The Writer’s Ultimate Secret: Making Magic with Words and Cookie Dough

Over the past year in “Cooking Up a Storey,” I’ve shared my secret recipes for creating unforgettable stories and mouth-watering cookies. In January, I discussed the power of sharing our experiences as artists with each other to get a necessary grounding in reality. In April, I talked about the one sure-fire way to make your work stand out—care passionately and give it your all. In July, I suggested we all look at the damaging myths of what “success” means for a writer. In the common understanding this is external validation like money, fame, and awards, which are bestowed on only a tiny fraction of working writers. In September, I suggested a cure for writer’s block: an undying curiosity about the workings of the human heart, mind, and libido. November brought a focus on the ridicule we face as erotica writers, and our secret revenge—getting in touch with pleasure by celebrating it, listening to it, exploring it.

While the writing life may seem glamorous to those who only dream of becoming the next Shakespeare or Tom Clancy, anyone who actually tries to write a good story knows how difficult and complex the task is. We often feel discouraged when our personal path does not fit the myths. Thus the final “secret” I’d like to share is this. In our media-saturated society, we are constantly urged to compare ourselves to world-famous celebrities, but holding ourselves to such standards can rob us of an appreciation of our own creative power. The truth is, we don’t have to have our own cooking show to bake something that will have diners smacking their lips in delight. We don’t have to win “The Voice” to sing a lovely song that will touch hearts. We don’t have to be followed by TMZ to be a worthwhile human being. And we don’t have to be E.L. James to write erotica that will put sizzle in our lives and arouse readers. We have the power to create something magical from the most mundane ingredients, be it a story from words or a batch of cookies from sugar, butter and flour. Let’s use it well and never let anyone take that power from us.

But to borrow some wisdom from Spiderman’s Uncle Ben, with great power comes great responsibility. One of the most appealing myths of publishing is that our most popular and/or revered writers are actually demi-gods, gifted by the Muses, who dash off their brilliant novels Kerouac-style in a week or two, then spend the rest of the day lounging by their pools giving interviews and signing movie deals. If fiction writing doesn’t come this easy to you, then obviously you aren’t a Real Writer. This same trick is more obvious for cookie bakers. The TV chef mixes up some ingredients, then reaches into the oven and immediately pulls out a tray of perfectly baked treats. But let me assure you, when you get a box of my holiday cookies, a dozen years of experience and dozens more hours of toil and worry come along with them.

Frankly, I’d rather not waste calories eating something that was mass-produced with an eye to maxim profit or my precious time reading something that was just dashed off for a quick buck, even if the author is a “famous” writer or celebrity. My life is already crammed with junk information and noise, and I’ve sworn off processed food long ago (except at Halloween when I life some fun-sized Mounds and Kit-Kat’s from my son’s trick-or-treat bag). The stories and food that change our lives are created with love, passion, and a search from something deeper. These creative acts don’t only make magic, they can change your world.

So, my fellow erotica writers, let’s keep on changing the world—one dirty story at a time!

In January 2008, when I sat down to compose my very first installment of “Cooking Up a Storey,” I was nervous about taking on the commitment of a column and unsure if I’d have anything to say after a month or two. Five years and dozens of recipes later, I’m writing my very last column. Looking back, I know that I’ve learned more about writing, reading and sensual pleasure because I had the opportunity to write “Cooking Up a Storey.” I thank you all for reading, although I will still be weighing in on erotica writing topics over at the lively ERWA blog on the eighteenth of every month.

I’ll leave you with perhaps the most popular, crowd-pleasing recipe in my files. These cute little cookie mice do take some time and dexterity to make, but the delighted response is worth every minute. Allow yourself a few practice mice to get the hang of it. Bon Appetit!

cookie recipeHoliday Cookie Mice
(Makes about 60 mice)
A miniature version adapted from DeDe Wilson’s A Baker’s Field Guide to Christmas Cookies with lots of tips for success from yours truly.

3 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg

—Sliced natural almonds or jelly beans cut in half
Pull & Peel Twizzlers or licorice laces in red or black, cut into 3-inch lengths, trim off a triangle shape at both ends of licorice to angle them for easy insertion and tail-like appearance (pull off in two’s, then separate to minimize tearing)
—About 2 ounces semisweet chocolate bar or morsels, melted and cooled to lukewarm

Whisk flour and salt together in a separate bowl. In a large bowl, beat butter until creamy, about 2 minutes. Add sugar gradually, beating until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in vanilla, then egg. Add about 1/3 of flour mixture and mix at low speed. Gradually add remaining flour, mixing until blended. Scrape dough onto a large piece of waxed paper, wrap and refrigerate until chilled enough to roll into balls, at least 2 hours to overnight.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper. Using a teaspoon-sized cookie scoop, make balls of dough and roll between your hands to form teardrop shapes (with slightly pointed noses, but not too pointed or they burn). Insert two almond slices about 1/3 of of the way back for ears. Bake about 6 to the cookie sheet, until light golden brown on the bottom about 13-14 minutes (depending on your oven).

When you remove the pan from the oven, straighten any almonds that have moved out of position, line up mice along edge of cookie sheet and insert a wooden skewer pointed end first into the rear end of two mice. Twirl the skewer, then insert blunt end and do the same. Insert a piece of licorice and push about 1/2-inch into soft cookie. Repeat with other mice in pairs. Place on a rack to cool.

