Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Tribute to Mrs. Crumley

I could not do a geometric proof if my very life depended on it. The exact date that the Gettysburg Address was given left my mind a long time ago. Don’t even ask me about the Periodic Table. Give me a tube of canned biscuits and I can make you a meal and dessert!
My first Home Economics classes were offered in sixth grade. To my delight, our teacher, Mrs Crumley, proved to be just as practical, down to earth and fun as the subject matter she taught. Our lessons were punctuated with personal stories, money saving strategies, and just good old common sense practices.
Of course before we could begin any actual cooking, we had to master some basic terminology and learn the function of various kitchen tools. Once we knew the difference between “bake” and “broil”, understood what a whisk was for, and realized that proper measurements could make or break a dish, we were allowed put our knowledge to the test.
Our cooking staple was an inexpensive can of biscuit dough. We poked holes in the middle of the biscuits, fried them, and shook them around in paper sacks full of powdered sugar. Viola, delicious, hot donuts for breakfast! As not to be wasteful, we also fried the donut holes to make perfect little bit-sized snacks. Mrs. Crumley explained that she made these donuts on Christmas morning after her kids had opened their presents.
We learned a few more biscuit based recipes. Flatten a biscuit, slather on tomato sauce, cheese, and some toppings and you have perfectly round little individual pizzas. Roll a biscuit into a rope, twist it in the middle, brush with melted butter, and roll in cinnamon and sugar. I swear this makes the best cinnamon twist ever!
Finally, we learned to make one of our teacher’s favorite childhood treats. Stickies were made by rolling out biscuit dough, generously brushing with melted butter, sprinkling a brown sugar and spice mixture all over the top, and cutting into strips. Mrs. Crumley showed us how to use a string to cut the dough into strips, making the recipe safe for children.
As those stickies baked, filling our classroom with their warm spicy aroma, Mrs. Crumley told us of how she loved to come home from school to smell this same scent in her childhood home. The fun, delicious and simple recipes infused with Mrs. Crumley’s stories made this class a memorable experience for me and I’m sure many other students.
Most importantly, I know that as long as I have a can of biscuit dough in my fridge, I can make something delicious!

Public Service Announcement

We lost power in Indiana from Hurricane Ike and had to replace all our food.... And then our refrigerator died in my absence and now we have to replace the refrigerator AND all the food. --sigh-- But we feel lucky that we're ABLE to. If you have a Dare to Care or a Community Services office or a food pantry, now is the time to donate. A lot of people who depend on those services or on food stamps for food LOST food in the power outage, so community relief services have had their requests double this month! My church is taking up a second offering for Community Services (with the plates passed by the children, who don't leave until you drop something in--heh heh) and my mother and I have formed a habit of just buying some extra stuff, as if we had guests coming, and taking that extra by the Community Services building. Wherever you are, there are people in need, usually through no fault of their own (certainly through no fault of their kids). Those of us who have plenty can make a personal difference to folks who have great need. Spread the word.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Chocolate Mousse for Dieters

I am a huge lover of decadent chocolate desserts. I would be less huge (or at least a size or two smaller) if I ate less of them. But life is too short to be in constant denial mode (unless you're a monk or a member of some other religious order that thrives on that sort of thing).

I love things made with butter, cream, rich Belgian chocolate. But that doesn't mean I won't accept healthful alternatives...provided they're yummy.

So try this recipe (tested by yours truly and given two chocolate thumbs up on my personal Yummy Meter) next time you want a rich chocolate treat, but feel the strain in your waistband:

Non-fat plain yogurt, Greek style recommended for richness
2-4 squares dark chocolate (I use chocolate with 70% cocoa solids)
A squirt of Agave syrup or honey, depending on your taste

Melt the chocolate with the honey or syrup in a coffee mug. Add cup of yogurt. Stir until well blended. Enjoy an unexpectedly rich and decadent treat!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

If It's Friday, It Must Be Stew

A couple of days ago, I was diddling around in my local Trader Joe’s Market and saw myriad small packages of pre-cut and miniature vegetables.  Now, I’m not one to buy pre-cut vegetables, since I have no confidence in their nutritional value, but the hour was late and I was tired and supper was going to have to be made.  So I bought fingerling potatoes, baby carrots, French green beans, cubed sweet potatoes, and miniature sunburst squash, took them home and dumped them in a pot with chopped onion, three or four sliced cloves of garlic, and broth, and stewed them slowly for a couple of hours while I worked on the manuscript.  It was delicious.


