Wednesday, September 30, 2009

I Fell in Love with Joe


Something happened during my recent trip to Cleveland that has left me with an itch I cannot scratch, a thirst I cannot quench and a desire I cannot indulge. I had long heard of Trader Joe's, but had never had to opportunity to shop at one.
http://www.traderjoes.com/
When my brother and sister-in-law invited me to tag along with them on their Trader Joe's excursion, I jumped at the opportunity. The store exceded my expectations with a great selection, very reasonable prices, cool displays and free wine samples.
My favorite purchase of the day was a jar of Trader Joe's Pineapple Salsa. I have enjoyed it straight from the jar with tortilla chips and wheat crackers. One night, I used it in a sauce that I put on a pork tenderloin. Last night, I mixed some of the salsa with mango chutney to use as a dipping sauce.
Unfortunately, I am almost to the bottom of my pineapple salsa jar. While I still have so many plans for using the salsa (mixed with cream cheese, a topping for grilled chicken), my supply of salsa is certain to dwindle before I can carry out all of my plans.
Since the nearest Trader Joe's is about five hours away, I will savor the last drops of my salsa and dream of the day I will go back to Trader Joe's. Joe, I will miss you and your salsa. I cannot wait to see you again!


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

How Not To Write A Story

I posted this the other day on my blog, and it struck a chord, so I thought I would share it here:

  • Sit down.
  • Turn on computer.
  • Open file.
  • Think.
  • Phone rings. Answer phone. Talk to caller.
  • Other phone rings. Answer phone. Talk to both callers at once. Keep them both talking after they’ve tried to get off. Let them hang up.
  • Think.
  • Write a line.
  • Go back and change seven lines earlier in the story.
  • Phone rings. Talk to caller.
  • Think.
  • Play Solitaire.
  • Play Free Cell.
  • Play Minesweeper.
  • Write a paragraph. Move it. Move it back. Move it somewhere else.
  • Go back and delete an earlier paragraph.
  • Phone rings. Talk to caller.
  • Open an earlier version of the file and cut three paragraphs from it and paste them into the new file.
  • Think.
  • Daughter and grandson come in. Play with grandson. Make lunch and eat with family. Play with grandson. Talk with daughter. Play with grandson.
  • Think.
  • Play Solitaire, Free Cell, Minesweeper.
  • Write.

Doesn’t sound like a formula for success, but I actually did finish the story I’ve been working on. It isn’t a technique I would ever recommend for anyone else, but it’s the one I’ve had to learn to work with. I think I sort of sneak up on it, and finish it while it thinks I’m not paying attention to it. Bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha!!!

MA

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Vegetarians Tale, Part 3 -How Much Do I Want to Suffer to be Healthy?

It took a couple of years to learn a totally new way to eat and cook, but once you get the hang of it, living vegetarian isn’t that hard.  We were both raised on a typical Southern/Western American diet, with a meat dish as the center of every meal, with vegetables added as an afterthought, and that’s the way I learned to cook.  You’d think it might be harder to cook a delicious and tempting meal without meat, but I must say that often veg meals are more creative and imaginative.  After a year or so, we even learned to eat out satisfactorily, and the new lifestyle was no burden at all.


The problem was, and always has been, us.  Over the past decades, we experimented with every permutation of meatless diet known to man, and some we just made up ourselves.  We were experts at making things difficult for ourselves in the name of health and/or philosophy.  And we would persevere in our self-inflicted dietary restrictions for years at a time.  The young and idealistic have the energy and discipline to do this.


For ten or fifteen years, we ate no refined sugar. By that I don’t just mean sugar in the sugar bowl, either.  We avoided corn syrup, too, and as for artificial sweeteners - heavens to Betsy, no!  I would buy unrefined honey, sorghum, molasses,  and pure maple syrup for sweetening.  (It had to be Canadian maple syrup, too, since at the time, the U.S.  allowed additives and adulterants in its syrup) Believe me, it is very hard to bake this way, not to mention expensive.  Don liked to make cinnamon rolls, since he has such fond memories of his mother’s, which were rich and sweet and light as air.  Don’s were made with whole wheat flour and one of the above for sweetening, and while  they were sticky and tasty, each roll weighed about a pound and bore no resemblance whatsoever to his mother’s.  


We avoided white flour until very recently, when we discovered that wheat germ is very bad for people who are prone to a certain kind of kidney stone.  Since the aforementioned type of kidney stone nearly killed Don last winter, we’ve altered our flour requirements. I still buy organic flour, but it’s white, and we’ve rediscovered the joy of really fluffy biscuits.


For two or three years during the eighties, we cut all nightshades out of our diet. The prevailing health-Nazi wisdom was that nightshades were very bad for you. Now, nightshade vegetables are quite the staple of a vegetarian diet, and a carnivorous diet, too, for this family includes potatoes, tomatoes, and eggplant.  How’d you like to go for three years without meat OR potatoes OR tomatoes OR sugar? (And the truth is, if you are prone to gout, cutting out nightshades will help you a lot.  Otherwise, the potato kept the Irish alive for hundreds of years, so you be the judge.)   