Melt chocolate, let cool almost completely, then put into pastry bag with smallest writing/plain tip. Pipe eyes and nose onto mice with the lightest touch to avoid smears, let cool before storing in airtight tins.

holiday cookiesTips for Forming Bodies—Roll into smooth ball, then into oval; use scant teaspoon

Ears—Smaller almonds for ears are better; match similar pairs on a plate beforehand; angle at 90 degrees, leave a little space between ears; don’t insert into dough straight from the refrigerator, wait 2 minutes

holiday cookiesNut-free Jelly Bean Option—cut cherry jelly beans in half, use thinner side; insert into unbaked mouse, but don’t bake with jellybeans, insert beans again into indentations gently when mice come fresh out of theoven while still tender

Tails—Line up all six at edge of a rimmed cookie sheet, rest skewer on rim edge, angle skewer straight, low, with a slight upward rather than downward angle to prevent piercing “skin” of mouse

Donna George Storey
December 2012 – January 2013

“Cooking up a Storey” © 2012 Donna George Storey. All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written permission from the author.

Creating Pure Pleasure: How to Change Lives with Erotica, Telling Truths, and Orgasmic Cookies

Writing erotic can be a very pleasurable experience. The hands-on research is the most enjoyable work you can do, it’s far easier to sell your stories than it is to break into stuffy literary magazines, and if you mention what you do to sympathetic strangers, you’re sure to elicit more curiosity than if you wrote monographs on obscure Japanese writers (I know this from experience). Of course, on occasion you will also encounter prejudice and ridicule. I’ll never forget one of the first times I dared to confess to a stranger at a party that I had a story coming out in Best American Erotica. He seemed impressed that I was published at all, but went on to say that while he doesn’t really read erotica (few people will admit they do), the things he has read are invariably poorly written. I had the wherewithal to reply that if he read my work, he would change his mind. But the fact remains, even people who haven’t read much erotica—perhaps especially people who haven’t read much erotica—are very sure it’s all trash simply because it’s sexually explicit.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that so many people reach this conclusion without even reading what they condemn. The media is bursting with sexual images designed to stoke our desire to buy things, but rarely does it go beyond the salacious tease to the transcendental possibilities of a sexual experience or the profound satisfaction it can bring. In spite of a greater acceptance of the discussion of sexuality, in order to be considered worthy of polite company, it still has to be shrouded in scientific data or focused on problems, addiction or a definition of “normal” behavior. The expression of sex as pure pleasure is still mocked and ghettoized, 50 Shades of Grey to the contrary. The Japanese word for literary fiction, junbungaku or “pure literature,” is apt for my argument. Literary fiction in the U.S. as well still guards its reputation by focusing mainly on dangerous, adulterous or incestuous sex, the dark side of our libidinous urges. Those who celebrate the positive side of sex and who write with the intent to arouse rather than frighten or disgust are assumed to be dirty hacks who don’t have enough talent to write “genuine” literature.

Now, there are no doubt writers who crank out clichés for hire and despise their readers in the bargain, but I’m pretty sure if you’re here at ERWA, you are not one of those people. You write erotica because you are fascinated by sexuality, and you know that the body and the mind are not separate entities, with the superior intellect desperately battling to dominate our degenerate animal nature. On the contrary, I believe that with every story we write that celebrates the full humanity of sex, we are healing that ancient, but false, divide.

Writing erotica has definitely changed the way I see and experience sex, and I learn something new every time. With fifteen years of erotica writing under my belt, however, I sometimes worry I won’t have anything fresh to say. Yet each time I sit down to write a new story, I’m determined to include something true, better still a detail or insight that changed the way I experience sex and desire. I’d like to share an example of this from my story “Comfort Food,” which appears in Women in Lust, edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel.

“With a sunny August sky cut by a cooling breeze, the weather was so perfect I could have ordered it off a menu. Thanks to the pudding and the fantasy blowjob, all of my senses were heightened. I reveled in the shapes of each leaf growing along the path, the sound of the birdsong, the clean scent of baked earth and oxygen-rich air. And of course, all the time I was thinking of Joseph. What was he doing now? What experience in his brief life made him wary of sharing his recipes? He was a cook who clearly enjoyed eating. Would his cock be as solid and sturdy as the rest of his body? And most intriguing of all—would his semen really taste like vanilla cream pudding?

Thirty years ago, I would have called these obsessive musings a crush, but I was wise enough now to know it had nothing to do with Joseph himself. It was all about me. I was a woman who could feel and want and enjoy life’s sensual pleasures. My desire made me more interesting to myself.”

What indeed is more fascinating than a person who cares and desires passionately? If we write erotica that speaks the truth of our experience, our readers will connect with our bravery, and perhaps, slowly but surely, strangers at parties will no longer assume all erotica is badly written.

This month’s recipe for pecan bars has much in common with good erotica. These small, nut-rich treats may just look like more empty calories, but time and time again I’ve gotten rave reviews from satisfied samplers. Made with high quality pecans, they not only explode with flavor on the tongue and palate, they inspire the type of eloquent praise that can only come from an engaged intellect. People have told me these cookies make them glad to be alive, that this may be the best cookie they’ve ever eaten, that they will remember this moment as the epitome of deliciousness. The palpable excitement is quite frankly erotic.

These are especially appealing with pecans fresh from the autumn harvest—bon appetit!

Pure Pleasure Pecan BarsPure Pleasure Pecan Bars
(Makes about 32 medium squares, 48 petit squares, depending on how guilty you want to feel about eating one or two or…)


1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
2/3 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) plus 1-2 Tablespoons chilled, unsalted butter cut into 1/2-inch pieces


1 1/4 cups packed golden brown sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
4 cups coarsely chopped pecans (about 14 1/2 oz.)—see note
1/2 cup whipping cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

To make the crust:

Preheat oven to 350F. Line a 13x9x2-inch baking pan with foil, leaving a 1-inch overhang on all sides. Butter foil. Blend flour, powdered sugar, cornstarch and salt in a food processor. Add butter and process until the mixture just begins to clump together. The dough will be somewhat crumbly. Do not over process or it becomes greasy when baked. Pour into the foil-lined pan and press dough evenly onto bottom. Bake crust until set and light golden, about 25 minutes. Remove from oven. Let stand while preparing topping. Reduce oven temperature to 325F.

