda cheese, 4 oz. pepper jack. or 4 oz. of Colby (this gives you the opportunity to add a little kick to your dish. I personally love the smoked Gouda, but go easy as it can be strong)
  • One package shells

Prepare shells as directed. Coat casserole dish with cooking spray and fill with prepared shells. While hot, use ¼ cup butter to coat shells. (I just dot them and it melts quickly, then I give it a quick stir.) Set aside.

In a large saucepan on low to medium heat, combine ½ cup butter, Velveeta and 2 cups of Half & Half.  Stir frequently to keep it from scorching on the bottom. As this becomes smooth, add the other cheeses and garlic. Stir until smooth.

Pour over the shells and fill to just below the top edge. Sprinkle the remaining 1/3 package of shredded cheddar over the top, and sprinkle with course black pepper if you wish. This should appear very moist. If not, add a little more Half & Half.

Note: I usually prepare this a day or two in advance as it seems enhance the flavors. Then I remove from the refrigerator about an hour before baking.  I pierce the top in several places with a fork, then pour about ¼ to ½ cup Half & Half over the top. Don’t be afraid to add liquid. It will bake in and be very moist.

If you end up with too much cheese sauce, it can be frozen and used at a later date.

Bake at 350◦ for 1 hour, or until top becomes golden.

Truly the Queen

IMAG0505_1When it comes to my favorite plants for my summer patio, the Kimberly Queen fern takes the blue ribbon!  This fern is a wonderful departure from the Boston fern which looks similar.

Kimberly Queen is heat and drought resistant, and thrives in full sun if watered regularly. And they don’t shed! (Something I detest about Bostons.)

I usually find them at the local greenhouses in early spring for around $15-25 per plant, and when young, the fronds tend to stand straight up. Give them a week or two after planting. You’ll be thrilled by how quickly they grow and fill in. The plant in this photo was potted over Memorial Day weekend and photographed at the end of August. I have no shade on my patio, so the tolerance to full sun is imperative. I like to add some sweet potato vine, either lime or dark purple, for contrast.

Before a hard freeze this fall, you can winter these if you have a place with sun that doesn’t get too cold for prolonged periods of time. You also need to water once a month. Come spring, trim off the dead fronds and await new shoots!

Meet Liz Carson

Can your past meet your future at a funeral?

It can if you’re Liz Carson and you’re running into Gage Hamilton….

Excerpts from “Danger: Curves Ahead”

Once they were seated in the pew, Bertie whispered loudly, “At least Tony’s sober. I’d have hunted him down and shot him if he’d shown up drunk.”

A low voice from behind them added, “I’d have done it for you.”

Liz twisted to see who’d put in his two cents and her heart stopped. Gage Hamilton, broad-shouldered and handsome as sin in a charcoal gray suit that matched his eyes, gave her a wink, drawling in a low tone, “Welcome back, Liz. Good to see you—in spite of the occasion.”

Funny, but she didn’t remember him being quite so handsome. Maybe it was the way he’d filled out, or maybe it was the maturity and self-confidence he wore so well. Whatever it was, Gage was sliding into his forties in stellar shape.

And later that evening…

Liz paused in the doorway before Gage saw her. The mere sight of him leaned against the kitchen island, sipping a beer, had her heart doing double time. She liked the way he came across—all man, rugged and take-charge, but still finely honed on the edges. Clad in jeans, slightly faded and hugging his ass and thighs in the way they were intended, a peach polo shirt that showed off his tan and muscular build, and a belt that matched his maple-colored ostrich quill boots, gave him the undeniable look of quiet authority and success. Her aunt was spot on. He was just about the sexiest thing on two legs in this part of the country. It dripped off him in puddles, and she decided it might not be a bad idea to splash through.

His eyes met hers as she entered, and his smile stretched across his face, making her stomach dip in that delightful way that made her glad she was wearing panties.

So Much To See In Seattle!

What an interesting and welcoming city! I’ll post more than one blog about the sites to take it while you’re there. First, I’ll share one of my favorites–the Boeing Museum of Flight. I haven’t seen such a terrific display of aircraft outside of the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. In particular, I was impressed by the Personal Courage Wing which highlights the aircraft and flyers of WWI and WWII. I could’ve spent hours taking in the details, and really found the stories of valor and friendship so interesting.

One in particular was of an American ace who had lost his legs in a crash, re-qualified to fly with prosthetic legs, and was shot down by a German ace. The American lost his prosthetic legs in the crash and ended up in a German hospital. The German ace visited him there, making arrangements for his rival to receive replacement legs. The American agreed, but only if they were airlifted in by an American plane. The two men became lifelong friends, keeping in touch long after the war.