We were able to get two meals out of the pot.  I was so thrilled with the outcome of my pot luck that a couple of days later I went to Whole Foods and bought all sorts of odd and fun root vegetables for a root veggie stew.  I used fingerling potatoes, pearl onions, cloves of garlic, a small fennel bulb, a small celery root, a parsnip and a rutabaga.  Stewed in broth for a couple of hours again.  To die for.


I was reminded of my mother’s routine of by cleaning all the week’s leftovers out of the refrigerator every Friday and making a stew out of them.  Talk about true pot luck - and it was always spectacular, since she grew most of her vegetables herself.  Of course, she always had bits of pot roast, chunks of chicken, shredded pork, corn cut off the cob, freshly shelled peas - truly, whatever she had.  She learned this routine from her mother, I’m sure, when the competent housewife did not let anything go to waste, and she did it in the most tasty way!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Greetings and Eatings from Hilton Head


I write this post from glorious Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. The mood is relaxed, and the food is GOOD!
On our first night, I ate barbecued shrimp, hush puppies, and cole slaw. The next day, I heated up leftover shrimp and had them over cheese grits.
This area of the country has a special cuisine called Lowcountry. A signature Lowcountry dish is shrimp and grits. Many menus down here will include some version of this dish. At a farmer's market in Columbia, South Carolina, one of the most popular offerings was a breakfast of shrimp and grits for $5. For dinner, the dish is often spiced up with some sausage or pieces of ham. Sometimes the grits are fried into little cakes with a shrimp topping poured over them. This link provides a recipe for shrimp and grits from none other than my favorite cook, Paula Deen:

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Is it Tuesday Already?

Geez, I've been checking the blog, looking for today's post, and I realized that *I'm* today's post!

Okay, let's talk about due diligence, otherwise known as using some sense.

This sounds like a mystery story, and it may be one some day, but this actually happened this week. In fact, let's make it a mystery story, copyright 2008 by Marian Allen.

In The Wake Of The Storm

"Hey," I said. "You still out of power?"

The man looked at me, puzzled. "How do I know you?"

"Oh, I was over at...." I shoved a thumb to the left. "I heard you say you hadn't got power back yet. We got ours last night about 10:00."

"Really?" The puzzled look was replaced by a beleaguered frown. "No, I'm still out. Patterson Road, Dahlgrave, West Bethel and Crawhorn--every road around me has power, but Leaman is still out. I back right up to Patterson, but they have power and I don't."

"That's a shame. Gosh, that's been a long time."

"Yeah, I was kind of worried. Even the burglar alarm is off. I called Estemyer Security and asked them about it, and they said there's nothing they could do. So I called my insurance agent to see if being robbed while the power is out was an Act of God or if it was covered, and he said it was covered. So at least there's that."

"Some good news--I bet you were glad to hear that. Do you at least have water?"

"Yeah, I have water, but no hot water."

"No gas water heater and a gas stove?"

"No." Disgusted grimace. "I've been taking cold showers and eating out. I work at Greenbriar's Restaurant, greeting--"

"Oh, yeah! That's where else I've seen you," I said.

He nodded. "It's expensive, eating out every meal."

"I'll bet. You know you can grill out. You can get single servings of a lot of things that don't need to be refrigerated until after you open them, but you can eat them all up in one sitting."

"Yeah, yeah, I guess I could."

"My mom lives next door, and one of our daughters lives next door on the other side, so we've been having family grill-outs and stuff."

"I live alone. No family around. Nobody I know in the neighborhood."

"Oh, that's too bad. It's a lot easier to take, if you have family and friends around."

"Yeah. Well, I'm meeting this friend tonight at 6:00 at Shanda's Deli across the river. We met online, in a singles chatroom. So at least I can get my mind off it for a couple of hours."

"Good. Well, have fun."

"Thanks."

We waved goodby. I went to the computer room to Google his street. He'd have to leave by 5 at the latest to get to Shanda's by 6. I'd be waiting in the shadows with an SUV. No burglar alarm, probably got something worth stealing or he wouldn't have the house wired in the first place, no friends in the neighborhood, I knew exactly when he'd be away from home and I hadn't even had to invent a name and a story to get him to confide all this to me. Easiest haul ever. Thanks, Hurricane Ike. It's an ill wind that blows nobody any good.

----------
The names of the places are made up and I am not a crook, but this conversation really happened. This guy really did give me all that information when he didn't recognize me or know who I was.

And they say children are at risk from Stranger Danger.

MA

Sunday, September 21, 2008

It's Jonathan Apple Time!