To make the topping:

Stir brown sugar, corn syrup and butter in heavy medium saucepan over medium-high heat until sugar dissolves and mixture boils; boil 1 minute. Add pecans and cream; boil until mixture thickens slightly, about 3 minutes. Stir in vanilla. Pour hot topping over warm crust. Bake nut-topped crust until filling is darker and bubbles, about 20-25 minutes depending on your oven. Transfer pan to rack. Cool completely (overnight is fine) in pan. The topping will harden as it cools.

Lift foil out of the pan onto a cutting board. Using a heavy, sharp knife, trim off about one half-inch around all four edges. Reserve these for family snacking. Cut the rest into four even sections, sawing through the pecan layer gently. Divide the remaining sections into squares of the desired size.

These cookies can be made up to one week in advance. Store between sheets of waxed paper in an airtight container at room temperature.

Serve in muffin cups for fancy presentation.

Note: The quality of the pecans does make a difference. I recommend mail ordering from Sunnyland Farms in Georgia, which is an excellent source for premium pecans and mixed nuts. You can get smaller one-pound bags for baking these cookies or load up for all your baking needs. The chocolate pecan turtles are pretty awesome, too.

Donna George Storey
November 2012

“Cooking up a Storey” © 2012 Donna George Storey. All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written permission from the author.

Eternal Inspiration: The “How’s” and “Why’s” of Genre and Gingerbread

The theme of this year’s “Cooking Up a Storey” is sharing delicious secrets, and this month I’d like to go straight to the source of inspiration for our writing. When I first started writing some fifteen years ago, a fountain of ideas for stories came pouring forth, and my only problem seemed finding enough time to write them all down. I’d heard of writer’s block—and could even see my previous thirteen-year vacation from creative writing as an extended blockage of my creative spirit. But ever the worrier, I wondered if the new flood of inspiration would exhaust itself, and I’d be left with better-honed writing skills, but nothing to write about.

Predictably, the rush of ideas did slow down, and I have occasionally gone months without writing depending on what’s been going on with the rest of my life. Yet I no longer worry about profound writer’s block, because I’ve come to realize I’m in touch with a source of eternal inspiration. Which brings me back to secrets. And mysteries. As a reader, writer, and all-around person, I’ve always been very partial to the question “why.” My English conversation students in Japan complained that I was always asking “why” about Japanese customs which forced them to articulate things they’d simply taken for granted. I’m only slightly less intrigued by the question “how.” These questions have been my loyal allies in my writing journey because two simple words can give rise to an infinite variety of stories. Take the standard plot of erotica and romance, “girl meets boy(s).” Boring, repetitive and unoriginal to be sure. But add in the juicy details of “how” and the fascinating motivations born of “why,” and a writer is busy for a lifetime. Best of all, if you delve into the “why” and “how” with passion and open-mindedness, you’ll happily avoid the most dreaded question a reader can pose: “So what?”

Often enough I’ve written stories that are based on my own experiences, but pursuing a good mystery that involves something I haven’t yet explored will always get my creative juices flowing. I don’t necessarily mean the classic detective murder mystery who-done-it. My prompts are more along the lines of “how might a sensual photo session be sexy and empowering for a woman rather than objectifying?” or “why would a woman seek out the experience of bukkake (allowing a group of men to fondle her and ejaculate on her body)?” or “why might a man get aroused by sharing his lover with another man?” The voices of my fairly traditional upbringing suggest that such activities are strange and incomprehensible, even while they exert a tug of transgressive appeal. Yet by suspending that ingrained judgment and opening myself to the possibilities, I’ve written some of my most reprinted stories.

It felt odd at first to admit to myself that I want to write mystery stories. When I first started writing, I was an innocent believer in the purity of genre. Literary fiction was about life as it really happens. Mystery stories were about murders solved by clever detectives. Romance was about finding your one true love. Erotica was about desire—usually but not always of a sexual nature. Soon enough I became aware of the promiscuous possibilities of blending genres with my chosen area—erotic romance, erotic thrillers, erotic horror, literary erotica—but I still believed these labels defined and restricted the writing to certain themes, plots, and sensibilities.

Then I began consciously reading as a writer. By this I mean paying attention to what twist of plot kept me glued to the book, what conflict piqued my curiosity, what upcoming showdown made my pulse quicken, all with the idea of stealing this magic for myself. At the risk of oversimplification, what always keeps me turning the pages is “why” and “how.” This doesn’t just work on the reading side of the equation. When I’m intrigued by my story and characters, when I am motivated to discover their secrets, the writing flows.

So whenever I’m feeling my well is dry or I’m a bit tired of the cliches of erotica, I fall back on two effective strategies. First, look for a mysterious secret to explore, and second, plunder liberally from other genres for the tricks that seduce and entertain readers, while making sure to impart your own flavor. So far, I still have more ideas for stories than time to write them, and I still love asking “why.” Let’s hope it stays that way!

