Scottish fare, the delightful Amanda Scott – and a new giveaway!
I’d been hoping to do another book post and giveaway, so when a chance meeting at KCRA-TV put me in touch with Amanda Scott, a USA Today Best-selling author who lives right here in Sacramento, it wasn’t the luck of the Irish, but the luck of the Scottish. Amanda was being interviewed about her latest book, Highland Master, which takes place in Scotland, and she graciously agreed to an interview and to sharing an authentic Scottish recipe with us.
Q: How did you first begin writing books, and how did you choose the romance genre?
My husband dared me to write a book when I complained about books I was reading by authors who had not done basic research. I said I could probably do better myself, so the man bought me a beautiful desk and an electric typewriter with his poker winnings and told me to write. I wrote the first book, The Fugitive Heiress, and Signet published it. I did not choose Romance. It chose me. I thought I was writing a historical novel. My newest book, Highland Master, the first in my Scottish Knights Trilogy, is my 56th book. Its sequel, Highland Hero, will be out in October 2011. HH is finished, and the third book in the trilogy, Highland Lover, is with my editor now, so I’ve written 58.
Q: Your novels are very detailed, and the destinations you describe spring to life on the page. Your travel must have something to do with that! You live in Sacramento, but tell me about your research trips.
I do travel a lot, and I’ve visited Britain numerous times, not just Scotland but England and Wales, too. I’ve also spent time in Europe. I try to stick to things I know, but one of the best research trips I ever took was for The Rose at Twilight. I had been doing family research and had written to the Cathedral in Brecon, Wales, looking for a wedding record for some 18th century ancestors. My letter was passed on to a woman in Brecon named, of all things, Olive Bacon. She was a wonderful researcher and ran nearly everything in Brecon. She not only helped me track down my ancestors, but when I told her that I was going to England and Wales to research a book on Richard III and the murder of the princes in the Tower, she invited me to stay with her. I’d told her that I was going to have my hero come from Northern Wales. She wrote back, “Oh, no, dear, you can’t get there from anywhere. Have him come from Brecon and come stay with me.” So I did.
Olive had set me up with an archeologist to explore Roman roads that my characters would have used, with the headmaster of the boys’ school in Brecon, which had been a Blackfriars school in the 15th century and still has the original chapel; and with a history teacher from the local high school who drove us both to Mallwyd, the village where my ancestor was born. I should mention that the lady who drove us had just, at the age of 60-something, gotten her first “driving license.” We drove on narrow roads without any barriers between us and drops of hundreds of feet. Also, the car had a stick shift to deal with on those very steep grades? As she would grind it from gear to gear, she would talk to it: “Now, dearie,” she would say, “don’t let me down on this one, will you?” When I wasn’t trembling with terror, I was laughing a lot. It was a great trip. I do try to make my books great trips, too. I use everything I can find that informs me about the settings. I want readers to feel as if they are there. I set Highland Master in Strathspey, which is the north-central Highlands, at a place called Loch-an-Eilein, which basically means Loch with an Island.
Q: The characters in your books are rich and vividly drawn. The reader feels transported to a different place and time, which considering the place and time (15th century Scotland) of your newest novel, Highland Master, is great fun. If you had to choose from all of the books you’ve written, do you have favorite character, and why is this character your favorite?
I absolutely cannot answer this question, although people ask variations of it all the time. The plain fact is that if I don’t feel as if the characters I’m creating now are the best ones, I’d have quit writing a long time ago. I let past books lie in the past, partly because after so many of them, it’s hard to remember all the stories, let alone all the characters I’ve created. However, I do love the three men in the Scottish Knights Trilogy. They were “schoolmates” at St. Andrews (shortly before the university was begun there). They studied under Bishop Walter Traill, who also tutored young James Stewart, who later became James I of Scotland. “Jamie” figures strongly in Highland Hero, particularly. Fin Cameron of HIGHLAND MASTER is the finest swordsman in Scotland but was the lone survivor of the Great Clan Battle of Perth and has issues about his survival. The trilogy moves from the clan battle to the need to get Jamie Stewart to safety at St. Andrews, and then to France when his brother, the heir to the throne is killed. The background is all based on historical fact.
Q: Now for the food questions! Tell me about your favorite international culinary experience (Scottish or otherwise) while researching your books.