We were driving home from Los Angeles today and I noticed splashes of autumn color among the trees lining the sides of the road. Fall chill has been in the air, that crisp tang that hits California mid/late September...and tells me it's just about time for Jonathan apples!

Sure, you've got your Fujis, your Galas, Pink Ladies, MacIntosh, and Granny Smiths. All have their place in the Apple Pantheon. You've also got the ubiquitous and humongous Red Delicious (sorry, anything but), those huge, abnormally red apples that look like they should have the evil queen in Snow White attached to them. But those don't count. I've tasted Appletinis with more apple flavor (and more kick!) in them. Not that I expect my apples to get me tipsy. I wouldn't MIND, of course, but it's not expected. I just hate biting into an apple and getting a lackluster, vaguely apple-esque taste...more like the faded memory of what an apple should taste like. DisaPPOINTed...

But Jonathan apples...tart, sweet, luscious to the last bite. And I'm talking down to the core. No, past the core. Everything but the stem and the seeds. They really are that good. So i will be haunting the grocery store for their appearance and, in the tradition set forth by my mom, buy at least three pounds and eat my apple a day. And then go buy more until the sad day arrives, as it must, when Jonathan apples are no longer in season.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Prickly Pears and Cottage Cheese



There is a wonderful article today in the Arizona Republic about prickly pears.  Late August/early September is when the prickly pear fruit is ripe, and the newspaper dedicated a page and a half to how to pick the fruit, de-sticker it, and how to eat it or juice it.

Anyone who lives in the West is familiar with prickly pear fruit, or tuna, as it's called in Spanish.  The fruits taste a little like strawberry to me, rather delicate.  Mostly, people juice them and use the nectar to make syrup, barbeque sauce, sorbets, jelly, and any number of other things.  The syrup makes great margaritas. One of the methods given in the article for extracting the juice is to put the pulp into an old pillowcase and hang it over a pot, letting the juice drip out.  

This  reminds me, oddly enough, of the way my grandmother made cottage cheese. She would spoon the curds into a clean flour sack and hang it from a hook over a bowl on her kitchen cabinet and let the whey drip out.  Then she'd break up the curds with a spoon and add cream.  Yum-ee. 

You can actually make your own cottage cheese, if you're brave.  All you need is a gallon of non-fat milk, 3/4 cup of white vinegar, salt to taste, and half a cup of cream.  Scald the milk in a steel pan (don't boil), remove from heat and slowly stir in the vinegar until the curds form.  Let it sit for half-an-hour or so, then spoon the curds into cheese cloth and let them drain over a colander for a few minutes.  Wrap the curds in the cloth and hold them under cold running water, kneading all the while, for a minute or two.  Put the curds in a bowl and salt them, then break them up into small pieces.  Keep in the fridge until you're ready to eat them, when you'll pour the cream over them.

Good luck, and enjoy.

Friday, September 19, 2008

That'll Teach You!

Did you know potato chips were invented in a moment of spite?

In 1853, George Crum (appropriate and not a joke!), head chef at Moon's Lake House in Sarasota Springs, New York was insulted when a customer told Crum his French fries were too thick and soggy and not salty enough. Crum then sliced some potatoes paper thin, fried them to a singed brown and salted the dickens out of them. The customer loved them. "Saratoga Chips" were born. The chips remained a delicacy until the Prohibition era when good old Herman Lay took the product into the Southeast.

So now that you know where potato chips got their start, why don't you make up a batch of potato chip cookies? I got the recipe below from The Best Bake Sale Ever Cookbook by Barbara Grunes; and, trust me, these cookies are so good you could just eat the batter without ever even baking the cookies.

Potato Chip Cookies

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup crushed plain potato chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, with an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light, about 2 minutes. Mix in the flour, vanilla, and crushed potato chips. The dough will be soft.

Drop the dough by heaping teaspoonfuls about 1 inch apart onto ungreased cookie sheets. Flatten the dough mounds slightly with the back of a spoon.

Bake in the center of the oven for 10 to 12 minutes, or until golden on the bottom and firm to the touch.

Cool for 2 minutes on the cookie sheets, then remove to wire racks to cool completely.

Yum!

While I'm on the subject of chips, does anyone remember this jingle?

Moore's potato chips go with two smiling lips, sunny days and happy feelings.
They go with scary shows, January snows and balloons that float to the ceiling.
Oh, no matter what for,
You'll always want Moore's potato chips.
You'll always want Moore's!


