Not Exactly Like Mama Used to Make

Happy Tuesday, readers,

Since I started writing romances set in the Amish community five years ago, I needed to step up my baking skills. The Amish love to cook, bake and eat. For the most part, I’m proficient at the third part of that equation. In most of my books I’ve included recipes created by an Amish friend, Rosanna. Whenever my fictional character develops a passion for say, Peach Parfait Supreme pie, Rosanna invents the recipe and invites me to sample. Since my current release takes place in Kentucky, I called upon two friends who were lifelong residents of the state for Chess Pie and Kentucky Corn Bread. A Little Bit of Charm is set on an organic, free-to-roam chicken farm. Since my character, Sally Stoll, cooks chicken in one form or another for almost every meal, I had to include my family’s cherished Chicken Paprikas recipe.

Placing the recipe in the back of the book brought back fond memories of my first attempt to impress Mom with my new culinary abilities. My mother, Elizabeth Ellis, was Hungarian through and through. For every meal Liz cooked a recipe from the Hungarian Recipes book produced by her church. When Mom came to visit my first apartment as a newlywed, I held my breath until she swallowed her first bite of chicken in rich sour cream gravy. “Yuck,” she crowed. “This paprikas is absolutely awful. What on earth did you do to it, Mary Jean?”

As you can see, I still remember her exact words. My mother only used my middle name when vastly disappointed in me. “Nothing,” I said. “I followed your directions to a T, except that I substituted fat-free sour cream to cut a few calories.” What was her reply? “Repeat after me and remember if you ever plan to cook Hungarian: If it’s not fattening, it’s not going to taste good.”

I still miss my mom even though she’s been gone many years. My cooking skills have dramatically improved over many years of marriage, but I still must agree with Liz Ellis. If you want a recipe to taste delicious, don’t skimp with ingredients or try to cut out a few fat grams. Life is short, and it’s meant to be savored.

Chicken Paprikas  (Chicken and Dumplings)

1 onion chopped                                                      2 Tbsp. salt

4 Tbsp. shortening                                                   4 to 5 lb. chicken disjointed

1 Tbsp. paprika                                                         1 ½ cups water

¼ Tsp. black pepper                                                ½ pt. sour cream

Brown onion in shortening; add seasonings and chicken; brown 10 minutes. Add water; cover and let simmer slowly until tender. (around 45 min.)  Remove chicken; add sour cream to drippings in pan and mix well. Add dumplings; arrange chicken on top. Heat through and serve. For more gravy add ½ pint sweet cream to sour cream. Add flour to thicken.


3 eggs beaten

3 cups flour

1 Tbsp. salt

½ cup water

Mix all ingredients together and beat with a spoon. Drop batter by teaspoonful into boiling salted water. Cook about 10 minutes; drain; rinse with cold water. Note: dumplings float when they’re almost done. Drain well and add to paprikas. Note: This works very well with boneless chicken breasts and with noodles instead of dumplings too. Sometimes I add mushrooms to my gravy, but shhhh, don’t tell Mom. That’s not in the recipe!

Stay warm and eat plenty of comfort food, readers.

The Minds of Animals

Happy Monday, readers!

Before I get started, I wanted to choose my winner from last week’s contest. Mary Preston, you’re the lucky winner of The Redemption of Caralynne Hayman by Carole Brown. We’ll be contacting you privately to send your copy.

Have you ever noticed that animals sometimes know who likes them and who doesn’t? I have been amazed how often they can tell friend from foe, or who happens to be afraid of them. Too bad we as humans don’t possess the same sixth sense. In my latest book, A Little Bit of Charm, my character has just moved to her cousin’s organic chicken farm. Although Rachel adores horses and takes a job working with Thoroughbred race horses, she has never met a chicken she liked—except fried on her dinner plate with a side of coleslaw. Her cousin, Sally, loves her job and has several pet hens following her around the barnyard, clucking merrily. One of those chickens takes an immediate and irrational dislike for Rachel. The bird torments my heroine any time she comes near. Never enter the free-range enclosure with bare shins becomes Rachel’s hard-learned lesson.