This month’s recipe for German-style honey gingerbread (Lebkuchen) is especially fitting because this recipe is still a bit of a mystery to me even though I’ve been making it for years. Most of the cookies I bake are butter-based and taste delicious for the first few days, then begin a slow, steady decline in flavor and texture. However, these Honey Cake Squares require at least a few weeks of aging to reach their potential and are still delicious and moist months later, in spite of the butter in the recipe. Gingerbread has been a popular treat for centuries, no doubt because it keeps well. Is this merely due to the magical preservative qualities of the exotic spices? Does honey give it more staying power than refined sugar? The fruit-and-nut-rich filling surely contributes to the age-worthiness, but the dry edges also grow soft and mellow with time. In any case, the best news is that you can bake a batch of these beauties right now, enjoy them at your leisure throughout the autumn, and still have some tasty treats in their prime to serve during the winter holidays. But don’t wait any longer than late November, or they won’t be ready by year’s end.

honey cake squaresBon Appetit!

adapted from Festive Baking by Sarah Kelly Iaia
(makes about 55 bite-size cookies)

Lebkuchen Dough:
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking soda 1/2 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon baking powder 1/2 cup plus 2 Tablespooons honey
1 Tablespoon cinnamon 1 cup superfine sugar
1 teaspoon ground cardamom 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves 1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/2 teaspoon powdered anise

1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped unblanched almonds
1 cup raisins
1 3/4 cups apricot jam
3 Tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 firmly packed diced mixed candied orange and lemon peel

3 Tablespoons lemon juice
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted

Cover a rimless 15″ x 11″ baking sheet with parchment. Sift the flour into a bowl and the spices into another. Heat the honey, sugar, and butter together over low heat, stirring all the time until the butter has melted and the sugar dissolved, do not let it come to a boil. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the sifted spices. Gradually beat in the sifted flour, added as much as needed to make the dough, when stirred, pull away from the sides of the pan. You will need most of the amount given, possibly more depending on the honey. Remove the dough to a large bowl and allow to cool for 5 minutes. Beat in the egg then knead the dough with your hands in the bowl. (Actually I’ve found it easier to cool the dough a bit and beat in the egg before I add all the flour, but the original recipes calls for this order). If the dough is too sticky, knead in a little more flour until it no longer sticks to your hands.

While Lebkuchen dough is still warm, divide the dough in two. Roll out one piece directly onto the buttered sheet (or onto parchment), making a rectangle approximately 13″ x 8 1/2″. There should be at least a one-inch rim left free to allow for expansion. Roll out the second piece the same size as the first on a piece of parchment. Set aside. Preheat oven to 350F.

Mix all filling ingredients together in a bowl, adding additional lemon juice if it is too thick to spread. Distribute filling evenly over the dough on the baking sheet leaving a 1/2″ rim around the edges. Reverse the other half of the dough quickly on top of the filling, peeling off the paper. Press the edges together well and trim evenly. While the cake is baking, make the icing by putting the lemon juice in a large mixing bowl. Gradually beat in the sifted powdered sugar, beating for at least 8 minutes to dissolve the sugar completely. Add enough extra lemon juice to make a thin icing of pouring consistency. While the cake is still warm, pour the icing over it, using a pastry brush to cover it evenly. Allow to sit overnight at room temperature. The following day, trim the outer edges. Cut the cake into 1 1/4 to 1″ squares. For the best flavor, store in an airtight tin, layers separated by wax paper, for several weeks before eating—they will still be delicious months after baking.

**Note: the freshness of your spices do make a big difference. Consider buying new, small jars of spice each year and grating the nutmeg fresh.

Donna George Storey
September 2012

“Cooking up a Storey” © 2012 Donna George Storey. All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written permission from the author.

The Perils of Publication: The Writer’s Pursuit of Validation, Veneration, and Venetians

The theme of this year’s Cooking Up a Storey is sharing my secret recipes for writing and cookies, and I’m happy to pass along all that I’ve learned so far in my dabblings in each of these fine arts. Of course, no words of wisdom can substitute for the deep-rooted knowledge that comes from personal experience. When I look back at myself as a novice writer and baker, I probably wouldn’t have been able to appreciate, or even fully understand, my battle-scarred insights about writing, publishing, and crafting cookies. I’d simply have wanted to dive in and try it my own way.

Still, even as a beginner, I did find inspiration and consolation from the advice of more experienced writers. I wasn’t sure if I’d ever be published or face the luxurious dilemma of a contract negotiation with a publisher, but the fact that other writers had faced challenges and rejections made me feel less alone. While every writer’s path will be different in the details, the questions we ask as writers are common to us all.

Of course an exhaustive list would take up many columns, so I’ll skip right to the question at the core of the writer’s identity: what is a “real” writer and who decides when you achieve this venerable status? In an earlier column, I answered this question with the democratic assertion that a real writer is simply someone willing to put in the time to shape a raw first draft into a story where every image, scene and word has purpose and emotional power. I still believe this, but let’s be honest. The majority of people believe that only publication marks the difference between a real writer and a wannabe.

Yet once you’ve published one story or even a bestselling novel, another question immediately arises: what next? Is there a magic number of publications to secure your place as a real writer? One? Twenty? A few hundred? Some would argue income is a key factor—can you support yourself on your writing and how quickly does your agent return your calls, as in, are you supporting her, too? Another measure is critical acclaim, gushing reviews in the ever-dwindling book review sections of newspapers or the award of an major literary prize. Sself-publishing didn’t used to count, but what about now? Some selfpublished authors have thousands of fans and make more money than writers who succeeded by the traditional measure, with an agent and a boilerplate contract from the Big Five.

Even writers who’ve achieved the status of legends are not always secure. I’ll never forget an essay by John Updike, wherein he complained that his sexy novels were no longer dominating the racks in airport book stores as they once did in the 1960s and 1970s. Hardly a situation deserving of our deepest sympathy, and yet I’m sure Updike’s sense of loss at his faded glory was no less authentic than the twist in the gut I get from a rejection letter. For any writer, famous or humble, there will never be enough books, acclaim and reader adoration to fill that insatiable hole of self-doubt.

