Rebecca York

About Rebecca York

NY Times & USA Today best-seller, Rebecca York, is the author of over 150 books. She has written paranormal romantic thrillers for Berkley and romantic thrillers for Harlequin Intrigue. Her new romantic-suspense series, Decorah Security, is set at a detective agency where agents have paranormal powers or work paranormal cases. She also writes an Off-World series where each story is a science fiction romance taking place on a distant planet in the far future.  View website

Jaw-dropping Diets of the Past

In this season where people are frantically trying to shed holiday pounds, I read a recent article in the Washington Post Health and Science section on weight-loss schemes from years past. It was in the category of—you can’t make this stuff up.

Let’s start with my favorite: The Tapeworm Diet. This was popular in Victorian England. The idea is that if you had a tapeworm in your intestines, it would suck up calories. Never mind that it might also kill you or make you very sick. And where did you get one, anyway?

Another suggestion is smoking instead of snacking, It probably started with a Lucky Strike slogan, “Reach for a Lucky instead of a sweet.” In 1930 the candy industry threatened to sue, and the tag line was changed to the much snappier, “We do not represent that smoking Lucky Strike Cigarettes will bring modern figures or cause the reduction of flesh. We do declare that when tempted to do yourself too well, if you will ‘Reach for a Lucky instead,’ you will thus avoid over-indulgence in things that cause excess weight and, by avoiding over-indulgence, maintain a modern, graceful form.” Obviously they needed some lessons in blurb writing.

Then there are amphetamines. These little pills were first used to keep troops awake for long periods on the battlefield in WWII. Are you old enough to remember the amphetamine craze? In the early sixties, a friend was using these little black pellets for weight loss and thought they were a miracle. She offered me one. I took it and very quickly felt like I was bouncing off the ceiling with every step I took. I lay awake at night with my nervous system “racing.” The effect lasted two days, and I vowed never to get near one again. My husband, Norman, also had a brush with amphetamines. He used them when he was writing his master’s thesis so he could stay up for hours and write long into the evening after work. I’ve never seen him thinner, but he later told me that he was depressed for months after going off them.

I vaguely remember ads for a diet candy, introduced in the 50’s, called—wait for it—Ayds. You ate them before meals to suppress your appetite. Apparently they contained phenylpropanolamine, a decongestant also used to treat urinary incontinence in dogs. Fun! When the aids epidemic hit, the name did them in.

Then there was the “Twinkie Diet” where you ate junk food all day. I’m not sure what that was about. The guy who promoted it did lose 27 pounds, but he gained back all but seven—as usually happens with diets.

Two more you might remember—the grapefruit diet and the vinegar diet. Obviously limiting yourself to grapefruit will limit your calories. One researcher suggested that there’s no evidence that “vinegar leads to weight loss, but it might cause a feeling of nausea that will make people eat less.”

I hope I haven’t taken away your appetite. And, of course, I’d rather stick with a diet that’s not a gimmick. For the past five years, I’ve had good results with the 2 Day a Week Diet, which is actually a lifestyle change.

What do you think of these diets from the past, and do you have any strategies that you’d like to share?

Back on Track in January

I don’t know about you, but after a month of holiday temptations, I’m feeling like a blimp. Time to tighten my belt and get back on my normal eating plan.

I discovered my strategy of choice a few years ago when I read an article about a British physician, Dr. Michael Mosley, who was enthusiastic about the 2-day-a-week diet. It’s also known as the 5-2 diet or the Fast Diet (and has been featured on NPR).  You basically enjoy your customary eating pattern five days a week. The other two, you cut down to 500 calories if you are a woman or 600 if you are a man.

It’s simple, and it works.  I admit it’s a little hard to get used to only 500 calories. But it’s only for a day at a time. If you’re craving a corned beef sandwich or a chicken drumstick, you can have it the next day.

When I say I’m returning to the diet, I never totally abandoned it. But some weeks in December, it’s pretty hard to find two days when you’re not eating Christmas cookies and candy or going to parties. So yeah, I’ve let my willpower slip a little. But now that we’re into the new year, I’m back on the wagon. Lunch today will be a big salad with fat-free dressing, low-calorie vegetables and a little meat.  Dinner will be homemade vegetable soup.

