Nielsen-Massey Vanilla Bean Paste

Darn good stuff!

I can’t tell you how long I have had my eye on Vanilla Bean Paste. That’s why when I came across an advertisement from Nielsen-Massey looking for someone to try the product and review it, I was on it like sticky on candy. And, I knew I had to call in my favorite cousin, Kelly, to help in the taste testing. I love to bake, but I normally stick to the basics. Kelly, on the other hand, is a gourmet cook. Together, I felt we could we could give this bottle of vanilla bean paste a run it would not soon forget.

Being a baker and a firm believer of making everything from scratch, I have been making my own vanilla extract for years (have I ever mentioned the standing joke around my house – If you eat my desserts, we’ll call you a cab.)  What Kelly and I did was put the two to a taste test, and that began with an old fashion “stick your finger and lick it” test. The Nielsen-Massey Vanilla Bean Paste (check out the picture) is very thick, almost like molasses, and true to its claim, has a lot of vanilla beans. It also has an extraordinary flavor that had it not been for Kelly, I would have stood there all day and continued to “dip and lick”. That sounds sort of dirty, but this vanilla paste is sinfully good – all-by-itself.

You can see how thick and full of vanilla pods the paste is.

Did I mention Hubby wanted to get in on the act? Before Kelly and I could gather the ingredients needed to make our pate’ a choux, Hubby was already stirring in a pot. Hubby is famous for his Southern Pecan Pralines and Peanut Butter Fudge. He decided that his taste tasting would involve Coconut Pralines and he was determined to use the vanilla paste first. There was definitely a little competition going on in that kitchen!

This is the recipe for Hubby’s Pralines.

Southern Pralines (The best in all the world)


5 cups sugar

1 can condensed milk

1 can (large) pet milk

1 stick butter (the real thing)

3 cups chopped pecans (or coconut)

1 tablespoon vanilla extract (NOT imitation extract)


Will take approximately one hour of stirring and makes approximately 60 pralines (if you don’t taste test before they’re done)

Start with a high fire, then lower to a med/low flame. Stir constantly. Melt butter and add sugar, condensed milk and pet milk.

After approximately one hour, mixture will begin to thicken and turn to a caramel color. Once it forms a ball with a slightly crusty coating in a bowl of cool water, mixture is ready for the pecans and vanilla (or substitute same amount of grated coconut in place of pecans). Add these, stirring constantly. Cook a short time longer.

Drop by spoonfuls onto wax paper that has been placed on top of newspaper. Stir every so often to keep mixture from hardening as you are dropping it onto the wax paper.

Pate a choux with vanilla cream filling and chocolate ganache topping

The following recipe is the one we used for the profiteroles and cream filling. We made a simple ganache’ of cream and melted chocolate for the topping.

Vanilla pastry cream recipe

Prep Time: — | Cook Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes |

Servings: Fills 1 standard pastry recipe | Difficulty: —



In a small saucepan, warm the milk over low heat until it is just hot enough to steam. While the milk is warming, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar, flour, and cornstarch until the mixture is completely smooth.

Once the milk is steaming, add half of it, whisking constantly, to the egg mixture. Add the milk and eggs back into the hot milk, continue stirring, and heat it for 1-2 minutes, until the custard reaches 170F on a digital thermometer and is very thick. Remove from the heat, stir in the vanilla extract, and chill before filling pastry.

Pate a Choux basic recipe ( puff pastry )


  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup eggs (4 large eggs)


1. Bring the water and butter to a simmer over high heat.  Reduce the heat to medium, add the flour and stir rapidly.  The flour will absorb the water quickly and a dough will form and pull away from the sides. Keep stirring to continue cooking the flour and cook off some of the water, another minute or two.  Transfer the paste to the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or a bowl if you’re using a hand mixer.  (If you want to mix the eggs directly into the dough in the pot, let it cool slightly, 4 or 5 minutes, or cool off the pan itself by running cold water over its base if you will be mixing the eggs in that pot.  You don’t want to cook the eggs too quickly.)

2. Add the eggs one at a time mixing rapidly until each is combined into the paste.  The paste will go from shiny to furry, slippery to sticky as the egg is incorporated.  The pâte a choux can be cooked immediately at this point or refrigerated for up to a day until ready to use.

Pipe or spoon choux paste into hot oil for doughnuts and cook for 5 minutes or until done.  Spoon or pipe it onto a baking sheet (see above, remember to press the peaks down with a moistened finger, they can burn) and bake in a hot oven (425 for 10 minutes, 350 for another half hour or so, is ideal) for cream puffs, profiteroles, and gougers.  Or pipe into simmering water for Parisienne gnocchi (remove when they float, then saute in brown butter with an additional garnish of your choice, excellent recipes in Bouchon for all of these preparations).


Now – someone had to the taste testing!

Now, I am the chocoholic in the family, so this is what my profiteroles looked like (and I enjoyed every bit of them.) To stem the objections to my “globs of chocolate”, I also “drizzled” the chocolate on top of some of the profiteroles. I’ve started thinking as of late, that I may want to be permanently laid to rest in Hershey, Pennsylvania. I’ve heard the air quality is sublime and the aroma simply cannot be matched anywhere else in the world. I think that would be a happy resting place for a chocoholic such as myself.

In conclusion, I have to highly recommend hunting down Nielsen-Massey Vanilla Bean Paste. It has a rich intense flavor that cannot be duplicated with an extract. It has a heavy dose of vanilla pods within the dark syrup that will add a richness to any dish you use it in. It is worth whatever it costs and the trouble it takes to find it. It is THAT good.

You can play the Rafflecopter for a chance to win a bottle!


Disclaimer / Disclosure: I received a complimentary bottle of Vanilla Beans with no obligation for a positive review. No compensation – monetary or in kind – has been obtained for this post. 


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Crazy in Paradise by Deborah Brown

Ebook By Deborah Brown

Product Details

Published: July 07, 2011
Category: Fiction » Mystery & Detective » Women Sleuths

About the Book:

Welcome to Tarpon Cove. Madison Westin inherits her aunt’s beachfront motel along with a variety of colorful tenant’s – drunks, ex-cons and fugitives. Only one problem: First she has to wrestle control from her lawyer and conniving motel manager. She enlists the help of her new best friend who’s motto is never leave home without your Glock. Only in South Florida, land of hot tan lines, drugs on demand – not to mention blackmail and murder.

About the Author:

             My debut novel Crazy in Paradise is full of fun and surprises. I’ve been writing, in one way or another for as long as I can remember; writing poetry, short stories, a romance novel secretly stashed under the bed and sappy love letters. Fiction should be fun. I wanted to create the perfect beach book, to make the reader laugh, cry and cheer… and then run out and tell their friends about it. My love of reading began when I was seven, the day I opened the cover of my first Mrs. Piggle Wiggle book. Mrs. P gave lessons to other children in how to behave and to me I learned to love the written word. I live in South Florida, with my ungrateful animals, where Mother Nature takes out her bad attitude in the form of hurricanes.

 From the Author:

 My Worst Job Ever

             I was fresh out of college, and needed immediate income and time to interview for my dream job, which was in advertising, so cocktail waitressing at a country western bar seemed like the perfect fit.  I knew nothing about country western music and never waitressed but the hours were 9pm until 3am.

             The owner saw something in me, desperation perhaps and he hired me on the spot.  He informed me after the interview if I wanted to make any money, I should go buy myself some boobs.  Back then, I was super thin and flat chested.  I went straight to the store and purchased myself a pair of 36 B’s, which made my body look like it had been taken over by a pair of boobs.  My new gigantic bra complimented the rest of the uniform, red short shorts, a tight white t-shirt, and low heels.  I remember debuting that outfit to my sister and she laughed until she choked.  We both laughed that when you poked me in the chest there was spring back action.