In real life, my aunt had a wild crow that followed her around the neighborhood when she was a child. From telephone pole to treetop, “Blackie” would keep tabs on my aunt while she rode her bike, picked blackberries, or waded in the creek. Often he sat on her shoulder if she walked slowly and fed him cracked corn. However, my aunt’s girlfriend disparaged all birds as “dirty, disease carriers.” This friend didn’t fare so well when caught in Blackie’s territory. The crow often chased her down the path and once tangled his talons in her hair.

In my personal experience, I once invited eight ladies for a summer luncheon and game of croquet on the lawn. My neighbor, who decided to join the party late, arrived with her hundred-and-fifty pound dog. As you might guess, one of the croquet players was deathly afraid of dogs. And of course, Wolfgang ran straight for this unfortunate woman, causing a major case of anxiety.

How did he know? A better question might be how is it we don’t know when fellow humans have evil intentions. Perhaps we have something to learn from chickens, crows, and man’s best friends. Little Bit of Charm, A

Here’s our newsletter winners!

Happy Wednesday, readers,

Sorry for the delay in the drawing for my newsletter contest. When I picked the date, I didn’t realize I would be out of town for the American Christian Fiction Writers’ Conference. I arrived home late Monday and yesterday picked my winners. I drew twelve names instead of the advertised ten, because I was tickled with the number of new subscribers! Without further ado, here are the twelve winners of A Little Bit of Charm:

1) Rosalind WhitmoreGEGE

2) Sarah Hillman

3) Allison Hawkes

4) Rhonda Vanvalkenburgh

5) Cecilia Hernandez

6) Martha Peace

7) Jolene Roberts

8) Cathy Thomas

9) Linda Zimmerman

I’m still waiting for 2 to contact me with their addresses: Lindazim2…..daisyrose… Thanks to everyone who subscribed to my newsletter! Here’s a few pictures from the ACFW conference. See if you don’t recognize a few friendly faces among my fellow authors of Amish fiction. Have a super week, readers! Mary








A few more interesting tidbit about the Amish

Happy Tuesday, readers,

Today I’m trying to catch up on writing before the national ACFW conference in Indianapolis. But I’ve rather neglected my blog lately! I wanted to share a few more interesting facts that I learned from Linda Hitchcock from Glascow, Kentucky. Linda helped me tremendously while I was researching the Old Order Mennonites for A Little Bit of Charm. Many of the Amish farmers in Linda’s area have started growing strawberries commercially, while others have built hothouses to extend their growing season. Frequently raised vegetables are rhubarb, squash, tomatoes, potatoes, and pepper varieties. Here’s a photo of me standing in a field of soybeans. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Also I learned about another way the Amish make a living–bookmaking. A cobbler near Sheridan makes gorgeous, fit-like-a-glove leather boots. The boot-maker traces the customer’s feet for the pattern and sets to work. Then you go back a second time to pick them up. They won’t be cheap, but they also won’t hurt your feet.

I hope you’re all enjoying these warm days. It’s finally summer in Ohio! And the calendar says practically fall. Happy reading!  Mary

Some interesting tidbits about the Amish of Kentucky

Happy Wednesday, readers. Today I’d like to share with you some interesting tidbits I learned from Linda Hitchcock, lifelong Kentucky resident and friend to several Amish and Old Order Mennonite families. One of her good friends works as a “driver” for those who usually use horses and buggies to get around. Her peak driving months are post harvest, from mid-October until around mid-March, when most crops have been planted. The Amish will still drive for doctor and dentist appointments and major grocery shopping trips. But the long-distance travel for weddings and visiting relatives isn’t done, except in rare emergencies like funerals. This driver mentioned that the ultra-conservative, Schwartzentruber Amish, are much quieter during these trips. They don’t make jokes or laugh much, and do not sing along the way. The less conservative Amish sing on long trips and aren’t inclined to be so serious. In Kentucky, most Amish weddings take place during the late fall and winter. January, particularly around New Year’s, is a very popular time for weddings! Drivers of the Amish get their business by word-of-mouth, and often take their clients great distance to North and South Dakotas and beyond, staying with the relatives as their hosts. Amish as now living in thirty states, along with Canada.