I can sing the Coolie jingle, too, but that must wait for another time. :-)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Good, Gory Food. Brains anyone?


Bear with me. I like Halloween. I get a kick out of creepy stuff and love getting scared at Haunted House attractions.

I'm known to make some pretty creepy foods myself, although they are in miniature and not edible.

Yum, we'll start the course with an interesting plate of eyeballs. Here's looking at you, kid! ha!

The main courses from an incredible site a friend to me of assorted
Halloween foods
. I was amazed. I thought I'd seen most of the sites, but this one is excellent. Warning: if you don't like bloody, gory stuff, don't look!

While I don't make this stuff in real life - though I might try to tempt my sister if she has a Halloween party this year - I do like to get new ideas for miniature foods. I've wanted to make a realistic looking miniature heart so this site is perfect!

** Your Turn: Do you make creepy foods for Halloween parties? What have you made? Have a photo to share?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Love Me/Loathe Me

Chocolate often comes up as a topic on Fatal Foodies, so I know you like it! You may either love me or loathe me after this post. You may love me if you become known as the person who "makes the best brownies". You may feel differently if you gain 5 pounds just by reading this post!
So with that disclaimer, I share the most awesome brownie recipe ever. It is adapted from a recipe that Paula Deen made on her show. If you get on http://www.foodnetwork.com/ as often as I do, you are already familiar with the fact the people write reviews for the recipes. I read the reviews before I make a recipe. People often give helpful hints that make the recipe better, or prevent a kitchen disaster.
Combining Paula's original recipe with the tips from reviewers results in the following:

Toffee Brownies
2 packages of brownie mix (each package should make a 13x9" pan of brownies)
toffee candy bars (enough to cover a 13x9" pan)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees
Generously grease a 13x9" glass pan
Make first package of brownie mix according to package directions
Spread batter in pan
Layer candy bars on top of batter
Mix second package of brownie mix according to package directions
Spread batter over top of candy bars

Bake @ 375 degrees for 45 minutes on center rack of oven.

THESE ARE SO GOOD!!!!!!!!!!!! If you read the reviews for this recipe, people also suggest various types of candy bars.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Food Fatalities

This past Sunday, straight-line winds of up to 75 miles per hour roared through the Ohio River Valley. We lost power, along with at least 300,000 fellow citizens. We still don't have power.

We lost some trees and some tree limbs, but we're lucky that nothing fell on our houses, selves, cars or pets. The main loss is food--which is sad, in itself. We were able to eat up most of our leftovers, and our freezer is still cold, but there's a lot of food in the cabinet that used to be our refrigerator that will never manifest its destiny. We gave some of the cooked meat to the dog, and we'll probably give him some of the cheese--considering what dogs eat when they think you aren't looking, we're not too worried about his digestion--but the rest has to go.

We've learned some things about food safety in the past few days. We've been told that bad food doesn't always smell bad. We've learned that, even loaded with preservatives, there's only so long you can trust food to be safe. We've learned that there's something in our refrigerator that smells really funky. Not BAD, exactly, just... strange. I suspect it's the large container of bread dough. I wish I had thought to take it to my Mom's (she has a gas stove) and cook it before it got so interesting.

Oh, well. You know what? Every food disaster is good for the compost pile. If the dog doesn't dig it up and eat it first. Luckily, chocolate doesn't spoil.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Why is it...



Why is it that some foods taste better depending on where you eat them? For instance:

Clam chowder is best eaten from a bread bowl at Fisherman's Wharf or out on the sand at Pismo Beach.
.

Hamburgers, hot dogs and corn on the cob ALways taste better eaten outside fresh off the grill. The same food eaten inside just doesn't taste the same.



Ice cream is always best eaten outside as it's dripping down a cone or melting in its cup.


I don't know if it's because I associate particular foods with childhood experiences when everything seemed to taste bigger, better and just plain yummier. Picnics on the beach were always memorable. Even the grit of sand in my teeth added to the flavor of hot dogs roasted over a fire pit. We would get buckets of Kentucky Fried Chicken (back when it was good and before it became known as KFC), boxes of Lemon Cooler cookies and Bugles (did any one else put Bugles on all ten fingertips and pretend to be Fu Manchu?), all washed down with cans of cold Shasta Tiki Punch soda. You can't find Tiki Punch any more...probably just as well since it was pure sugar. But OH it was so tasty...

We went to a picnic at Stern Grove yesterday and had hamburgers and hot dogs cooked on a grill. My appetite was revved up the second I smelled the coals and aroma of grilled meat. Which is what started me reflecting on this topic in the first place.

