Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Food Images in Amy Tan's THE JOY LUCK CLUB

Okay, first, Morgan Mandel told me to do this. Not write about The Joy Luck Club, but recycle posts. This is a page from my blog, and it seemed appropriate.

The Joy Luck Club, by Amy Tan, is one of my favorite books of all time.

This book is not ABOUT food, but food plays an important part in the book--actual food, occasions for food, food as metaphor and simile, and food as symbol.

The Joy Luck Club is a group of four women from China who meet after they immigrate to America. They get together once a month to play mah jong, eat, and tell stories. The original Joy Luck Club was formed in China, by one of the current members, Suyuan Woo.

The story begins when Suyuan Woo's grown daughter, June, is drafted to sit in for her mother after her mother's death. She already knows that her mother was forced to abandon twin baby girls in 1944, when the Japanese invaded China. The night she sits in for her mother, she learns that her mother never stopped trying to find those girls again, and that a letter had finally come from them. The other members of the Joy Luck Club "aunties" and "uncles" have bought June a ticket to fly to China to meet her sisters and tell them all about their mother.

That's what I think the heart of this book really is: the connections between generation and generation, particularly as it is passed from mother to daughter. It's about communication that doesn't work through words, but is absorbed and assimilated like food.

The book is broken into four sections, and each section is broken into four chapters. Each of the sections is prefaced by a short piece like the one about the woman with the swan, with nothing to say what woman and what daughter is being written about. The way the storylines are chopped and mixed, too, make it a little difficult to keep them straight. Amy Tan is such a good writer, though, I think she did that on purpose, to show that all the mothers and all the daughters--all US mothers and all US daughters--are almost the same, as well as not the same thing at all.

The first section, Feathers From a Thousand Li Away, tells stories of the Joy Luck aunties' childhoods, except for the first chapter I just told you about, which is told from June Woo's point of view. In the second section, The Twenty-Six Malignant Gates, the oldest daughter of each auntie tells stories of her own childhood, and how her mother doesn't know anything, doesn't understand how things work in America, how her mother is old-fashioned, embarassing, and just plain hateful. The third section, American Translation, is also from the daughters' points of view, but now they finally begin to understand.

As I said, food is mentioned in some way or another in every chapter. Sometimes it's pivotal, it's just in passing, sometimes its meaning is subtle, and sometimes it's used as a reference that anyone will understand.

Before she has to run from the Japanese, Suyuan hides in one of the thousands of caves outside the town of Kwelin. She says that after a while in the dark cave, "you become like a starving person, crazy-hungry for light." She says that in Kwelin there were refugees from all parts of China, all statuses and all occupations: "We were a city of leftovers mixed together."

When Waverly Jong's brother is given a chess set with two pieces missing, she bribes him to let her play by offering to let him use two of her Lifesaver candies as the missing men, with the winner getting to eat the candy after the game. She becomes a national chess prodigy.

Lena St. Claire's mother encourages her to eat all her rice by telling her that every grain of rice she leaves in her bowl will be a pockmark on her future husband's face. Lena decides immediately that this future husband is Arnold, the meanest boy she knows. Then she sees a film about leprosy, and she knows what she has to do: she has to leave so much food that Arnold will get leprosy.

When Lena gets chicken pox, her mother feeds her porridge flavored with chicken broth "because one chicken knew how to fight another."

But my favorite part of the book, and it's about food from start to finish, is the final chapter of the third section, Best Quality, from June Woo's point of view. June remembers the last New Year's dinner her mother cooked.

Suyuan Woo bought and cooked eleven crabs, one for each person she had invited plus one extra. One of the crabs was missing a leg, which was bad luck, but it didn't matter, because it was the extra one.

She hadn't counted on Waverly Jong giving her little girl one of the crabs, but Waverly did. She picked the best quality crab for her little girl, the next best for her fiance, and the next best for herself. Finally, the only crabs left are the one with a missing leg and an odd-colored one. June takes the one with the missing leg, leaving her mother with the last one, which Suyuan doesn't eat. In the kitchen later, where June is hurting from Waverly's put-downs and posturing, she asks her mother why she didn't eat her crab. Her mother says the crab was dead before she cooked it, but she had to cook it and serve it so there would be an abundance. June asks what would have happened if somebody else had taken that crab, and her mother says,

"Only you pick that crab. Nobody else take it. I aslready know this. Everybody else want best quality. You thinking different." She said it in a way as if this were proof--proof of something good.

In the final chapter, June Woo and her father fly to China to meet the "babies" Suyuan had to leave behind. On the way, June's father tells her more about what happened. Suyuan left Kwelin carrying her babies, two suitcases, a bag of clothes and a bag of rice, with some money and jewelry sewn into the lining of her skirt. Gradually, like all the other refugees, she had to drop everything she was carrying until all she had left were her babies and some family photographs. Finally, she was certain she and her babies were going to die. She put the babies a little way off the road and tucked money and jewelry into their blankets. She left the photographs, the babies' names, her and her husband's names, where their families could be contacted, and a note promising a reward to anyone who would see that the babies were returned to their family safely. Then she went off out of sight to die where her babies couldn't see. She lost consciousness. When she came around, she had been "rescued" by American missionaries who didn't speak Chinese. She never saw her babies again, but she never gave up writing to anyone she remembered from China whose address she could find, asking them to help. Finally, an old school friend two women together who looked just like Suyuan in a department store. She had found the "babies."