The potatoless diet went away when dietitians decided that nightshades weren’t so bad after all.  By that time, it was determined that coffee was the devil.  I have written in this column before that I have a coffee monkey on my back, and have had ever since my early twenties, when I had to get up at five every morning and needed artificial stimulation to be able to do it.  But when I decided to sacrifice coffee for the sake of longevity, I did it, by gum.  Then a couple of years later, scientists admitted that perhaps coffee is actually good for you, and I gladly let that monkey climb back on.


After twenty years or so of dietary discipline and a growing skepticism in the scientific community, coupled with Don’s new diet restrictions, the extreme health-foodieness fell by the wayside.  We are as sugary as the best of them.  And as I grew older and ... more substantial, I found that it was easier for me to watch my weight if I fell off the meatless wagon when eating out or at a friend’s house.  So I stopped asking if there was chicken broth in that soup if soup seemed to be the healthiest choice on the menu.  Now I eat fish a couple of times a week, and take fish oil tablets for my heart. In fact, I’ll  pretty much eat whatever I deem to be the least harmful thing on the menu.   I’m still health conscious, but only to a point, for at my age, I’ve decided that the best thing for your health is to enjoy yourself.


(In defense of our hippy-dippy youth, when Don did fall apart, he was told by the doctors that his years of good dietary practice certainly staved off his health problems by twenty years, and may have enabled him to withstand them where others might not have.)


Friday, September 25, 2009

Cake Wrecks and the Swedish Chef


What do the above have in common? Probably nothing, other than I'm writing about both; but I think I might find a way to tie them together.


First off, I got news from Amazon today that my pre-ordered Cake Wrecks book will be shipping October 1. So, that's cool. Maybe my very own cake wreck will be included in Book Two. Deb Smith sent in the cover for Murder Takes the Cake as well as the cover done by one of the large-print publishers who has commissioned it. Check out the differences for yourself at:




Personally, I'm just thrilled to have a book available in hardcover. But I think Bell Bridge's publishers were a little taken aback at the new cover. Said Deb, "Good grief. A . . . dead cake face? Bad Halloween cake? LOL Looks pretty grim considering the book's a cozy."

But, on to the Swedish Chef. How many of you remember The Muppet Show? I recently introduced my children to the Swedish Chef via YouTube, so imagine my delight when I found that Hallmark has a new Swedish Chef ornament available with sound!
So, now, to tie the two together:

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Fun Halloween Ideas - Colored Play Dough Cookies!

Searching around looking at fun Halloween ideas, I came upon these adorable, colorful cookies in red-yellow-blue swirls called Play Dough Cookies! Aren't they neat! (see pic links below)

Recipe from AllRecipes.com

INGREDIENTS
3/4 cup butter, softened
3 ounces cream cheese
1 cup white sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
assorted colors of paste food coloring
24 lollipop sticks


DIRECTIONS
In a bowl cream butter, cream cheese and sugar until fluffy. Add egg and vanilla; beat until smooth.

In a medium bowl combine flour, baking powder and salt. Add dry ingredients to the creamed mixture. Stir till soft dough forms. Divide dough into fourths. Tint each with a different food color. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Working with half of each color, shape dough into 3/4 inch balls and for each cookie place 1 pink, 1 green, 1 blue and 1 orange ball together to make 1 large ball.

Shape into a 12 inch long roll (like a snake), starting at one end, coil roll to make a 2 3/4 inch round cookie. Place cookies 3 inches apart on lightly greased baking sheet. Carefully insert lollipop sticks into bottoms of cookies.

Bake cookies for 8 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool and store in an airtight container.


* Check out the different colors on this page

* See a beautiful photo of the cookies

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Cupcakes and Little Princesses








Last weekend I traveled to Cleveland, Ohio to visit my brother and his family. While there, my girls and I had the pleasure of attending my neice's birthday party. It was at the cutest little place called La Tea Dolly.


Little girls came dressed in their finest and were treated like absolute princesses in this posh pink-festoooned shop. The girls got to decorate their own tiaras, have their nails polished, get sparkly make-up and put on a fashion show.

One of the most fun parts was that the girls brought their favorite doll or stuffed animal. The special toy got to sit beside them in a special high chair when tea was served. Tea time consisted of finger sandwiches, lemonade, cookies, cheese, fruit and mini cupcakes. It was all just delightful and too cute!

At the end of the night, each girl went home with a treat bag and wonderful memories. The birthday girl received her own special storybook that was tailored just for her, using her own name and hometown.





Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Cracking Up

Hoorah! I have a new pizza (bread-baking, actually) stone! Here is a picture of what I have been using, in case you think it's extravagant of me to want a new one.

brooooken

I'm not entirely certain what happened to this one. It's possible that the pan I put on the shelf under it, in which I pour the hot water for the steam that makes the bread all crusty and crispy may have made it heat unevenly. I'll have to figure out a different configuration with the new one, so I don't crack it up, too. I'll be keeping the rectangular piece, to use in the toaster oven. Waste not, want not.

This bread is fantastic, by the way. It's from ARTISAN BREAD IN FIVE MINUTES A DAY, which isn't entirely true (I mean the title's claim isn't entirely true), but it is quick and easy.

BASIC BREAD FROM ABin5

  • 1 1/2 Tbs salt
  • 1 1/2 Tbs yeast
  • 3 cups lukewarm water
  • 6 1/2 cups bread flour

Mix. Will be wet, not kneadable. Put in storage container, loosely covered, and let rise until doubled. Refrigerate until chilled.

Pull off a lump when you want some bread, coat the lump in flour and shape it. Let it rise for about 20 minutes while you pre-heat the oven--PREHEAT THE OVEN THAT LONG! THE OVEN MUST BE HOT for the bread to bake properly. The bigger the lump, the longer it needs to cook. If you want the crust really crunchy, with a meltingly soft interior, put a pan in the oven along with your bread and add 1 cup of HOT water when you put in the bread. Don't open the oven until you absolutely have to check, because the steam, weirdly, is what makes the crust hard.

Yesterday, I pulled off a lump and pressed it out into a thin rectangle. Cut up some mushrooms over half of it, sprinkled with garlic salt and Parmesan cheese, folded it over, oiled it with olive oil, and slapped it in an oiled panini press. The result was flatbread stuffed with mushrooms. MAN, it was good with Eggplant Parmesan!

Grocery day today. What treasures and what chance meetings await? Oh, and Mom and I are meeting a friend for her (the friend's) birthday. Happy!

MA

Monday, September 21, 2009

Summers Past

I used to think of summer as vacation, pure and simple. The school year would end and three glorious months of unstructured time stretched out before me. We lived in San Diego, so I spent a lot of time playing in the water and building sand castles. Summer meant the smell of coconut suntan lotion, and meals made up of Bugles (we'd put them on our fingers like Fu Manchu nails and then eat them off one by one), Lemon Cooler cookies, buckets of extra crispy Kentucky Fried Chicken (I refuse to call it 'KFC') and Shasta Tiki Punch soda.

As I grew older and realized how good a golden tan looked against white camisoles, I spent more time sunbathing. My parents built a pool in the backyard, so I'd spend hours adrift on a raft in the middle of the pool, dozing, reading romances, and daydreaming while soaking up those rays. This was before sunbathing was declared a bad thing, of course.

When I started working, summer lost some of its glow. Mind you, I loved my first summer job at the San Diego Zoo (Food Stand Two, directly across from the shit-slinging monkeys) and the magic of volunteering as a dresser at the Old Globe Theater's summer Shakespeare Festival in Balboa Park. But the sense of free-floating time to follow whatever whims would hit ... that was gone.

After I graduated high school (college and I had a brief fling, but it didn't work out), summer lost all meaning beyond "Boy, it's hot outside!" No more gloriously aimless days thinking the world was my succulent oyster. The future still held unlimited possibilities (as it always does when you're under forty or so), but I missed the sense of freedom that always came with summer break.

Now? Summer is a time of fog and cool weather in San Francisco. I've gone from a perpetually golden-skinned sun worshipper to a pale Goth of my former self. I go down to San Diego a couple times a year and enjoy the sensation of surfing in board shorts and rash guard instead of a heavy-duty wetsuit, but I've lost all sense of the magic of summertime. I haven't, however, lost all sense of a world of possibilities. If anything, passing the forty-year marker made me realize that even as you lay one dream -- whether fulfilled, partially fulfilled, or unfilled -- to rest, there's always a new one to take its place. And maybe in the years to come summer will once again be a time of sun and leisure. If not, I can still conjure the memories. Now if I can just accept the fact I'll never look that good in a bikini again in this lifetime...

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Vegetarians Tale, Part 2 - You Mean I Can’t Eat Jello Any More?

When my husband and I turned vegetarian in 1977, we had the sense to do it while living in Europe, so by the time we got back to the good old U.S. of A. in July of that year, we had a false sense of how easy it was going to be.


We had toyed with the idea of meatless living for a couple of years beforehand.  We were young and full of an idealistic passion for harmless and healthful living, but we discovered in very short order that there’s a lot more to ‘harmlessness’ than just not eating hamburgers.  What about our leather shoes and belts and purses?  No leather furniture or car seats for us!  What about the lard in the refried beans in that Mexican restaurant?  Is there chicken stock in that vegetable soup?  Imagine our dismay when we discovered what gelatin is made of!


On our first Thanksgiving back home, at my mother’s house, I nearly wept when it dawned on me that my meatlessness meant not only no turkey, but no dressing or gravy either.  


