Almond-Lemon Shortbread Cookies

Have you ever found a recipe you liked, then tweaked and tweaked and tweaked it some more until it was AMAZING? That's how these shortbread cookies evolved. They started off as okay, but now they are buttery, flakey with a hint of almond and lemon that just makes your taste buds burst with pleasure. Fabulousness in a simple bite.

Almond-Lemon Shortbread Cookies


3 sticks of butter at room temperature
1 c. sugar, plus a little extra for sprinkling
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. almond extract
zest from 1/2 of a lemon
3 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. sea salt


1. In a large bowl, use hand mixer to cream the butter and sugar together. Then add the vanilla, almond and lemon zest. Mix together well. Add salt, then gradually add flour while mixing on low-medium speed. The dough mixture will be dry and possibly a bit crumbly. Continue to beat until all the ingredients are well combined.

2. Use your hands to shape the dough into a ball. On a clean, floured surface, reshape the dough into a flat disk about 3 inches thick. Cover with plastic wrap, then chill for 20 minutes.

3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove the chilled dough and roll out on a floured surface until it's 1/2 inch thick. You can either cut it into fingers (pictured), circles, or use large shape cookie cutters. If cutting into fingers, I prefer to use my pizza cutter and make them about 3"x1" rectangles.

4. Place cookies on a baking sheet lined with either a Sil-Pat or parchment paper. Sprinkle the cookies with sugar, then bake for 20-25 minutes until the edges begin to brown. Let the cookies cool for 5-10 minutes before moving.

Makes about 30 finger shortbread cookies.

Happy baking!

Fabulous Contest for Romance Writers!

My Romance Writers of America chapter (MARA) hosts an amazing contest each year. Each entry gets gobs and gobs of feedback. It's the one RWA contest that is repeatedly mentioned by RITA and Golden Heart finalists and winners. Which means if you write romance, you want to enter!

Check out the line-up of industry professionals listed below. Then go to to find out how to enter MARA's 2013 Fiction from the Heartland Contest.

Category Romance-Wanda Ottewell,Harlequin
Contemporary Single Title- Kate Dresser,Harlequin
Historical-Leah Hultenschmidt,Sourcebooks
Romantic Suspense-Patience Bloom,Harlequin
Paranormal-Esi Sogah,Kensington
Erotic Romance- Leis Pederson,Berkeley
Young Adult Romance/New Adult Romance-Karen Grove,Entangled
Inspirational-David Long,Bethany House

Shira Hoffman-McIntosh and Otis
Margaret Bail-Inklings Literary Agency
Laura Bradford-Bradford Literary Agency
Deidre Knight-The Knight Agency
Nicole Resciniti-Seymour Agency

Now hop over and enter. Good luck!

How a Romance Author Tortures Her Children

I'm a writing, reading, watch-the-movie, romance breathing chick. And I think it's important for my children to explore the wonderfulness of sigh-worthy romance too.

Even if it's my autistic teenage son.

Cue the scene:

My son loves writing short movies. He plots out the scenes, writes the screenplay, practices the scene, then films it with our video camera. Today, he was practicing a scene he wrote for his Hero Factory team.

The scene: Preparing to leave on a long, adventurous journey.

Then Mom popped in.

Me: "So, who's the girl?"

Son: "Girl?"

Me: "There has to be a girl. You can't have a movie without a girl. It's not politically correct."

He sighed, then pointed to the white action figure (hereafter called White Chick) and said, "That one can be the girl."

I then picked up White Chick and nabbed the Red Guy too. 

White Chick: "Be careful, sweetie. Have a safe, but successful journey." 

Red Guy: "I'll do my best, dear. But how will I survive without you and your snuggles?" 

White Chick: "Just remember this, sweetheart." 

Cue in the kissy, smoochie, kissy, kissy stuff. 

My son freaked out. "No more kissy kissy scenes! You're ruining the movie!" 

I just smiled, gave myself a mental pat on the back and decided to share my triumph with my bloggy friends. 

What fun things do you do to torture your kids?  =)

My 12 Year Old + Penumbras by Braden Bell = Reading Addiction Delight

Please welcome my awesome daughter, MJ, as she talks about a new book she was asked to review.