Everything from the meaning of the Christian communion service to our own family experience makes this a true book, not just for Chinese mothers and daughters but for everyone.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Gumbo Pete

After reading Gayle's post on the persnickety eating habits of teens, I am content with my decision (and the way my life played out) not to have children. Not that I don't love them. On the contrary, I am a sterling aunt and godmother: loving, paranoid enough to make sure no harm befalls them under my watch, and in the enviable position of spoiling them rotten the rare times I get to spend time with any of my nieces/nephews/godchildren, only to return them to their parents hopped up on sugar and, in the case of Ernie (my should-be godson, but close enough for government work), with a whole new slew of zombie movies under his belt.

Ernie is the son of Gumbo Pete, one of my favorite people in the world. Pete loves to cook, preferably for large groups of people, and not only does us the favor of cooking for our parties, but urges me to HAVE parties so he has an excuse to try out new recipes. Pete's specialty is (wait for it) gumbo: spicy, savory, chock full of shrimp, chicken and sausage. Mass quantities of it. I still have a bowlful of gumbo in the freezer from a party we threw back in...er...November?

My favorite part of Pete's cooking (not counting the actual yummy food and inevitable leftovers - until I have the Russian army over for dinner, there will ALways be leftovers) is the preparation and cooking itself. Pete holds court in the kitchen, early party-goers his willing sous chefs chopping and shredding ingredients as Pete sips a glass of wine or Scotch and regales us with tales, songs, and the occasional burst of profanity when something doesn't go quite as it's supposed to go. When the party officially starts, Pete is invariably still in the kitchen. Guests tend to gravitate to the kitchen during parties anyway; Pete's flamboyant and genial presence as he holds court at the stove, wooden spoon his sceptor and apron his royal robes, insures that the party will stay in the kitchen until he's done cooking.

I feel another party coming on...

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Counting Blessings

Here I am,  late again.  Again, I blame it on taxes.  I’ve been going over the completed forms the CPA sent me.  Not as bad as I feared.  Whew!

I was amused to read Gayle’s entry about picky eaters.  This is not a problem we had in my family.  We’re all pretty much equal-opportunity eaters, in that any food that comes our way has an equal opportunity to be eaten.  My mother was a big gardener, freezer, and preserver, and most of the veggies we ate were home-grown.  I think everyone who shares my DNA especially loved her tomatoes.  We had to.  My father informed us that it was “un-Casey” not to love tomatoes, and heaven forfend that we be un-Casey.  

One of my dearest memories is of one of my nephews at the age of 4 (he’s now well into his 30s) visiting his grandma’s and  stuffing himself silly on sliced tomatoes.  Afterwards he sat back, sighed, and said, “I love them ‘maters.”  

I love them ‘maters, too.

I’ve been doing research on vegetable gardening for my next book.  It is set at the beginning of WWI, and Victory Gardens were a big thing.  In fact, the United States Food Administration, headed by Herbert Hoover, issued reams of regulations for the citizenry about food consumption.  Housewives were especially encouraged to conserve (red) meat, wheat, sugar, and fat.  I’m guessing that after two years of a low meat/wheat/sugar/fat diet, a lot of people enjoyed improved health.  I’m also sure that as soon as the rules were lifted, most of them rushed out and gorged on deep-fried beef doughnuts rolled in sugar.

Here’s the USFA guidelines for weekly meal preparation, taken from a 1918 flyer:


SUNDAY      One meal Wheatless; one meal Meatless

MONDAY     All meals Wheatless; one meal Meatless

TUESDAY     All meals Meatless; one meal Wheatless

WEDNESDAY   All meals Wheatless; one meal Meatless

THURSDAY     One meal Wheatless; one meal Meatless

FRIDAY     One meal Wheatless; one meal Meatless

SATURDAY     All meals Porkless; one meal Wheatless; one meal Meatless.

Makes you want to eat a big old ham sandwich, doesn’t it?

Friday, March 27, 2009

Random disturbances

Okay. So I was wondering what to blog about today when I came across this post from Cake Wrecks called "Romance is Dead." If you want to see some of the nastiest wedding cakes ever, check this out. Shudder.

But, that's not the only thing I'm disturbed about. You women who have grown children (although Lisa's expertise in this area is also sought), how did you adequately feed these people?! Being chef to such demanding creatures as pre-teens (a mere month away from being teens) is a sometimes overwhelming chore. So overwhelming that last night the menu was "carryout from Pizza Hut." The day before, I'd made chicken and dumplings in the crockpot. "Yum!" my husband and I thought. "Eh," thought the children, who picked at their food. The day before that, I made pork chops and potatoes. "Yum!" my husband and I thought. "The potatoes are pretty good," was the children's verdict.

And school lunches...what is the answer there?

I was waiting for Lost to come on Wednesday night and was watching a new show called Better Off Ted. One of the characters was eating something and said, "This taste is familiar.... It tastes like...despair."

I said to my children, "That's what you think my cooking tastes like!"

So, please, if anyone has any teen-friendly recipes that won't taste like despair, share them.