And in the olden days of the ‘70s and ‘80s, when vegetarianism was just beginning to spread, there weren’t nearly as many ready-made choices for meat substitutes.  No Boca Burgers, or Morning Star Farms bacon.  Instead, if you could find it, a company called Loma Linda offered canned patty or wiener-like things, or something that looked kind of like dog food.  It didn’t really taste like meat, but I must say, it was (and still is) quite tasty and versatile.  We made our own veggie burgers out of rice and flour, beans and mushed vegetables.  


We bought dozens of ethnic vegetarian cookbooks, some of which I still use to this day.  I remember a particularly delicious dish I often made called Yogi steak, the recipe for which I got from a Sikh cookbook.  It was kind of a ‘meatloaf’ made with 2 cups of soy flour, 2 cups of corn meal, 1/4 cup of paprika, 1/2 cup garlic powder, 3/4 cup of poppy seeds (don’t take a drug test for 48 hours after eating), a couple of teaspoons of cayenne, 1 1/2 cups of yellow mustard, a cup of tamari, 1/2 cup water, all mixed together, then mixed with 1/4 cup grated gingeroot, 2 cups of chopped scallions, 2 cups of chopped parsley, and 2 cups of diced celery.  Then you pat it into a pan and pour another 1/2 cup of oil over it and bake at 375 for 30-45 minutes.  


You cut it into slices like meatloaf and serve with lots of plain yogurt on the side, which believe me you will need, because this stuff will clear your sinuses, and clear a whole lot more, too, if you’re not careful.  If you like hot, this is to die for.


But I digress.  The point was, how far did we want to go with this?  Did we want to go all the way to vegan, or did we just want to be vegetarian?  Being vegetarian would mean we could include eggs and dairy in the diet.  Being vegan would eliminate anything that came from an animal, including honey.  Until the advent of digital cameras, vegans and some strict vegetarians even avoided taking photographs, because film was coated with a fish emulsion!  We decided to wade into it slowly with ovo-lacto vegetarianism, and see how it played out.  If in time we discovered we had the will and ability to go not just meatless, but completely without animal products of any kind, we would entertain that idea.


Next week - A Whole New Way of Eating 


Friday, September 18, 2009

Oatmeal Chocolate Pizza

Holly Clegg is at it again with her Trim & Terrific cookbooks. Check out this wonderful recipe for a dessert pizza:

Oatmeal Chocolate Pizza

A giant indulgent oatmeal cookie topped with chocolate chips and marshmallows. Haley, my daughter, and I couldn't quit eating this treat, making it a pizza fit for people of all ages.


Ingredients

1 cup light brown sugar
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup old-fashioned oatmeal
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg
1/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup flaked coconut
1 1/2 cups miniature marshmallows
1/2 cup chopped pecans, optional

Instructions

1. Preheat oven 350ºF. Coat 12-14-inch pizza pan with nonstick cooking spray.
2. In large bowl, combine brown sugar, flour, baking soda, oatmeal. Add butter, vanilla and egg; mix well.
3. Press onto prepared pan, keeping dough 1 inch from edge of pan.
4. Sprinkle with chocolate chips, coconut, marshmallows, pecans, if desired. Bake 10-12 minutes or until edges are set. Don't overbake.

Makes 12-16 slices

Food Facts
Calories 212
Calories from fat (%)
34 Fat (g) 8 Saturated Fat (g) 5
Cholesterol (mg) 28
Sodium (mg) 136
Carbohydrate (g) 33
Dietary Fiber (g) 1
Sugars (g) 19
Protein (g) 3
Diabetic Exchanges: 2 carbohydrates, 1 1/2 fat

TERRIFIC TIDBIT: Use about 1 cup assorted seasonal (Christmas, Valentine's Day, or Easter) M&M's instead of the chocolate chips for a festive holiday pizza.

For more Trim & Terrific recipes, plus recipes from Holly's other books, visit her at http://www.hollyclegg.com. Yummy stuff!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Finding Inspiration from Old Cookbooks

I think old cookbooks are fascinating to look at, but I have a confession – I don’t cook much! Most of the things I make are simple and straight-forward: baked chicken, turkey burgers-- mostly things that don’t require a cookbook. I hardly ever cook something that needs a recipe.

My fictional characters seem to do the same, mostly eating simpler meals or enjoying everyday favorites.

In my middle-grade mystery, Searching for a Starry Night, A Miniature Art Mystery, besides sleuthing, friends Sam and Lita seem to eat a lot, as kids often do. Their favorite? Ice cream. But given the book’s warm weather setting and the fact that this is their last few days off before heading back to school, ice cream seems like the perfect snack.

This cookbook, The Southern Heritage Celebrations Cookbook (1983), proved to be an inspiration instead for my "miniature" baking - making foods with polymer clay. Less baking time, no calories, no clean-up! haa! You can see some miniature foods I've made at my website miniatures gallery (click swaps.)