You probably know that if I get enthusiastic about food, I start designing recipes.  When I first encountered the 5-2 diet, I wanted to figure out what I could make that would taste good but still fit into the plan. My friend Nancy Baggett, an excellent cookbook author, was also interested. She does a lot of baking, and the 5-2 helps keep her weight down while sampling the goodies she creates.

We wrote our first healthy-eating cookbook in the early eighties. With our years of experience, we were convinced we could develop a wide range of low-cal dishes that were palate pleasing and easy to make. Our seventy-five recipes in the 2 Day a Week Diet Cookbook include everything from soups, salads, sandwiches, and main dishes to side dishes, breakfast foods, and desserts. They all have 200 or fewer calories per serving, and they taste as good as they look in the book’s full-color pictures. We’ve also got daily menus and snack suggestions. Here’s one of our favorite main-dish soups. In fact, this recipe would fit into just about any low-cal / low-carb diet.

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Tex-Mex Ground Beef and Vegetable Soup

Think of this hearty ground beef and bean soup as a cross between chili and mixed vegetable soup. It makes a hearty lunch or dinner entrée. For extra zip, top each serving with a little more salsa and a few fresh cilantro sprigs.

Makes 4 140-calorie servings, about 2 1/4 cups each.

4 oz extra-lean ground beef

6 cups fat-free beef broth or bouillon

1 cup mild bottled salsa

2 cups coarsely shredded green cabbage

1 cup chopped sweet green pepper

1/2 cup kidney beans

3/4 cup frozen corn kernels

1/2 tsp each chili powder and ground cumin, or to taste

  1. In a medium-sized pot over medium-high heat, cook ground beef, stirring constantly until lightly browned all over, about 6 minutes. If it begins to stick to the pan, stir in a little broth.
  2. Add broth and salsa, then vegetables and seasonings.
  3. 3. Cook at a low boil, covered, for 20 to 25 minutes until flavors are well blended and soup has cooked down slightly.

Soup will keep refrigerated for 2 or 3 days. Or freeze for up to 3 weeks.

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Our primary goal was to create dishes that taste good, because when you’re enjoying what you’re eating, you’re more satisfied. If you’d like to give the 5-2 diet a try, the 2 Day a Week Diet Cookbook is on sale for $1.99 until January 18.

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And if you’d like to talk about January diets, I’d love to hear your strategies.

Nancy Baggett’s latest cookbook is The Art of Cooking with Lavender.

 

The Psychological Thriller

I know you’ve heard of “gaslighting.” The phrase comes from an old movie with Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman. It came out in 1944, long before most of us would have seen it. Charles has a secret he’ll do anything to protect, including trying to convince his newlywed wife she’s crazy. One of his stunts is dimming and brightening the gaslights in the house.

To be honest, I’ve never seen it, but I know the title has become a catch phrase for trying to convince an innocent victim that she (it’s almost always a woman) is crazy.

I do remember a kind of similar situation in a movie I saw as a teenager in 1960. It was called Midnight Lace and starred Doris Day and Rex Harrison. Again they are newlyweds, and he’s trying to make everyone, including her, believe that she’s nuts so he can kill her and pretend she committed suicide. Then he can get her inheritance to replace the money he stole from his business.

The psychological thriller has always fascinated me. And I used the “convince her that she’s loony” idea for Hunting Moon, currently available in a very cool collection called Dangerous Temptation – Dark Passion, along with novels by other talented authors who specialize in the paranormal.

In Hunting Moon a gangster is sure that dancer Tory Robinson knows where another gangster has hidden his money and hires a disreputable psychiatrist to get the information out of her. They whisk her away to a fake sanitarium in upstate New York where all of the other patients are actors who are in on the plot to make Tory so unstable that she’ll spill everything she knows to the manipulative doctor.

But unlike the helpless victims in the movies I noted above, she knows what’s going on and is determined to resist. One of her tricks is switching her drugged glass of orange juice with an innocent one intended for another patient—so that the wrong woman goes bonkers during a “group therapy session.”

