#1 NYT bestselling author Linda Lael Miller
Country Strong

That’s the title of my new book, which will be released in six days, on January 21, 2020.  I love, love, LOVE that title, for more reasons than one.  (I’ll get to that.)

Country Strong is the first novel in a trilogy of contemporary Western romance, set in the fictional town of Painted Pony Creek, Montana, and featuring three close friends–Cord Hollister, J.P. McCall and Eli Garrett and the women who are strong enough and smart enough to win their wild cowboy hearts.

Cord Hollister, the hero of Country Strong, is the best kind of cowboy, a man who lives by the classic cowboy code of honor: do the right thing, no matter how hard it is.  Cord is world-renowned for his horse-whispering skills; he uses kindness, patience and bone-stubborn persistence (the kind of grit a person needs if they’re going to be country strong) to win over the animals who have been injured, abused or neglected.  And since I care passionately about critters of every kind, I’m especially sweet on Mr. Hollister.  His life is going along pretty smoothly until two females come out of nowhere to turn his world upside down and inside out–the first is a mysterious teenager, the spitting image of a woman Cord loved years ago, and the second is Shallie Fletcher, an old friend from high school days.

Shallie is out to reinvent herself, and to do that, she needs to tie up a few loose ends–like finding out why her mother abandoned her as a very young child, for instance, and putting her love for Cord Hollister to rest, once and for all.  Cord might remember her as just a friend, but her feelings were a lot stronger.   In short, she’s never really gotten over that early crush and, if she ever wants to find a real and lasting love, she needs to get over a certain hot cowboy…

I truly love the stories in this trilogy, and hope you’ll come along for the ride.  Remember, Country Strong will be in stores on Tuesday, January 21, though, of course, you can pre-order online at any time.

The last couple of years, as some of you know, have meant riding a few rough trails, to put it mildly.  Of course, there have been happy times, too–my dogs bring me great joy, as does my kitty, Mr. Wickle Pickle (aka Wiki), and I’ve developed several new (for me) interests: acrylic pouring, an art form I learned on YouTube, raising orchids, gardening and now canning and preserving food.  My nephew, Dustin, and I are experimenting with hydroponic gardening, and we’re growing kale, green beans, beets and tomatoes in my very large basement.  And since I want to keep canning, and to grow as much of my own produce as possible, I’ve taken up yet another hobby–I am raising earthworms, also in my basement.  I have about 10 bins now, and really enjoy my growing population of tiny recyclers.  Come spring, we’re going to have plenty of worm castings to fertilize the containers and raised beds.

What makes me sad is that we–Jerry, Sally, Pam and I–lost our mom on December 22.  She was nearly 91, she’d lived a good, long life, and she was ready to go on Home and see all those who had gone before.  She would have been the first to say, her death was not a tragedy, and her final days were passed in comfort and love, but still.  She was our mom, and we miss her.

Trying my best to be country strong.

 

 

What’s Cookin’?

The whole house smells mighty good as I write these words.  I have a small turkey stewing in my 18-gallon roaster/slow cooker–the big bird, reserved for Thanksgiving, when my dear friends Jean and Curt will be visiting, is still in the freezer, awaiting the big day.

Since my food-preservation odyssey began, I use that big appliance so often that I just keep it on the counter.  I’ve had it for years, and it sat gathering dust in a closet forever; truth to tell, I was disappointed in the thing, since, being a naive cook at the time, I purchased it to roast–well–turkey.  I know all you veteran cooks out there see this coming–the roaster roasts, all right, but it doesn’t brown the meat or poultry in the process.  Who wants to eat a white turkey, no matter how juicy?  Not I.  So I put the thing away and forgot about it–until a couple of years ago, when I got on a bone-broth kick.  :)  Out came the oversized crockpot, and it proved to be just the ticket.  These days, I use it for making stock and huge batches of soup to put up for those snowy nights this winter.  (Nothing like a good, hearty chicken stock when the cold-and-flu season is in high gear.)

So, why am I cooking a turkey in the thing, you may be asking, quite understandably?

Because I plan to can the meat for use this winter–it will be great in casseroles, soups or just warmed up and served with some of my homemade cranberry sauce.  And once the turkey is ready to be put into Mason jars and pressure-canned, I will strain the broth–bye-bye white turkey skin–and can that, too.  I’m what they call an ingredient canner, since most of what I put up is meant to be paired up with something else.  It will be lovely, after a long day of writing, to whip up an easy, nutritious meal.  (If you’ve canned your own food, you know that the quality can’t be beaten by anything on the shelves of your local supermarket.)

I am by no means an expert at this enterprise, mind you.  I know how to use a pressure canner safely–for years I was terrified of the things: we’ve all heard the horror stories–and I am very, very careful to follow the manufacturer’s instructions to the letter.  Although today’s canners have extra safety features, there are dangers–a plugged valve, for instance, can still result in a nasty explosion, the kind that requires an unscheduled kitchen remodel, at best, and very possibly a long stint in the burn ward.    Not a happy prospect.  I had to learn to trust myself to concentrate on each task–I have ADD, so concentration is a challenge–but I do it, step by step.  My only regret, where stocking the pantry is concerned, is that I let fear stop me for so long.  Canning is a homey pleasure, and the satisfaction I derive from it is well worth all that paying attention.  :)  It’s nice to know there is plenty of food in the house, lest we get one of our famous wind or ice storms, or simply find ourselves snowed in, since I live in the country.

Another great thing about my newest hobby is this: I don’t have to wait for harvest time to tackle a batch of this, that or the other thing.  I recently re-canned tomato sauce, for instance, having purchased several gigantic cans of the stuff–who knew?  I buy chicken drumsticks, thighs and breasts on sale, and can them.  The drumsticks and thighs look pretty unappetizing in the jars–which is why they’re usually referred to, at least on YouTube, as ‘ugly chicken’–but they are absolutely delicious.  My next project, after the turkey and broth/stock will be elderberry syrup, which is a great cold and flu preventative–with the added benefit of tasting wonderful on pancakes or ice cream.

So, I admit it.  My name is Linda and I am powerless over canning.