Amanda Usen

Fabulous Fall Soup a.k.a. Tortellini and Sausage Soup with Beans and Greens

In Chef on September 12, 2014 at 8:41 am

LusciousHow is it possible I’ve never posted Olivia’s Get-Your-Groove-Back Soup from Luscious? Huge oversight!

I’m making it today for my WNYRW writer’s retreat. It never fails to deliver inspiration. Revitalization. Food for my soul. My husband discovered it nigh on thirteen years ago when our first daughter was born. I nearly died, and he made batch after batch to bring me back to life. I think it’s the fresh fennel that does it for me – especially back then when I WAS a food source for a hungry baby. Fennel adds a fresh and mysterious yet warm and familiar note to this filling soup.

HungryForLove Usen Soup

Tortellini and Sausage Soup with Beans and Greens*

Serves 6

2 Tablespoons olive oil

12 ounces cooked sausage

2 medium onions, small diced

5 carrots, small diced

1 four-inch fresh fennel bulb, thinly sliced then chopped

4 cloves of garlic, minced

½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

10 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth

4 cups chopped fresh kale, escarole, Swiss chard or other green

1 15 ounce can white beans, drained and rinsed

1 9 ounce package frozen cheese tortellini

Parmesan or Asiago cheese for garnish

  1. Heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onion, carrot, and fennel. Cook until limp and translucent.
  2. Add garlic. Saute one minute, until it smells heavenly.
  3. Add broth and red pepper flakes. Bring to a simmer. Cook until vegetables are tender.
  4. Meanwhile, cook tortellini separately, so they don’t suck all the broth out of your soup.
  5. When pasta is drained and the vegetables are tender, stir in white beans, cooked sausage, and greens. Simmer until greens wilt.
  6. Put 6-8 tortellini in each soup bowl then add soup. Serve with grated cheese and crusty bread. And butter…lots of butter.

* If you want to make this soup a day ahead, do not add the tortellini until you plan to serve it.

Off to buy fresh fennel! :-) Happy September!

P.S. Jessyka F. won the signed copy of WILD CHILD. Congratulations, Jessyka!


A Heartpunch Between The Sheets from Molly O’Keefe

In Romantic on August 1, 2014 at 9:12 am


Enter to win a signed copy of WILD CHILD by Molly O’Keefe.

So, I love Molly O’Keefe books. I kind of love the woman, too. (Once you start meeting authors in real life, the ones who are great people as well as great writers stand out.) So far she’s made me cry on a plane, a couch, and in bed. She writes people, real people. Shitty, messy, awesome people! My writer brain has been pondering what makes my reader brain fall in love with a book. What makes a certain part of a story hit me like a heartpunch. I can’t quite put it into perfect words yet, but it has to do with character. Also with conflict, stakes, torture, and payoff, but mostly with character.

In BETWEEN THE SHEETS we’ve got Shelby and Ty. Lo, they are broken. Ty is a bad boy, the genuine article. The dude doesn’t just drive a motorcycle, drink beer, and present an interesting sexual challenge for the heroine. Ty is wounded and at the end of his rope. Shelby (introduced in WILD CHILD, which I’m giving away here!) is so deeply miserable and repressed she’s about to bust her spring. At first I was like FINALLY, a nice man who can give Shelby amazing dirty sex that won’t make her feel bad. And then I was like *gasp* Ty is not a nice man. He’s damaged, too. And then the beam of light! And then the realization that even if the bad boy CAN be redeemed, the heroine has her own issues. And it’s HER issues that are the real problem. NO NO NO NO NO NO! Ahhhhhhhhhhh!

And hot sex. Good stuff. And community, family, and belonging, which O’Keefe always does well. I don’t have “autobuy” authors. Books are expensive, so I make my decisions book by book based on whether the sample sucks me in. However…I may have to go back and pick up that blue one with the selfish, bitchy heroine in the Crooked Creek ranch series because O’Keefe excels at making me empathize with her flawed characters. Making me care. I haven’t finished BETWEEN THE SHEETS yet, but I care. I can’t wait. It’s all about the payoff. Damaged characters whose needs are as big as their flaws. Characters who will hurt each other to protect themselves. HUGE payoff.

photo(80)So that’s why I fangirl for Molly O’Keefe. She gives huge payoff. (And she’s not invulnerable, thank God. This blog post really touched me, and she won that RITA last month, btw. I fangirled CRAZY THING CALLED LOVE here. And she gave a kick ass workshop to the Western New York Romance Writers on writing sex scenes. And in that workshop, she didn’t even freaking MENTION she had two books coming out the next month. It’s a classy chick who sees you as colleagues instead of royalties. Or maybe she just forgot, but that makes me like her even MORE!)

Buy BETWEEN THE SHEETS from Buy from AMAZON, B&N, KOBO, and OTHER PLACES. Regret it, you will not.