One little aside, next week, I'll be interviewing Rachel Dillon on her WOW! Women-on-Writing Blog Tour. Rachel is the author of Through Endangered Eyes.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Smart Cookies

My Calli turned 5 on March 20. My husband got the idea that she might like one of the big cookie cakes from Great American Cookies. Boy did Calli ever love her cookie cake! I let her look at the site with me, and pick out her favorite design .


This brightly decorated butterfly cookie really delighted her!

While I'm on the subject of cookies, I would share a site that is very timely for this economy.
This site tells about a group of young ladies who formed a money club to make themselves accountable for their debt, share money-saving tips, etc. I first saw them on a talk show about a year ago. I love that they took something that could be so unpleasant and tedious and made it fun. One the my favorite things they told about is their "6 Dollar Girls' Night". These ladies nixed the typical dinner out and cocktails for a cheaper, yet fun alternative. Each girl contributes 6 dollars towards the cost of the evening. They meet at someone's house where they make pizza and have wine. Check out their site, maybe you'll be inspired to do a 6 Dollar Girls' or Guys' Night!

How to Dismember a Pineapple

Some people are intimidated by these spiky guys, but they're easy to deal with if you know how.

First, acquire the pineapple. If you live in an area where pineapples are hunted, you can have some great sport, either tracking them or establishing a blind near one of their watering holes or trails. Otherwise, you can find some excellent whole pineapples for sale at a grocer's. Pick one that's turning gold, but still has some green on it.

Store your pineapple on its side, not standing upright. If you stand it upright, it can start to mold where it was cut from the plant.

Okay, now you're ready to butcher it.

Cut off his head.

Cut off his foots.

Wash your hands and go to the store and get one of these invaluable Devices. No pineapple hunter should be without one.

Use the device thusly, turning in a counter-clockwise direction. I mean turn the DEVICE, not yourself.

The device cuts the rind and the core out of the pineapple all at once. I've disassembled part of the pineapple to show a break-away view and sliced part of it to show how it actually looks when you're done.

Discard the core (unless you like to chew wood), the foot and probably the head. Some people like to plant the head in a pot or a bowl of water and try to grow a pineapple plant. Sometimes it works. Pretty cool, actually.

Cut the rind in half and squeeze the bejeesus out of it. Strain the juice to remove any random bits from the outside of the rind and drink. Mmmmmm.

And there you have it. With the proper tools and the investment of just a little time, you too can enjoy the unforgettable taste of pineapple that doesn't come from a can.


Monday, March 23, 2009

Simple Pleasures Revisited

I used to bake all the time when I was young. Cookies and cakes, mainly. I didn't inherit the ability to make really good pie crust that runs in my mother's side of the family. Besides, I'm not much of a pie person. Oh, I won't turn down a piece of French apple pie covered in brown sugar/butter crumble...but overall I have no trouble saying no to pie for dessert.

When I lived in Glendale, we didn't have a working oven for most of the 10 or so years we lived there so I only baked when I visited my mom in San Diego or an occasional experiment with the toaster oven. Besides, I was heavily into the no-carb way of eating for the last three years in Los Angeles. By the time I moved to San Francisco and into a house with a working oven, I was out of the habit of baking.

I fell back into the habit out of economic necessity. My boyfriend, you see, is a cookie monster. An old style cookie monster, not the new politically correct one who yells 'CARROT STICKS!' instead of 'COOKIE!' Making a batch of two dozen freshly baked chocolate chip cookies is cheaper than buying a bag of less than half that amount of Trader Joe's vegan chocolate chip cookies (Dave's preferred brand). So I've taken up baking again.

I whipped up a batch of classic Toll House recipe chocolate chip cookies this weekend. The smell of brown sugar, butter and chocolate filling the kitchen brought back memories of a time with much less stress...and the taste of one fresh out of the oven? Nothing can beat it.

Now I just have to figure out how not to put on 10 pounds...

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Total Reading Experience

I’m a bit behindhand today.  Working on my taxes.

I immensely enjoyed George Singleton’s guest blog (see below), especially his observations about aspiring writers approaching you at talks and workshops and asking you to read their unpublished manuscripts.  When I become a writing teacher and get paid for it, then I’ll teach you what I know about writing.  As for helping you get published, well, I’m always glad to give you suggestions, but what the heck to do I know?  My path to publication was weird and ass-backwards and not at all a typical experience.  One fellow came up to me after a talk and asked me to call my agent and my publisher and recommend that she read his manuscript.  I don’t know any agents and my publisher would just laugh at me.  I don’t judge the as-yet-unpublished for not quite knowing how it works.  Nobody appreciates the difficulties of anyone else’s job or profession unless he’s done it himself.  I’ve heard people utter the most outrageous things about their bosses, and how nice it must be to sit with your feet on your desk up in your big office and order people around, when they don’t have the slightest idea what kind of pressure a manager is under.  People don’t seem to respect the job that maids and janitors do, but I can’t think of a more important service.  And don’t get me started on teachers and librarians.  And writers.

But I digress.