Chocolate? Okay, exception to the rule. Good any time and any place you're craving it.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Tomatoes

What are my blog mates trying to do to me, posting all these delectable entries about coffee mug cakes and caramel cakes and Hallowe’en treats?  Can it already be time for me to put on that extra layer of fat for winter?  The weather is just barely beginning to abate out here in the desert.  It’s been under 100 degrees for several days in a row.  But there isn’t any chill in the air yet - I expect that won’t happen until some time in January - and I’m still in the mood for some beautiful late summer tomatoes.


When the cook is tired, the night is warm, and it’s too late to be messing around in the kitchen, a bowl of home-canned tomatoes right out of the jar can’t be beat.


Sadly, this dish cannot be replicated with an aluminum can of store-bought tomatoes.  In order to experience the mild, sweet, flavorful, dish that I’m talking about eating on a hot night on your front porch, you must begin by growing your own tomatoes over a long sunny summer on a mound of pure compost.  The tomatoes must be picked fully ripe off the vine, and canned in glass jars in your own kitchen.


Open the jar, pour it straight into a bowl, and eat it.  Maybe a little salt, maybe a little sugar, perhaps a sprinkling of chopped onion.


The result of all this care and work tastes like nothing that has been shipped to the local A&P in a refrigerated truck, nor cook in a big vat in a factory and sealed in a metal can with a dash of citric acid.  It will be smooth and mild and sweet and so full of flavor that you’ll wonder why you every though those things you’ve been buying at the supermarket were tomatoes.


Friday, September 12, 2008

Caramel Cake Recipe

What is it about Fall (I know it's still summer, but summer is passing us by very quickly now) that makes caramel better than ever? I found this recipe at About.com's Southern Food, and it sounds so tasty I wanted to share it. Plus, reviewers gushed over how terrific this cake is, and one says she plans to give the cake for Christmas presents. I probably can't do that, though. Too much drive time. It would be terrible to arrive for Christmas festivities with a half-eaten cake and caramel icing all over my face. :-0

Marie's Caramel Cake

Ingredients:
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3 cups self-rising flour
  • 2 sticks butter
  • 1 cup milk
  • Filling, below

Preparation:

Cream butter and sugar; add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Alternate additions of the self-rising flour and milk; beat thoroughly. Will make 4 layers. Bake at 350° in greased and floured pans, for about 30 minutes, until cake springs back when pressed lightly.

Filling

  • 3 cups sugar
  • 1 can evaporated milk (12 ounces)
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 tsp.vanilla
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
Cook sugar and cream (evaporated milk) together, stirring occasionally, until it reaches the soft ball stage, around 235 to 240° (10 to 15 minutes). Remove from heat. Add butter and beat until thickened and creamy. Spread on layers (wetting the knife makes spreading easier) and sprinkle nuts on each layer. Makes a very moist cake.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Hauntingly Good Food & Mysteries




(Photo: http://FreeDigitalImages.net)

It's hard not to think of Halloween with the stores already filled with pumpkins, skeletons and eyeball-decorated goodies.

There's something fun about dreaming up new foods that are on the gory side. But although I got a big laugh out of the bag of Body Parts Gummies I spotted in the grocery store, I usually leave my horrible recipes to my miniature projects.

But if you prefer your real-life food on the weird side, how about some Kitty Litter Cake? Funny! (I have a miniature one, albeit non-edible)!)

Given a choice, I think I'd rather have a slice of this tamer Goofy Spooks Cake with its ghosts, crawlies and what-not. Don't forget to wash it down with one of the many creepy cocktails listed here. (Wormy ice cube anyone?)

Besides eating holiday related foods (don't forget the candy corn and candy pumpkins at Halloween, gingerbread cookies and fruit cake at Christmas), I usually try to find a holiday mystery or two to read.

Even though I get a kick out of Halloween, I never really read any Halloween stories beyond the classics like Edgar Allen Poe, Dracula (cool - read it online!), or something from Stephen King.

This year, I plan to change that by specifically looking for some Halloween mysteries. So grab an eyeball cupcake, turn the lights low and join me with a few of these suggestions:

* A Catered Halloween, Isis Crawford (Kensington Sept. 2008) - who can resist a book with a severed head rolling down the stairs?

I wanted to try one of the books in the Haunted Bookshop Mysteries featuring a ghostly 1940s detective. * The Ghost and the Femme Fatale(Berkley May 2008). Who can resist a noirish ghost?