I also enjoyed seeing some of the newer planes fighter planes, such as an F-14 Tomcat, which the Navy pilots were shuttling to Norfolk for retirement in my in my first two books.

For more information on the Boeing Museum of Flight click here!

The Big Easy

When you think of New Orleans, images of the French Quarter come to mind…music on Bourbon Street, antiques on Royal Street, and chicory coffee with beignets at the famous Café du Monde.

But my recent trip to the Big Easy took me to the World War II Museum, a fantastic collaboration between Tom Hanks and the Malcom Forbes Foundation, now in concert with the Smithsonian Institute. This is a must for your next trip. I was particularly impressed by the 4-D movie, “Beyond All Boundaries.” This is presented several times daily in the Victory Theater, and is a 45-minute encapsulation of the staggering effort of all Americans–military and civilian alike, the unimaginable sacrifice made by millions, and ultimate cost paid by the greatest generation.

I was moved to silence and tears as I sat in the darkened theater at the conclusion of the movie. Bravo to Tom Hanks who spear-headed this production and narrates the film. As I departed, I was left wondering if our country could pull together and do something this impressive again…I certainly hope so.

Click here for a peek!

Key West Key Lime Pie

key lime pie 2For years, I’ve been spending late January in the Florida Keys, and during those years, I’ve indulged in a quest to find the perfect Key Lime Pie. (And thanks to this quest and a few others, I’ll never find my way into my “skinny” jeans, again…) Ahh, to quote Wynonna Judd–I’m so much more than the size of my jeans…

There are so many twists and variations, from the frozen bars covered in chocolate at the Blonde Giraffe, Kenny Chesney’s favorite at Blue Heaven, and a truly decadent version at the Hot Tin Roof.

I’ve made friends with a few of the chefs in Key West and the following is a combination of three of my favorite recipes. The crust from one, the coconut topping from another and the filling from a third.

Hope you enjoy, and I hope you have an opportunity to take a Key Lime Pie tour of Key West sometime soon! Let me know how you like this version!



4 large egg yolks
1 14 oz can sweetened condensed milk
2 teaspoons grated Key Lime zest
1/3 cup Key Lime juice
Dash of salt
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

6 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 whole graham crackers, broken
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1/2 cup salted cashews (may substitute macadamia nuts)

Coconut Whipped Cream:
1 1/2 cups very cold whipping cream
1/4 cup Coco Lopez
2 heaping tablespoons sifted powdered sugar
1/8 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
1/2 cup swettened coconut, tightly toasted for topping

For pie:
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
Combine yolks, zest, milk, juice and vanilla in bowl and whisk for about 2 minutes. Mixture will become smooth and will thicken slightly. Cover and set aside at room temperature for 20 minutes.

For crust:
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
Combine graham crackers, cashews and brown sugar in food processor and process to fine crumbs, add melted butter until mixture just comes together. Press onto the bottom and sides of a greased 9-inch pie dish. Place on baking sheet and bake until lightly golden brown (about 10 minutes). Remove from oven arand set aside until filling has finished setting.

Pour thickened filling into warm crust and return to the oven. Bake at 325 degrees F until the center of filling is firm, but jiggles slightly when shaken (about 15 minutes). Remove from oven and let cool to room temperature (about 1 hour), then cover the surface and refrigerate until chilled and set (about 3 hours).

For whipping cream:
Combine whipping cream, Coco Lopez, powdered sugar and vanilla bean paste in bowl for stand mixer set with whisk attachments. Whip until soft peaks form.

When ready to serve, top filling with whipped cream and sprinkle with toasted coconut. Additional garnish of lime twists add a festive appearance.

key lime pie

Ojai Valley Inn & Spa

Going to LA any time soon? Think about taking a couple of extra days to visit the Ojai Valley Inn and Spa.

This is one of the most delightfully serene resorts I’ve visited recently. And the staff is beyond helpful and welcoming! Even their most basic guest room gives you the impression of sinful indulgence—but if a room with a fireplace is available and within your budget, go for it!

Whatever your muse—painting, golf, hiking, spa—you’ll find it here. Or you can relax on your private patio and do absolutely nothing.

Be sure to take advantage of offerings at the Artist Cottage! Let Georgia, one of their delightful instructors, help you paint yourself a lovely silk scarf as a memento of your trip—no talent required, I swear!

Or indulge in a day of pampering at their world-class spa. Located about 60 miles from LA or about 25 miles from Santa Barbara. For details, visit