Outdoor Cooking!

One of the things I love about the summer is cooking and eating outside and of my favorite dishes to cook is paella.

I live in southern Spain in the mountains and my Spanish neighbors have been trying to teach me how to make perfect paella for years. Paella is a traditional Spanish rice dish named after the flat pan it is usually cooked in, the paellera, and is usually cooked outside over charcoal. It was traditionally made using any vegetables available and any animals that could be caught in the campo—often rabbits, snails, frogs…

The recipe I use is based on Valencian paella. Valencia is a province in the east of the country as opposed to Andalucía where I live in the south, but this is the easiest and most consistent recipe I have come across.

1111Okay so here it is. This recipe serves four—or two people, three dogs, a cat and a hungry pig.

100ml olive oil

Small jar of chick peas

Meat of your choice (eg  2 chicken breasts, cut into 4 pieces and 2 rabbit legs, jointed)

125g green beans (or any green vegetable you have)

I large tomato

I liter of chicken stock

I liter of white wine (I buy this in cartons for cooking)

Pinch of saffron dissolved in boiling water

1 tablespoon sweet paprika

Sprig of rosemary

350g Spanish paella or bomba rice.

Heat the oil and fry the meat in batches until golden brown, then reduce the heat to low and add the green beans, fry for five minutes, then add the chopped tomato and fry for 3 more minutes.

Stir in the paprika, add the stock, wine and chick peas. Return to the boil and add the rosemary and saffron. Simmer for 30 minutes. Sprinkle on the rice, boil for 5 minutes, then lower heat and simmer for fifteen until the rice is cooked and the liquid evaporated. Season to taste.

We love seafood and often add any we have around—calamari, prawns, mussels— toward the end of cooking. And it improves if you cover and leave to stand for ten minutes or so at the end of cooking.

Serve it with a big jug of Spanish sangria!225px-ValencianPaella

And there it is. Really easy and a great dish to do if you have people over as it just about cooks on its own once it’s up and running (just don’t drink too much sangria until it’s done or you can forget to add the rice…)

Do you have a favorite recipe you love cooking outdoors in the summer?

About Nina Croft

Nina Croft grew up in the north of England. After training as an accountant, she spent four years working as a volunteer in Zambia which left her with a love of the sun and a dislike of 9-5 work. She then spent a number of years mixing travel (whenever possible) with work (whenever necessary) but has now settled down to a life of writing and picking almonds on a remote farm in the mountains of southern Spain. Nina writes all types of romance often mixed with elements of the paranormal and science fiction.

Making Christmas Sexy…

For me, Christmas is a holiday that’s all about friends and family and therefore not particularly sexy. But I’m a romance writer and I find that sort of sad, so I think everyone should take some time out to add a little sexiness to the festivities and the best way to do that is to resort to one of my favorite pastimes—reading romance.

So put the turkey (or goose in my case this year) in the oven, sneak back to bed, and snuggle up with a nice, sexy, Christmas themed romance. For me it would have to include a vampire or maybe a werewolf and a few strategically placed sprigs of mistletoe.

Or, even better, if you think you’re liable to be disturbed in the bedroom, then how about a nice, hot bubbly bath, and if you can sneak a bottle of cava (that’s Spanish champagne) and some chocolates in with you—all the better.

MWM_MD

 

Probably a novella is best, as you’re unlikely to be granted enough time to read a full length novel. And it just so happens I have a Christmas themed novella, Mid-Winter Magic, perfect for the occasion.

So what’s your favorite way to make Christmas just a little bit sexy? Let me know for a chance to win an ecopy of some fabulous Christmas stories.

About Nina Croft

Nina Croft grew up in the north of England. After training as an accountant, she spent four years working as a volunteer in Zambia which left her with a love of the sun and a dislike of 9-5 work. She then spent a number of years mixing travel (whenever possible) with work (whenever necessary) but has now settled down to a life of writing and picking almonds on a remote farm in the mountains of southern Spain. Nina writes all types of romance often mixed with elements of the paranormal and science fiction.

Winter is Coming…

Winter is coming… that’s the way I view autumn. The summer is over, and winter is on its way. And I don’t like it.

I’m English, and I come from the north of the country in an area known as the Lake District. It’s spectacularly beautiful but very, very wet (think just really big puddles everywhere). And I seem to have spent most of my life heading south in search of the sun.

I now live in the mountains of Southern Spain, but even here, the winters can be cold and throughout November the temperatures drop daily, the nights are getting darker and the days shorter. And I miss the summer.

