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. 

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.

52C copy

MEET: Kay W. Smith, Author of LOTUS

lotus kay smithThe Book:

Newlywed Lotus Price has everything that she should have ever wanted: a great husband and a dream job as an executive of a prominent Chicago philanthropic foundation. Her life is going exactly as she planned—until she discovers she is pregnant and then unexpectedly encounters her first love. Despite his offer to be friends, Lotus wants to keep the past where it belongs. As the pregnancy begins to interrupt the dream that Lotus envisioned for her marriage, she is forced to rethink everything she thought she knew about her path to this point, including the single day that led her to her husband and away from the man she saw herself spending forever with. Now, as long-buried scars resurface, only time will tell what direction Lotus will take in the future—and who will be willing to give up what they have in order to get what they have always desired?

My Thoughts: Once I hunkered down and started reading LOTUS, I found myself fairly invested in the heroine of the novel – Lotus Price. What would she do? How is she handling this pregnancy? Why is her husband being detached? Why is the “love of her life” back in her life … NOW. I  felt like I was watching a great episode of Grey’s Anatomy (the early years, naturally) and it was fun. When I finally got to the last page, I couldn’t help but wonder  “Is Lotus Price going to be OK?”

Ms. Smith had made me care about her heroine and that was a great feeling!

I enjoyed how connected I felt  to the motley crew of characters that made Lotus a stand out for me. All of them were flawed, thoughtful and wonderfully grown-up.

There was no obvious “good guy versus the bad guy”, everyone was complex, layered and all had reasons for the choices that were made in the past — which, brought them to their somewhat messy present. A  rich and refreshing read, I do have one question for Kay W. Smith, can I expect a sequel? I must know what happens to Lotus Price!

The Take Away:  Life. It’s Complicated



kay smithBio:

Kay W. Smith is a writer and blogger living in Chicago, Illinois with her husband and two sons.    She worked in public policy for several years before pursuing her passion to write full-time.  She is a graduate of Spelman College and the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy.

 Get in Touch: 

Amazon Purchase Link: http://www.amazon.com/Lotus-Kay-W-Smith/dp/1483434133


GOODREADS:  https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25911512-lotus#other_reviews