I admit to being hooked on Nancy Drew (and the Hardy Boys) as a kid. (I loved the recent Nancy Drew movie!) Well, some readers claim Judy Bolton was better. I don't remember reading her books, but they're reissuing the series. * The Haunted Attic (Applewood Books, Aug. 2008) looks like a good place to start with Judy moving into a haunted house and trying to solve the mystery of the ghost in the attic.

You can't go wrong with spooky hotels, dark waterways, moving corpses, ghosts and Venice in Wilkie Collins' * The Haunted Hotel and Other Stories (Wordsworth, June 2006)

** Your Turn: Have any favorite Halloween mysteries or spooky stories you recommend? What are your favorites?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Food Venues for Book Signings

If your book involves food, you have a whole slew of creative veneus for books signings. In fact, many of the places I'll mention may be appropriate, even if you are an author who has written a non-food book.
I have found that places where food is served tend to also be places where people are not in a hurry, want to linger, and will take the time browse through a book. Of all the places I am mentioning, not one has charged me to have a book signing, and most have given me free food!

Tea Rooms
I have a theory that people who like tea rooms also like to read. They tend to favor the relaxed, yet genteel atmosphere, that offers a respite from our fast-food, fast-paced lives. I think that it is this same type of personality that can appreciate the process of reading a good book, and waiting for the plot to unfold.
Coffee Houses
Usually have a younger crowd than tea rooms. This fun, relaxed atmosphere provides a place where people are open to chatting with you about your book.
Kitchen Shops
This isn't a typical place for a book signing, but one of my favorite signings was at a kitchen store. The store has weekly cooking demonstrations to highlight products that they sell. My table was set up right beside the food. People talked to me about my books while they ate.
Holiday Open Houses
May retail stores host special holiday shopping events, and provide refreshments. I like to be near the food, because that is where people congregate.

Hope this provides some ideas. Hey, even if you don't sell lots of books, you won't go hungry!
One word of warning, if you have some slightly damaged books, those are good ones to let people browse through. Food venues can lead to books with crumbs and greasy fingerprints on the pages. I let patrons look at the less-than-perfect copies, and sell the new copies.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Deadly Candy

In researching the Culinary Chronicles for World Wide Recipes, I turn up some pretty peculiar things. For instance, and of particular interest to this mystery/food group, is the adulteration of sweets ingredients with dangerous additives during the 19th century--a widespread problem. The bright colors that appealed especially to children were achieved by the addition of mercury, arsenic and lead, among other poisonous materials. Sand and POWDERED GLASS were sometimes added to sugar and brick dust, red lead, chalk and sulphate of lime was added to cocoa powder.

Candy that isn't poisoned can still be dangerous to candy factory workers, including causing tooth decay and silicosis just from inhaling the sugar in the air, allergic reactions and citric acid burns from orange and lemon juices.

As for adding poison to candy deliberately, there's a long tradition of that in the mystery canon. A mean thing to do. A wicked thing to do. Almost as bad as sending somebody an all-cream assortment with absolutely no nut clusters.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Coffee Mug Cake...or Why Dani is Evil

I was minding my own business, writing on my WIP, checking email, when I received this email from Dani at Blog Book Tours and Pennydreadful.

Most Dangerous Chocolate Cake Recipe in the World

MINUTE CHOCOLATE MUG CAKE
> 1 Coffee Mug
> 4 tablespoons flour(that's plain flour, not self-rising)
> 4 tablespoons sugar
> 2 tablespoons baking cocoa
> 1 egg
> 3 tablespoons milk
> 3 tablespoons oil
> 3 tablespoons chocolate chips (optional)
> Small splash of vanilla

Add dry ingredients to mug, and mix well. Add the egg and mix thoroughly. Pour in the milk and oil and mix well. Add the chocolate chips (if using)
and vanilla, and mix again. Put your mug in the microwave and cook for
3 minutes at 1000 watts. The cake will rise over the top of the mug, but
don't be alarmed! Allow to cool a little, and tip out onto a plate if
desired. EAT! (this can serve 2 if you want to share!)

And why is this the most dangerous cake recipe in the world? Because now we are all only 5 minutes away from chocolate cake at any time of the day or night!
I wrote back to Dani, told her she was evil and then confessed I'd been making a variation of this recipe since I was a teenager, except I called them 'gooeys.' I'd use little ramekins, take the recipe for brownies or chocolate chip cookies, use minute amounts of each ingredient (but add extra chocolate chips) and nuke them in the microwave for 30 seconds or so, until it had risen a bit, but was still molten and gooey on the inside. Hence the name 'gooey.'