Nina CroftMy writing reflects my love of summer. I have two books releasing this month, Bittersweet Magic, which came out this week, and Operation Saving Daniel, which releases later in the month. Both stories take place in July. So even my characters love the sun (well, except for the vampires, and they like lovely balmy evenings where they can lay outside counting the stars.)

So November is maybe my least favorite month of the year; there’s no chance of even an Indian summer, the long winter stretches ahead, and I’m English, so I don’t even have Thanksgiving to look forward to.

Lol- I’m sounding miserable! So to counteract my Novemberly miserableness, I’ve decided to stop thinking of what I hate about winter and make a list of all the things I like and can look forward to (and be thankful for!) Here goes:

  • Log fires – yesterday we lit the first fire of the year – I love real fires; there’s something so romantic about curling up in front of the flickering flames…
  • Christmas – who doesn’t love Christmas! And New Year, a chance for a brand new start.
  • Snow – while I live in southern Spain, I also live at around 3300 feet above sea level – it gets cold and we do have snow and it’s beautiful. Also behind us, to the north, is Mulhacen, mainland Spain’s highest mountain. Any day now, we’ll have the first snow and that will stay right into next June/July
  • Long, dark evenings and the chance to watch back-to-back seasons of my favorite TV shows, 24, West Wing, Grey’s Anatomy, Battlestar Gallactica…
  • Horse riding on lovely, crisp, frosty mornings, when the air is clear and the sky is blue and I can see all the way down my mountain to the Mediterranean.

Okay, I’m out of ideas and need help – what are your favorite things about the coming cold season? Comment for a chance to win this month’s giveaway; a $10 Amazon gift E-card and a copy of the fabulous, Letters from Home, courtesy of Bethanne Strasser!

About Nina Croft

Nina Croft grew up in the north of England. After training as an accountant, she spent four years working as a volunteer in Zambia which left her with a love of the sun and a dislike of 9-5 work. She then spent a number of years mixing travel (whenever possible) with work (whenever necessary) but has now settled down to a life of writing and picking almonds on a remote farm in the mountains of southern Spain. Nina writes all types of romance often mixed with elements of the paranormal and science fiction.

When did Scary become Sexy?

I write a lot of paranormal romance and my heroes and heroines are often the stuff of old nightmares—blood-sucking monsters, things that turn furry when the moon is full…

But scary monsters as romantic leads are relative new. Growing up, the vampires in the books I read and the films I watched were the bad guys. They were meant to make you scream not swoon. Bram Stoker’s Dracula was probably the first vampire book I read and he was definitely not a heroic figure. And then there were all those early Dracula films where the vampires were the monsters, and the heroes had to destroy them to save the poor heroine.

interview with a vampireSo when exactly did scary become sexy. For me, the first vampire book, which made me look at vampires in a different light, was Anne Rice’s Interview with a Vampire. I fell madly in love with Lestat. Since then, the scary monsters are popping up in romance stories everywhere. Not just vampires, but werewolves, dragons, witches… It seems the bad guys have become loveable.

Why do these former monsters make such good heroes? Is it merely a hang up from our love of being scared, the need for that adrenalin rush, or is there more? Here’s a few reasons why I think they work so well in romance:

  • I love a bad boy hero and these monsters make the ultimate bad boys. Their very darkness lends them to being alpha heroes, lets them get away with a lot of things the heroes in contemporary romance can’t get away with anymore—they have all these inhuman hungers, so we just have to make allowances.
  • Danger heightens emotions. So give us an intrinsically dangerous hero and you already have an edge to the story. And if we doubt he can keep all those inhuman hungers under control, the tension increases even more.
  • People love a redemption story – who isn’t going to root for a woman who can bring out the sweet side in her werewolf, persuade him to kiss her not eat her.
  • Immortality—you know your vampire is never going to grow old—he’ll stay stunning forever.

So which monsters do you think make good romantic characters, or do you think they should all stay firmly in the shadows? Let me know for a chance to enter this month’s draw.

About Nina Croft

Nina Croft grew up in the north of England. After training as an accountant, she spent four years working as a volunteer in Zambia which left her with a love of the sun and a dislike of 9-5 work. She then spent a number of years mixing travel (whenever possible) with work (whenever necessary) but has now settled down to a life of writing and picking almonds on a remote farm in the mountains of southern Spain. Nina writes all types of romance often mixed with elements of the paranormal and science fiction.