Add to that another troubling fact about seeking validation in the publishing world—success does not always go hand in hand with quality. Apparently at some point in my childhood, I got the idea that editors choose the highest quality of writing at their disposal and thus the published oeuvre represents the finest written work of our culture. I must still believe this deep in my heart, because I keep getting disappointed by contemporary fiction. If “publishable” doesn’t mean “smart, thought-provoking, fresh and just plain good,” then does that standard have any value at all, for me at least? But let’s say you aren’t beguiled by that foolish fantasy of Great Literature, you only care about what sells. Even that is maddeningly unpredictable, in spite of extensive market research and identifiable formulas for what the book-buying public craves.

Finally, although few writers of fiction attain the level of fame that results in mobs of fans, celebrity is the highest form of validation our culture bestows. Unfortunately, a glance at the magazines and tabloids at the check-out stand reveals the hazards of that prize. Extravagant success appears to be toxic to one’s work, one’s personal life and most assuredly of all, one’s sense of perspective. As the image or “brand” of the celebrity becomes more profitable, their genuine self seems to disappear into a sinkhole of obligations and expectations. Besides, do you really want the world caring deeply about how much you weigh?

Don’t worry, I’m not going to suggest that you prove your superior worth as an artist by rising above the need for any external validation whatsoever. I wish I could do that myself, but I know better. What I do propose, however, is to take a good hard look at your own version of the myths of what it means to be a “real” writer. Be honest, no one’s watching. Here in my hippie part of the world, it would be considered terribly crass to admit that supporting yourself with your writing is an abiding goal. But for me that is a dividing line between writing as a sideline and a real career. (My income places me squarely in the “sideline” category.) Only by taking a good hard look at the dreams and assumptions we’ve cherished, probably since childhood, can we deconstruct our long-held fantasies of The Writer and come to a more empowered perspective. I certainly like to think I’m a cynical sophisticate when it comes to the business side of writing. On an intellectual level, I firmly believe all the pageantry of publishing—agents, editors, critics, prizes — validates nothing but itself. Yet every time I hear of a great publishing “success” story (oh, say E.L. James, for example), I feel the emotional tug of ancient, magical beliefs about the power of the writer’s voice to define our culture. It’s as if female sexual curiosity and a desire to push the limits sensually didn’t exist before Fifty Shades of Grey.

Knowledge brings freedom, so every now and then, when I’m feeling unsure, I make a cup of tea, sit on the deck to enjoy the sunset, and take a good long look at all the images that arise when I think of a Real Writer Who’s Made It Big. How rich is she? (Very). How many bookshelves are adorned by her tomes? (Countless). How many hard-nosed critics have been softened by her luminous prose? How many of her novels have been adapted to the screen? (A key statistic because HBO and movie adaptations are what really count these days).

Interestingly enough, I soon find myself tiring of these naive beliefs and begin to focus on what this blessed creature will think as she lies on her deathbed and considers her brilliant career. Surely the only thing any real writer would care about is that at least some of her stories had made her readers lives richer, deeper, and sweeter if only for a few moments. That perhaps a character, a scene or an image lingered in their minds and inspired them to say, “ah, that’s true, that’s good.” Suddenly I realize that it is within my power to try to write a story that will touch even one reader in that way right now.

So I get up, go to my computer, and get to work.

Although this exercise doesn’t cure my doubts forever, it works every time. The craving for external validation will always be there, but the more we are aware of our own misguided expectations and assumptions, the easier it will be to get back to the writing and actually be a real writer.

Writing involves complex negotiations between our rich inner lives and the cold, cruel marketplace, but when we prevail, the rewards are sweet. It’s fitting then that I share my most complicated cookie recipe with you this month. They’re called Venetians, also known as “rainbow cookies.” I first tasted these cookies when an old friend from middle school sent me a box of homemade Christmas cookies over twenty years ago. I was enchanted by the miniature squares, layers of thin almond cake filled with apricot jam and glazed with chocolate. Later I saw similar cookies in Italian bakeries, but the commercial version was never as tender and flavorful as my friend’s recipe. Now Venetians are a staple of my winter solstice cookie boxes, and my family has chosen them as one of the top three varieties of cookie that I must never stop baking. Make that never ever.

Like writing, baking these cookies requires time, patience, skill, and nerve (plus you have to invest in three 13-by-9-inch baking pans which struck me as the height of indulgence), but oh do these elegant little gems delight young and old alike. In the spirit of sharing secrets, I’ve provided very detailed baking and assembling instructions based on years of missteps. Venetians are not for the faint-of-heart baker, but if you dare to take this artistic challenge, your courage will be richly rewarded.

(makes about 50 bite-size cookies)
1 can (8 ounces) almond paste* 10 drops green food coloring
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) butter, softened 8 drops red food coloring
1 cup granulated sugar 1 jar (12 oz.) apricot preserves**
4 eggs, separated 4-ounce semisweet
1 teaspoon almond extract chocolate bar, chopped fine
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt

Venetians CookiesMeasure waxed paper to line the bottom of three 13x9x2 inch pans. Butter the pan, then put in the waxed paper. Grease again, making sure to butter about one-half inch up the sides. Separate eggs while cold and allow to sit at room temperature for about half an hour.

Whirl the almond paste in food processor with a few tablespoons of the sugar (or if you don’t have a food processor, break it up into small pieces with a fork). Cream the butter in a mixing bowl, slowly add the rest of the sugar and beat until fluffy. Add the egg yolks and almond extract. Beat with electric mixer until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Stir in the flour and salt.

Beat egg whites in a separate bowl with electric mixer until stiff peaks form. With a wooden spoon, stir into the almond mixture using a turning motion similar to folding.

If you have a kitchen scale, weigh the batter (subtracting the weight of the bowl), divide by three and remove a third of batter into two other bowls. Otherwise, measure out 1 1/2 cups batter and spread it evenly in one of the prepared pans. I distribute the batter with a tablespoon then smooth it with an offset spatula. Rap the pan on the table a few times, as air pockets can be a problem. Remove another 1 1/2 cups batter to a separate bowl and add the green food coloring; spread evenly in the second prepared pan. Add red food coloring to the remaining batter and spread in the last pan.