Next week I’ll share some other interesting things I learned about their gardens and home-run businesses. Have a lovely week and great Labor Day weekend!  Happy reading!  MaryLittle Bit of Charm, A

A visit back to Kentucky

Happy Monday, readers. I just heard from my friend and research contact to the Amish of Kentucky, Linda Hitchcock. She just came home from a trip to Simpson and Allen Counties. Not only did she discover a wide variety of produce, but some downright great bargains such as hand-woven straw hats for 6.00, and pickles, jams, jellies and relishes at $2.75 each. And the vendors were the friendliest she’d ever met. Besides watermelon rind pickles and chow-chow, they had “moonshine” jelly, brightly-colored pepper jellies, and jams with eye-catching names like TOE Jam, TRAFFIC Jam and FROG Jam. TOE has tangerine, orange and elderberry; traffic a mixed variety and FROG includes figs, raspberries, orange and ginger. While shopping, Linda was told that “Amish vendors must do something different to stand out these days.” The jam Linda purchased came from Spring Valley Farms, owned by the Habegger Family. Their label says: “Old Fashioned, All-Natural Home-Style Canning”. There’s a little circle which says “Preserving the Past” and a picture of two draft horse heads on the labels. The Habegger started making sorghum molasses in the mid-1960’s and has farms in both Holland, KY and Caneyville, KY.

Linda also learned that you can no longer purchase eggs from produce stands in KY unless they have refrigeration. And have you heard the term, “women of color” used in describing us outsiders? Linda learned it the other day. It doesn’t mean skin color, rather women who wear colorful clothing instead of the drab Amish attire.

I enjoyed meeting Linda while researching the Old Order Mennonites and Amish of KY in preparation to write A Little Bit of Charm. Thanks, Linda, for a look back at a beautiful part of the US of A.  Have a great week, readers. Mary

Little Bit of Charm, A



We have a consensus, and another winner

Good Monday Morning, readers,

Thanks to all of you who left me a comment after last week’s post. I had been curious about a Christian’s viewpoint on horseracing, and in particular, gambling on races. I asked the questions: Can a devout Christian be a devotee? (of racing) What about plunking down two dollars on your favorite to win the race?  I loved reading your responses. My next book, A Little Bit of Charm, deals with a young man who breeds and raises a colt to be a winner. His devoutly religious dad takes exception to Jake’s obsession with racing, particularly the expense of training a horse to contender status. His new Amish girlfriend, a lover of horses herself, also disagrees with plenty in Jake’s new lifestyle.

I have always loved horseracing, and once laid a two-dollar bet on Winning Colors to win the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. (She did, by the way, but I only bet on her because she was a filly!) Most of you felt: A little gambling in moderation will not hurt, but anything excessive, or anything at all if you can’t afford it, should be avoided. I watched the Preakness this past Saturday. No money was involved. I loved watching those sleek Thoroughbreds do what they’re bred to do. But alas, they’ll be no Triple Crown winner. Oxbow won it, denying Orb his second jewel.

And finally, Maria Kulscar, your name was drawn as the winner of Love Comes to Paradise, book 2 in the New Beginnings series. Please contact be at so I can send that out to you.  Mary

Any readers fans of Thoroughbred racing?

Happy Monday, readers,Little Bit of Charm, A

This Saturday is the annual running of the Preakness Stakes in Baltimore, Maryland. Orb, the winner of the Kentucky Derby two weeks ago in Louisville, will be vying for the second jewel of the prestigious Triple Crown. The third and final stakes race will be the Belmont Stakes in New York, three weeks later. I will be watching on TV, routing Orb on to victory. None of my hard earned money will be at stake, however. I love watching horses race, pure and simple. I attended the Preakness once, years ago, and the Kentucky Derby four times. I enjoyed myself thoroughly at each event. These days, fighting traffic and mega-crowds is no longer quite so appealing. Alas, I’ve become a couch-potato Thoroughbred racing fan. Over the years, I’ve encountered other Christians who take exception to horseracing in general, and betting on races in particular. In book three of my New Beginnings series, I explore a young man’s dream of raising a Thoroughbred colt to contender status as a three-year-old. His devout Christian father grabbles with the son’s obsession with racing, both the cost of training and the lure of potential riches. His young Amish girlfriend grabbles with Jake’s obsession with money, period. I had so much fun writing this story, and learned something about myself along the way.