School for Grown Ups

I have to admit that I approached this theme with some trepidation. I don’t have children and the whole summer holiday’s thing just passes me by.

But maybe going back to school shouldn’t just be for children. I think as we get older (and I do know a little about that) we need to make the effort to learn new things.

My life up to the age of twenty-four was pretty much all schooling. First, actual school, then University where I studied Ecology and Marine Biology, and finally, studying for my Accountancy qualification while working in London (by far the hardest). Anyway, once that was over, I understandably decided, no more—I was through with learning.

Or so I thought.

Of course I wasn’t. All through life, we pick up new skills. In this age of fast changing technology we have to or get left far behind. But I did manage to put off any formal education for a good long time. And didn’t return to “lessons” until I took up writing seriously and realized just how much I had to learn.

My first venture into re-educating myself was an Open University online course called “Start Writing Fiction.” I loved it. That was around eight years ago after we’d moved to the mountains in Spain—the perfect place to write—and it was my first creative writing course.

I’ve done a lot since then, everything from, writing dialogue, description, branding myself, marketing myself, how to edit, how to crit, how to kill someone with a pointy (or blunt) weapon, how to plot not to plot… There are courses for everything. And I’ve found I really enjoy learning new ways of doing the same things—but of course doing them better (I hope).

Gencianna

But writing is pretty much my life now, and I think it’s important to look outside that and learn something different, some totally new skill. My latest re-education venture is far different from writing—I’m learning to trim my horse’s hooves. I have a mare called Gencianna. Up until now, like most horses, she’s worn shoes. No more—she’s going barefoot, which means she needs a regular pedicure. And so far, it’s a lot harder than learning to plot.

 

So have you been back to “school” recently? What did you learn? And if not, is there anything you’re dying to study. Let me know for a chance to enter into this month’s draw.

About Nina Croft

Nina Croft grew up in the north of England. After training as an accountant, she spent four years working as a volunteer in Zambia which left her with a love of the sun and a dislike of 9-5 work. She then spent a number of years mixing travel (whenever possible) with work (whenever necessary) but has now settled down to a life of writing and picking almonds on a remote farm in the mountains of southern Spain. Nina writes all types of romance often mixed with elements of the paranormal and science fiction.

Places Worth Writing About…

I think having visited a place can add a sense of authenticity to descriptions in a story, giving settings a vibrancy and vividness that otherwise might be lacking.

I used to love travelling and for many years we (me and my other half) would travel whenever we could, often working to save enough money and then heading off for a few months. We visited, Africa, South East Asia, India…

These days we’ve settled down on a farm in the mountains of Spain, together with a whole load of animals, which means it’s no longer possible for us to travel (at least not together—which takes the fun out of it) but I still make use of the places we visited in my stories.

We’re both sun-lovers and we usually headed for hot and exotic locations. But before moving to Spain, we lived in Scotland for four years. We did plenty of travelling around the country, and I came to love the rugged beauty of the Scottish Highlands.

For me, one of the most enjoyable ways to appreciate the countryside is to walk. I did a four-day walk, part of the West Highland Way, from Loch Lomond to Glen Nevis, with my sisters. My husband would drive to meet us at the hotel each night so we didn’t have to carry our luggage. He usually had large brandies set up on the bar to warm us up—have I mentioned it rains a lot in Scotland?

  © Copyright Pip Rolls and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

© Copyright Pip Rolls and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

We spent one very wet day hiking over Rannoch Moor, but it was worth it for the breathtaking scenery. So when I was looking for a particular type of location for a story, the moors came to mind.

My latest release, Losing Control, takes place mainly in London. But the hero and heroine do go away for a weekend (the plan being to have a weekend of wild, torrid sex, get the whole sex thing out of their systems, after which they could go back to being friends) and they wanted somewhere remote. So I took them to a romantic Scottish castle situated to the north of Rannoch moor. Needless to say, their plan didn’t quite work out.

Do you like to read or write about places you have been? Or do you prefer a whole new experience? Let me know for a chance to be entered in this month’s draw.

About Nina Croft

Nina Croft grew up in the north of England. After training as an accountant, she spent four years working as a volunteer in Zambia which left her with a love of the sun and a dislike of 9-5 work. She then spent a number of years mixing travel (whenever possible) with work (whenever necessary) but has now settled down to a life of writing and picking almonds on a remote farm in the mountains of southern Spain. Nina writes all types of romance often mixed with elements of the paranormal and science fiction.

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