Tory is afraid she can’t resist forever, but werewolf Brand Marshall is prowling around the sanitarium and knows she’s in trouble. Back in his human persona, he rescues her; but his plans to drive her to safety are thwarted in a hail of gunfire. The two of them end up in the woods, running for their lives and hiding out until the werewolf can dispatch the hired killers sent to kill him and recapture Tory. And then they have to deal with the gangster who set the whole plot in motion.

Are you a fan of psychological thrillers? If so, point me to some of your favs.

A Free Cookbook for Readers and Some Tips for Taking Food Photos

The authors of Love, Christmas 2 have a special treat for readers. We’ve produced a cookbook, Favorite Holiday Recipes, which I’ve edited for the group. And it’s FREE.

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Each recipe is tied to one of the stories in Love, Christmas 2. And most are accompanied by mouth-watering pictures. Here’s one taken by my friend, cookbook writer Nancy Baggett:

And here’s her recipe for Cranberry Apple Crumble, which the hero of Love, Actually, by Traci E. Hall, makes for his and the heroine’s breakfast.

Makes about 6 servings

1 cup rolled oats
3/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp packed light or dark brown sugar
3 Tbsp all-purpose or unbleached white flour
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
6 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened
3 2/3 cups peeled and diced Stayman, Jonathan, Rome or other tart, flavorful apples
1 tsp lemon juice
2 2/3 cups fresh or frozen (thawed) unsweetened cranberries, chopped
Ice cream for garnish, optional

1. Preheat oven to 375-degrees Fahrenheit (190-degrees Celsius). Lightly grease a 7 ½ x 11-inch baking dish.

2. Stir together the oats, brown sugar, flour and cinnamon. Using forks or fingertips, cut in butter until thoroughly incorporated. In a large bowl, toss apples with lemon juice until well combined. Stir in cranberries. Reserve 1 1/4 cups oat mixture for topping. Add the remainder of oat mixture to the fruit, tossing until well mixed. Spread the mixture in baking dish. Sprinkle reserved oat mixture over top.

3. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes or until mixture is bubbly and nicely browned on top and apples in the center are tender when pierced with a fork. Transfer to a cooling rack. Serve warm or at room temperature. Store, refrigerated, for up to 3 days.

Recipe from Nancy Baggett’s Kitchen Lane Blog: http://kitchenlane.com/

Nancy and I talked recently about food photography. The tips below may help you with pictures you might want to post on social media.

She says lighting is very important. Natural lighting is best, near a window or on an open porch or deck, but don’t do it when the light is too bright or you will wash out the photo. (If I can’t have natural light, I often shoot food on my kitchen counter, using the ceiling lights and the under-cabinet lights. Of course, this limits opportunities for adding props.)

Nancy likes to say, “We’re not selling tablecloths or cups and plates.” In other words, keep the focus on the food, and don’t have too much else going on in the shot. And have the food in front. You want the dish to look like someone will want to eat it, which is why food photos often feature a prop like a welcoming spoon or fork. Interestingly, small plates work best because viewers will not be able to see the scale.

You want the picture to look nice, not messy. Clean up your shot before you click the shutter. You can remove small imperfections in a bowl or plate with a toothpick or Q-tip. Note that many reflective surfaces will show fingerprints and smudges. Clean them up. But you don’t have to go for total perfection.

Nancy says that, “If the dish looks like dog food, think of some way to pep it up with a garnish.” But don’t pile on too much extraneous stuff.

Think about props. In the picture above, Nancy used an old-fashioned Pyrex baking dish to help set the mood. And the lines in the towel echo the lines in the rack under the dish. In addition, the ripple in the towel adds movement. Note that there are two bowls in the shot. She also might use two cups or glasses for a beverage. If you’d like to have a selection of props, you can browse for them at secondhand and thrift shops.

Look at your picture and decide where to crop it. You don’t want the whole expanse of your table or tablecloth. I try to take care of this by starting off with a close-up.

I hope you’ll pick up your free copy of our cookbook. And I hope Nancy’s tips will help you sharpen your own food photography skills.

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