Sunday, January 31, 2010

Living in Two Worlds

We writers live in a strange world some times. Or rather two worlds.

Summer before last I was working on my book Winter of Secrets, which is set between Christmas and New Year. I was sitting out on the deck, in the sun, while birds chirped, the garden grew, and the hot sun sparkled on the pool. I had a question for my police contact who helps me with the books. I opened my e-mail and wrote, Happy New Year.

Today I am once again stuck between two worlds. In my new novel, at which I am working hard, it is August. A hot and humid summer on the shores of Lake Ontario. The scene is a small-scale vegetable farm. Late-season crops are being planted, the storage barn is awash in spinach, chard, onions, fresh herbs, carrots; the first of the tomatoes are being consumed, plucked from the vine, still warm from the sun. Chickens are roaming free seeking out their own food of hot, fresh worms and tender seeds. The farm workers are drenched in sweat, drinking iced tea and lemonade to cool down. In the house pies are being made from freshly gathered blackberries, blueberries and raspberries, and potatoes and carrots made into soup in preparation for the long winter nights ahead.

In my real world, when I lift up my head from my computer, it is -27 C outside, the snow buries the vegetable beds, the wind is howling across the fields and whipping up the snow so much I can't see the trees on the other side of the road. I have both the wood burning stove and the propane fireplace going. I got a bag of potatoes from the veggie farm last week: that’s about it for fresh, local produce for a long time still.

To help you remember what those lovely days of summer were like, I’ve attached a picture taken in my kitchen.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Original White House Cookbook

Chris‘s Thursday entry on “Food from the White House” brought to mind one of the best pieces of ammunition in my historical foodie arsenal, and that is my copy of The Original White House Cookbook, 1887 Facsimile Edition.  

Since I write a historical series that features a lot of food and eating, I’m constantly on the lookout for old and traditional American recipes, menus, methods of preparation, and this book has been an absolute godsend on all counts.  The first White House Cookbook was published in 1887, authored by Hugo Ziemann, Steward of the White House at the time, and one Mrs. R.L. Gillette, and dedicated to “the Wives of Our Presidents, Those Noble Women Who Have Graced the White House”.

This book is not only chock full of  individual recipes suitable for a family dinner, it also includes menus for State Dinners and buffets for 1000. And believe me, everything is made from absolute scratch, for there were no prepared and packaged ingredients to be had in 1887.  Foods and menus are also seasonal and regional, too.

Here’s a sample cake recipe:

WASHINGTON LOAF CAKE - Three cups of sugar, two scant cups of butter, one cup of sour milk, five eggs and one teaspoonful of soda, three tablespoonfuls of cinnamon, half a nutmeg grated, and two cups of raisins, one of currants and four cups of sifted flour.

Mix as usual and stir the fruit in at the last, dredged in flour.  Line the cake-pans with paper well buttered.  This cake will take longer to bake than plain; the heat of the oven must be kept at an even temperature.

(as for what that oven temperature is, your guess is as good as mine - D.)

Not only do we have over 500 pages of Nineteenth Century recipes, Dear Reader, we also have pages and pages of health tips, such as  how to remove warts, treat sunstroke, and make a liniment for chilblains, as well as a section of “Facts Worth Knowing”.  

FYI, here’s a Fact Worth Knowing : A heavy chalk mark laid a finger’s distance from your sugar box and all around will surely prevent ants from troubling.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Trying new things

This past weekend, I tried several "new" things: a new food product, a new music artist and a new author. The new food product was Starkist's sandwich-ready albacore tuna salad. I was hesitant; but since I usually have lunch on the run, I decided to give it a shot. It's mild and flavorful, doesn't require refrigeration, and you simply open the pouch and spread it onto your bread.

The new music artist was introduced to me by my hairstylist, Kelly Gilbert. The artist is Eva Cassidy. Check it out. She has a beautiful voice. Tragically, she died of melanoma in 1996.

The new (to me) author is Julia Quinn. I had the pleasure of meeting Julia and sitting beside her at the Women's Expo in Kingsport, Tennessee last year. We had a terrific time. That's when I bought the book, and I just got around to reading it! (I know, I know--that's terrible!) It was a delightful book, and I'm sorry I took so long to take it off the shelf.

So, try something new this weekend! You might be glad you did.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Food from the White House

Having just come back from touring the Miniature White House at Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry, I thought, now to tie this to food.

If you haven't seen this, it is a must see! (It'll be at the museum until Feb. 15.) While the real White House has 132 rooms, the miniature version at 60x13 feet obviously can't include them all. So it includes the "main" rooms such as the Lincoln Bedroom, oval office, President and First Lady's offices, front hall, theater, etc. and some historic rooms like FDR's War Room.

(Check out the Chicago Tribune photo gallery of 36 photos of the house.)

Funny, but it didn't dawn on me until later to check if there was any food in the rooms. Well, I did see a jar of jelly beans in the Ronald Reagan-era oval office. The darling Caroline Kennedy nursery (photo 22 in above gallery) contains a cute teeny tea set, some cake and other desserts.

If I had to pick a favorite room, or at least one of the most impressive, it was the Kennedy State Dinner room (photo number 23 in the gallery.) Check out the row upon row of place settings!

I'm disappointed they didn't allow photos, so check out the gallery. As for food, the White House Chef offers a couple of great sounding recipes, Broccoli Chowder and Sweet Potato Pie, at the White House blog.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Cutie Pies Sweet Read Valentine Book Tour

Next week, I will embark on my Cutie Pies Sweet Read Valentine Book Tour. I have been focussing on bakeries, since my main character has a pie shop. My first stop will be at the cutest little place called Babycakes Cupcakery in Abingdon, VA.

Babycakes is tucked inside an old home that also houses a bookstore and coffee shop. The inside of the cupcakery is decorated in a whimisical style that can put a smile on your face the moment you walk in.
The owner of Babycakes is Natalie Shortridge, a mother of three with a passion for sweets. When I dropped by last week to take fliers for my book signing, it was about an hour before the time that Babycakes was officially to open its doors. I know the cupcakes are fresh because I could smell them baking as I walked in the door.
After I ran my errands for the day, I went back to Babycakes so that I could take a box of cupcakes home. It was hard to choose from the variety that was beautifully displayed on tiered cupcakes stands. I wound up with a red velvet, strawberry, s'more, coconut, chocolate gnache and peanut butter cup.
Natalie placed the cupcakes in a pretty pink box, which I opened as soon as I got in my car. The red velvet was gone before I even got out of the parking lot!
If you are reading this and live in my area, I hope to see you at Babycakes on Thursday, February 4 from 10am-1pm. You can take home a sweet read and a box of cupcakes!
While we're talking cupcakes, here is a site with all kinds of fun cupcake themed merchandise:

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Corn Bread Salad

Is that all you ladies got? You THROUGH with corn bread? I thought this was a SLAP-DOWN!

This is one I got from a friend, and it's the only thing made with Miracle Whip that I'll eat on purpose.

  • Jiffy cornbread or home-made sweet cornbread, cooled and crumbled
  • onion, chopped
  • celery, chopped
  • tomato, chopped
  • sweet pickle, chopped
  • Miracle Whip and pickle juice, enough to moisten salad
Mix and hide, or other people will eat it.

Just had a really nasty idea for a murder involving cornbread, but I can't post it because it's really easy and really ugly and I have a responsibility to the public to keep such ideas to myself. Lucky for my enemies that I'm so saintly. Bwa-ha-ha-ha-haaaaaa!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

"And Then She Ate A Peach"

Remember, you are what you eat.  Here’s what I am today:

2 pieces of raisin toast, 2 cups of coffee;a sample of sunflower butter on toast from Trader Joes; 1/2 ambrosia apple; 1 cup of vanilla rooibos tea.  1 container apricot mango yogurt; 1 eggplant rolletini frozen entree; 1/2 chocolate chip cookie.  8 mini-pretzels.

Does that tell you anything about me?

Sylvester Stallone once said that he ate lots of protein before filming Rocky, because lots of protein builds your muscles and slows your thinking, and lots of carbs before Assassins* because carbs give you a shot of energy and help you think fast.  When you saw Rocky Balboa slug down a glassful of raw eggs, did that tell you anything about his character?

Just as a character’s surroundings, clothing, dialect and vocabulary, or choice of friends and activities show you a lot about what kind of a person she is without the author having to tell you, I’ve been noticing that what the character eats and how, and his attitude toward food, can do the same.

I mentioned this to my husband, and he told me that a particular passage in Hemingway’s  The Sun Also Rises has stuck with him for years since it set such a scene for him.  He read about a group of men traveling through Spain together who take time out to eat lunch, and, forty years later he still remembers the menu : They drank red wine out of a goatskin bag and ate tuna, boiled eggs, and lettuce with a little vinegar on it.  Can you see it?  The camaraderie, the Spanish countryside, the young men roughing it with a makeshift meal.

To test this theory, I closed my eyes and pulled three random mysteries off my shelf and leafed through to see if I could find a place where the author used food to set a scene or gave us insight into a character.  

1. Bailey Ruth may be a ghost, but that doesn’t mean she’s not interested in food.  This is a scene from Merry Merry Ghost, by Carolyn Hart :  “On a sideboard stretched an array of tantalizing holiday treats: cheese, fruity, crackers, brownies, and what might be the remnants of a birthday cake.

I was ravenously hungry.  Being on the earth, even when not visible, I needed food and sleep.  I found that interesting.  I zoomed to the sideboard, eyeing the Brie.

2. Does Ellie Foreman feel comfortable with her wealthy and privileged lunch companions?  What do you think?  From An Image of Death,  by Libby Fischer Hellmann: “...I shoveled salad into my mouth feeling just a bit overwhelmed. 

The waiters cleared our plates, then brought out brandy snifters filled with sorbet.  As I smiled up my thanks, I caught the waiter staring at my chest.  I looked down.  A dark, oily stain was spreading across my blouse ...I propped an elbow o the table, in an effort to hide the offending spot.  Resting my chin on my hand, I tried to appear thoughtful.

3. I think we know just what Jessie’s ex-cop dad and dad’s old partner were like, now.  Taken from Liar’s Anonymous, by Louise Ure : “After five eight-hour shifts a week, they fished Pena Blanca Lake together for stipers, smallies, and wahoo, and practiced their fire-extinguishing skills every weekend barbecuing ribs and beer-soaked chicken in the backyard.

I was three for three.

*actually, I believe it was Paradise Alley, but I think his character was smarter in Assassins.

Friday, January 22, 2010

How do YOU do it?

My question to all you Fatal Foodies today is how do you do it? I'm talking about getting yourself back on track after holidays or stress or whatever else jolts you out of your regular routine.

I have to write everything down. In fact, I became so intent on this that last weekend I wrote myself to-do lists for every day except Sunday for the next three weeks.

My lists include exercise, work goals for the day and a food diary (because I needed to rein in my calorie consumption). I've even scheduled in daily "boosts" to reward myself for meeting the day's goals. On Monday, I bought myself a small pot of purple crocuses. They brighten up the table and remind me that Spring is not all that far off.

So, tell me, how do you get yourself back on track, relieve stress or reward yourself for a job well done?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Food and Fiction- Food for Thought

Surfing around for inspiration, I found a food meme at Kate's Book Blog I thought provided, well, food for thought. :>) (Kate, thanks for the inspiration!)

I decided to see what answers I could find in some of the books I have at hand or recently finished reading.

1. Food from fiction that you'd like to sample:

Chocolate Pie with Pecan Crust from "Dark Tort" by Diane Mott Davidson. Her Goldy Schulz caterer mysteries never fail to get you hungry. I've only a read a few and have a few on my shelf to read, but I enjoy how good she makes all these delicacies sound, many that I've never tried.

And the pie? Well, I love chocolate and pecan. But in this story, the delicacy was a painting, not a real dessert. Too bad.

2. A fictional meal you would like to have attended:

Sitting at the Mad Hatter's table in "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" by Lewis Carroll.

I can't wait to see the movie with, of course, Johnny Depp. The effects, scenes, costumes and colors are fantastic and certainly will inspire many a miniature scene. I know I'm seriously thinking about recreating that table scene in miniature. (* See the movie trailer.)

3. A memorable work of fiction set in a restaurant or a café:

Funny that the only thing that comes to mind is the song, "Alice's Restaurant" by Arlo Guthrie. My brain must be stuck.