I’m curious about my readers’ opinions on horseracing. Can a devout Christian be a devotee? What about plunking down two dollars on your favorite to win the race?

To celebrate A Little Bit of Charm being sent to the printers this week, I’m  giving away a copy of Love Comes to Paradise to someone who leaves a comment. Please give me your two-cents worth. And have a lovely week! Contest open to US and Canadian residents. Mary

I’ve been gone, but now I’m back!

Happy Sunday evening, readers,

Does anyone enjoy coming home from vacation? So much mail to go through, so many emails, so much laundry, pick up the dog, restock the fridge, pay the bills, catch up on yard work…the list goes on and on! But what a lovely vacation I had! First we visited family in Texas and enjoyed a wonderful Easter in San Antonio. I loved the RiverWalk and the historic missions. I truly would have enjoyed attending Mass at the Mission of San Juan, even though I’m not Catholic. What a breathtakingly beautiful church/mission.

Next we visited Baton Rouge and New Orleans, Louisiana–two of my favorite cities on earth. Although the French Quarter has plenty of things that I don’t appreciate, I still love the architecture, the music and of course, the food. Now plenty of writing and editing awaits, but I had to share some photos of a priceless vacation. I hope everyone has a lovely week as I return to the edits of A Little Bit of Charm, edits of Always in my Heart (novella), writing A Plain Man, and writing A Heart Divided (historical romance set during the Civil War)

Whew, I’ll need another vacation once all these projects are done! Have a super week of spring, readers!   Mary



Anybody up for a blog hop about works in progress?

Just for fun, a bunch of authors are answering questions about our latest WIPs (works-in-progress), and here are my quick quips. Be sure to click the links at the bottom to keep hopping on to see what’s next!

What is the working title of your book? A Little Bit of CharmLittle Bit of Charm, A

Where did the idea come from for the book? I read a non-fiction account about the Old Order Amish moving from Lancaster, PA due to the exorbitant price of farmland. I was intrigued by the smaller, more remote communities they were moving into and what major differences they would find. So I traveled to Maine, Missouri and Kentucky to research new districts. This final book in the New Beginnings series is set in the Blue Grass State.

What genre does your book fall under? Inspirational Amish Romance

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition? I would choose Leonardo DiCaprio to play my tender-hearted horse trainer Jake Brady and the lovely Reese Witherspoon for my blond heroine caught between two worlds.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? Rachel King wants nothing more than to work with horses, but when her handsome boss sweeps her off her feet, she begins to doubt everything in life, including her faith.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? My book will be represented by the Seymour Agency and published by Harvest House.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript? It takes me four and a half months to write the first draft, but I edit as I go along. So the manuscript only needs a thorough going-over when it’s finished. The final edit takes about two weeks.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? I would compare it to any books by Suzanne Woods Fisher, Kelly Irvin or Amy Clipston.

Who or What inspired you to write this book? I have been fascinated by the Amish since I was a child. When I decided to write solely Christian fiction, writing about their culture was a natural choice. For this particular book, the counties of Barren, Hart and Casey, Kentucky inspired plenty of plot twists.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest? One of the sub-plots involves the potential spreading of the “wild” polio virus, almost eradicated in this country, throughout a religious sect that doesn’t embrace vaccines. With the recent flu epidemic, including the deaths at least twenty children, this is a timely topic.

If you haven’t read book one of the series, Living in Harmony, is on sale for Kindles for 2.24. Here’s the link:

And don’t forget to hop over to Lillian Duncan’s blog next:

here’s her link: