Thursday, July 31, 2008

I Scream, You Scream....

Being kids, my characters, Sam and Lita in my book, Searching For A Starry Night, A Miniature Art Mystery, do their share of snacking. But as the book is set in summer, their favorite has to be ice cream. (And they're not alone; there are actually other mysteries that involve ice cream. See list at bottom.)

While the girls stick to the conventional summer treat - a sundae cone and a bowl of strawberry or vanilla ice cream topped with sliced fruit and whipped topping - ice cream lovers have scores of unique flavors to choose from. But while I prefer chocolate (is there any other flavor?) and like jamoca or coffee as a close second, you may be surprised at what comes in number one on people's taste buds. (See trivia quiz below).

If you want even more flavor, then homemade ice cream is a treat that is perfect not only in summer, but a fun activity for the family.

How about a Coconut-Avocado Ice Cream? (I'm not sure about that one.) Or a Tart Lemon or Rocky Road? See for ice cream, sherbet and other recipes, plus tips and videos on ice cream making.

Ice Cream Facts

For fun, see if you can guess the answers to these trivia questions from Send Ice (See answers below).

* What is the top ice cream flavor? (You may be surprised!)

* How much ice cream does the average person eat in a year?

* Which state produces the most ice cream?

Mysteries with Ice Cream

Here are a few mystery books I found mentioning ice cream.

Kids' Books:
Boxcar Children #94 - The Ice Cream Mystery

Boxcar Children, The Chocolate Sundae Mystery

Nancy Drew and the Ski Slope Mystery (excerpt online)

The Mystery of the Straight Ice Cream

The Ice Cream Escapade

Heaven's Prisoners, James Lee Burke

Quiz Answers -
(No it's not chocolate; it's vanilla!)
(Average is 22.3 quarts, but check the other totals on the site!)

* Know of any other mysteries or novels mentioning or which involve ice cream? Feel free to share!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008


Honey has always been a treat for me. I love it spread on toast, slathered on a biscuit, or stirred into cornbread batter. Because my dad never seemed to have the willpower to pass up a produce stand without buying honey, it was a staple of my childnood.

I too, love to buy honey, and I always try to buy it locally. There are two local favorites that I want to mention. The first is Dana's Honey Sales. I first met this adorable husband and wife team at The Apple Festival in Erwin, TN. They have several varieties of honey, made from various flowers. Right now, I have jars of their star thistle and thistle and goldenrod. They also sell honey sticks, which are sort of like Pixie Sticks, fillled with honey. If you attend a festival in Northeast TN or Southwest VA, chances are, you will see a table for Dana's Honey Sales. This couple has an amazing passion for what they do and a vast knowledge base about honey and its many uses.Here is their information:

Dana's Honey Sales
Lebanon, VA 24266

The second vendor I want to mention is Honeyberry Farm. Earlier this week, I signed books at The Virginia Highlands Festival. I was seated across from their booth, and was amazed at all of the unique products. I sampled some of their Rosemary Balsamic Honey Jelly, and was sold. This is a delightful, award-winning blend of sweet, tangy, and woodsy. It is so good mixed with cream cheese and spread on a bagle. I cannot wait to try this as a glaze for chicken, pork, or baby carrots. Here is their site:

If you haven't seen it, a really great movie about a bee keeper is Ulee's Gold, starring Peter Fonda! It would be great to watch while drinking a steaming cup of tea sweetened with honey. I learned so much about honey making just from this movie.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Fatal Food

One of my sons-in-law spent the weekend in the hospital, bleeding southern exposure. I know--ick!--but it's relevant to the topic.

Ulcers, Irritable Bowel Syndrome and other gastro-intestinal disturbances can be fatal, and they can be created, exacerbated or relieved by diet. What a murder weapon--a deadly diet that would go totally unnoticed in today's America!

My dear friend Jeannine, one of the Southern Indiana Writers, wrote a story for our NOVEL INGREDIENTS anthology (every story had a recipe with it) in which a man was due to be killed by the love of his wife, who made him all his favorite foods--all fattening, high in cholesterol and massive in quantity.

You are what you eat, so make sure what you eat is healthy, yes?

Off my soapbox. ;)

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Why I had bread and goat cheese tonight

Chocolat. Joanne Harris has a LOT to answer for. In her wonderful, lyrical novel about a self-described witch changing the lives of the people in a small French town, she never stops talking about food. The chocolate descriptions are bad enough - I doubled my hot chocolate intake during and after I finished it, visited See's Candy one day, had dark chocolate gelato another, and just didn't worry about the extra calories.

The meal in the book that stood out the most, however, was a simple supper of warm baguette, goat cheese, olives and fresh peaches, accompanied by a crisp Pinot Grigio. I mean...yum! Simple and delicious. I've been thinking about this meal for three days..and finally decided to recreate it with my own twists. We had a Pain Rustique in the freezer (leftover from our gumbo party), so I thawed it overnight, wrapped it in foil and put it in the oven for an hour on low heat. We got a small log of herb and garlic goat cheese at a local market, along with an avocado and Geneva cookies by Pepperidge Farms. I mixed some balsamic vinegar and freshly ground pepper in a small bowl of olive oil, pulled out some leftover smoked salmon, sliced a couple of fresh peaches, cracked a bottle of Kennedy zinfandel, put it all on the coffee table and had a lovely, simple dinner. Dessert was Geneva cookies and more wine. We still have most of the loaf of bread left, along with goat cheese, and a bunch more peaches, so I think a repeat of tonight's dinner will probably be on the menu for tomorrow.

My sister just brought me a copy of THE GIRL WITH NO SHADOW, Joanne Harris's sequel to CHOCOLAT. I realize I'm doomed. Oh well. Denial isn't good for the soul and I really don't want to be on my death bed thinking of all the things I wish I'd done...and eaten.

Saturday, July 26, 2008


Chris' entry about childhood foods brought to mind visions of my grandmother.  She loved to fish.  When we were children, my sibs and I often spent weeks with her in her small Oklahoma town during the summers.  She'd take us out to local farm ponds and creeks with our poles and wigglers and big straw hats, and we'd sit for hours watching the cork bob up and down and pull in the occasional perch.  Or perhaps I should say that she'd sit for hours, and my sisters and I would sit for fifteen minutes and then spend the rest of the time running around in the woods like wild children.

Oklahoma creeks and farm ponds are home to catfish, perch, and crappy (a type of perch, pronounced "croppy" and not "crappy" at all.) All of these varieties of fish have tender white flesh and are very bony, requiring the utmost care to eat.  However,  having to eat the fish slowly, so slowly, and chew so carefully to avoid swallowing one of the hundreds of tiny bones only enhanced the dining experience.  

Wash and scrape the scales.  Cut of the head, slice down the belly from stem to stern, and pull out the innards.  Butterfly the fish and peel out the backbone and as many of the larger bones as possible.  Rinse the fish again.  Fish guts make very good fertilizer for the garden.  You can keep the cats and dogs out of the garden better if the viscera are well composted before using.

The unpleasant job of cleaning is well worth it for the meal with which you are rewarded.  Oh, how good the fish tastes, rolled in cornmeal and fried quickly in bacon grease until the tender white flesh is encased in a golden crust.  Large fish may be cut into fillets, small fish may be halved or fried whole.  Dip the cleaned fish in cornmeal -- or in egg, then flour -- or nothing at all, if you are a purist.  Put enough drippings or lard in the bottom of an iron skillet to float the fish.  Heat the fat, but don't let it smoke.  Fry the fish slowly, flesh side down, turning when lightly browned.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Interview with Camille Minichino/Margaret Grace

Welcome, Camille! Tell us a little bit about your series.
The Miniature Mysteries are "crafts cozies" featuring Gerry Porter, a miniaturist with a special ginger cookie recipe! She has a 10-year-old granddaughter, Maddie — they become reluctant partners in solving murders in their small town.

How long have you been writing?
Writing all my life; published in the last 15 years.

When did your first novel come out? What was it called? A little about it?

"The Hydrogen Murder" came out in 1997. Retired physicist Gloria Lamerino, lover of affogato, moves back to her hometown and takes a room above her friends' funeral parlor. She signs on to consult with local police and puts herself in danger as she helps solve murders.

Have you always written mysteries? If not what else have you written?
Like most writers, I try everything. I have a mainstream novel, a screenplay, short stories, essays. So far the mystery novels have been most successful, but I do have many personal essays in print and a couple of short stories.

What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your latest book?

I'm a lifelong miniaturist and wanted to write about the hobby in a fictional setting. I made up a town, Lincoln Point, and am now having fun making the town Lincoln-obsessed! Gerry is a retired English teacher, a widow, devoted to her granddaughter. She gets upset when she thinks she might be putting Maddie in danger, but she needs her help, especially with computer searches.

What is the main reason that you write?

From a desire to share the pleasure of reading and telling stories (okay, and having my opinions and slant on things 'out there').

Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to take away from your work?
Confession: I do like to teach! In the first series, the Periodic Table mysteries, I really wanted to put a female scientist on the literary map …. one who is funny and nice to be around … and to portray science as interesting and fun to learn. In this new series, I'm still interested in giving a female character some stature and intelligence instead of just "busybody" status.

Do you have a schedule for your writing or just write whenever you can?
I still have day jobs, so I write whenever I can. I've learned to make the most of short periods of time. I can get something significant done in as little as 15 minutes if that's all I have.

Do you outline? If not, do you have some other interesting way that you keep track of what’s going on, or what needs to happen in your book when you are writing it?
I use an Excel spreadsheet! I make a graph: say I start a novel today and I need 80000 words by December 1. The software draws a line and tells me how many words a day that will take. At the end of every day, I put the actual number of words I have and see if I'm above, below, or on the line. Also it tells me what percent I have done so I can tell if I'm half way through and not enough is happening, for example.

If you had your ideal, what time of day would you prefer to write?
I'd like to goof off all day — movies, reading, lunch with my friends, TV, shopping, playing with dollhouse furnishings — and write at night. Alas, it doesn't always work.

Day job?
Part time science editor at a national laboratory; college science teacher; writing teacher at various workshop venues.

Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?

Do you have a great rejection/critique or acceptance story you’d like to share?
One agent told me that Revere, MA, the setting of my first series, was too small a town to support a whole series! Had she never heard of Cabot Cove, Maine??

What kind of promotion do you find most affective?
Who knows? I try everything — traveling to conferences; signings at bookstores, libraries, and groups; blogs; social networking on all the "Spaces;" and distributing pens and other tchotchkes. It all takes a lot of time. Whoever comes up with the key to what really works will get a Nobel.

Most interesting book signing story?
At my very first signing, a man came up to me and said he'd seen the event advertised in the local paper and "came right over". I was very excited, until he told me why: "I'm an artist," he said. "And I was wondering if you needed someone to do your covers." Humbling!

Future writing goals?
To be like Isaac Asimov, who never had an unpublished thought.

Marie Curie. Besides all the "firsts" in science, she worked with the Red Cross in WWI, invented a way to take x rays to the front and use on the wounded. She drove her "petit Curie" onto the battlefield, her 18-yr-old daughter beside her. She also wrote prolifically and left us her amazing diaries and notes.

Person you would most like to meet dead or alive?
Dead: Tesla, Marie Curie. Alive: Hillary Clinton

What do you read?
In mystery: Dark, though I write light. I like Thomas H. Cook, Joanne Harris. In mainstream fiction: Joyce Carol Oates, Richard Russo. In non-fiction: sociology, psychology, and science. I always have one of each of the above categories going, and read about 3-4 books/week.

What are your hobbies?
Besides miniatures — movies and television dramas. I also follow politics and political pundits very closely. (Reading, too, but I don’t think of that as a hobby, but a necessity!)

Favorite TV or movies?
I love any scripted crime drama on television. Dexter, Prison Break, and 24 at the top of the list. Also Without A Trace, Criminal Minds, and so on. I love crime movies, too, and any adult drama. The Godfathers are #1. A Bronx Tale. Most biopics, too.


Never! I don't want to take care of anything/one that can't say "thank you" and discuss politics.

What part of the country/world do you live in?
Suburb of San Francisco. Where I would like to live: just above Grand Central Station, New York City. Second choice: across 5th Avenue from the Met.

Any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?
The usual: stay with it. The truth: all things being equal, you have a good chance getting published and staying published if you have a background in sales and marketing.

Anything you would like to add?
Thanks for the chance to talk about myself and my books! So few care. (smile)

Web site? and

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Childhood Foods

I almost forget today was my day to post!

An entry a few days ago got me thinking about foods we ate when we were growing up.

Everyone has a special food that just the smell, or thought of it, takes them straight back to their childhood and growing up years.

Thinking on it, I now wonder about some of the things we ate. One oddity immediately comes to mind - Fried Onion Sandwiches. Yes, you read that right.

I remember dad cooking up the onions in a frying pan. They were nicely browned and we liked them! We weren't poor. Dad was a city laborer and made good money for the time. We were never hungry. I'd imagine things were sometimes tight as with any parents raising kids in the 50s and 60s. I don't know where that particular food idea came from or why. I know we ate them and thought nothing of it. These days, I tend not to eat onions as they don't agree with me. Or is it psychological? ha!

Mom's Macaroni

Maybe the onion sandwiches were a guy thing; you know, a fast, "easy" solution to feeding the kids. Moms, of course, have a better idea of what constitutes a meal.

A better tasting dish was mom's macaroni. I forgot the exact name we had for it, but it's a simple recipe: brown ground beef, some onions for flavor, and cook elbow macaroni. When done, mix together with chopped whole tomatoes. Add seasoning. Parmesan cheese is optional. I remmeber another version where you melted mozzarella cheese and mixed it together. We loved this dish! Good and easy to make. It was cheap, too. Today you can substitute ground turkey or other ground beef.

Another favorite was simple Mac and Cheese from the box. Maybe not "health" food, but who can resist?

Anyone else have any food favorites that they remember growing up with? Or how about your own family's food "oddities?"

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Adriana Trigiana.....Love Her!

One of the topics that came up during Open Mic Night was how meeting an author can affect the way we feel about their book. Well, one author immediately came to my mind. Unfortunately, the line to meet her was so long that I did not get my face time with her, but that still did not cause her to make any less of an mpression on me.
Adriana Trigiani is my very favorite author. A couple of years ago, she came to a Barnes & Noble in my area. This was a huge happening, because Adriana grew up in our region. A while before she arrive, I bought her new book, which earned me a number to have a spot in line. There were hundreds of people in line, and I was somewhere near the middle.
Adriana breezed in, right on time, with her assistant and her mother. Her mother was a tiny little lady, wearing a cute beret. Adriana was dressed in sweats, and her jet black curls were pulled up in pigtails.
Immediately, Adriana proved that she is as funny and unpretentious as her writing suggests. She introduced her cohorts, talked about her newest book, told plans for future books, and joked with the crowd.
As large as the crowd was, Trigiani really spent time with each person who came to her table. She answered questions and posed for photos with anyone who had a camera. When someone from her hometown came through, she'd say "Hey everyone, this is so-and-so, the prettiest cheeleader in Big Stone Gap" or "This was my high school math teacher."
Her tone transferred to the patrons waiting in line. Lines, especially during the Christmas shopping season, as this was, tend to bring out the worst in people. At this event, we had a ball waiting in line. Adriana's assistant walked through the crowd, chatting and giving t-shirts to special customers, such as an elderly couple who were celebrating an anniversary that night.
By about 10:30, I was still some distance away from Trigiana, and my child was with a babysitter. I made the decision to leave, rather than wait another hour or so. A nice college student waiting in line behind me offered to have my book signed and meet me in town with it the next day. As sweet as that was, I declined, because I would have felt bad having her run around town on my account.
The next day, something really awesome happened. Trigiana posted a note on her site that if anyone who didn't get their book signed sent a SASE, her assistant would send a signed book plate. I sent the envelope, and she sent to book plate.
If you haven't read Adriana Trigiani, I urge you to do so. She is a fantastic writer and obvious foodie. Her books describe foods characterstic of the mountain south where she grew up. As an Italian-American, she also tells of great Italian specialties. Trigiani's words make me laugh, and make my mouth water. Further evidence that she's a true foodie is her cookbook, Cooking with My Sisters. If you get an opportunity to meet her, by all means, do it. Just plan to wait in line, and have a good time!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Orange Chocolate Granita

I posted this during our open mic night last Tuesday, and promised I'd post it again today, so here it is:

Chocolate Orange Granita
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups water
1 cup orange juice
1 tsp orange peel
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup cocoa powder
2 oz chopped dark chocolate
Boil sugar, water, juice. Remove from heat, stir in rest, pour into dish, freeze, stir every hour until frozen.

What does this have to do with fatality? Welllll.... Suppose you mixed in some Amaretto and some potassium cyanide? Does that get me back on topic?

One thing we haven't talked about (I think) is violence ABOUT food. I hunt mushrooms in the spring and one year I found a neighbor child poaching in my patch. As it happened, we came to an agreement on where and when we would each hunt, but I couldn't help thinking that two lesser people might have entered a deadly encounter, or at least an acrimonious one. That could lead to violence or put one under suspicion if the other came to harm. I mean, when somebody teased me that they THOUGHT bears ate mushrooms, I said, "I pity the bear I catch doing it." If my lawyer got 'shroomers on the jury, I couldn't be convicted of any act against any poacher, I guarantee.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Comfort Food & Movies

When my dad left my mom (back in the days before divorce was common - it was just something that happened to married couples on TV or in movies), we used to have pizza and movie nights. We'd get Appian Way pizza mix, pepperoni, mozzarella cheese and canned mushrooms. It was always a challenge to spread the pizza dough over our one round pizza sheet (I'm not sure why we never just used two pizza mixes), but we always managed. Lisa and I would take turns chopping up the pepperoni and cheese and spreading everything out just so on the dough. She was the mushroom advocate; I didn't hold with the little slimy fungi (my taste buds have since developed more sophistication), so I watched carefully to make sure at least a third of the pizza was left fungus free.

We'd have ice cold Coca Cola with our pizza, preferably in the little glass bottles it used to be sold in. Sometimes we'd put the bottles in the freezer, taking them out before we had little Coke bombs go off inside. I rarely drink sodas now, but when I do it's a Coke. Classic Coke, none of that diet crap. If you're gonna be decadent, have the real thing, says I!

While waiting for the pizza to bake, we'd make our dessert: old-fashioned homemade fudge. The kind made with corn syrup, cocoa powder and sugar, stirred in a saucepan over a burner until a dollop dropped in cold water forms a little ball. Then it was time to pour it into the pre-buttered glass pan and put in the fridge until it set. Sometimes no matter how long we stirred it, the fudge refused to cooperate. This became spoon fudge. It tasted the same, but I always felt it was cheating to eat it that way, but it never stopped me.

Pizza, Coke and fudge. The triumvirate of comfort food. And it always went with a movie, usually a musical with Gene Kelly. AN AMERICAN IN PARIS, THE PIRATE, SINGING IN THE RAIN, SUMMER STOCK... these were the movies that eased the transition between being part of a 'normal' family with a stay at home mom to having Mom suddenly go to work full time and seeing Dad once a month. It was not an easy time, but the memories of the construction of the pizza, dropping drips of hot fudge into the water and watching anxiously to see if THIS time it would set, and the taste of ice-cold Coke while watching Gene Kelly (oh, those glorious thighs...not that I noticed them at that age) dance...well, those indulgent movie nights are among some of the best memories of my life.

Sunday, July 20, 2008


Since nobody regularly posts on Sunday and since my Friday post was so short, I decided to post today.

Why are the heroes of so many novels--mystery, romance--desperadoes? And why do women love them so much? I can only speak for myself and one particular desperado. A desperado with Paul Newman eyes. A guy who comes into and goes out of my life as if he goes where the wind blows him. A guy who yesterday--in front of my husband, no less--I pleaded to, "'Come down from your fences. Open the gate.' Let somebody love you--let ME love you--before it's too late." He came over, lay his chin against my thigh, looked up at me and said, "Eh." I took that as a "no."

But look at him (the big blue-eyed guy in the forefront of the photograph). Isn't he dreamy? I have to admit, he's also a little scary . . . a little dangerous. And sometimes he simply breaks my heart.

Let me give you a little background. Last year, a one-eyed stray cat (who becomes "Sparrow" in my mystery, Murder Takes the Cake) wandered into our backyard and had kittens. She and the kittens lived between our storage shed and the storage shed of our neighbors. They were all feral and terrified of humans. I began to feed them. I soon noticed a large male cat hanging around. The first time I started to run him off because I thought he might harm the kittens. But then I discovered how affectionate he was with the kittens and their mom. I began calling him "Big Daddy" and putting out extra food. I sat outside on the ground a few feet away from the cats' food bowl until they became used to me. Finally, I was able to touch both parents (Big Daddy warmed up to me the quickest). A few months later I became able to pet the kittens. A neighbor at the time who worked for a spay/neuter clinic was able to trap the mother and kittens and take them to have them vaccinated and spayed. We weren't able to trap Big Daddy.

Now, the mother cat and the kittens live with us full time, but Big Daddy comes and goes. Oddly enough, it seems he most often visits on holidays. The first holiday he appeared after an extended absence was Mother's Day. He sat on the porch and meowed until I came to the door. We'll go for a week or two without seeing him at all, but then he'll come and hang around for a meal or a day. Sometimes two or three days, if we're lucky.

He apparently had a rough winter. He came to us once and had a broken tail. Another time, one of his ears was ripped at the top. It has healed now, but he still bears the scar. The ear scar is one of many. I'd love to take him to the vet, get him checked out and vaccinated; but we don't have a trap. I tried to pick him up once and he hissed. Everything with "Big Daddy" is on his terms. He even bit me once during the broken tail incident. I'm half afraid of him, and yet I keep asking him to come home for good this time.

Where he goes when he's not with us is a mystery. Which brings us full circle to the hero in your mystery . . . or romance . . . or thriller. What is he running from? What sort of scars does he carry? What makes us love him? What makes the reader keep rooting for him despite himself? If you can answer those questions, you'll have a bestseller on your hands.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Okra Pie

I’m so very sorry that I missed the open mic night. I couldn’t be home that night. My dearest wish is that things will calm down one of these days and I can have a life.

In the meantime, writing last week about how my siblings help me with recipes for my books has gotten me thinking about okra pie.

Okra 'pie' is an old family recipe that I included in the my last book, The Drop Edge of Yonder. It’s not really a pie - it’s okra sliced up with egg and cornmeal and fried into a kind of large round fritter. It can be sliced into wedges and eaten by hand, so it’s not only quite delicious, it’s fun to eat, as well.

My mother raised okra in her backyard garden, and always had tons of it every summer. Usually we ate it fried, sometimes boiled with tomatoes or in a stew, but she made it into a ‘pie’ for us quite often, and we loved it. I made it myself quite a bit when I was younger and actually cooked at home with some regularity, but it’s been so long that I had forgotten the particulars and had to ask my sister, the famous Carol, to help me reconstruct the recipe. Most of the time I can make it just right - perfectly brown and toasty and all in one piece. However, it takes a practiced eye to know just how long to cook it on one side before attempting the flip-over, and occasionally I end up with a pan full of loose fried okra with egg in it. It doesn’t really matter. It’s still yummy.

p.s. To all you poor non-Southerners who have only eaten your okra boiled, this is not slimy in the least.

1 lb. sliced okra (about 4 cups) 2 beaten eggs
¾ cup yellow cornmeal ¼ tsp. salt, or to taste
Fat for frying

Melt the fat in a heavy skillet. The fat should cover the bottom of the pan to about 1/8 inch deep. When very hot, add the coated okra and spread out so that it covers the bottom of the skillet in a single layer. Do not stir. Let the okra cook until the top looks dry and the edges are beginning to brown, then turn the batch over with a large turner. After years of practice, my mom could turn the entire thing over in one piece. If the pie breaks into two or three pieces the first hundred or so times you try it, don’t worry about it. Fry the other side until brown, adding more fat if needed. Turn the "pie" out onto a serving plate, cut into wedges, and serve.

Friday, July 18, 2008

A Cool Cake From Start to Finish

Check out this clip:

See how long it takes you to figure out what he's making. No cheating!

This is so neat. I've been swamped with Murder Takes the Cake this week, so it was only fitting that my post be about cake decorating.

Sorry to be so brief. I'll try to do better next week.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Favorite Foods - In Miniature!

(Pictured: The Southern Heritage Cookbook cover in miniature by Chris Verstraete)

It's no surprise that some of my best "cooking" is done in miniature.

As an avid dollhouse miniatures creator and collector, I enjoy making all kinds of new things. A favorite is food items. It's fun to try to get as realistic a replica as you can from polymer and air dry clays. (Less calories too. ha!)

Granted, I am nowhere near as good as some of the more skilled artisans (see some of their incredible work at the Mini Food Blog.) but I enjoy trying new things and am pleased (usually) with the results.

For fun, Terri, the list owner of the Miniature Collectors Club at Yahoo Groups, decided to hold a contest called The Cookbook Challenge. In it you were to duplicate the page or cover of a favorite cookbook or scene.

I found the Southern Heritage cookbook at a flea market for $1. As I'd made some of the foods before, I thought the picture was something I could duplicate. Making the watermelon was something new and was fun to try. (You can see more of my miniatures at http://cverstraete.comor my blog.

I didn't win first, but you have to see the unusual winning entry which was really well done. (Btw, the winner is a doll maker.) I'm still happy as I did get second place.

You can see all the amazing entries at the group's Webshots page.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Tomatoes Without The Danger!

Summer of 2008 has been a tough one for the tomato. Are they safe? Have people gotten sick from them? Luckily, I have had access to lots of locally grown tomatoes. Local farmers have been on our local news to assure us locals that local, East Tennessee tomatoes are safe.

During this whole are they/aren't they safety issue, everything that I have seen on the television or read has stated that the little cherry berry or grape tomatoes are safe, and that cooking tomatoes also ensures safe eating.

With that information, I can pass along my recipe with some level of confidence. It calls for grape tomatoes, and requires baking them. This recipe is absolutely scrumptious. I have taken it to several events as a finger food. I never bring any home, and always get requests for the recipe. These tarts are good hot, cold or room temperature. Best of all, they are good any time of day. A nice little brunch buffet could be done with tomato tarts, brown sugar bacon, fruit, coffee and juice.

This recipe is included in the back of my book, Cheaters, Pies, and Lullabies. In these troubled times for tomato-lovers, I hope that I have provided a safe indulgence!

Tomato Tarts

2 cups of sliced grape tomatoes
1 Tablespoon Kosher salt
1/8 cup chopped green onion
1 cup grated mozzarella
1 cup grated cheddar

1 cup mayonnaise
1 Tablespoon Italian seasoning
1 teaspoon pepper
1 refrigerated, rolled pie crust

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Place tomatoes in colander. Sprinkle with salt and drain for 10 minutes.
Pinch off walnut sized balls of pie dough and press into cups of mini-muffin pan.
Combine tomatoes and remaining ingredients.
Spoon mixture into tart shells.
Bake 30 minutes or until bubbly and browned.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Welcome to Fatal Foodies' First Open Mic Night!

Hi, there!

Thank you for joining us. We'll be talking about whatever you want to talk about. Just remember to refresh your browser every now and again to make sure you're seeing everyone's post.

The first four non-Fatal Foodies to comment will receive a free book. Our prizes include:

MURDER FOR HIRE by Dana Fredsti
NOVEL INGREDIENTS (an anthology compiled by the Southern Indiana
Writers' Group) donated by Marian Allen

So, tell us about yourself. Are you a writer? A foodie? Both?

We look forward to getting to know you during this next hour or so.

Cruel and Unusual

My mother and I are reading a book in which someone was murdered by poisoned candy. Now that's just mean.

How many murder stories have you read in which the poison was stirred into something the victim drank, slipped into a condiment only the victim used--or a random victim would use, put into something the victim ate or a medicine the victim took? That's not even counting Mickey Finns (anybody else know what a Mickey Finn is?). There's something particularly evil about turning something that should be nourishing--or at least pleasant--and turning it into something deadly, something very Trojan Horse-y about watching your victim administer his/her own murder weapon.

You can even set the trap and be somewhere else with an iron-clad alibi when the deed comes to fruition.

But what if your intended victim doesn't feel hungry/thirsty and somebody else is killed by mistake? So many books and stories in which the detective or police run ragged looking for Mr. A's murderer, only to finally discover that the intended victim was Miss B and they have to start all over again. It makes for a nice confusion (if you're a reader or writer, not if you're a detective or investigating officer--or, come to that, if you're a victim).

And this is quite beside the murderous possibilities of just plain bad cooking....

Monday, July 14, 2008

Don't forget!

Don't forget, tomorrow is our Open Mic Night. The chat will begin at 9 p.m. ET, and the first four non-Fatal Foodie participants will win a book. Prizes include:

MURDER FOR HIRE by Dana Fredsti
NOVEL INGREDIENTS (an anthology compiled by the Southern Indiana
Writers' Group) donated by Marian Allen

We hope to see you there!

Minnesota Treats from Jess Lourey

For my third Fatal Foodies post, I decided to combine some shameless promotion for my good friend and excellent writer, Jess Lourey, author of the MURDER BY THE MONTH series. Her latest book, AUGUST MOON, just came out and I recommend all four books highly. The mysteries are well-crafted, the narrative both hilarious and suspenseful, and there's enough culinary descriptions to keep us foodies more than happy! So without further ado, my interview with Jess Lourey!

Me: Howdy, Jess, and thank you for letting me interview you for Fatal Foodies! Your heroine, Mira, has several jobs, including a column for the local newspaper called Battle Lake Bites for which she discovers new and unusual Midwestern recipes such as Turdeasant (pheasant stuffed in a duck stuffed in a turkey), Barbecued Spiced Bananas and Snowman's Balls. What made you decide to add recipes and what's your favorite one so far?

Jess: I love food. My family tree is full of amazing cooks, bakers, and eaters. It's not unusual for my parents to invite me over for supper and serve a five-course meal, starting with a fresh fruit soup, on to an herb salad with diced beets, feta cheese, and orange pulp under a maple soy dressing, on to fresh-from-the-garden grilled asparagus with a light honey sauce, on get the picture. We eat good.

Because food is so central to my identity and the way I relate to people, when I began writing my mysteries, I toyed with the idea of doing a food-based series, something like Diane Mott Davidson's.
However, I knew the series was going to be set in Minnesota, and on the whole, Minnesotan food is Lutheran food: white, and either a vehicle for cream of mushroom soup (if it's a main dish) or a vehicle for Cool Whip (if it's dessert). Instead of fighting that, I decided to have fun with it and find the weirdest Midwestern recipes I could and work it into a fictional column written by my main character.

Me: From the description of meals at your parents' house, they're either not Lutheran or have transcended the heritage of Lutheran food!
I love the ambiance of the Fortune Café in your books (not to mention all the ginger scones Mira is always eating). Is it based on a real coffee shop in Battle Lake?

Jess: The location is real, in that there is a coffee shop in real Battle Lake in the same location as the Fortune Café in fictional Battle Lake, but in the last few years, the real coffee shop owners have cleaned out their baked goods area and turned into a knick-knack store that sells coffee. Sigh. Maybe someone will be inspired by the series to open the real deal. Yum.

Me: I've got two words for you. Nut Goodies. Talk about 'em.

Jess: Haha! You are so transparent, you addict. For readers who do not know, Nut Goodies are marvelous candy bar circles made in St. Paul, Minnesota, by the Pearson Company, who also makes Salted Nut Rolls. You can find the nut rolls all over the world, but the Nut Goodie never caught on and so can pretty much only be found in Minnesota. There's no accounting for taste because the Salted Nut Roll is to the Nut Goodie what tea is to Valium.

To the uninitiated, the Nut Goodie isn’t much to look at. The frenetic pine-green and clown-red wrapper yells of old-fashioned candy stores where you could dig your hand into the candy jar and pull out ten waxy pop-bottles for a dime. The Nut Goodie itself looks like a rubber gag toy, the kind you wouldn’t want to find next to your cat. The whole bar is as big as the palm of a grown woman’s hand and consists of a domed, sugar-maple center with peanut halves sprinkled on thick. Then, there is brown, waxy chocolate spilled over it all and hardened in a free shape around the outside. It looks like the unfortunate result of a bad meal, but it tastes like heaven. (this interviewer concurs with the 'tastes like heaven' part)

If you’re a Nut Goodie newbie, I suggest you start with one of the chocolate lips that has spilled off of the whole. It’s just chocolate covered peanuts, and it’s a good way to get your feet wet before biting into the so-sweet-it-makes-you-cry maple center. The maple concoction is the magic in a Nut Goodie. It’s not gooey, like caramel. It’s a nice, staid, Minnesota middle, the texture of thick butter cream frosting, and one bite would kill a diabetic. The Pearson’s Company first started creating them in St. Paul in 1907 and hasn’t looked back.

Me: I never knew these things existed until I read about them in all four of your MURDER BY THE MONTH mysteries. And they sounded good…but then I tasted one. Thank you for the addiction, Ms. Lourey. Tell me about your first Nut Goodie…did it start with just one?

Jess: It always starts with just one. It's a slippery slope, drizzled with warm chocolate and crunchy peanuts, and a soft maple candy pillow to catch you at the end.

Me: Ain't it the truth? And besides Nut Goodies, what are your favorite decadent culinary treats?

Jess: Nuts and chocolate really are my thing, though I lean toward dark chocolate when not Nut Goodie-ing. I also love to bake--it's very soothing to me to have my hands in the dough and to have the smell of fresh-baked bread and peanut butter cookies filling the corners of my house. Now that I'm pushing 40, though, I can't sit down with a slab of cheese and a chunk of fresh-baked bread as often. It makes me crazy and dimpled. So, that's a big decadent treat every now and again.

Me: 'Crazy and dimpled.' I have to laugh at that, even while I nod in empathy from my 40-something dimpled vantage point. Besides fresh-baked bread and Nut Goodies, got
any favorite comfort foods? If so, what sort of occasion makes you crave them?

Jess: Garlic mashed potatoes with gravy, hands down. In second place is Jook, a Chinese comfort-food soup that is essentially a turkey wing, a cup of white rice, eight cups of water, a 1" cube of peeled fresh ginger, and some salt and pepper that you let cook for a couple hours. It turns out like porridge, and you sprinkle some fresh cilantro and sliced green onions on top, eat it for lunch on a cold winter day, and you feel like the world will be okay. Should I be concerned that I don't need an occasion to crave comfort food?

Me: Every day is a good day for comfort food as far as I'm concerned!
Describe classic Midwestern food in one sentence (or two, if you need it):

Jess: White. :) Think lefse, tator tot hotdish, klub, potatoes, milk....

Thanks for having me, Fatal Foodies and Ms. Dana Fredsti!

Me: And thank you for sharing your favorite foods and the secret of Nut Goodies, Ms. Jess Lourey!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Brangelina's Boy/Girl Twins Have Arrived At Last!

And here they are!!!!Okay, not really. But when I heard the first pics of the Brangelina twins are expected to be sold for $11 million dollars, I thought I'd give this a shot. These two adorable babies are MY boy/girl twins, born April 21, 1996. This particular picture is from when I dressed them up as Sonny and Cher for their first Halloween. Neither of my little beauties had hair yet, so I plaited black yarn for my daughter's hair and put a funky "Sonny" cap on my son! Notice my girl's cut-down-to-her-belly-button sweater and bare feet. Is that not sooooo Cher? :-) Cue music: "Babes, I got you babes. No one might pay eleven mil for your picture, but I've got you and that makes us even richer." Do I smell a Grammy? Do I smell not one but two cease and desist orders?

Knox Leon and Vivienne Marcheline don't have anything on my sweethearts. . . now 12. Yikes, where did the time go?

Anyhoo, what's talk of Halloween without a good candy recipe?

Easiest Candy Ever


1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 12-oz. pkg. of chocolate chips (semi-sweet or milk . . . your preference)
1 12-oz. pkg. of peanut butter chips (you can also substitute mint chips here)


In a saucepan, combine your milk and chocolate chips. Stir until chips are melted. Remove the saucepan from heat, and stir in your peanut butter chips. Pour into a baking pan lined with aluminum foil. Put the pan into the refrigerator. After the candy has set (about an hour or two), take the candy out of the pan and peel the foil off the back. Cut into squares.

See? I told you it was easy. If you like this recipe, write it down quickly before the celebrity lawyers make me take down this post.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Them Old Farm Wives

My sister Carol, who lives in Missouri, sometimes helps me reconstruct old recipes from our childhood for me to use in my books, especially dishes that our mother made regularly but neither of us use, anymore, since we care about our families’ arteries. Since my husband and I keep a meatless house, last winter Carol agreed to test on her brave family a recipe for beef tenderloin with natural gravy, surrounded by vegetables and tiny fried meatballs, that I want to use for my latest book, The Sky Took Him, which will be out in January of 2009. She did so, and the letter she sent me outlining the results was so wonderful that I copied it and am reproducing it in this post. My comments are in italics. This is a fabulous example of how I am graced with such support and help in attaining authenticity in my writing.And by the way, if you’re in the mood for a treat, be my guest and try the dish yourself. Carol would be delighted, I’m sure.

Here it is:

Donis,I finally cooked the meat I bought to try your recipe. We have a ton of left-overs because there were only 3 of us at dinner. We all concluded that … them old farm wives knew what they was a doin’ !

As I told you way back when, beef tenderloin is expensive and more of a holiday treat apparently…hard to find. I finally bought a cheaper cut of meat (eye of round roast?) that was shaped like a tenderloin. I decided to go for the hotter oven and shorter cooking time because Chris [her husband] and Abby [her daughter] like their beef less well done and that would give a nice outside color with some pink in the middle. I didn’t have any other lean meat and the roast was fairly large so I cut the end off and boiled that for the meatballs (it wasn’t very fatty at all). About two minutes after I put the meat in the hot oven, we lost power because of an ice storm. The oven is gas so I hoped it would still cook since it was lit before the power went out…but no such luck. We had no power for 2 hours, but I had started it so early that we decided to "go for it" after the lights were restored. I’m pretty sure that skewed the cooking time somewhat!

As near as I can tell, though, even with the oven at the hotter setting, it took more than an hour -15-20 minutes- to get it to medium-rare (meat keeps getting hotter after you remove it).

A tip from the "food network" is to let the meat "rest" for 10 minutes to redistribute the juices or when you cut it, the juice runs out and the meat is dry (who knew?). Abby was filling out an insurance form when the meat came out of the oven, so it really did sit for about 10 minutes. The meat that was in the oven was probably right at 4 lbs, and even tho Chris ate a gargantuan piece, we still have about half of it left. The carrots, celery, and potatoes (didn’t have a turnip…forgot to get one so I substituted another potato), were yummy but not nearly enough for the quantity of meat I cooked.

I followed the recipe and put 2 c water, the meat and the veggies in a 13×9 pan (all I had) and cooked it uncovered. The top of the meat was red enough I wondered if it was really cooked, but it was really really good! I guesstimated when to put the allspice and butter,and ended up cooking the whole thing about 30 extra minutes, and the "gravy" was very good.
I chopped the boiled meat about as fine as I could get it and chopped about 1/4 onion to about a pound (?) of meat with a 3 or 4 shakes of salt and 7 or 8 shakes of pepper (which we love) and no matter how much I squeezed, I could NOT get the meat concoction to stay in balls of any kind. I ended up adding about half a beaten egg to the mix since it was awaiting the "wash" process. It was still pretty dry, but did hold together enough to get it covered with the egg and dipped into cracker crumbs I crushed with the back of a spoon (they didn’t have food processors!) I fried them til dark brown in a bit of oil, even tho Alafair [my main character] probably would’ve used lard of some description. I added a bit more egg to the last quarter of the meat and had trouble getting those meatballs to stay together because they were too wet. If I got them to fry enough on the first side I could kind of roll them over and get them to cook without falling apart, but the best were the ones with a little bit of egg in with the meat.

David [her son, who lives with his wife in the basement apartment. Still likes his ma’s cooking, I see] came in and had a bite of each part and thought it was one of the best meats he’d tasted, so it was a success. We also loved the flavor of the meatballs. I will admit that I used a meat thermometer when I first took the pan out of the oven because I thought it was raw. That’s when I ended up cooking it for another 10-15 minutes. I’m sure I will try the roast again, but know also that you’ve waited a long time to hear how it went! The veggies were cooked "just right" when the meat was done, so that may be a fair way to judge. The celery wasn’t mushy but the carrots were done - I cut them into chunks almost an inch long and the potatoes were in bite sized pieces.

There you have it…at least the inital diagnosis. If I do it again before your book is published, I will let you know!

Love you lots,Carol

I love you, too. Donis

Friday, July 11, 2008

Junie B and Nancy D

Earlier in the week, Marian, Dana and I started discussing (in comments to Marian's post) children's books that adults enjoy. I mentioned the Junie B. Jones books. My husband and I found these books hilarious when our children were reading them in first and second grades. Here's a brief excerpt from "Junie B. Jones and Her Big, Fat Mouth!"

And so then I spit the cherry Life Saver on the ground. 'Cause the guy was scaring me, that's why.

Janitor bended down next to me.

"I didn't mean to frighten you, sis," he said. "But I spotted a bunch of dirty candy in the grass. And I was going to clean it up when I finished painting."

He looked serious at me. "Don't you ever eat anything you find on the ground. Do you hear? Not ever."

"But I blowed off the germs," I told him.

Janitor shook his head. "You can't blow germs off," he said. "Eating things that you find on the ground is very, very dangerous."

Then Janitor picked up the dangerous candy. "Now, run along and play," he said.

I did a big sigh. "Yeah, only I can't," I said. "'Cause I shot off my big fat mouth in kindergarten. And then I got punishment. And now I hate my bestest friend Lucille."

Janitor smiled a little bit sad. "Life is hard sometimes, isn't it, sis?" he said.

I bobbed my head up and down. "Yes," I said. "Life is P.U."

Then Janitor patted my head and he walked away.

And so guess what?

I just like Janitor.

And that's all.

(Text copyright 1993 by Barbara Park.)

The books are so cute and so like something kids would really think and say. For example, in one book, Junie B talks about the "Cheese Man" coming. The Cheese Man comes to school and takes your picture, and he tries to make you say cheese. Only what is funny about cheese?

The other books I never quite outgrew were the Nancy Drew mysteries. In fact, I have one of those tiny books from Books-A-Million on my desk called "Nancy Drew's Guide to Life," by Jennifer Worick. The book is filled with tidbits from Nancy Drew mysteries that we modern girls can possibly put to good use at some time or another. For example, "When searching for important clues, anything labeled 'Top Secret' might be a good place to start." That tip was taken from "The Crooked Banister." Sleuthing is not the only thing Nancy can teach us about. The book includes wilderness tips: "Dive into any available water when attacked by a swarm of mosquitoes." (From "Mystery of Crocodile Island") And "If you see something resembling a shark in a river, don't fret. It's more likely to be a small submarine operated by thieves." (From "The Mystery of Lilac Inn")

Huh. Maybe cheese is funny after all. ;-)

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Eating in the Renaissance

Having just taken a trip back in time at the annual Renaissance Faire in Wisconsin, I thought it appropriate to write about Renaissance food –or what passes for it these days.

While these faires aim for accuracy to a degree (forget the adults with fairy wings and chain mail walking around), they don’t seem to be as super-strict as other re-enactor events, which I've heard actually will rope off their living spaces and allow nothing "modern" to cross that line.

Of course, in reality, how would you celebrate a time period where a bath was taken perhaps once a year and fleas were typical home companions? What about plague and other pestilence? How about catching, killing, plucking and cooking your own food?

Despite the real-life grisliness of the period and its lack of anything that could be termed a "convenience," I still find the Tudor/Elizabethan, Medieval/Renaissance time periods fascinating.

The clothing, at least of the upper classes, was beautiful, especially the excess in dress of the Elizabethan and Tudor periods. Beautiful to look at, not comfortable to wear, I'm sure. (How often was clothing washed or cleaned, I keep wondering?)

It paid to be rich or noble-born, of course, especially when it came to food. Being wealthy or highborn meant sumptuous feasts, fresh foods, amazing desserts. For the peasantry, it meant plain foods and mere survival.

The rich had roast gosling and "prinsels" (whatever those are.) The poor were lucky to have meat if they could poach it, afford it, or could raise it.

And as the Falconer explained, they certainly didn't have Royal Falcons to help catch a meal. (Common hawks, more likely, which tended to shred the prey.)

The modern-day Faires offer their own interpretations of suitable food, of course, ranging from the requisite roast Turkey legs (not for me), or roasted mushrooms. Fish would fit the time although in reality, it would more likely be looking back at you. Or how about this 15th century recipe for Fish and Fruit Pie from France? I don't know where you'd get eels (or want to - it makes me think of the stories told by the Surgeon Barber with his leeches, but that's another story), but it uses tuna and has a modern interpretation for those so inclined. Or you can simply do as fairgoers do and eat the modern day equivalent of English fish and chips served in newspaper cones.

For some interesting food and other such medieval fare, I love looking at the Gode Cookery site. You can even cook like it's 1545 from an authentic cookbook - if you can decipher it, that is.

Medieval Mysteries

While I haven't yet read any books specifically defined as mysteries set in that time period, several of my favorite books based in that time frame have included some kind of crime. Ann Benson's Plague Tales began with Doctor Alejandro's crime – desecrating a human body. The recent follow-up, The Physician's Tale, offers a unique twist and a connection to modern medical research.

Other favorites include Judith Merkle Riley's books like the intriguing Oracle Glass, which centers on fortune telling and chicanery in France's ancien regime. This and her other books as I vaguely recall do offer several banquet scenes, offering a brief fictional look at what the well-to-do might have dined on then.

Another interesting glimpse of meal preparation in that time is represented on the cover of the Renaissance-set mystery, Bella Donna, which I recently noticed on Amazon.

For some fascinating glimpses into Medieval life, I enjoy perusing the medieval manuscripts that can be found online. The mostly religious pages, such as those offered at this French site, offer a unique view of the food and practices of the time that no Renaissance faire can recreate.

Even better are the views provided by 17th century Dutch painters like Claesz, De Hooch, Rembrandt, and others whose realistic still lifes provided a glimpse at the food and dining of the time.

For more information on the subject of food and art, the interesting (but costly at $35) book, Food in Painting, From the Renaissance to the Present (2004) looks like a good way to while away a few hours.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

More Than Just Big Boobs and Big Hair

What in the heck does Dolly Parton have to do with Fatal Foodies? Before I answer, I ask my fellow Fatal Foodies, did your passions for food and reading begin early in childhood? Mine did.
Dolly Parton is an East Tennessee girl. While I don't know this for sure, I bet she can thow down a mean mess of collard greens and fried chicken. What I do know is that she helps foster an early love of reading for many children. Check out her Imagination Library:
This program provides one hardcover book per month to children in participating states and counties. There are no income guidelins. The only requirement is that the child resides in a participating county. I got my daughter's form from our local library.
My daughter loves getting her "Dolly Parton books" in the mail. If Calli, who gets books whenever she wants, is so excited to receive a book in the mail, I can only imagine what this program means to kids who don't have easy access to books.
Dolly Parton is helping to encourage a future generation of readers. Hey, and if they love food just as much, they'll be Fatal Foodies!
Food is about to mean even more to me. I'm pregnant! It's 3:30 a.m., and I'm up because I got hungry. I just had Vanilla Wafers and Tampico Orange Drink, a disgusting combination if I weren't pregnant. The collard greens I mentioned above also sound really good!
If you haven't' had collard greens, give them a try. Look for them in the produce section of your supermarket, or at a farmer's market. A whole bunch will shrink down to almost nothing as they cook. Here's how I make mine:
In a large skillet, fry turkey bacon. Remove bacon from skillet and crumble. Add greens to skillet. Pour some chicken broth, a shake of hotsauce and balsamic vinvergar over greens. Cook until greens are wilted and liquid is absorbed. Take off heat. Add crumbled bacon, and serve.
This recipe is much less fattening than traditional collard greens. Try it!!!!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Munchies and Mysteries

My favorite detectives have always been foodies. Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe, in spite of the fact that I forgot how much he weighs, has to be my first favorite. Although some of the food described or merely mentioned as being part of his diet--if diet is the word I want--make Little Miss Picky go "ewwwwww!", I would deeply resent a Wolfe novel or story without any meals. Or at least beer. Wolfe is a beer drinker, and very particular about it. I like Killian's Red, myself.

My second favorite is Walter R. Brooks' Freddy the pig. Freddy and his barnyard pals at Farmer Bean's place can talk, as can all animals, if people just act sensible enough for the animals to think they'd be worth talking to. Freddy and his pal, Jinx the black cat, solve mysteries for animals and humans. It isn't surprising that Freddy's mind often runs to food, even to the point of his writing poetry about it on occasion.

Michael Z. Lewin's Albert Samson sometimes lives over his mother's diner, Bud's Dugout, and Albert sometimes cooks for himself and sometimes goes downstairs for some of the finest short-order food around. In Albert's latest book, EYE OPENER, he goes on a series of restaurant dates--or attempted dates--with a new acquaintance. The food always seems to be good, although he doesn't always get to eat any of it. The same author's Leroy Powder series has more coffee than food, but Lewin's Lunghi family series, about a family-run detective agency in Bath, England, features regular Italian/English family meals that make me want to hop a jet and invite myself over.

Okay, I'm making myself hungry. My mother gave me some chicken cacciatore last night. I don't care what time it is--I want some!

Monday, July 7, 2008

When Food Attacks (or How I Spent My Holiday Weekend)

I am writing this post on the L-Taravel Muni line as I make my way from my house in the Outer Sunset District to work. My stomach and I are in an uneasy truce brought about by Dramamine and a thankfully good night’s sleep. This is not the post I originally had in mind when I was planning today’s Fatal Foodies blog entry, but I’m going with the flow, so to speak, and writing what’s on my mind.

Food poisoning. (Insert ominous music here)

Yes, over my long awaited three day weekend (including a party at our house), I was hit not once, but twice with food poisoning; Friday at 12:58pm. And then last night (Sunday) at 8:34pm (I looked at the clock each time the stomach pains and slowly roiling nausea hit. Once a clock-watcher, always a clock-watcher, I guess).

Friday’s bout was infinitely worse. Putting it delicately, the…er…body cleansing part lasted from the first tip up the stairs that a.m. until 9 or so. The accompanying sensation of glass in my muscles and joints stuck around most of the day until I was able to get down a couple of Aleve and convince them to stick around for a while. In between all of this, I was a near comatose sleep interspersed with anxiety laden dreams of how I was going to shop for the party the next day, let alone be alive to greet guests from L.A that night. The latter was a thing of joy to my cats; they love me best when I’m either feeding them or supplying them with a mommy shaped bed. If someone were to take an aerial photo of my bed at these times, I’m sure it would show a furry version of crime scene corpse silhouette.

Dave brought me a piece of toasted Trader Joe’s brown rice bread – this some of the richest, densest sliced bread I’ve ever had and I highly recommend it whether or not you’re allergic to wheat) and later I had a bowl of chicken noodle soup. Neither toast nor soup has ever tasted so good. I was stumbling around the house on new-born weak legs in a short while and even managed to be a decent, if shaky hostess when our friend Pete (known as Gumbo Pete amongst his friends because of his award winning gumbo recipe – it beat out New Orleans chefs), his son Ernie, and Ernie’s girlfriend Allie arrived. We ordered pizza (I nibbled on a crust and sipped ginger ale) and watched DIARY OF THE DEAD. Well, they watched DIARY OF THE DEAD and I napped on a futon and pretended to watch the movie.

By Saturday I felt pretty much okay, had more toast for breakfast and a cup of coffee without incident or complaint from my digestive system. Pete and I went shopping for (you guessed it) ingredients for his gumbo and other party food and I made it through Costco, Trader Joe’s, Safeway (twice) and our local Chinese market (the shrimp there is inexpensive and good) without collapsing, and then had more pizza crust for lunch. It was very tasty pizza crust, btw.
By the time the party started was in full swing, my stomach was making tentative hints about perhaps feeding it something more substantial (my stomach’s idea of a hint is along the lines of “FEED me, Dana!” a la Audrey in LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS) and we had a little bread and plain goat cheese. By the time the gumbo was served, it demanded a small plateful and oh my…it was tasty. It says something about my constitution and body’s ability to recover quickly that the succulent shrimps, spicy sausage chunks, tender chicken and okra had no ill effect on me at all. From dry toast to pizza crust to gumbo. It’s kind of scary, ain’t it?

My stomach continued to be happy through most of Sunday. We had breakfast at THE BASHFUL BULL, a local diner on Taravel and 46th Avenue, which serves up high quality and relatively inexpensive diner-style food. Their hash browns are the best I’ve had (I always order them extra crispy) and they make a mean cup of coffee. You can get a full on Irish breakfast (two eggs any style, two pieces each of black and white pudding, two Irish sausages, two pieces of Irish bacon, toast and country style potatoes). I thought that might be pushing my luck, so I stuck with hash browns and eggs. Did I mention these are the hash browns of the gods? It’s true.

After breakfast, we fenced (sword fighting) for an hour or so, then shared a bottle of VGS (very good s%&t and yes, that’s what the ‘vgs’ stand for) Chardonnay, which is looks like pale liquid gold and tastes ambrosial: silky smooth mouthfeel, hints of honey, melon and pineapple cream) and then our guests hit the road. We’d done the housecleaning first thing that morning, so there was nothing left to do but relax, possibly get some writing done. At the very least I needed to get my post up. We watched TiVo’d SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE, had a bowl of gumbo. My computer stared at me from the coffee table. My energy level sunk quickly once the adrenaline of party prep, actual party and entertaining guests abandoned me. I thought about my post, figuring I’d do a post on gumbo parties, past and present. I decided to lie down for a bit and make a couple phone calls and THEN write my post. I got as far as the lying down and making phone calls part, but about the time I hung up the phone after talking to my sister, I knew something was once again rotten in the State of Danamark.

It’s my post, I’ll use bad Shakespearean puns if I want to.

Ah well. To sum it up, I was hit with the exact same symptoms as I’d gotten Friday, except at about a quarter strength. Way to bookend a holiday weekend, eh?

On the upside (yes, like Pollyanna I will always look for that rainbow), I lost five pounds. I’m mobile this morning, although I would definitely rather be at home in bed, and I’m pretty sure I’ve narrowed down the culprit (raw turkey used to make homemade cat food) and this can be avoided by following stricter guidelines for when handling raw meat.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to make myself another cup of ginger mint tea!

Saturday, July 5, 2008

So many great foodie books and so little time to read them all! Since we're mentioning food mysteries, don't forget Joanna Carl's wonderful chocolate mysteries.

When I decided to put the recipes into my books, I did so not necessarily to preserve some of the old ways of cooking, though that was certainly on my mind. I was really more interested in writing about the old ways of eating.

There is a scene early in my first book in which the family gathers in the afternoon for a meal of beans and cornbread, and as soon as I started writing that, I realized that I’d better make clear to the reader that there’s more to eating beans and cornbread than meets the eye. Some diners crumble their cornbread into the beans, some open a square of cornbread on the bottom of the bowl and spoon beans over it. Some folks slather their bread with butter to eat alongside the beans. Oh, there are more ways to eat that particular combination of foods than I have time to go into here. And it’s not just beans and cornbread. Meals are a very personal thing, and we all have our pecadillos.

When we were children, one of my sisters and I made a ritual of saving the very best thing on our plates for the last bite. I can’t speak for my sister, but I have a 0tendancy to do this still. Unfortunately, our grandmother took great delight in reaching over before the meal was over and eating our carefully saved last bite right out from under us, much to our whining disgruntlement.

I received an e-mail from a reader who told me that his mother put sugar in everything, and so did my other grandmother. When she made fruit pies, she added so much sugar that the fruit dissolved, so her apple pies were actually applesauce pies. She did this because my grandfather liked things sweet. When he drank iced tea, you could see two finger-widths of undissolved sugar at the bottom of the glass.

He also liked fat. With my own eyes I’ve seen him put butter on his chocolate cake. The sad thing was that my grandfather was nearly 6 feet tall and never weighed over 150 pounds in his life. You could be like that, too, Dear Reader, if you plowed behind a mule for a living. Grandpa came by his love of fat honestly, though. His father buttered radishes and onions before he ate them. My own father had a thing for fat, too - loved an inch of fat on his pork chops. My mother and her mother, on the other hand, wanted their meat lean, dry and burnt. I understand my mother-in-law liked her meat well done, too. My mother speculated that anyone who’s ever had to kill and clean a chicken or a hog wants to make sure it resembles flesh, blood and bone as little as possible. Of course, if you killed and preserved your own meat, eating it well done is a very good idea, bacteria-and-parasite-killingwise.

I love hearing about other people’s family food lore, Dear Readers. It’s not just food, it’s tradition. (By the way, in Alafair’s time, "dinner" was the main meal of the day, usually eaten in the early afternoon, and "supper" was just a light repast at the end of the day.)

Cornbread Recipe 1 (From The Old Buzzard Had it Coming)
Cornbread is a beautiful thing. Please note that cornbread is bread. It is not cake. Sweet cornbread is very tasty, but is is not true cornbread.

1 ½ cups yellow cornmeal 1 cup milk
½ cup flour 1 egg
3 tsp. baking powder 1 tsp. salt
Vigorously beat (by hand) all ingredients together in a bowl until smooth. Pour into a greased 8"x8"x2" baking pan. Bake in a hot oven (425 degrees) for 20-25 minutes, until top begins to crack and toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Food Network Challenges

Happy Independence Day!

If you're like me and have to stay at home during Independence Day weekend (in our case, babysitting a dog that's terrified of fireworks), you might want to tune in to Food Network's Food Network Challenges. The first show is the $100,000 Chicken Challenge, and it airs July 5 at 3:00 p.m. e/p. I've seen this one already (it's a repeat, but it's a good one), and this show gave me such a craving for chicken salad with white seedless grapes.

The second show is the Princess Cake competition. This show airs July 5 at 8:00 p.m. e/p. I haven't seen this one, but I'm looking forward to watching it. Here's what the Web site says about the episode: "They are the most recognized Disney princesses on the silver screen. In this challenge, five of the country's top cake designers transform Snow White, Belle, Cinderella and Jasmine into 3-foot tall cakes."

Have you ever seen one of these cake competitions? They are fantastic! I love to watch them. All the competitors are great, but check out some of Mike's Amazing Cakes. And, of course, you probably already know about Duff Goldman of Charm City Cakes (Ace of Cakes). The flower basket above was created by Charm City Cakes.

A quick update about our Open Mic Night on Tuesday, July 15: several of our authors are donating books to give away that night. Be sure and tune in to win!

Have a wonderful Independence Day!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Thanks for the invite!

Thanks to Dana and Gayle for the invite to become a member of the Fatal Foodies.

This is all new to me since I’ve never blogged before. I read a lot of them, but just haven’t put my fingers to the keys and actually put in my two cents anywhere. Fatal Foodies is a great place to start since food rates high on my priority list.

I'm not sure I could write or read a book that wasn't permeated with food. My protagonist, Liza Wilcox, survives on take-out, diet Coke, black licorice, and Peanut M & M's. Thank God she had the good sense to fall in love with a small time sheriff who loves to cook. In the first book, Death is Clowning Around, there is lots of food but no recipes. Then in the second, Apple Pots and Funeral Plots, I’ve added a wonderful recipe for apple cobbler in the epilogue.

Right now, I’m editing the third in the series (no title at the moment) and I’m drooling over the warm, chocolate melting cake that Liza’s being feed by her boyfriend. It’s actually a cake I fell in love with last summer during a cruise to the Mexican Rivera. I had the same dessert every night! It’s warm, gooey, chocolaty, and melts in your mouth. Adding this to the book allowed me to spend days on the Internet searching for the recipe. Now I’ve got five to try …..yum!

I didn't start out to write a series that included a recipe, but it seems to be going in that direction. Sometimes food has a mind of its own.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Food & Mysteries - When Eating's Not a Crime

Food and mysteries seem to be as natural as ice cream and apple pie, or pasta and garlic bread or.... Well, you get the idea.

Whether a book is an amateur sleuth, detective, or another type of mystery, it seems that solving the crime can't be done on an empty stomach. In most mysteries, eating is not a crime.

"My character, Susan Lombardi, loves to eat - just about anything," claims Carole Shmurak, author of DEADMISTRESS, A Susan Lombardi Mystery (Sterling House Publishers). "She is fortunate to have a husband who is a gourmet cook so that there is always something good waiting for her when she gets home. Her husband, Swash, makes any number of pasta dishes as well as various Asian specialties."

(Ah, so that's why they call it fiction.)

Another advantage to adding food into their fiction is that authors get to enjoy those luscious dishes they know they shouldn't eat - at least in print.

Author Lorna Barrett says the characters in her Booktown Mysteries, beginning with MURDER IS BINDING (April '08 Berkley Prime Crime) "are constantly stuffing their faces." The series also features recipes. Her protagonist, though, is thin, "and very careful about what she eats," says Barrett. "Everybody else eats with wild abandon."

(Sounds like real life, doesn't it?)

Author Roberta Isleib's character, advice columnist/psychologist Dr. Rebecca Butterman, also knows her way around a kitchen.

"She cooks things I love to eat: roast chicken, cheese puffs stuffed with hot pepper jelly, stir-fried veggies with marinated flank steak," she says. "In ASKING FOR MURDER (Sept. 2008 Berkley), she'll have a dinner party and will serve Spaghetti Carbonara and Red Velvet cake. No Atkins diet for us!"

(Is she sending out invitations, we wonder?)

Some characters, despite wealth and station, like Mary Reed and John Mayer's John the Lord Chamberlain in SEVEN FOR A SECRET (Poisoned Pen Press), actually prefer the simpler things like a savoury lamb or onion stew instead of the more "unusual comestibles" of the sixth century. Oh, and a word of warning - don't drink the "raw Egyptian" wine, a source of common complaint among John's friends.

Luckily, luminaries of the day in these Byzantine-era mysteries seemed to enjoy the finer things of life and left record of it, says Reed: "There's the banquet planned by the courtier Francio, which will offer nothing but bucolic dishes such as smoked cheese and Lucanian sausages, as well as a cheese and garlic paste of the sort of 'salad' about which Virgil wrote."

Quite a few authors seem to think you can't go wrong with Italian food - and they're probably right.

In his novel, THE ASTRAL: TILL THE DAY I DIE, (Wildside Books) Victor J. Banis says he usually uses food for effect. When his protagonist Catherine goes for a romantic dinner with a past love to whom she's still emotionally attached, the typical Italian restaurant is the perfect setting.

He writes, "It was the sort of Italian restaurant that had years ago already been a cliché: red and white checked tablecloths topped with half burned candles in fiascos, a fisherman's net on the wall, replete with glass markers, and on the facing wall a mural straight out of Cavalleria Rusticana..."

"Trust an Italian restaurant where you see Italians eating," Jack said. "They'd rather eat at home, and if they eat out, it should be just like home."

Italian dishes are also favored by Camille Minichino's character in her Periodic Table Mysteries, with good reason: "With a name like Gloria Lamerino, my protagonist is obliged to eat and drink with gusto," says Minichino. "She's Italian, so she loves great Italian desserts and pastries like Svolgliadella (a flaky pastry with almond paste in the middle). Her favorite drink: Affogato -- a scoop of vanilla or chocolate ice cream drowned in espresso!"

The ice cream theme is continued in her Miniature Mystery series (written as Margaret Grace), albeit without the espresso.

Protagonist and grandmother Gerry in MURDER IN MINIATURE (Feb. '08 Berkley) and MAYHEM IN MINIATURE (Aug. '08 Berkley), "eats boring things like bagels and plain ice cream. She does have a 'famous' ginger cookie recipe, however, and I include the recipe in one of the books."

Who can complain about ice cream and cookies? My young sleuths Sam and Lita in SEARCHING FOR A STARRY NIGHT, A Miniature Art Mystery (Quake/Echelon Press) certainly wouldn't.

Between tracking down the whereabouts of a missing miniature Van Gogh painting, the two girls can often be found snacking on chocolate ice cream cones, strawberry ice cream with Cool Whip and fresh strawberries, along with homemade peanut butter cookies. Of course, being busy sleuthing does burn up the calories. And it's hot, so ice cream is a must. (That's what I keep telling myself anyways).

Of course, some foods, like chocolate and ice cream, really don't need excuses to be eaten, do they?

These are just a few of the favorites of some mystery authors and their characters. Feel free to share a few of yours. And forget about calories. For once, they really truly don't count.

Open Mic Night

We want to hear from you! Fatal Foodies will be hosting an "Open Mic Night" on Tuesday, July 15, from 9 p.m. Eastern Time until at least 10 p.m. We'd like your thoughts on our new blog, food, mysteries and anything else you'd like to talk about.

Join us, won't you?

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

If Life Hands You

Charlie's friend Royce gave us MASSES of cherries, and I just did not want to pit all of them. Charlie helped me pit enough for a cherry buckle, and then he said, "Why don't you go downtown and get a wine-making kit and make some wine?" So I went down and the guy at the shop said, "Sounds like you only need to make a gallon. I can fix you up with everything you need." So he collected about $20 worth of stuff, about a third the cost of the cheapest kit, and I took it home. I was STILL supposed to pit the cherries, but I said the heck with that and just cooked them until the got squishy and pressed the juice out of them. THEN I read the instruction book more closely, and it said I needed 6 cups of fruit and 7 QUARTS of water and 2 3/4 POUNDS of sugar--and it was supposed to make one gallon? I'm not much good at math, but even I can tell that adds up to more than one gallon! Then it said to keep it in the primary holding vessel until it reaches SG [forgot the number] on the hydrometer. Guess who doesn't have a hydrometer--or even know what it is? So I put all the gear back in the bag with the sales slip and made cherry jelly instead. Except that the Sure-Jell didn't gel, so I have five pints (after cooking it down to concentrate it) of cherry slop. Charlie says he'll just eat it over ice cream. Which reminds me--I forgot to get ice cream today! Ah, me!