Pie Session: The Beautifully Imperfect – Cherry Crisp

FullSizeRender Do you know why I love crisps & crumbles?

They are forgiving.

Underneath the mounds of oatmeal and sugar you can’t see the imperfection of bruised fruit. Or perhaps your knife skills were not up-to-par because you were hastily chopping fruit while also trying to keep your four-year-old from launching himself off the couch.

It’s all ok. 

The crisp forgives, forgets and always rewards. Sweetly.

As of late, I have been going through a major crisp obsession, it started with a bag of cherries that seemed to have seen better days. But rather then toss them, I decided to give them a starring role in a summer dessert.

Boy, did they shine.

The end result was the kindest crisp I’ve ever had. It also  happen to look as beautiful as it tasted.

I like to think it’s because imperfection often does taste better when handled with care.

Photo courtesy of  my lovely friend Lia Sawalqah who is a member of the ‘ crisp baking crew’ along with Tammy Martin, myself and that sweet little dog who is waiting for some sweet cherries to hit the ground. 



Cherry-Nectarine Crisp 

Adapted from King Arthur’s Cook Book + Mary Engelbreit’s Sweet Treats Dessert Cookbook 


1 cup rolled oats
3/4 cups firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
6 tablespoons butter or margarine
4 cups pitted Bing cherries
3 Nectarines (sliced as you see fit)


Pour the fruit mixture into an ungreased 13 X 9 pan. Mix together oats, sugar, flour, cinnamon and cardamom; cut in butter till mixture is crumbly. Pour topping onto fruit. Bake at 375°F for 40 minutes, or until fruit bubbles and topping is brown. This is best served warm, with ice cream or whipped cream. Make it up any time during the day, put in the refrigerator, then bake just before serving.



SUMMER SERIES: Talking Research with Author Mary Simses

Summer Session: Writing Tips #2   I had a chance to get some insight on research  from author Mary Simses, who just released her latest novel The Rules of Love & Grammar. If you haven’t had a chance to pick up a novel by Simses, add her new novel to your to-be-read list, it is wonderful and you can see the layers of all of her research in every page.  Let’s welcome Mary and please share some of your own research tips with us here!

~ Cindy Arora


Simses_RulesLoveGrammar_HC.inddYour first book, The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop & Cafe, was so full of wonderful color and detail, so my question for you is how much research do you do for your own writing? And what are some tips to other writers you can share about the importance of research of ones topic? 

MARY: I did a lot more research for my second novel, The Rules of Love & Grammar, than for my first novel, The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop & Café. That’s because I had two key areas I needed to know a lot more about. One was restoring an old bicycle; the other was filming a movie on location. For the bike restoration, I obtained most of what I needed by talking with the owner and manager of a local bike shop in my home town in Florida. I took a lot of photos at the shop so I could describe the showroom and the workroom. I also did research on the Internet, to get names of bicycle parts and tools, brands of bikes, repair videos, etc.

What are some challenges you faced while researching your latest novel, The Rules of Love & Grammar? 

MARY: What was more of a challenge was getting information about shooting movies on location. I’ve never been to a movie shoot and I tried hard to get permission to attend one, but I was unsuccessful. I was, however, able to talk to some people who work in the field and that was really helpful. I also read books and articles and blogs about making movies, and looked at a lot of photos of location shoots that were done in the Northeast. In the end, I got what I needed – more than I needed, which often happens. The risk of having too much research is that you sometimes want to use more of it than you should (I guess on the theory that it shouldn’t go to waste!), but that’s a recipe for disaster as it can really slow down the book.

I didn’t have to do extensive research for my settings (the towns of Beacon, Maine in Blueberry Café and Dorset, Connecticut in Love & Grammar) because they are both fictional towns, although I created them by using bits and pieces of real towns with which I’m familiar. When I’m describing a setting, I sometimes start with a photo I like. Grace’s house in Dorset was inspired by a photo I found on the Internet while searching for Connecticut homes on the waterfront. I only had a photo of the outside, which showed a lovely old house on a large piece of waterfront property and a garage, in a style similar to the house, further down the driveway. Seeing only the outside of the house was perfect, because I wanted to design the inside of it myself.