The cookbook cover features the Fourth of July Stars and Stripes Menu. Here’s one of the recipes:

Sour Cream Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 cup butter or margarine, softened
¾ cup firmly packed brown sugar
¾ cup sugar
2 eggs
½ cup commercial sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 ¼ cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 (6 oz.) package semi-sweet chocolate morsels
1 ½ cups coarsely chopped pecans

Cream butter; gradually add sugar, beating well. Add eggs, sour cream and vanilla, beating well. Combine flour, soda and salt; add to creamed mixture, blend well. Stir in chocolate morsels and pecans.

Drop dough by tablespoonfuls onto lightly greased baking sheet. Bake at 375 degrees for 10-12 minutes. Cool slightly on baking sheet; remove to wire racks, and let cool completely. Yield: about 2½ dozen.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Too Tart

Before my next book comes out, my publisher and I are wanting to rename my series. Currently, it is called The Coleman Series. This is in reference to the small town where all of the antics take place. We are going to try for something a bit more catchy.
My main character owns a bakery called Cutie Pies, where she creates delicious and unique pies in all flavors and sizes. We had considered using the name Cutie Pies Series, but had qualms about it being too "tarty".
When doing a search of "Cutie Pies", we found several reasons not to use the name. For one thing, there is a brand of pies that uses that name. The most interesting find was the link below, for Cutie Pies Roadhouse. If I dressed like these gals for book signing, I would either sell lots of books or scare lots of people! http://www.cutiepiesroadhouse.com/
P.S. Don't be too scared to open this link. It isn't pornographic or anything like that! Cutie Pies Roadhouse is a restaurant in Grapevine, Texas.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

All That and a Bag of Ships

I just finished re-reading MOBY DICK, and it was just SOOOO much stranger than I remembered! There were scenes of dreamy beauty, scenes of inner contemplation that would make a psychologist hope for a two-for-one sale on notebooks and pens, scenes of wacky humor, scenes of intense action and chapters of factual...er...facts. The title character didn't even show up until the last few chapters, but he did dominate the whole book.

MOBY DICK has the reputation of being the most boring book ever written, but I don't find it so. It's way too loony for that. Of course, I love all the kinds of writing in it, and I love the unique way Melville chose to write the book. It's as if Ishmael (the narrator) loses his narrator persona when he becomes a part of Ahab's crew. He still puts in some personal bits, but he's much more distanced, as if he's less real than the characters directly involved in the drama.

When the first whale is killed on the voyage, the second mate orders a steak to be cut for him from the tail, and he eats it, though he complains that it isn't tough enough. Guess what Moby Dick whacks his boat with. Go on--guess.

The White Whale also does his own share of chomping, and he doesn't seem to think anything he crushes in those gigantic jaws is particularly tough, either.

It strikes me as so very weird that there's a fast food seafood chain called Moby Dick. Like--Did the people who named it never read the book or what?

I'll tell you who DID read the book: The guy who started Starbucks Coffee. Mr. Starbuck was the first mate under Ahab, and one of four I was rooting for to make it through the voyage alive. (The other three were Ishmael, Pip and Queequeg.) The guy who started the coffee shop apparently liked him, too, because that's why he named his place Starbucks.

Which reminds me that Moby Dick was based on a real huge and aggressive white whale named...are you ready for this?...Mocha Dick. He was most often spotted around the island of Mocha, so the whalemen called him Mocha Dick.

Well, I think that's probably about enough random information for one post. Thanks for listening.

MA

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Vegetarian's Tale, Part I - Europe

Don and I spent thirty years of our lives without a bite of meat.  We decided to go veg on New Year's Day, 1977.  We were in France at the time, Nice or Paris, I don't remember off the top of my head, but it was one of the big fancy cities.  We had been inching toward vegetarianism for a couple of years.  I hadn't cooked meat at home for a long time, but we still ate it when we went out.  We had been in Europe for several months at the time, and though Don had wanted to take the final step much earlier, we found that traveling around in various countries where neither of us were fluent in the language made things difficult.

Besides, it was 1977, and it wasn't as easy to be a vegetarian back in them thar days, especially when you couldn't make yourself understood.  After January 1, we gave it the old college try, though.  We remained in Europe for another six months, subsisting on salads, eggs, bread, cheese, and yogurt.  Fortunately, all of above listed edibles were easier to find than they would have been in the states back then, and all were well made and delicious.  

We had an apartment in a little town in the south of France called Cagnes sur Mer.  It was no problem to find fresh veggies and artisan breads and cheeses at he local market.  We went shopping every day, just like the French did.  When we traveled, we discovered all sorts of regional meatless delights.  Nobody can make an omelet like the French.  And every morning, no matter where we were in France, we ate freshly baked croissants with butter and apricot jam with cafe au lait for breakfast at the local boulangerie.   Apricot reminds me of France to this day. It was in Cagnes sur Mer that I first saw Yoplait and Nutella (Smurfs and those enormous right angle building cranes, too, but that's another story.)