Let’s see, what were we talking about.  Oh,yes.  Food.  I’ve been reading Louise Penny’s latest, A Rule Against Murder.   I love Louise Penny’s books, as I love any book with a strong ethnic ambiance, and an evocative description of the country and the people.  Reading a book set in Quebec calls for a crusty croissant slathered with butter and sweet apricot jam, along with a creamy cafe au lait.   What could add to the enjoyment of reading a good book more than treating yourself to the smells and tastes that the characters live with?  A mug of strong dark chocolate laced with cinnamon for Like Water for Chocolate, or a tall glass of sweet iced tea while reading Erskine Caldwell (or me, if I may indulge in some self-promotion.)  Or if you’re on your own and feel like reading a book while you eat supper, get yourself a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird, fix up a nice plate of pork and greens and cornbread, pour syrup over everything on your plate, and enjoy!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Special Guest - George Singleton

Our very special guest today is George Singleton, author of Novel, Work Shirts for Madmen, These People Are Us, The Half-Mammals of Dixie, Why Dogs Chase Cars and Drowning in Gruel. George has also had a slew of short stories and nonfiction articles to appear in The Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s Playboy, Zoetrope, The Georgia Review, Shenandoah, Southern Review, Kenyon Review, Glimmer Train, North American Review, Fiction International, Epoch, Esquire.com, New England Review, Carolina Quarterly, Greensboro Review, Arkansas Review and American Literary Review, to name only a few. In his "spare" time, George teaches high school and college students. Given that he's able to accomplish all this, I wonder if he can also leap tall buildings in a single bound. . . .

We here at Fatal Foodies are delighted to welcome George into our little cyber kitchen as a stop on his WOW! Women-on-Writing blog tour. George has the honor of being the first man to be featured in a WOW! blog tour. Please enjoy his interview as much as I did.

Gayle: Wow, are you ever prolific! Which do you find more difficult to write, novels or short stories? (I read in a previous interview where you compared novel writing to walking across a bridge as opposed to short story writing as walking across a tightrope. I'd like for you to expound on that please.)

George: I find novels to be more difficult only because I tend to be impatient. It’s hard to get a good month of writing done, then think, "Gee, only 300 pages to go." It’s kind of like running a marathon and knowing that there are no water stations along the way. If I wrote short stories back-to-back for a year, I’d write the same amount of pages, but know that there’d be a slight rest, or change of scenery along the way.

Gayle: You lived in California when you were young, and now you're living in the Carolinas. What, if any, bearing do you think an author's location has on his writing?

George: Of course there are writers who jump all over the world from one book to the next. I can’t do it. I stick to the Carolinas, mostly, because I’d feel like a fraud trying to set a story or novel in, say, France. Or Florida. I don’t know about everyone else, but I feel enough like a fraud whenever I have to say, “I’m a writer.” A writer’s physical location while writing, it seems to me, will seep into stories because all of the raw ingredients are there for the picking. It’s the same reason why crab dishes come out of the Chesapeake area, and salmon from the northwest, et cetera.

Gayle: "Toddlers - and drunks - bang around hitting walls, tables, chairs, the floor, and other people, trying to find their legs. Writing fiction is a similar process." I love this quote! You speak of developing "writer reflexes." How do we develop these reflexes and learn to trust our instincts as writers?

George: I would think that reading a ton of contemporary work helps. Trial and error seems to be the only answer for me, though. Wait—trial and error and error and error and error…

Gayle (laughing): I'm with you there! You mention that book signings and events make you nervous. That surprises me since you're a teacher. How do book events differ from teaching high school and college students?

George: I guess they’re the same in a way. At readings, there’s usually somebody glaring at me, and in class that happens, too. At readings, a person might come up later and say, “I love your work, and I’ll think you’ll love mine, too,” and heave a 400 pages manuscript up on the table. Students that I don’t even teach have been known to drop off their work. Writers, somehow, cause some people to think every writer out there can’t wait to spend a week or two reading unpublished manuscripts. Who goes to a doctor and says, “Hey, you work in an emergency room—look at how I stitched myself up,” or “Hey, I’ve always been interested in medicine, too—will you teach me how to knee surgery?” I don’t get it.

Gayle: You mention a book's "taste sensations." In keeping with the theme of our blog, what are some of the foods you've used in your stories to bring a scene to life for your reader?

George: Unfortunately, most of my taste sensations involve booze. Vienna sausages seem to show up often, as do Little Debbies oatmeal pies. I had an essay in Best Food Writing 2005, but it was about hangover cures, and I wouldn’t really want anyone to mix up jalapenos, pickle relish, mustard, mayonnaise, and Vienna sausages to spread on saltine crackers, though it’s good good good.

Gayle: Well, George, I have to admit that my first thought about the hangover cure would be, "Would the violent upset stomach really make you forget about your hangover?" But, I have to admit, those Little Debbie oatmeal pies are yummy! Ever tried one topped with peanut butter? Oh, yeah. [And, yes, it's possible that somewhere down the line I'm related to Elvis.]

George, it has been a pleasure having you here. Now, to all you blog readers, you need to visit George's site and check out all his books. If you're a writer, you especially need to look into this one: Pep Talks, Warnings & Screeds. The back cover blurb says, "In Pep Talks, Warnings & Screeds, acclaimed Southern story writer and novelist George Singleton serves up everything you ever need to know to become a real writer (meaning one who actually writes), in bite-sized aphorisms. It’s Nietzsche’s Beyond Good & Evil meets Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. It’s cough syrup that tastes like chocolate cake. In other words, don’t expect to get better unless you get a good dose of it, maybe two. Accompanied by more than fifty original, full-color illustrations by novelist Daniel Wallace, these laugh-out-loud funny, candid, and surprisingly useful lessons will help you find your own writerly balance so you can continue to move forward."