Penumbras, the sequel to The Kindling, is an adventure packed and a touch of romance novel about the strange lives of Connor, Lexa, and Melanie. In my opinion, this was a no putting down book. The beginning was interesting and persuading to read the rest. I liked, no loved, Penumbras. My favorite character is Melanie. I liked her because she was understanding, caring, and calm on the outside when on the inside she was boiling with frustration or anger. After reading Penumbras, I got to interview the author, Braden Bell.

Interview With Braden Bell

*How do you make the feelings in your books so strong?

A: I’m glad you felt that they were strong! That’s a good question. I think there are a few different answers. My background is in theatre. Actors learn how to draw on their past experiences to create authentic emotion—even if they haven’t been in that exact situation. I try to do this with my characters. Also, some things might be based on a similar situation in my real life. For example, the scene with Lexa and Dr. Timberi at the end was written after a confrontation with one of my students. The situation wasn’t exactly the same, but the emotions were fairly similar.

*When did Lexa become such a drama queen? She wasn’t a drama queen in The Kindling.

A: That’s a good question. I think that Lexa has always had those tendencies. For example, there was a fight she and Melanie had in the beginning of The Kindling when they were trying to decide what to do about the teachers following them—I think that shows some of Lexa’s tendencies.

Lexa is extremely dramatic. She lives her life in very vivid emotional terms. In The Kindling, she was always extremely excited. She talks in long sentences without pausing much. And she had just finished playing the lead in the school play. In The Kindling, everything was new and exciting—most of the time, things went her way.

This book is different because things start not going her way. From the very beginning, she starts feeling left out, and then things start going downhill from there. So, she reacts in very heightened emotional terms. She’s very sorry for that now!

*How long is the series going to be?

A: I’m working on the third book now and I think that will wrap it up. Although, I have toyed with the idea of doing a prequel that talks about how the teachers all get to know each other years before The Kindling starts.

*How do you come up with your characters? Their strengths? Their weaknesses? Their uniqueness?

A: That’s another great question. In the very beginning, I had a few students in mind when I was writing these characters. However, after just a few pages, the characters became very real to me—they were no longer based on someone else. They took on their own life and those qualities just sort of emerged.

*What inspired you to write The Kindling and Penumbras?

Well, many years ago I was at home and there was a massive thunderstorm going on. My family was at a church activity and when they got home, my kids told me about a guy they had seen. He was wearing a black cape and walking across people’s lawns in the storm. I started wondering what on earth someone would be doing out in the storm—and in a cape! That got my imagination firing and I stayed up the rest of the night writing the battle scenes in the choir room and cafeteria for The Kindling. Once that was written, I knew I wanted to write a sequel.

*How do you feel about your characters? Some people say their characters are their children or best friends.

I love them!!!! I don’t know that they are my best friends, but I really enjoy them. I enjoy writing them. And I’ll miss them a lot when the series finally ends.

*How do you choose when to plant the tragic events?

Some writers are very methodical and they outline their books very carefully. I’m not quite that left-brained. I sort of go with what I feel, with what my gut says. Once it’s written, then I do an outline and try to tighten things up. But the tragic events felt like they needed to go where they were. Especially the big one at the end.

*Can you give me any hints for the next book?

Well, let’s see. Lexa realized she acted badly and she’s struggling to not be a drama queen. I’m actually really proud of the maturity shows. Conner and Melanie, on the other hand, are struggling with trying not to blame Lexa for what happened—even though they know it’s not her fault, they still feel some anger. So the three of them have to work through those feelings-their main goal, of course, is to try to find their missing friend. Conner and Pilaf are trying to figure out what’s going on with their gifts, and there is a big trial for their enemy—so we get to hear more about his past.

I’m trying to tie up all the loose ends—so readers will learn why Madi can see Light and Dark, why Melanie’s dad and Dr. Timberi don’t like each other, and why the three friends Kindled at the same time.

I’m kind of excited about it, actually! Especially the ending. It’s basically happy—but a little bittersweet. I hope it will be a really good surprise—I don’t want to say too much about it, but I laughed and cried while writing it because it just felt so right to me.


I recommend The Kindling and Penumbras to readers who like action and adventure - especially if you think Middle School is sometimes weird and sometimes funny. You can find out more about Mr. Bell's books, the blog tour that kicks off tomorrow AND a Penumbras book giveaway on his website.

Thank you for asking me to review your book, Mr. Bell!

Love, MJ