London was a snap.  First of all, it was full of Indian vegetarian restaurants.  We found one close to the B&B we liked to stay in, and ate there several times, setting our mouths on fire and sweating off two or three pounds per meal.  London was also graced with a chain of vegetarian whole food  cafeterias called Cranks.  I know you've heard tales of English cooking, Dear Readers, and that reputation paired with the usual idea of cafeteria food didn't bode well for the quality of Cranks.  But I'm here to tell you that it was spectacular.  I haven't been to London in a long time, so I don't know if Cranks is still in business, but if it is, and you find yourself in London, it's worth the trip no matter how carnivorous you are.  Of course, there's no place like England for breakfast.  We always stayed in B&Bs, and all we had to do was hold the bangers to end up with a giant veg meal that would hold us until tea time - fried eggs, fried tomatoes, baked beans (yes, I know, but at the time we hadn't thought about the pork in baked beans.  We had a lot to learn), cold toast as hard as a shingle, cornflakes, and orange marmalade.  If apricot is France, cornflakes and shingle-toast with orange marmalade is England.

The Germanic countries were a bit more difficult, at least in 1977.  My German was pretty good at the time, and I could ask about ingredients and read menus, but the Germans were rather meaty.  We had one memorable meal in Heidelberg that consisted of four kinds of sauerkraut and a side of boiled potatoes.   Italy was no problem if you didn't mind eating pasta marinara, bread and olive oil, and a big old salad for every meal, which I didn't.  In Greece, we lived on Greek salads, which weren't like the Greek salads you get over here.  For one thing, they didn't have lettuce.  A Greek Greek salad consists of cucumbers, tomatoes, olives, and feta cheese tossed in olive oil and herbs.  Big bowl of tzatziki on the side.  No matter where we were, for breakfast we ate hard boiled eggs, fresh bread, butter, and honey.  Lots of tapas in Spain, and oddly, a lot of Chinese food.

So our first foray into committed vegetarianism was exciting and satisfying. We were young and idealistic and full of grand ideas about compassionate and healthy eating.  The problems began when we finally came home in July of that year and discovered that it wasn't always going to be that easy.

Next week - You Mean I Can't Eat Jello Any More?

p.s. I just looked up Crank's and I discover that there is only one location left in England, in Devonshire.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Count me in!

I subscribe to the Bargain Babe's posts, and yesterday I got this offer in my inbox: Restaurant.com gift certificates ninety percent off! Naturally, I had to rush over to Restaurant.com and see for myself.

Frankly, I wasn't expecting much. I figured this was one of those too-good-to-be-true deals. I first searched within my zip code radius. There were two restaurants within my radius: Sagebrush Steakhouse and Fast Lane. Since Fast Lane is closer, I got two $25 gift cards for $10 each. I entered the promotion code NINETY, and my total dropped to $2. No shipping.

And now I wait. We've never eaten at Fast Lane, but I'm looking forward to checking it out. There was a menu at the Restaurant.com site, and it appears they serve some yummy stuff. There is a $35 minimum purchase and a 15% gratuity added on to the check; but our family of four can spend $35 easily. I got out the calculator and estimated our family would spend about $50 on the meal. Add the gratuity, and that would be $57.50 minus the $25 equals $32.50. Add the dollar paid for the gift certificate and the grand total would be $33.50. Not bad.

**happy dance** Loving me some bargains! **happy dance**

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

More with Graham Crackers

Last week, I told a little about the history of the graham cracker and offered a simple recipe that tastes absolutely decadent. Here's another graham cracker recipe that I cannot believe I did not think of sooner. It came to me last week when my daughter wanted s'mores, but I was out of Hershey Bars.

Shortcut S'mores
Spread graham cracker with a layer of Nutella chocolate/hazelnut spread. Next, spread a layer of marshmallow cream. Top with a graham cracker.

Hope this recipe makes you think of being in front of a campfire, telling ghost stories!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

ConText 2009 part 2

Auto-cannibalism again--I posted this elsewhere, but it seemed appropriate for our readership as well.