Oh, wow, that’s an easy one. My husband and I flew to Glasgow when our son was studying at the University there, for a semester, from Lewis and Clark. When we met him in Oban, on the west coast of Scotland, we all went to dinner at a wonderful restaurant there and had fish-and-chips with a haggis starter, so we could all taste the haggis. It was my first time, taking the plunge. I loved it, so when I got a chance to try haggis here at home, I leaped at it. The chance came when I was invited to the annual Sacramento St. Andrews Society Burns Supper. Lo and behold, the starter is haggis with a thimble of single-malt whisky to drink with it. The haggis in Oban was fine stuff. The haggis at the local Burns Supper is ambrosia by comparison. People may joke about haggis, but take it from me, the line for seconds at our Burns Supper right here in River City is as long as the line for firsts. Then there is the line for thirds…then the line for people who intend to eat only haggis and take the rest of their meal home in a Bowser-bag. The chef extraordinaire of this wonderful meal, held every January on the weekend nearest Robert Burns’s birthday (Jan 25) is Donald MacRae. The meal itself is patterned after a medieval feast. It is their annual fundraiser, and seats are limited, but if you get a chance….
Q: What is your favorite Sacramento restaurant (or restaurants)?
Oh, boy. I love the Bidwell Street Bistro for dinner and Lake Forest Café for breakfast. Also, the $5 Diner on Bidwell St. in Folsom for breakfast. I’m always looking for new places, so I’m delighted to have found Sac Foodies!
As for my favorite restaurant, I would have to say that the one I visit most is the Kabob House here in Folsom. I love their garlic chicken dinner, and so does my husband, so most of the staff knows what we want when we walk in. I’ve tried other things, too, and love everything I’ve had there. But the garlic chicken is special. So when we decide to go out for a meal, it’s nearly always the first place we think of.
Q: What are your favorite foods? How would you describe your cooking style?
My cooking style is simple. I was the oldest of four kids, and when my mom started working, I was the one who made dinner. So, I burned out early. I do love to cook when I have the time to do it right, but for everyday cooking, I lean toward meals with about 5 ingredients, max. I like my crock pot, but I can also go for weeks without cooking much more than something on the grill and a salad, with an ice cream sandwich from Skinny Cow for dessert.
Q: Tell us about the Scottish recipe you’re sharing with SacFoodies readers.
I gave a lot of thought to this one, because I know the Foodies are interested in the food. I have myriad Scottish recipes, but most are written in pounds, kilograms, and such, and although I’ve read them and used some in my books, I have cooked or baked very few of them. So, I went with the one I know and love best, which is my grandmother’s recipe for Shortbread. It is, bar none, the best shortbread I’ve ever had, easy to make, and the recipe is authentically Scottish.
1 pound butter
½ cup sugar
4 cups flour (unsifted)
½ cup cornstarch
½ teaspoon salt
1. Cream butter and sugar thoroughly. Add flour and cornstarch. Mix well.
2. Knead in bowl or on board (the more kneading, the finer the texture). Chill about 1 hour before rolling. Roll dough on pastry cloth to ¼ inch. Cut in rounds (about 2” in diameter); prick with fork. Place on cookie sheet and put back in refrigerator to chill.
3. Bake at 300 for 25 minutes. The cookies do not brown.
NOTE: These will keep in air-tight tins for months. Once, when on a diet, I got to Gram’s house for lunch with a sugar craving that would NOT quit. She hadn’t got home yet, so I turned her cupboards upside down, looking for something…anything…sweet. In the back of a bottom cupboard, I found a tin of her shortbread. She came home to find me sitting in the middle of her kitchen floor with the open tin in my lap, crunching away on delicious shortbread. She had no idea how long ago she’d made it, or why she’d hidden it in the back of that cupboard, but it was the end of May, and she only made shortbread at Christmastime.
My note: I can attest to the melt-in-your-mouth deliciousness of this Shortbread! If you’re tired of sugar cookies for Easter, try this instead. I cut some of mine in bunny and tulip shapes for some kid-friendly Easter time fun.
You can find out more about Amanda Scott and her books at www.amandascottauthor.com.
Leave us a comment about this post by noon on Friday, April 22, and you could win a copy of Amanda Scott’s latest book, Highland Master. We’ll announce the winner on Monday, April 25.