Enter to win a SIGNED print copy of WILD CHILD, the first book in the Boys of Bishop series.

Happiness Is A Practice, a.k.a. It’s Never Going To Be Good Enough

In Writer on July 22, 2014 at 9:31 am

This is a post for writers, but only self-doubting writers. Shiny, self-confident, well-adjusted writers, please avert your eyes, and readers, stop reading. I want you all to think I’m perky, witty, and above all…successful. But those of you writers who wrestle demons, gather ’round…

I’m coming to grips with something sort of devastating for a 42 year-old who is supposed to be grown up. I feel like I’m failing. I thought it was because my ten year plan didn’t work out. I’m not making enough money writing, and it’s time to get another job. (Oh shit, smell the blood in the water? No one will buy my books now!) Just the thought of getting a full-time job brings tears to my eyes, like, every day. I’ve had four part-time jobs for a bunch of years now. I write under two names, tutor SAT prep, and teach pastry arts classes at a community college. This gives me time to write, but it’s not enough money. I’m not doing it right.

That’s what I hear in my head, but even *I* know it’s bullshit.

My employers value me. My publishers want more books. Getting another job does NOT mean giving up writing. It isn’t failure because I’m happy with my work. It isn’t the death of the dream. So why do I feel wrecked? The answer is simple. And sickening. I wreck myself.

Notice I didn’t say “wrecked.” Because I do it over and over. My husband has made a joke out of it so often, my kid said it the other day. “But you love to beat yourself up. It makes you happy.” What was I supposed to say? “I’m not happy”? Well, why the fuck not? I should be. My life is amazing. But I never make a list of the good stuff. Just the stuff that needs doing, and that list never ends. So I beat myself up about beating myself up about not being happy.

Thank God for yoga and an instructor who reminds us “It’s a practice.”

Happiness is a practice, at least for me. I know we’re all precious snowflakes, but I bet it is for some of you, too.

I know why I’m wired for self-doubt, but that doesn’t make it any easier to fight the demons. Even if I didn’t have deep-seated issues, I’ve chosen a profession in which I will never be good enough. Because even when I type THE END that only means it’s time for several passes of edits. I love edits and my editors, but I write the damn books with my blood and guts, so…you know. It’s hard to try to get it right over and over again, and of course typos always make it into the final, formatted manuscript. And then…the reviews come. The amazing, wonderful, good, so-so, bad, horrid, putrid reviews. (I’m grateful for every one. Yes, even the putrid ones I shouldn’t have read. They bought the book or at least read the book.) Oh, and let’s not forget not every book becomes a bestseller, hits the lists, the top 100, or whatever meaningless measure I’m tormenting myself with this week. (Because I know if it doesn’t sell then it isn’t good and neither am I and, oh, those shitty demons!)

My agent says I need to get a thicker skin. She’s right. Is there an app for that?

Damn it. No. Or I would have deleted Minecraft to make room for it. It’s up to me. It’s up to you. Denial is the first phase, and admitting there is a problem is the first step, but that’s only the beginning for people like us. Our demons are hydras, and we like their heads. They’re familiar.

Are you happy?

In yoga, when I fall out of a pose, I laugh and get back in. When I get dizzy, I put a leg down. Because there is no “good enough.” There is only my experience. None of the measures matter.

In my writing life, each book is as good as I can make it, and I enjoy writing them. The job doesn’t stop there, but I don’t have to stand still for the inevitable, measuring blows. I took Tae Kwon Do in college, but it’s only now that I realize the best way to block a punch or a kick is to get out of the damn way. Or deflect it. Just because somebody throws a punch, doesn’t mean you have to take it. Since we aren’t talking about a physical fight, guess what? Even if the punch lands, it doesn’t have to hurt. We make it hurt by giving it power.

I already know I’m my own worst critic, and I’m wired to internalize criticism and shrug off praise. Unless you are one of those shiny, happy, charmed people who aren’t supposed to be reading this, you are, too. We can’t wake up, realize we’re hard on ourselves, and stop. But we also don’t have to beat ourselves unconscious.

It’s never going to be good enough.

Because there IS no good enough.

Not for people like us.

But there is this moment, this day, this life, and we can get back in it every time we fall out. Happiness is a practice. Or that’s what this writer is telling herself this month to keep the demons at bay. I’m at a double crossroads. It’s time to get that new job, and Hot Nights Book 3 is my last official deadline. I need to pick two new projects, so I’ve been pondering this topic a lot. (Ha! Like I haven’t been pondering it for at LEAST 20 years.) Are you pondering, too?

Do you have a mantra, a manifesto, a talisman, a demon deflector, hydra head-lopper? Would you please post it in the comments? I think I’ll make a postcard out of all of them and send one to you. :-)






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