The Southern Indiana Writers Group, of which I am a member, sent representatives to ConText science fiction convention in Columbus, Ohio at the end of last month. ConText focuses mostly on the written word.

~~~

Saturday, the actual convention actually began for us, although there had been programming on Friday which we pretty well missed, what with one thing and another. See my blog for the full post on that.

The hotel had a dynamite breakfast buffet but guess what? We only got two tickets per day. Five people, two days, four tickets. Our friend Dave Creek, who had his own room, also had two tickets per day. One person, two days, four tickets. Since he's a stand-up guy, he gave us his extra tickets. Since SOME of us slept in, we had enough to cover us. I'm sure the literary world is happy to hear that.

Saturday, we participated in a panel called "Yeah, I'm A Geek, and Your Point Is?" There were lit geeks and tech geeks, computer geeks, history geeks-- The upshot seemed to be that anyone who is passionate about anything, so passionate that he/she wants to share that passion with everyone, whether everyone wants to share or not, is a geek. There are just some forms of geekiness that society accepts and applauds (mostly sports and celebrity obsessions) and some not so much. To raise a happy child into a happy adult, be open to his/her particular geekiness, and don't try to impose your own.

From noon to 2pm, we participated in a mass autograph session. Most of the attending authors were there, ready to sign their work. Not all of them, because there were panels, readings, workshops and gaming going on concurrently, not to mention lunch, and not all authors were there, and relatively few fans. At a small, friendly con like this one, where everyone mingles all weekend, there's really no pressure to hit the autograph session in order to get your favorite author's signature.

Two members went to the session on using fortune telling cards to brainstorm stories, something some of us have used for years. The session was informative, nevertheless, which is why it's a good idea to take advantage of presentations telling you about things you "already know"--a fresh take on a familiar subject can open doors and windows in your mind and make everything you already know new and invigorated. Later that night, we found a couple of free online tarot reading sites and had a character ask, "Why am I not as cool as the villain in my book?" One of us thought the answer was, "Because your author won't let you be," but the character's author thought the answer was, "Because you aren't." Or something. It was late.

Back to the conference: Some of us were on a panel called "Why Write About Freedom?" One panelist said it for all of us when he said, "Lest we forget." We write about freedom because freedom is a basic human drive, and we need to keep being reminded that it isn't free and it isn't easily held. The balance between liberty and security is one, the panel and audience agreed, that has to be constantly monitored both socially and in our individual lives. The panel had a wide range of participants, from a Libertarian to a Labor Union proponent. Lively.

Attended a panel called "Can You Love Your Characters?" Consensus was that you must love them--even the unlovable ones--or you'll write flat characters; you mustn't love them TOO much...or you'll write flat characters. The "wicked" ones have to have important virtues and the "good" ones have to have important flaws. A personal note: It seems to be easier as a writer to give villains endearing characteristics than it is to give "the good guy" serious flaws.

Back in the room, we were out of towels (five women, two nights, four towels), so one of our number went to the desk and requested more. She had no sooner returned than Housekeeping brought a stack of towels that seemed to say, "Take some showers. Please." The phone rang. The desk wanted to be sure the towels had arrived. We were like, "Are they having trouble with Housekeeping embezzling towels, or what?" "Yes, the towels arrived." "Was there anything you need?" "...Um, two blankets." "Certainly, right away. Will two be enough?" "...Yes, two will be enough." Then we were like, "Did they run out and buy more? Did somebody check out? Are these infected with chicken pox or diphtheria?" But we slept well and we slept warm. Turn off the light. Click

SUNDAY
We had back-to-back panels on "Writers Groups and Workshops" and "How To Publish Your Group's Anthology". Neither was well-attended, since check-out was at 11, but the people who were there REALLY wanted to know about the subjects. Writers Groups: If you can't find one, start one. Starting one is good, because you can make up the rules you want and tell any members you attract, "These are the rules." A critique group should work to make each member's work do what that member wants his/her work to do. If all the stories from that group sound alike, the group isn't working correctly. A workshop should know what it's purpose is, state its purpose to people who might want to attend, then do its best to deliver. The publishing panel brought out the importance of shopping around for publisher and publishing packages. It also underlined the frustration of trying to find the right price point for selling a self-published anthology: Price it too high, and no one will buy it; price it too low, and bookstores that require a 40%-50% commission for selling the books eat all the profits and bite into the production cost.

And so ended the conference. Lovely time. Looking forward to next year.

MA


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Monday, September 7, 2009

More Leftovers


I've been really remiss about a lot of things the last month or so, like posting every Monday at Fatal Foodies (BAD Dana!) and cooking. Luckily I had Malibu Shark Attack on SyFy and watching the prehistoric horned sharks chow down on two good looking ingenues reminded me I have a post up tomorrow. Thank you, SyFy! Your crappy movies really CAN be for good and not for evil!

As for the cooking, Dave has been working at a temp job where lunch is catered daily, so he brings home vast quantities of leftovers whenever he works there. This week he brought home a huge bag of roasted veggies (onions, red & green peppers and tomatoes), Indian style chicken (lightly spiced), pita bread, rice, bags of deli meats and a bunch of sliced muenster cheese. I've basically been writing like a fiend (mega deadline due Labor Day evening), so lunch has been a slice or two of roast beef or turkey with a slice of muenster cheese tossed in. Dinner tonight was the chicken, minced to little bits, cooked in yellow curry sauce (courtesy of Trader Joe's). Dave had the chicken with pita and some of the roasted veggies; I had the chicken over a piece of pita warmed up in a skillet with a wee bit of muenster cheese and fresh sliced tomatoes. Prep time: five minutes.