When I make chocolate chip cookies and don't cook all the batter, I will put a spoonful on a plate and nuke it for 30 seconds and get an instant cookie without the temptation of an entire dozen. So see? Gooeys are good for you!

I made the Coffee Mug Cake recipe this weekend, btw. I added extra chips, of course...and stretched it out over three days because the recipe really does make enough to either share or savor over a short period of time. My gooeys are more of a one shot affair. Either way, though, you'll get a chocolate treat.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Ice Cream

Summer is over - in most parts of the world, that is.  Here in Phoenix, we still have a few weeks of +100 degrees to go, so ice cream season is still in full swing.


 Hand-cranked, homemade ice cream is not only a rare treat to eat, making it is also great aerobic exercise and a good way to increase upper body strength.

 An ice cream freezer from the era I write about (1910s) was basically a large lidded tin can that fit down into a wooden bucket.  The lid had a hole in the middle, through which was inserted a dasher, which somewhat resembled an oar.  The handle of the dasher protruded from the hole and was attached to a hand crank, which had to be turned continuously until the ice cream was frozen.


 The recipe for ice cream does not have to be complicated, by any means.  An excellent ice cream can be made with a half-pound of sugar beaten into a quart of sweet cream.  Add some sweetened fruit puree or just some vanilla extract, freeze, and devour.


 For her son’s eighteenth birthday, though, my character Alafair made a rich peach custard to freeze, which is more work, but the results are worth it.


Peach Ice Cream

 1/2 cup sugar   3 egg yolks, beaten

 1/4 tsp. salt   1 tsp. vanilla

 1 cup milk   2 cups heavy cream

 puree of four or five peaches, which Alafair would have made by mashing the 

 flesh of the fruit through a sieve with the back of a large wooden spoon.  Sweeten

 the peaches with another 1/2 cup sugar, if desired.

 

 Mix sugar, salt, milk and egg yolks in a saucepan.  Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, just until bubbles begin to appear around the edge of the pan.  Cool to room temperature.  Stir in the cream, vanilla, and peach puree.

 Pour the ice cream mixture into the freezer can.  Fill the can only two-thirds full, to allow for expansion as the ice cream freezes.  Fit the can into the bucket, insert the dasher and put the lid on the can, then attach the crank.

 Fill the freezer tub one-third full of ice, then alternate the rock salt and remaining ice, filling the bucket to the top of the can.  Use about four parts ice to one part salt. Turn the dasher slowly until the ice partially melts and makes a brine.  Then crank rapidly until it's hard to turn the dasher.  How long this will take depends on the weather.  If you're lucky, the ice cream will set in ten minutes or so.  Or it may take half an hour.  Or it may not want to set properly at all.  It's all very mysterious.


 When it does happen, remove the ice from around the top of the can and remove the dasher.  Plug the hole in the lid and replace it on the can.  Refill the bucket with ice and salt and leave the ice cream to "ripen" for several hours.


 "Ripening" makes a firmer dessert.  However, when the day is hot and a bunch of impatient kids are clamoring about, a bowl full of soft, semi-frozen cream that has to be gobbled up before it turns back into liquid is perfectly delicious.


Friday, September 5, 2008

Sort of a Mystery?

I'm trying to come up with a way today's post will tie in to mysteries and/or food. So here's my premise: Sometimes books and movies can be akin to "comfort food." Let me explain. Last night I was lying in bed feeling miserable with a cold. Naturally, my thoughts turned to Cary Grant. . . and Deborah Kerr. . . and even Bruce Willis as I wondered why I still cry at the end of movies I've seen over and over.

Take "An Affair to Remember," when Cary Grant opens that door, sees the painting and realization dawns on his face. Oh, man. Powerful stuff. Or how about "The Sixth Sense" when realization dawns on your face. And the little boy talks with his mother. I cry for a good ten to fifteen minutes, even though I've seen this movie several times. Audrey Hepburn breaks our hearts at the end of "Breakfast at Tiffany's" when we realize she's so afraid of being abandoned that she won't even name the cat she's searching for in the rain. What about these movies strikes a chord within our hearts?

The same holds true for books. The best books are those you can't wait to finish but hate to have come to an end. Books, too, tap into something deeper within us. For example, when I read "Rebecca" by Daphne DuMaurier, as a teenager, I wanted to be "Rebecca" rather than the unnamed mousy heroine. Not the trashy dead Rebecca, mind you, but the one who had style and flair and who everyone appeared to admire.