Bake the green layer first in a preheated 350 degree oven for about 13-14 minutes or just until edges are golden brown and the cake springs back when touched lightly with a finger. Rotate the pan after 7 minutes. Do not overcook. Cakes will be about 1/4 inch thick. Next bake the yellow and pink layers together, switch and rotate pans after 7 minutes. Bake the yellow layer 1 minute longer than the pink as it tends to be softer.

After removing pans from the oven, allow each layer to cool for five minutes. Run a knife or spatula around the edges and turn over onto parchment. Turn the green layer over directly onto jelly roll pan lined with parchment paper. For yellow and pink layers, place some parchment over the bottom of the empty baking pan so that it covers the sides and you can grip it while you lower it over the baked layer without the parchment folding under. Turn the pan over so that it rests on the bottom of the empty pan. Tap the bottom of the pan lightly and raise it slowly to release the layer. Repeat with next pan. This makes it easier to slide the layers onto each other. Remove wax paper from bottoms, if necessary. Cool thoroughly.

Heat the apricot preserves gently; strain through a wire sieve into a glass measuring cup. Spread 1/2 of the warm preserves over green layer to the edges. Trim the parchment to the edge of the layers with scissors and run a sharp knife under the yellow layer to loosen it from parchment and then turn the yellow layer over on top of the green; spread with remaining apricot preserves. Loosen the pink layer with the flat of the knife and slide it, right side up, onto the yellow layer.

Cover the stacked layers with lightly buttered waxed paper, then cover with foil, pinching it over the edges to cover completely. Weigh down the layers with a large wooden cutting board topped with a heavy saucepan lid. Place in the refrigerator overnight.

The next day, take the layers out of the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes to an hour to bring to room temperature (otherwise the chocolate will harden too quickly and become brittle). Melt chopped chocolate over hot water in a bowl or double boiler. Spread melted chocolate to the edges of the cake with an offset spatula, covering about 1/5 of the cake at a time. Let dry 30 minutes, but no longer as it will be more difficult to cut. Trim about ¼” of the edges of the cake with a long, sharp knife. (The edges are great to snack on). Cut into 1 inch squares. As the knife nears the end of the cake, gently use your fingers to keep the layers in place or they will slide.

These cookies will keep in a single layer in an airtight container for about a week.

*Love ‘n’ Bake is my favorite almond paste and notably superior in quality
**Bonne Maman apricot preserves are a good consistency for this recipe

Donna George Storey
July 2012

“Cooking up a Storey” © 2012 Donna George Storey. All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written permission from the author.

Write Like a Rock Star: Making Magic on Stage, on the Page, and in the Kitchen

At first glance they look like a plate of plain sugar cookies. Granted the oval shape is unusual, and they are of a fancier design, two halves sandwiched together with red jam. But is that reason enough to bypass the brownies, which look like they’re made from a mix, but are all the more reliable for it? Yet, as you stand at the dessert buffet and ponder your choices, you realize there is something both appealing and intriguing about these small, faintly golden, obviously homemade treats. So you pick one up and take a bite.

Your eyes widen and you make a small, involuntary sound of surprise. The cookie seems to melt on your tongue in a burst of browned butter and Tahitian vanilla, spiked with the essence of sun-drenched raspberries. You take another bite, smaller this time to make the pleasure last, and again there’s the explosion of flavor, the impossibly smooth texture, the concentration of smell, taste and touch on this one extraordinary experience happening in your mouth. This is a cookie that will linger in your memory, and, if you happen to learn which party guest baked them, you will be eager to compliment her with glowing appreciation.

Cookies and stories have very different ingredients, but whenever I sit down to write a new story, I nourish the hope that my readers will react in just this way to what I’ve created on the page. (And, if you read my February installment of “Cooking Up a Storey,” Sharing Sweet Secrets, you’ll know that I gladly give out all my recipes.) Of course, the magic doesn’t always happen, even with the same recipe, but in this month’s column, I’d like to offer some observations—and reassurance—about the ingredients that help all artists touch and please their audiences.

I came to these freshly baked insights through yet another indirect route: attending middle school plays and music performances as a proud parent. When we pay money to see an adult perform, we assume auditions and years of experience and some test of stage-worthiness and feel perfectly justified in bringing a critical eye and ear to the experience. The audience at a middle school production, however, is almost solely family and friends, who lovingly excuse every mistake and applaud every courageous effort. It’s a marvelous, uplifting and inclusive atmosphere, and I sometimes wonder what the world would be like if all creative effort was so enthusiastically welcomed.

However, there is no question that some of the kids on stage have a certain presence that makes them stand out from the others, like a plate of home-crafted cookies mixed in with packaged sweets from Trader Joe’s (which sells very good factory-made cookies, but still). And the one who captures your attention is not always the prettiest girl or the tallest, strongest boy. She’s not necessarily the most technically accomplished musician or the kid who recites his lines without a single stumble. Yet, although inexperienced and amateurs by definition, these young performers exude a vitality, even a radiance, that transcends the need for parental indulgence. They are, simply, a lot of fun to watch.

And when I see these kids fill a stage with their magic, I can’t help but think that I’d like the stories I write to have the same effect on my reader.

Of course, some might say that you’re either born with a rich voice, nimble fingers and a charismatic stage presence or you’re not, and there’s nothing you can do to change it. Yet after watching a lot of these performances and paying close attention to what wows the audience, I’ve come up with a universal quality from which any artist can benefit.