What we don't eat of the deli meat will go to the kitties. What a great way to save time and money!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Labor Day Traditions

Don and I were sitting around this morning reminiscing about our family Labor Day food traditions.  He and I have never really developed any in our 35 years of marriage, but when we were still at home, our respective families always made a feast of it.

My group met for a family gathering at my aunt's house, where my uncle grilled burgers in the back yard.  My mother brought the potato salad, and my aunt always made her particular brand of jello salad.  Her jello salad consisted of nothing but pecans and apples and just enough red jello to hold them together.  She had the most amazing apple dicing technique.  I swear that each 1/2 inch wedge of apple looked as though it had been machine measured.  The pecans were small halves of the native nuts that my grandmother gathered every year out in the woods near her home in Boynton.  We'd spoon out big bowlfuls of that jello and slather it with so much whipped cream (all right, it was Kool Whip) that you really couldn't see what was under it.

Don's family all gathered at his mother's for fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and corn on the cob.  He particularly remembers that they had Coca Cola, Royal Crown Cola, Pepsi Cola, and Seven-Up.  And you thought they were all the same! His aunt liked to bring her homemade chow-chow, which we determined was quite similar to my grandma's piccalilli.  This yellow concoction of corn and pickles and mustard and who knows what else is just delicious on any sort of sandwich, burger, or as a relish with meat.  Don, being a persnickety little boy, never touched it. He did get to set the table.  They finished up with hand-churned ice cream, one batch of vanilla, one of banana.  Don remembers that the homemade ice cream always had a touch of saltiness, since the a little bit of  the salt packed in with the ice on the outside of the bucket never failed to seep in. His older brother Gary did the churning, which Gary thought unjust, since he didn't like ice cream.  But he did it anyway, because after all, that was the Labor Day tradition. 

Friday, September 4, 2009

Steak Secrets Revealed!

Isn't that an exciting title? I started to title this post "You go, Grill!" in honor of the upcoming Labor Day, but I decided I liked the new one better.

Last week I was a guest on Daytime Tri-Cities, a local morning talk show. I was standing around with the other guests waiting for the show to start and struck up a conversation with a chef from Southeast Culinary & Hospitality College. Even though he was a pastry chef, he was able to answer my question of why restaurant steaks taste so much better than the steaks we make at home. I said, "When we put them on the grill, they get done on the outside before they're done on the inside. Either they're burned on the outside and done [we like our steaks medium well] in the middle, or else they're fine on the outside but too rare in the middle."

He smiled and gave me the solution used by restaurants. Put the steaks in a pan with a little olive oil. Sear the steaks on both sides, and then put them in the oven until they reach the desired doneness. Then you'll have a tender, juicy, yummy steak.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Good, Wholesome Fun

The graham cracker was originally marketed as a wholesome food. Its inventor felt that eating graham crackers would keep people from engaging in carnal thoughts and activities. Little did this guy know that his humble little cookie/cracker would become the base for pies and other decadent desserts. The following recipe is so good! I made it this weekend and have gotten up in the mornings craving a piece of it:

Chocolate Eclair Cake

-Line bottom of a 9X13 glass pan with graham crackers
-Prepare a small box of French vanilla pudding according to directions (Sometimes I substitute a little Half & Half for some of the milk)
-Spoon half of the pudding over the graham crackers
-Put a layer of graham crackers over the pudding
-Add one more layer of pudding
-Frost graham crackers with chocolate frosting and cover top of dessert

I like to add an extra layer of frosting to seal up all the gaps between graham crackers. Crushed graham crackers over top of the frosting look nice as a garnish.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

ConText 2009

There were too many of us to go up in one car, so we had ourselves a convoy. Well, we had two vehicles.

Five people. One bed. Oh, the sofa in the chocolate chip room opened into a bed. I call it a chocolate chip room because it was a semi-suite. ONE bedroom containing ONE bed and a lounge area containing a couch and a chair. The bathroom, however, was big enough to declare independence.

But this is all by the way.

Went to registration and got registration packets. All was well, except that one member's last name was spelled incorrectly in one place--her name badge. She corrected. We are nothing if not adept at edits. And--oh, yes--another member acquired an additional name. Member Marian Allen's husband will be interested to learn that she is now to be known as Rinaldo. Or, as she was called with increasing panache over the weekend, RrrrrrrinAHHHLdo!

We checked out the Hospitality Suite, apparently among the first to do so. There were snacks and, because we were perishing for some, the Con Staff in charge of the Hospitality Room made coffee. Other attendees drifted in on the scent, and soon we were spread out in the room, making new friends--fellow fans, fellow writers, agents, publishers of small presses, nice people all around.

We returned to the room to eat. Hotel food is usually expensive and we didn't want to leave the convention to forage, so we brought our own. Boy, did we bring our own! Bean dip salad, smoked spiced ham, foccaccia, French bread, three kinds of pickles, pimiento cheese, Benedictine spread (which spreads much better with a knife than it does with the edge of a paper bag, which we had to use in the car on the way up, the flatware being in the other vehicle), hummus, garlic butter.... Nom nom nom.

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