Does it get any better than that? Only if you read it while eating a Little Debbie's Oatmeal Creme Pie (with a spoonful of peanut butter). ;-)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Greatest Diet Ever

Leaving the hospital with a new baby baby is quite a process. Although Skylar is my second, I was still a little rusty with newborns. Getting them dressed it quite a challenge. Once they are dressed they usually need to be changed which requires them to be undressed. Of course, once Mommy is dressed, the little one will want to eat.

Next comes a barrage of paperwork, which includes discharge instructions. Some of the instructions are a bit difficult to follow (Do not lift more than 10 pounds. Get adequate rest.)

Others are not so hard to do. My favorite instruction is that I am supposed to eat 500 extra calories a day because I am nursing. Best of all, these calories are burned off because milk production uses lots of calories.

I have spent some joyful afternoons coming up with ways to fulfill this extra 500 calories mandate. The calories are supposed to come from nutritious food, so it's not a total free pass. So far, I'm really into Laughing Cow Cheese on Triscuits. I've got three boxes of Triscuits on the shelf and bought Laughing Cow Cheese at a warehouse store. After all, I've got a lot of calories to consume!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Interview with S. M. Harding Part 2

You earned your living as a chef? Why not now?

Yes, for the last ten years. I took early retirement because
the arthritis in my hips and knees was getting too severe. I
don't think most people realize how much physical stress
professional cooking takes on the human body. Lifting,
toting, unloading, loading items that can weight up to
seventy pounds is normal in the course of the job. I'd
always been very physical -- loved hiking and cross-country
skiing, done a lot of remodeling and landscaping -- and I
think all of it combined with eight to ten hours a day on my
feet in the kitchen for another ten years forced surrender.

Does the old life ever tug at you?

No portion of food service business "tugs" at me at all for
a number of reasons: the physicality of the work; its
repetitive nature;the lack of opportunity to experiment
until you hit the top and have the ability to create your
own menu. There's no way anyone could get me back in a
professional kitchen!

Do you ever think, "I could write a great series of novels
with a chef as a protagonist. All the staff and suppliers
and customers . . . the plots would be endless!"?

No! At this point in time, there are a number of series
based on chefs, caterers, restaurant owners, bakers,
chocolatiers, etc. so I don't think I have anything really
fresh to add to that sub-genre. But by doing occasional
short stories, I get to play with the character, the
kitchen, do it quickly, and keep the situation fresh for me.
I'm sending one of those stories out now. Called "The Last
Chef Standing," it's about what happens when the owners of
the restaurant where Kate is executive chef enters her in a
local version of the Iron Chef. Naturally, the chefs start
falling over at the first day of shooting. It's a fun story.

I have been working on a series featuring Samantha Wolfe
who's a nature photographer and professor at a small college
in Pennsylvania. It's based on another past life and because
I don't keep her on campus very much, it's not hard to
invent good plots in different settings. The first novel is
called "The Shadow of Truth," takes place on campus but also
in the mountains of southwestern Pennsylvania that's called
the Laurel Highlands. The second takes place primarily in
Pittsburgh; the idea for the third takes Sam to New Mexico
for a photo workshop and vacation. Too me, Sam's an ideal
character because she's not strictly an academic and her
photography has taught her another way to think about
puzzles and problems. I think I'm getting close to obtaining
an agent on this, so send good energy.

Would you share your recipe for Chocolate Decadence?

Since it's not mine but a wonderful pastry chef's, I can't.
But I will offer something, not quite from my New Mexico
days, but as a result of them.

One of my favorite things to eat out was enchiladas: blue
corn with verde (green) sauce. There's a debate about red
vs. green sauce, but I think it really boils down to the hot
and sweet qualities of each. In other words, depends what
you like.

It's very difficult to get the ingredients to make blue corn
enchiladas with verde sauce, so I've come up with an
enchilada casserole that allows me to develop the tastes in
a slightly different form.

Since it's impossible to get blue corn tortillas in central
Indiana, I use blue corn chips (several different
manufacturers make them, easy to find on most grocery store
shelves). Blue corn is a bit nuttier tasting, very sweet,
and has a tad bit more body; if you're worried about trying
something new, use regular tortilla chips and if you like
the dish, try the blue corn chips the next time.

I layer the following items in a casserole (any baking dish
that has a lid):
  • blue corn chips
  • diced tomatoes with peppers (Rondal or such)1/2 can
  • red beans 1/2 can
  • Mexican blend cheese (or find the real thing from an Hispanic Mercado)
  • ground beef (lean & sauteed with garlic, onions, and chili powder -- I use Ancho and a smoked Chipotle, but use whatever degree of heat you're comfortable with); you could also used pulled chicken or pork
  • Enchilada sauce -- green or red Old El Paso

At this point, if you like heat, spread a thin layer of
peppers (I use Chipotle in Adobo sauce, but jalapeno would
be fine). Otherwise, do the layers in reverse so that you
end with a layer of chips.

Put in the oven (don't forget the lid) at 350 for half an
hour (remember, you've already cooked the meat). It's a
great meal and if you're counting calories, just watch the
amount of cheese & chips.
Thanks, Suzanne! And thanks for being with us today. Looking forward to reading more of your work!