To me what distinguishes the cute kid playing guitar from the “rock star” is the sense that the performer is throwing her whole self into the endeavor. There’s no giggling or self-consciousness. She is passionate and fully present. She totally believes in what she is doing. She holds nothing back. She’s genuinely enjoying herself. And this, more than technical expertise, is what enchants an audience and allows us to go beyond the daily limitations of our lives and fully connect with the joy and energy of song and play. I think we are sometimes misled by the media coverage of celebrities to believe that these people are famous because they are richer, more beautiful, and simply more well-known than we are. But if you think about it, watching a person who was merely superior in every way would more likely elicit envy and despair. In fact, what these performers offer us, at least when they are on the rise, is the projection of ourselves when we are most fully alive.

I believe erotic stories can do the very same thing. Readers come to stories to live life more intensely and to escape the social expectations to be “cool” and dignified and consistent and respectable and all those other things we’d like people to think we are, but know inside we are not always.

So, fellow erotica writer, how can we give a rock star performance in our humble, yet popular genre? First and foremost, believe in what you write. If you’re cranking out erotica because it brings in a little money, but deep down you think it’s trash, go find another kind of writing you genuinely care about. There are many other ways to show your full commitment and they all involve genuine caring and belief in your story. Give your characters your full attention and respect as fellow human beings. Allow them time to come alive for you in all their complexity. Give your reader the gift of your best descriptions and your freshest metaphors. Delve into the mysteries of sex that intrigue you in the deepest, darkest corners of your libidinous imagination. Hold nothing back. Write a story that teaches you something new about yourself, a story that makes you blush when you read it.

And then you will, by my definition, be an erotica rock star.

There’s no guarantee every story will touch every reader—erotica readers in particular often have particular buttons they want pushed. But audiences want to be touched. In the long run, they will respond to your passion and commitment and love for your art over any attempt to be cool and stylish and above messy emotion. Best of all, there’s no way to lose, because this approach will nourish and nurture you as an artist and a person as well.

Well, all this talk of rockin’ and passion is making me hungry! Perhaps it’s time for a cookie break? Here is the recipe for the cookie I described at the beginning of this column, which takes a bit of commitment to make, but is guaranteed to wow your audience.

Spoon CookiesSpoon Cookies
from Gourmet (December 2005),
a Finnish recipe adapted by Cecilia Barbour
(Makes about 30-32 sandwich cookies)

1 cup (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt, slightly rounded
2/3 cup fruit preserves (she prefers a mixture of cherry and strawberry)
A deep-bowled teaspoon (not a measuring spoon, use Grandma’s silver spoon)

To make dough:

  • Whisk together flour, baking soda and salt in a small bowl. Set aside.
  • Fill the kitchen sink or a large bowl with about 2 inches of cold water. Melt butter in a 2-to-3 quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until butter turns golden with a nutlike fragrance and flecks on the bottom of the pan turn a rich caramel brown, 10 to 12 minutes. Do not let it burn. (Butter will initially foam, then dissipate. A thicker foam will appear and cover the surface just before the butter begins to brown; stir more frequently toward end of cooking.)
  • Place pan in sink to stop cooking, then cool, stirring frequently, until butter starts to look opaque, about 4 minutes. Remove pan from sink and stir in sugar and vanilla.
  • Pour entire bowl of flour mixture into butter mixture and stir until dough forms. Shape into a ball, wrap with wax paper, and let stand at cool room temperature 1 to 2 hours to allow flavors to develop. (Do not let sit any longer, especially in a warm room as the dough rises too much).

To form and bake cookies

  • Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 325F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment.
  • Press a piece of dough into bowl of teaspoon, flattening top, then slide out and place, flat side down, on an ungreased baking sheet. (Dough will feel crumbly, but will become cohesive when pressed/make spoonfuls medium full). Continue forming cookies and arranging on sheet. Bake until just pale golden, 8 to 15 minutes. Cool cookies on sheet on rack for 5 minutes then transfer to rack with an offset spatula and cool completely, about 30 minutes. The cookies will be tender until cool, so handle as little as possible.

To assemble cookies:

  • While cookies cool, heat preserves in a small saucepan over low heat until just runny, then pour through a sieve into a small bowl, pressing hard on solids. Pour back into pan and simmer 5-10 minutes to thicken. Cool to lukewarm.
  • Spread the flat side of a cookie with a thin layer of preserves, about a scant 1/2 teaspoon. Sandwich with flat side of another cookie. Continue with remaining cookies and preserves, then let stand until set, about 45 minutes. Transfer cookies to airtight container and wait 2 days before eating.
  • Dough can be made 12 hours before baking and chilled, covered. Bring to room temperature to soften slightly before forming cookies, about 30 minutes. Cookies keep in an airtight container at room temperature 2 weeks.

Donna George Storey
April 2012

“Cooking up a Storey” © 2012 Donna George Storey. All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written permission from the author.

Sharing Sweet Secrets: Cookies, Sex, and the Simple Power of Speaking the Truth

The New Year has arrived, which means it’s time to change the menu here at Cooking Up a Storey. For this year’s series, I’ve decided to go for something sinfully sweet and terribly self-indulgent—a collection of recipes for the cookies in my legendary holiday gift boxes, pictured below. Every December for the past eight years, I’ve spent a solid five days in the kitchen crafting hundreds of these bite-sized treats for friends, neighbors and teachers. Over the years I’ve refined my selection to six recipes complementary in flavor and texture. All involve a little to a lot more work than my usual fare the rest of the year. Inevitably I reach a moment when I curse my ambitious planning and annual servitude to custom, but the truth is, when the delighted thank-you’s start coming in, I know I’ll be signing up for another round of “Cookie Madness” next year.

Donna George Storey holiday cookiesIt occurred to me early on that baking these elaborate cookies is not unlike the writing process. Most people are happy enough to chomp on an Oreo, and indeed certain segments of your audience might prefer it, but a decent percentage of the recipients will enjoy and appreciate a more personalized offering created with care.