And those opening lines you never seem to forget: "Last night I dreamt of Manderly." "It was the best of times; it was the worst of times."

As I lay in bed feeling lousy and oh-s0-pitiful, I thought how cool it would be for someone to quote one of my first lines. . . or to read and reread my books. And then it dawned on me: someone has read "Murder Takes the Cake" over and over! My agent read it and reread it, and my editor did, too! And so did I! It's a hit! And it hasn't even been released yet!

So what if it was fever-induced delirium? I'll take it. ;-)

What books and/or movies do you like to experience over and over? And why?

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Pre-School Lunch




Yesterday was a monumental day for my family. Calli started preschool. I'm trite, hovering, and pathetic when I say "I can't believe it's time to send her to school!" She only goes 2 days a week from 9:00 until 1:30, but still....IT'S SCHOOL AND SHE'S MY BABY!!!! As you can see by the photo, Calli wasn't quite so bummed!
Luckily, Calli loved her first day of preschool, and everything that led up to it. This included picking out her new lunchbox, and helping me plan what to pack. On a recent trip to Target, she chose an adorable "Hello Kitty" lunchbox, and a matching ice pack.
On another trip to Target (our favorite store), Calli spotted some really cute thermoses that looked like big Crayola crayons. She allowed that she needed one for hot cocoa and soup when the weather turns cold.
Finally, Calli and I determined her menu for day 1:
peanut-butter and jelly sandwich (cut into a round shape with this neat Pampered Chef product that cuts off crusts and seals the edges of the sandwich)
pretzels
raisins
yogurt parfait (vanilla yogurt, blueberries, and crumbled granola bar)
When Calli we got home, I checked her lunchbox. She'd eaten her sandwich, part of her rasins, most of her parfait and a few of her pretzels. For a child who tends to graze, rather than eat a whole meal in one sitting, I thought that it was a pretty successful lunch. Better still, the whole day was very good. I can only hope and pray that lunches, show-and-tell, field trips, and all the other new things she'll do this year continue to be fun and exciting.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Killing the Great Chefs of Europe

Long, long ago, I saw this movie called WHO IS KILLING THE GREAT CHEFS OF EUROPE? The killer sent warnings as to who would be next, using puns. This combined several of my favorite topics: food, mysteries and bad jokes. There were also some excellent performances, and good acting is yet another of my favorite things.

When I went to Amazon to see if I could find it, I discovered that it was first a book, SOMEONE IS KILLING THE GREAT CHEFS OF EUROPE by Nan Lyons and Ivan Lyons.

My question is: Why change the statement to a question? Why change "Someone" to "Who"? Did they think people would think it was a documentary? With a poster like the one at the right?

I remember it as a very good movie, with some laughs and lots of good food preparation. I might check at the library and see if I can get it out. And I might very well buy a copy of the book, too, to see what else Hollywood changed.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Summer Foods

Dave and I are going to a dinner Saturday night. We're going to be in San Diego and my best friend Maureen and her neighbor Julie are having a small get-together for six people. I just got this email forward from Maureen:


Okay, we will set dinner for 7:30 pm
I am going to make a baked Salmon Filet with Sesame-Ginger Crust and wild rice.
Maureen is making a summer - tomato, corn and olive salad and a bitter sweet chocolate and orange torte for dessert.
So if you guys would bring an appetizer and bread – I think that it would round out the dinner
.


I'll say that ought to round out dinner. This is a summer dinner, it's going to be warm and muggy in San Diego and I don't think I could think of a more perfect menu if I tried. Even better, Dave and I have been told not to bring anything because we're coming in from out of town. So we get to enjoy this feast without any of the labor. Which isn't to say we won't be bringing a bottle of champagne to add to the festivities.*

I generally lose weight in hot weather because, like my cats, my appetite is slim and all I want to do is find a cool patch of linoleum and take a nap. I crave things like ice cream and cold salads. Which is funny 'cause when I think of summer foods, corn on the cob, barbecued hamburgers, hot dogs and steaks are the first thing that pop into my head. Classic beach cookout fare.

What about you? What's your favorite summer snack or meal? Enquiring minds wanna know...

*This post is being written in advance as I'll be on vacation (see above re: San Diego) and doubt I'll be spending much time online. So next post I expect I'll tell you all about the dinner and if the menu lived up to my expectations! I mean...bittersweet chocolate/orange torte? Drooool.....

And I thought I'd post dated this, but I only saved it as a draft! D'oh!!!!!