Monday, March 16, 2009

Sick again...

...and unable to appreciate much more than tea, water and soup about now. So I open the forum for this question: What is your favorite comfort food or food you eat when you're under the weather?

Inquiring minds attached to very sore stomachs want to know...

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Thank You, Jacques Pepin

Two events have converged to give me access to a bunch of new cooking shows.  One: because of my husband’s health problems, we have become rather housebound and never eat out any more.  Two:  since we don’t have cable, we bought a new digital television and suddenly can pick up channels that were unavailable to us on our old analog TV.  One of these is “Create”, which is broadcast by out local PBS station.  All of the programs on the Create channel have to do with making things, natch.  Show after show on painting, gardening, photography, travel, sewing, and of course, cooking.

I’ve picked up all kinds of interesting hints and ideas for combining flavors and textures that I would not have thought of, and as a result, our diet has become a lot more interesting.  One of my favorite shows is Cooking with Jacques Pepin.  Aside from the fact that he makes dishes that look so good it’s a wonder you don’t drown in your own anticipatory saliva, I love Jacques himself.  He’s calm,  good natured, and practical, and sometimes I wish he were my granddaddy.  

Two of my favorite Jacques Pepin recipe acquisitions are new (to me) ways to prepare fruit.

The first is a very simple and very European desert of sliced apples accompanied by walnut halves, water crackers, and a nice wedge of Stilton.  The touch that makes this fruit and cheese plate special is that Jacque squeezes half a lemon over the apple slices, then sprinkles them with cracked black pepper.  Oh, yum!  

The second is poached pears.  It isn’t exactly correct to say that Jacques introduced me to poached pears, for I’ve poached pears in the past.  He did, however, remind me how to do it and gave me some new ideas on how to go about it.  Here’s an idea:

Halve and core two firm pears and poach them in grape juice (I like sweet purple grape juice, like Welches), then serve them hot with a dollop of marscapone.  Or how about poaching the pears in a lovely dry red wine, filling the hollow with sour cream, and a dash of ground clove.

Such simple and easy ways to make fruit classy!

Friday, March 13, 2009

A Teaser for Next Week's Post

Next week, a special guest will be joining us at Fatal Foodies. His name is George Singleton, and he's the author of Pep Talks, Warnings & Screeds. (Btw, screeds are similar to rants.) I'll be interviewing George as part of the WOW! Women On Writing book blog tour. George is the author of four collections of short stories, two novels and more than 100 stories in magazines and literary journals.

I got his book this week, though, and I couldn't wait to share some of his words of wisdom with you. In keeping with our theme, here are some food-related Pep Talks, Warnings & Screeds.

Baking a Cake - If you have a writing teacher of some sort, please do not give him two paragraphs of a story and ask, 'What do you think?' That would be analogous to saying, 'Hey, I'm thinking about baking a cake. Taste these raw eggs and tell me what you think. Later, I'll let you eat a packet of yeast.'

On the Menu - I'm pretty certain that, at one time, regular-eating diners once considered sushi and fish tacos as inedible. Think of all the items we see on menus these days that probably weren't offered in, say, 1900. Alligator. Urchin. Ostrich. Tofu. Over time, though, most of us have come to enjoy such delicacies. If you think that your writing is misunderstood, then perhaps, in time, people will learn to savor it. This will happen, of course, long after you have died.

Coffee - There's black coffee, coffee with sugar, coffee with cream, and then the whole mathematical subset of frou-frou coffees. All of these possibilities will not exist, though, without 'coffee.' Coffee might be the plot of your story. Coffee might be the voice of your story. There's no need to spend all your time with the cream, sugar, honey, cinnamon, sprinkles, et cetera, if there's no strong and robust coffee in the center of things.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


Sorry I missed last week's post. I was in the hospital because I had my baby on Tuesday! I hope I don't jinx myself by saying this, but she is the BEST little thing. As long as her tummy is full she's a happy girl. Maybe that means she's a future foodie!

Here's a link to the web nursery to see her picture:

passcode: HALL7404--9503

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Interview with S. M. Harding

I met Suzanne Harding at a book signing for DYING IN A WINTER WONDERLAND, the Wolfmont Press anthology of winter holiday crime stories published to benefit Toys for Tots. We were since delighted to hear that the anthology was #8 on the Independent Mystery Booksellers' Association best-seller list for 2008, and even more delighted to hear that the anthology netted over $3000 for the kids.

I interviewed Suzanne by email.

MA: Do you have a web site, or a blog where you post?

SH: I don't have a website, though I hope to have one up and
running by May. Computer problems seem to multiply rapidly
once the first pops up and I'm praying to the spring spirits
to heal the damn thing!
MA: You had a story in DYING IN A WINTER WONDERLAND. Where
else do your stories appear?

SH: In Great Detective Stories, Great Mystery and Suspense,
Mysterical-E, Crime and Suspense, and the anthologies Racing
Can Be Murder
, Medium of Murder, and Dying in a Winter
MA: Was the story in DIWW part of a series?