Can you share some advice on timing and how you keep yourself organized?
MARY: In terms of timing, I did some basic bicycle restoration research when I first started writing the novel. (I don’t outline my novels, although I do know the major plot points from the beginning.) As I continued to write, if I needed more information and I couldn’t get it quickly or didn’t want to interrupt the flow of writing I just left a blank line and made a note in the margin, using “comments” in the “review” function of Word. Later, when I had a batch of questions to resolve, I’d go back and do the research. I followed a similar procedure with the film production research. I tried to do as much of it as I could in the beginning, but questions arose as I wrote the story and rather than constantly interrupt the flow of writing, I made notes in the margin and finished the research later.

Everything I do regarding my books is on my laptop. That includes all manuscript drafts, notes and ideas for the story, notes about characters, research, photos, and anything else I need. Actually, I take that back. There is one thing I couldn’t keep on my laptop – a large piece of foam-board on which I placed yellow stickies to represent the shops and businesses in downtown Dorset. That helped me keep things straight when I was describing the town.


MarySimsesMary Simses grew up in Darien, Connecticut and began writing stories at the age of seven. In college, she majored in journalism because she didn’t believe she could ever make a living as a fiction writer. After working in magazine publishing for a few years, she went back to school to become a lawyer. While working as a corporate attorney, she enrolled in an evening fiction writing class at a university in Connecticut and began writing short stories “on the side.” Several of her stories were published in literary magazines. Mary finally took the advice of a friend and decided to try writing a novel. That manuscript ultimately became The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop & Café, a number one best-seller in Germany. The Rules of Love & Grammar is her second novel. 

PIE CAMP: Banana Cream Pie (Heatwave Edition)

Screen Shot 2016-05-24 at 12.25.28 PMSeveral weeks ago I was looking through the summer catalog of one of my favorite cooking schools here in Los Angeles, daydreaming about learning to make my own Breakfast Rustic Breads when I suddenly saw the class I had been dreaming about since I was 10 years old.

Pie Camp.

Pie and camp. Together? This was everything.

Since running away to Pie Camp isn’t really feasible for me, I decided to make my own home version,  a Pie-cation if you will, where I can learn how to make my own summer pies with a little help from friends, cookbooks and sheer will.

My first session of Pie Camp happened this past weekend which happened to coincide with Father’s Day, the first day of summer and LA’s first sweltering heatwave of the season.


This was how I decided to go with  a No-Bake Banana Cream Pie for my first class, because turning on an oven when it’s 109 degrees outside, would not have gone over well with the family.

Here’s the thing about a cream and/or custard pies, I often forget how much I like them, mainly  because I am completely smitten by berry beauties and stone fruit pies that beguile from the pastry case. But after checking out a few different recipes and talking to a few baker friends, I went with a basic recipe I found at Taste of Home (TOH) thanks to my friend and editor of TOH Emily Betz Tyra.

She had recommended trying the Chocolate Banana Cream Pie which was featured on the cover of their most recent magazine, which looks beautiful, right?

I opted for a basic and traditional Banana Cream recipe for my first class, so I could start off strong without too many baking mistakes.  Making the cream filling was the most involved part, but it came out wonderfully light and sweet.  Once things started to look and feel  like a real pie was being made, I felt more comfortable and confident and I threw in some sliced bananas into the sauce and then added shredded coconut for texture.

It went in the refrigerator overnight and voila! We had pie for breakfast, lunch and then dinner, because that’s the great thing about homemade pie, you can have more than one slice.

Confession: I do have to admit, I did go with a pre-packaged Graham Cracker Crust mainly because turning on the oven during a heatwave seemed cruel to the rest of my family. It came out wonderful, but I am sure a homemade crust would have crushed it. 

Check out my summer project here:


Homemade Banana Cream Pie  + My New Sandals

Homemade Banana Cream Pie


Classic Banana Cream Pie  


  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups 2% milk
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 pastry shell (9 inches), baked
  • 2 large firm bananas
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream, whipped


  • 1. In a large saucepan, combine sugar, cornstarch, salt and milk until smooth. Cook and stir over medium-high heat until thickened and bubbly. Reduce heat; cook and stir 2 minutes longer. Remove from heat. Stir a small amount of hot filling into eggs; return all to pan. Bring to a gentle boil; cook and stir 2 minutes longer.
  • 2. Remove from heat. Gently stir in butter and vanilla. Press plastic wrap onto surface of custard; refrigerate, covered, 30 minutes.
  • 3. Spread half of the custard into pastry shell. Slice bananas; arrange over filling. Pour remaining custard over bananas. Spread with whipped cream. Refrigerate 6 hours or overnight. Yield: 8 servings.

Nutritional Facts

1 serving (1 slice) equals 433 calories, 22 g fat (11 g saturated fat), 103 mg cholesterol, 358 mg sodium, 55 g carbohydrate, 1 g fiber, 6 g protein.



SUMMER SERIES: Writing + Time Management with Laura McNeil


summer_time-1455175With summer fast approaching, I realized that I wanted to do something this season that would help keep me on track as I chip away at Book #2.  I needed some inspiration, some words of wisdom and motivation from other authors and I also needed pie. Lots of it. 

 I decided to host a Summer Series on my blog from June through August that will consist of a monthly Author Interview with a writer sharing their words of wisdom on the craft of writing.  But wait for it, since life isn’t just about work, I am also going to have a Pie of the Month featured with tips and ideas from local LA bakers and writers who will share their expert ideas on making an enviable summer pie. 

I have our first pie lined up with tips from Emily Tyra, Editor of Taste of Home in Milwaukee. No one can rock a pie like Ms. Tyra. 

Hope you join me through the summer! And should you have any requests, be it writing, an author request or pie tips,  please email me at smallplatemedia@gmail.com

Have a great summer and here’s to getting lots of writing and pie eating done this season.  ~ Cindy Arora 





This week, let’s welcome our first author,  Laura McNeil, who recently released her latest novel Sister Dear,  which is a must-add to your summer reading pile.  

Take it away Laura!  


If you’re an aspiring or experienced author, looking to carve out 30 or 90 minutes each day to write, how should you do it? What’s the best time to write? How long and how fast should you write?

Though many authors use different approaches to manage writing time, one thing remains the same: it’s a challenge to work full-time and have a family, let alone find the hours needed to work on a novel.

Since I’ve recently added graduate school, a new job, a new house, and a book tour to the mix, life is a little crazy! To get everything done, it’s all about priorities and a set schedule.


Remember, only you know your schedule and goals, so feel free to tweak my advice and make it work for you!

  1. Plan your Novel – For me, having a detailed outline of my novel is necessary. That means I brainstorm, decide the beginning, middle, and end of the story, and complete a short summary of each chapter before ever starting on page one of chapter one. This “roadmap” helps keep me on track. When I pop open my laptop every day, I only have to glance at my outline to know where my writing is heading. Now, that doesn’t mean I never veer off course or add a scene or delete a few paragraphs, but it does streamline the process and certainly staves off writer’s block!
  2. Look at the Big Picture – Writing an 80 or 90,000 word novel is daunting, but if you divide the work up into chapters or page count, the task becomes manageable.
  3. Set a Word Count – For me, 1500 words a day is doable. I write five days a week, usually, when I’m deep into a project, which means I need 12 weeks – or 3 months – to complete my rough draft. If I decide that my word count goal is 1000 words, and I write five days a week, I’ll need 18 weeks – or about 4 and a half months to complete the first draft.
  4. Write (Almost) Every Day – Like I mentioned, I try to write five days a week. Remember that life happens, children get sick, crises arise, and schedules get interrupted. Five days a week is a reasonable goal.
  5. Write at the Same Time – Writing at the same time every day, I find, makes writing much easier. I write best early in the morning, so I make it a habit to wake up, make my coffee, and open my laptop first thing. I find that after a week or so into a new book, my brain knows to “turn on” that time of day!
  6. Find your Zen Space – Quiet is very important for me, but you may be the sort of person who can work well in a noisy coffee shop or with music in the background at home. Not everyone has a home office Whatever works for you, keep with that routine for the duration of the book. Again, once you start that routine, and get in your writing “space,” the creativity will begin to flow.



About the Author

Laura McNeil is a writer, web geek, travel enthusiast, and coffee drinker. In her former life, she was a television news anchor for CBS News affiliates in New York and Alabama. Laura holds a master’s degree in journalism from The Ohio State University and is completing a graduate program in interactive technology at the University of Alabama. When she’s not writing and doing homework, she enjoys running, yoga, and spending time at the beach. She lives in Mobile, AL with her family.

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