The bar patrons were nice and so were my co-workers but I was a fish out of water.  A lot like Dorothy when she realized she wasn’t in Kansas anymore.  I looked and acted like the unsophisticated girl that I was.  I met a couple of guys while I worked there, one in particular but I was too embarrassed to say yes to a date.

The hours turned out to be the only perk of the job leaving me time to job hunt when I wasn’t completely exhausted.  I’d get home at 4am, wired and unable to go to sleep, smelling like the bottom of an ashtray and the inside of a beer bottle from head to toe.

Four weeks later, I was hired as a receptionist in advertising.  I was happy to quit my night job and even happier that my boss didn’t want any notice.  We had an amicable breakup.

Book Quotes:

“To new beginnings here in South Florida.”

 “Elizabeth was a woman you wanted in your back up arsenal, she never said no to helping me. I wish I’d gotten to talk to her one last time.”

“You didn’t have very much. What happened to all of your possessions? Tell me Dickhead didn’t get everything in the divorce.”

“Look, you do have something in common,” Mother said. “Divorce. That’s nice. Does your family refer to your ex as Dickhead, Zach?”

“I need a favor.”  “Are you using an IOU?”

“I hit him over the head with a vase. I didn’t know what else to do.”…”What if he wakes up?” “I can’t continue to hit him over the head.”

“I try to use my martial art skills more than a gun, but I never leave home without my Glock and a couple of her friends.”

He looked at me, a serious look on his face. “I don’t think I can get my hand inside your dress if we sit on the concrete.” “How would you like it if I stuck my hand up your pants?”

“All I know is he’s an ex-con, no friends, and no one is willing to step up and claim his dead ass.”

 My Review:

            Crazy in Paradise was a book full of strange, crazy characters, each collecting their own set of “I owe you’s.” From the first page of the book to the last, the action was non-stop. The story began with recently divorced Madison Westin inheriting her recently deceased aunt’s beachfront house and properties. Not only does she inherit an old motel, she also inherits an old motel full of eccentric people.

             From the insane funeral that will leave you in tears, to the scheming attorneys, mad ex-cons, a centerfold private investigator who is just as adept at making trouble as he is in solving mysteries (and he’s also quite the charmer.) Then, there are the dates that Madison’s mother tries to fix her up with that will leave you rolling your eyes.

Trouble seems to follow Madison around as she tries to legitimize her aunt’s business and she finds herself in the midst of a shootout. The book was not a serious book by any means and would be a great book to sit out on the beach to read. You’ll find yourself looking for the hunky P.I. and seeing shady characters lurking by old motels. The story is humorous and you’ll find yourself chuckling along the way. Crazy in Paradise is just that, crazy (and a fun read.)

  Deborah’s book can be purchased on Amazon


You can also enter to win a copy of Crazy in Paradise by

Playing the Rafflecopter at:

My Life. One Story at a Time.: Crazy in Paradise by Deborah Brown

Disclaimer / Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of the book with no obligation for a positive review. No compensation – monetary or in kind – has been obtained for this post. Cover art and book description courtesy of the author, publisher, or PR firm.

My Crazy Life – The Blurring of Lines and the Power of Reconnection

January 16, 2012

            I have found myself thinking on more than one occasion about the technological wonder we call Face book. I know that it has allowed me to reconnect with people I went to high school (and middle school and grammar school) with that I never thought I would see again.

Unlike many people, I moved from the home and town where I spent my childhood the day after high school graduation. I never went back. I had no idea when I opened my account on Face book that I would soon be “talking” to so many people from that time in my life.

Age and time seem to have eroded the feelings of inadequacy and teenage jealousies from our lives and we seem to have morphed into viable friendship sustaining human beings capable of deep emotions.

Who knew that thirty-five years later we would be looking to each other to offer encouragement on diets, listen to boasting about our grandchildren, and requesting prayers for our loved ones? We share a security in knowing our friends are but a keystroke away; and they are ready to help us celebrate our victories and to sustain us in our tragedies.

I had not had contact with any of my classmates before I found Face book. I am still reconciling the kids I knew in school with the adults I have come to know today. Some married high school sweethearts, some of us made decisions that took us in other directions.

In my mind, I still see the kids we were in high school and I sometimes think, “Would we have been different towards each other then, if we had known the human beings we would someday become?”

Some of us are still the class clowns. Some of us are still the serious students. Some of us are still laid back. I see the cheerleader, the high school quarterback, the chemistry lab geek, the bully, the introvert, the one with the glorious voice, the prettiest one, the most handsome one, the outcast. I see God’s children and I make a toast to Face book for bringing us full circle and back into each other’s lives.

Here’s to friendship! One thing is for certain, we have grown up, and I appreciate the human beings we have become and I look forward to sharing my triumphs, my tragedies, and everything in between with these friends.

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Brooklyn based MANTRA PERCUSSION performs Michael Gordon's "Timber"

Brooklyn based MANTRA PERCUSSION visited a Lowe’s hardware store in Alexandria, Virginia to perform an excerpt of Michael Gordon’s “Timber” on six two-by-fours.

My son-in-law, Jude Traxler, is a member. He is the one (dare I say this) with the green hair. I hope you’ll follow the link and watch and listen to this group of talented musicians.

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My Crazy Life –The Makings of a Book Review

Cover of "Kindle Wireless Reading Device,...
Cover via Amazon

January 3, 2012

Sitting here with nothing to do … and if you believe that, I have some swampland to sell you. I was actually winding up several hours of work putting together book reviews for my blog and I began thinking that the process might make a great story – well an okay story at least.

Most of us who have blogs are also writers – published and non-published – so we all know that writing is a process and takes time – lots of time. I admire those who have managed to string together enough words to make a book and then to go through the publishing process. Then, once the book is published, book reviews are needed. That is where I (and others) come in.

When I receive a book for review, before I even sit down to read the book, I will spend at least an hour on the computer researching the author and previous books written by them. I then begin putting together my book review material and setting up my document sections so that when I complete the book, I can sit down and concentrate on writing my review. I find a picture of the book (not always provided), the date published (not always provided), author information and picture (again, not always provided), where the book is being sold, and the book blurb.

Once I have my information ready, I begin reading the book. Reading a book can take anywhere from 6-8, and sometimes more, hours to read. Add to that, the time needed for writing notes for the review. Using my Kindle comes in handy for this part. It is easy to mark passages that I want to quote in my review as I read, as opposed to having a gazillion pieces of paper sticking out of a book.

When I finish reading a book, I begin my writing process. I will bring up all of the passages on my Kindle that I highlighted during the course of reading and decide which quotes I think will draw the reader in or make them laugh, etc. Sometimes I will try to use just a little bit of a quote to throw the potential reader off and to make them think, “I really need to read this book.”

It is at this point, if the author and I have not already agreed on a Q@A or guest post, I will contact the author and request one or the other. I will also set up a giveaway of their book to go along with the review. I will try to find out the sites where the book will be for sale (not always provided) so I can post my completed review on those sites. I also encourage the author to tweet the review and stop by for a visit and comment. The readers like the personal attention that authors give to the review.

Waiting for information from the author sometimes takes a while, depending on how busy they are. While waiting, I begin the process of posting my reviews on the different sites (sometimes 4 to 5 sites). This process can take upwards of two hours, depending on the number of sites. As I post, I also add the book to my blog’s sidebar to be permanently displayed – example: Shelfari, Goodreads.

Once the author returns the guest post or Q@A information, and I add it to my review, the post goes live on my blog. I take the time each day to tweet and post the review to face book and other sites for exposure. I belong to one website that thousands of other book reviewers belong to, which means I have access to thousands of other bloggers. I am a member of twenty groups on this site and I promote the books I review on each group’s page. What this means to an author, is I promote their book to thousands of potential buyers on this one site. I have memberships on several different websites, and I spend a lot of time promoting books.

I think most authors appreciate the work we do, and the exposure that book review blogs can offer. I am not sure, however, how many realize the time and effort some of us put into the review process. That is the reason I decided to write about the book review process. I spend an average of eight to ten hours on each book I agree to read and review.

So…no I have no swampland to sell – wouldn’t have the time if I did – I’m reviewing your book. I would love to hear feedback from authors and book reviewers on this topic.


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My Crazy Life – Starting the New Year with a little from the old

January 1, 2012

          It has become a tradition in our family for Hubby, daughter Katie-Beth and husband, Jude, and son, Joshua to play music with their dad for the Christmas children’s pageant at mass on Christmas Eve. They normally provide vocals as well. This year there was a change. A local teacher gathered a few volunteers from the church community and formed a children’s choir.

          After a few practices, Hubby had them overcoming their shyness and they were singing like angels; never more so than for the actual performance on Christmas Eve. As children go, well – we all know the unpredictable will be happen, and did. The mikes were hot so the children’s voices would fill the church, along with a hiccup that came out instead of words. Sitting up close and seeing my daughter burst out laughing (never missing a keystroke on the keyboard) and then Hubby start laughing (while keeping up on guitar), then son-in-law, Jude (still keeping beat on drums), I thought that the hiccup had come from Katie-Beth. Once the song ended and everyone had dried the tears in their eyes, Katie-Beth made motions that it had been one of the children.

          There were a few other mishaps, fortunately none of them serious. Son in law Jude, being the talented musician that he is (yeah – Manhattan School of Music), relied on one drumstick and his fingertips to get him through the Christmas pageant. No one was the wiser until after mass when he made the remark – “Note to self – next year bring sticks.”

          During the meditation after communion, it has become a tradition (started by Hubby) to sing Silent Night in the different languages of our church congregation. This year Silent Night was sung in English, Pilipino, Vietnamese, French, and Spanish. It is truly amazing to sit and listen to this one song sung in so many different languages, the world becoming a smaller place for a few minutes each Christmas Eve.

          Last year I recorded it and posted it to my blog. This year, Katie-Beth wanted me to use her Flipcam and quickly explained to me how to work it. Once. Needless to say, we have no recording. I forgot how to use it and thought the battery died. I quickly grabbed my phone and finished recording the performance, but missed Katie-Beth singing in English and Hubby singing in French. I now have my own Flipcam and will definitely know how to use it next year!

          Hubby received a ukulele for Christmas and has yet to put it down. Try being woken up to Mrs. Brown you’ve got a lovely daughter and Ave Marie each morning at six o’clock. At least he is now singing the correct words! I practically injured myself getting to the computer to print out the correct lyrics. Pet peeve – singing the wrong words to a song.

          A few highlights from 2011:

–      I started writing book reviews on my blog, reviewing 32 books since April. I found Bookblogs and Blogaholics quite by accident and began a foray into the book-reviewing world and met many friends along the way.

–      I participated in blog hops.

–      My blog won six incredible awards throughout the year.

–      I did a series of 21 days of compliments to myself. I learned a great deal from that little exercise.

–      I added two new dogs to my family, 3 year old Ryka and six-week-old Calypso. I’ve watched them grow this past year as we approach their one year anniversary with us. They have given me a lot to write about with their adventures.

–      I visited New York City twice this year and added Niagara Falls and Canada the second trip and wrote stories about those adventures.

–      I attended a writer’s conference and got to meet lots of authors.

–      I held my annual Cookie Swap for friends.

          I would like to thank all of my friends and followers for a great year and for all of the comments left on my blog. I am looking forward to visiting all of you this year and hearing about what is new on your agenda.
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