SH: No -- it came out of the blue. I looked at the list of
holidays and thought winter solstice (the original winter
holiday) would be fun to play with. I set it in New Mexico
because I'd celebrated several winter solstices there; once
place was set, the characters seemed to appear. It wasn't
until I was three-quarters of the way through that I
realized I was writing a pretty traditional manor house
mystery -- and that's when the ghost materialized.
MA: How did you get started writing?
SH: I've been writing most of my life, but primarily academic
pieces and special interest articles and essays. About ten
years ago, I was living in a log cabin in the foothills of
the San Juan Mountains (elevation 8400 ft). The closest
library, a tiny one in Chama, was 25 miles away, the nearest
bookstore, 70 -- and over the mountains. The one road into
Taos was closed periodically with snow (at my elevation, we
got nearly twelve feet of snow that winter; for the mountain
passes, triple it). I began writing a mystery out of a sheer
need to read a new story!
MA: Do you have any work in progress?

SH: A number of short stories because I love the short form. It
really requires a mastery of all the writing components that
go into novels. I believe in the old adage "practice,
practice, practice." Besides, it gives me a chance to play
with voice, try something hard-boiled or dark, as well as
something much more cozy-like, i.e. "The Longest Night." I
also have used secondary characters from my novel as
protagonists -- it helps control their egos, plus I get a
deeper understanding of them.

I've been working on a series from the novel I began in New
Mexico (its called The Shadow of Truth and is set in
southwestern Pennsylvania where I lived for many years). I
haven't found an agent, so perhaps the primary wip is doing
MA: Do you have anything in the pipeline for publication?

SH: A story entitled "A Death Investigation," set in southern
Indiana and featuring McCrumb County Sheriff Sarah Pitt and
her father Micah, the ex-sheriff. I love the characters and
have written several more. The story will appear in Crime
and Suspense in the May/June issue.
MA: This is Fatal Foodies, so: What's your favorite

SH: The last ten years, I earned my keep as a chef -- so this is
an impossible question! I love to cook healthy and surprise
people with how good "healthy" can taste. I do a really
wonderful shrimp creole (in fact, I'm fixing that tonight),
as well as a chili verde (I learned it while I was in
northern New Mexico; it uses lamb instead of beef). My
favorite dessert is called Chocolate Decandence, a
flourless chocolate cake, made by a pastry chef friend of
mine. Heaven, absolute heaven.

By the way, the first story I had published featured a chef,
and the same chef, Kate, was the protagonist in "One Cold
Dish" in the Racing Can Be Murder anthology.

Naturally, I couldn't let that last one pass, and asked her more questions, which I'll post the Tuesday after I receive them.


Monday, March 9, 2009

When You Just WANT to Raise your Cholesterol...

May I recommend a brunch consisting of black and white pudding sliced into bite-sized chunks sauteed in olive oil, tossed with small new potatoes also sliced into little chunks and cooked in just a hint of butter with fresh rosemary, all topped off with half a sweet onion browned in butter until the onion bits are soft, sweet and as satisfying as dessert. There is nothing particularly healthful about this meal, unless you count the olive oil. However, it's one of the most satisfying comfort food dishes I've found and the perfect thing to have on a cold Sunday morning after a week of eating salads, high-fiber low-carb foods, and doing major portion control along with daily exercise. We had strawberry-kiwi juice mimosas with this delightsome dish of high-caloric doom...inexpensive Spanish cava with just a splash of the juice. Delicious. Black pudding, for those of you unfamiliar with this staple of Irish breakfasts, is also known as blood pudding, Morcilla, boudin noir and Lancashire pudding.
To quote the BBC:

Black pudding, as made in the UK, is a blend of onions, pork fat, oatmeal, flavourings - and blood (usually from a pig). As long as animals have been slaughtered to provide food, blood sausages like black pudding have been in existence. Sources indicate that the corpulent sausage had its origins in ancient Greece, and Homer's Odyssey makes poetic reference to the roasting of a stomach stuffed with blood and fat.

The art of pudding making has had an epic journey across Europe over the centuries. Today it's a staple of menus across the Continent. The black pudding has a range of European relatives: Spanish morcilla makes an excellent tapas, and blutwurst is an intriguing Germanic variant; the boudin noir is a delicacy in France, sometimes containing rich ingredients like brandy and cream.

White pudding is a little less objectionable to those who, while not vegan or vegetarian, don't liek the thought of eating something which might be craved by a vampire who prefers his food solid.

To quote Wise Geek.com:

White pudding is a type of sausage much enjoyed in the UK. It is similar in construction to blood pudding, containing sugar, oats or bread, suet and shredded pork. It often contains onions, and may have cinnamon or other sweet-oriented spices.

The ingredients much resemble some of the baked or steamed puddings for which the Irish and British are well known. This accounts for white pudding being called a pudding instead of a sausage. The difference is that white pudding is stuffed into casings, and is usually fried in individual slices.

Unlike blood pudding, white pudding does not contain animal blood. It resembles a banger sausage, but tends to have a larger circumference. Scotland makes a smaller white pudding similar in size to a large American hot dog, which may be served whole.

To quote myself:


Saturday, March 7, 2009


I don’t have cable television, so I must ask. Is the Food Network Cooking Challenge a reality show about cooking? I mean an amateur contest, not Iron Chef or anything featuring professional cooks against each other.  Something with non-professional chefs being judged on their cooking?  I’d watch that.