Therefore, in the coming year, I will pursue this parallel by linking each cookie recipe to the ineffable qualities that make erotica memorably delicious.

Cookies, sex, secrets—there is another link among the three in my mind that I’d like to share as we begin this series. Thirty-some years ago, my mother and I spent Christmas with my older sister at her seventeenth-century farmhouse in the Virginia countryside. My sister’s neighbor brought over a tin of Christmas cookies: elegant wafers topped with a single, perfect pecan half. The cookies were exquisitely fragile with a hint of butter-pecan—brown sugar or browned butter, perhaps? Whatever made the magic, they were some of the most delicious cookies I’d ever eaten to that point, and I asked, politely, for the recipe. The neighbor frostily declined. It was an old family recipe, and she could never, ever share it with a stranger.

This is an unremarkable story on the face of it, but her refusal made a big impression on me. We were only talking cookies, but the message felt deeper. I knew I couldn’t force the recipe out of her, although I tried asking earnestly again a day later with the promise I wouldn’t pass on the secret knowledge to anyone else. Still she refused. It was then I realized there was something else I could do. And so, on that cold December day, I vowed I would always graciously share my recipes with anyone who paid me the compliment of asking.

So, dear Reader, my recipes are all yours.

The power of sharing pleasure and wisdom goes beyond cookies, of course. Recently I faced a daunting challenge in my own writing, and I took my problem to the Writer’s discussion group here at ERWA. The group immediately responded with advice, perspectives and encouragement. It truly made me appreciate how we writers can support each other by sharing our knowledge and experience. There are many myths about publishing that are damaging to the writer—that the quality of writing is directly linked to “success” so if you’re “good” you don’t have to work at it, that agents and publishers have your best interest at heart, to name just two. It takes a newcomer a while to figure these things out from the inside, but if we tell the truth about our experiences and respect others with the courage to do so, we will all benefit.

We have our food, we have our writing, what about the sex? For me, silence on this topic has had the most heart-breaking consequences throughout the world and down through history. We are all shamed about our sexuality in countless ways, whether it’s being called a slut or pervert for daring to write about sex or being held up to impossible standards of “beauty” and athleticism in bed. Think of all the human beings who’ve felt unnecessary pain because of the mere fact they have sexual urges or because they fall short of some absurd ideal? Beginning in the last half of the twentieth century, thanks in no smart part to the advent of modern erotica, there has been significant growth in the honest expression of sexuality. But there’ve also been plenty of frosty folks who don’t want the sweet recipe passed around.

It takes a great deal of courage to write about sex at all, much less honestly, beyond the clichés and stereotypes. But the writers at ERWA do this with eloquence and style. And so, as the New Year dawns, I’d like to express my appreciation to all the writers and readers here at ERWA for generously sharing your wisdom and your goodies in prose. Keep doing what you’re doing, and best wishes for a New Year of sharing and creating.

Ready to do some baking?

This month I’d like to start filling our cookie basket of pleasures with the simplest recipe I make, a brown-sugar drop cookie with a special twist–dried cranberries and white chocolate chips replace the classic semisweet chocolate chip. (These particular cookies are on the bottom layer of the cookie boxes, so they didn’t make the lead-in photo, but you’ll find a loving, not to say cookie-pornographic close-up below). Over the year I’ll be sharing all my personal baking notes, born of harsh experience, but the recipe was originally found in Dede Wilson’s A Baker’s Field Guide to Chocolate Chip Cookies, a must-have for anyone who likes chocolate chip cookies both classic and innovative.

These are indeed a fancy variation of everyone’s favorite basic chocolate chip cookie, and yet a few small changes can make a huge difference in the cookie-nibbling experience. The intense sweetness of the white chocolate chips mixed with the tartness of the cranberries elevates these cookies to a new level of elegance, intensifying the richness of the classic dough. The eye-catching red of the cranberries makes them a good choice for Valentine’s Day as well. In baking as in sex, even a subtle variation can bring new excitement to the classic act, transforming the ordinary into something quite extraordinary. So why not get out the mixer and give it a try?

More sweets and secrets to come!

Truthfully Transcendent Cranberry-White Chocolate Chip CookiesTruthfully Transcendent Cranberry-White Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from Dede Wilson’s A Baker’s Field Guide to Chocolate Chip Cookies
(makes about 4 dozen)

2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour (12 3/8 ounces on a kitchen scale)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 large eggs at room temperature
2 cups white chocolate morsels (I like Ghirardelli)
2 cups sweetened dried cranberries

Whisk flour, baking soda and salt together in a medium-sized bowl.

In a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat butter until creamy, about 2 minutes. Add both sugars gradually, beating until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes, and scraping down the bowl once or twice. Beat in vanilla, then eggs, one at a time, scraping down the bowl. Add about one-third of the flour mixture and mix on low speed. Gradually add the remaining flour mixture just until blended. Mix in cranberries thoroughly by hand. Next add the white chocolate chips and mix in thoroughly.

Chill the dough for at least 2 hours (I usually leave it in the mixing bowl and cover with a plate but you can wrap it in wax paper).

Preheat oven to 375F. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Drop by 1 Tablespoon scoops, six to a cookie sheet, and bake about 12-13 minutes. Light golden all over is perfect–some coloring on top is key, if still pale, it’s too soft–but do not let it become dark brown. Try one test cookie first before doing a sheet of six. The baking time is the tricky part of this recipe, and while they do soften up a little, if overbaked, they lose flavor.

Donna George Storey
February 2012

“Cooking up a Storey” © 2012 Donna George Storey. All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written permission from the author.

Hot Chilli Erotica

Hot Chilli Erotica


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From Adam & Eve - Based on the Book by New York Times Bestselling Authors Selena Kitt



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