Not long ago I saw succotash on the menu at a local eatery, and was disappointed to find that it consisted of nothing more than corn kernels and baby limas cooked together in water.  It might have come out of a can.  It made me wonder if anyone really knows how to make succotash any more.

If you’ve only eaten succotash out of a can, you have no idea what the real thing is like.  You can make a quite passable succotash from frozen baby limas and frozen sweet corn kernels, but if you want the authentic succotash experience, this is the way to do it.

2 cups of fresh shelled baby lima beans

@ 12 ears of young sweet corn (enough for 2 cups of kernels)

1/3 cup of butter

1/2 cup of cream.

Place the limas in a pot and barely cover with cold water.  Scrape the kernels from the ears of corn and put aside.  Boil the beans with the scraped cobs for about 30 minutes.  Remove the cobs, add the corn kernels to the pot, and boil for 15 more minutes. Add the butter and cream and alt and pepper to taste.  Do use real cream.  Milk just isn’t the same in this dish.

Now, that’s succotash.

Friday, March 6, 2009

This Month's Poll - Reality TV

I took this month's poll from a recent issue of Woman's Day magazine. Every issue, they pose a question to their editorial staff and print some of the answers. I have to say I'm not that crazy about reality TV. I've never seen Big Brother's House, Girls Gone Wild or The Bachelor, although I will admit to laughing until I cried at some of the clips shown on E's The Soup. The Extreme Home Makeovers show makes me cry, and I feel really bad for some of the American Idol contestants. (Hey, I'm a writer who has received my fair share rejections - can you imagine suffering that humiliation on national TV?)

That said, of the choices at right, I would choose either The Amazing Race or Dancing With the Stars. I think The Amazing Race would be a terrific opportunity to travel, but I'd hate for viewers to see that my husband (who would naturally be my partner in the race) has the patience of Job while I have the patience of, say, a five-year-old. Also, we'd have to pay out anything we'd earn to be able to afford to take our children along with us. No way would they agree to stay behind at Grandma's house while Mom and Dad raced around the world!

As for Dancing With the Stars, I hear it's a wonderful way to lose weight. I like to dance, although I'm not very good at it; and I would accept any number of celebs as my partner: George Clooney, for one. I also like Johnny Depp (but I'm fairly certain I'm bigger than he is) and Brad Pitt (but I'm afraid Angelina would beat me to death). Brad Garrett might be okay. Former really large NFL players would be great as well. I'd hate to dwarf my partner and/or have us look like Steve Carrell and his partner in the Get Smart! dance scene.

So what about you? What reality show would you agree to participate in and why? I'm looking forward to reading your comments!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Killer Meal

One of my friends at church is a toxicology professor, so naturally he's my go-to guy for poison. Information on poison, I mean. Naturally. Goes without saying. Ahem.

Anyway, someone on one of my writing lists was asking if it were possible for someone to fatally overdose on marijuana, and my guy said no way. Then he volunteered that, for his money, the toxin of choice would be tetrodotoxin--a deadly neurotoxin found in puffer fish, otherwise known as fugu. I'm asking you, though, does this cute little guy look lethal?

According to the Wikipedia article, puffers in captivity aren't exposed to the bacteria that create the poison, so they aren't lethal--unless they're exposed to the bacteria. So, what if somebody were raising a puffer for some sashimi fugu and somebody either slipped some bacteria into the tank or substituted a contaminated fillet for the fillet the victim had carefully prepared?

But, really, how could you eat something that looked like this guy? Look at dat coot li'l face! Ooooo, iss so cooot! I tood dus eat it all up.... Uh, maybe not.


Monday, March 2, 2009

Lack of Appetite

The last few weeks I've suffered from an odd malaise...exhaustion, depression and lack of appetite. Most annoyingly, I haven't lost any weight due to this unusual disinterest in food. Probably because I've been too tired to exercise, so the caloric intake versus caloric burning have canceled each other out.

Every night this past week when dinner time rolls around, Dave would ask me what I wanted for dinner. Nothing sounded good...except hot sourdough bread and butter. Not a lot of butter...just a hint of it on hot, crusty bread. Wine still sounded good. So dinner for several nights in a row consisted of a sourdough roll heated up in the oven -- foil wrapped -- and then smeared with butter. One night we added goat cheese brie. Just a little bit, mind you. I didn't want to spoil the purity of my bread and butter.

Tonight we had cornmeal crust pizza with feta cheese, sun-dried tomatoes and black olives. I think my appetite is coming back. But if I had to choose...hot bread and butter would win every time.


That was to indicate the passage of time. :-)

It is now Saturday afternoon and I'm working on my WIP, which is very food/wine heavy. We put Chocolat on and, as always happens when I watch this movie, I craved chocolate. So, inspired by the chili-infused hot chocolate served up by Viane, I just whipped up a batch of my own sinfully rich hot chocolate. An entire bar of Lindt chili-infused extra dark chocolate melted in the microwave with a half teaspoon of light Karo syrup. Add a cup of whipped cream and stir till well blended. Add hot milk and whisk till frothy. Add more whipped cream (because this is already so rich, a bit more fat won't matter) and enjoy!

Yes, my appetite has definitely made a reappearance. So in an hour, I'll take another 45 minute walk up some hills...so I can have more hot chocolate and fresh bread tomorrow.