4. Food you've tried that didn't live up to the expectations raised by a fictional account:

I don't know about you, but I'm not about to try something too different that I've never tried before. Call me chicken. (Alfredo sounds good. See recipe, Chicken Alfredo with Noodles)

5. Food from fiction that you couldn't help but want to try even though you knew you would hate it:
I won't try it if I already hate it. Would you??

6. An unappetizing food description from fiction:

7. A recipe you've tried or a meal you've recreated from fiction:
Haven't tried it yet but Joanne Fluke has a Candy Cane Cookie recipe in "Candy Cane Murder" that sounds pretty yummy.

8. Food you associate with reading:

Hot chocolate. Nothing sounds more comforting than curling up with an afghan (a Snuggie maybe?), a good book, and a cup of hot chocolate.

9. Your favourite food-focused book/writer:

I enjoy Diane Mott Davidson's books, but I get a kick out of seeing what other mystery authors make their characters eat. That sounds like a good idea I'll tackle in another column.

** Feel free to share your answers.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

In a Jiffy

I've got a few good recipes for cornbread that use Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix as the base. I like to make my own cornbread, but when time is short Jiffy plus some clever add-ins never lets me down.

Just follow the recipe on the box, but add in extra ingredients. If you have never tried Jiffy Mix it is a sweet yellow cornbread that is dirt cheap to buy.

Seasoned Cornbread
Add 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of poultry seasoning

Pimento Cheese Cornbread
Add a small jar of drained pimentos and cup of cheddar cheese

Green Chile Cornbread
Add a small can of drained green chiles

Sundried Tomato Cornbread
Add 1/4 cup of chopped sundried tomatoes
and 1/2 teaspoon of chili powder

Here is the Jiffy site:

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Soft Fluffy Cornbread

This is a peculiar sort of cornbread, I suppose, but MAN is it good! It's called spoonbread because you can't cut it, you have to spoon it. It's a sort of souffle, and even people who don't like cornbread tend to like it.

I got this recipe out of my old Betty Crocker's Cookbook.

Fluffy Spoon Bread
  • 1 1/2 cups boiling water
  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 1 Tbs butter or margarine, softened
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp soda

Heat oven to 375F. Grease 2-quart casserole. In large bowl, stir boiling water into cornmeal; to prevent lumping, continue stirring until mixture is cool. Blend in butter and egg yolks. Stir in buttermilk, salt, sugar, baking powder and soda.

Beat egg whites just until soft peaks form; fold into batter. Pour into casserole. Bake 45 to 50 minutes. Serve hot with butter.


YEAH, serve hot with butter! This stuff is heaven!


Sunday, January 17, 2010

Cornbread and Food Images

When I was young my mother used to make baked beans and what she called Johnny Cake, i.e. cornbread. I have no idea if Johnny Cake is a regional expression – my mom is from Winnipeg – or perhaps just an old fashioned one. I am sure someone out there in the ether can tell me.

This is NOT her recipe, handed down from mother to daughter for generations out of mind. It is one that I found in a magazine last month when I needed to make cornbread to go with the baked beans I was serving on Boxing Day.

½ c all-purpose flour
½ c fine yellow cornmeal
1 ½ tsp sugar
1 tsp baking power
1 tsp salt
½ cup whole milk, room temperature
1 large egg, room temp.

Preheat oven to 425. Butter a 9 * 5 inch loaf pan.
Whisk together flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl.
Whisk milk and egg in a small bowl
Pour into flour mixture and stir until just combined. Do not over-mix, the batter should be lumpy
Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake until top is golden brown, about 20 to 25 minutes.

Chris has asked us what food-related book titles we like. I was thinking along the same lines: at the end of the year we could have fun with a “Best of” list of books we’ve read that make the best use of food. Food can do so much in a novel: it sets the scene, creates a mood, adds description, gives clues to the class and time of the characters. How a person approaches food can tell you a lot about their character, their values, their attitude to life. All types of mystery books, from cozy to noir and everything in between, use food images very effectively.

Or not.

I am currently reading – for educational purposes only – The Lost Symbol. About half way in and so far not a drop of food or drink has passed the lips of any of the characters. What does this tell me?

These are really boring people.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Let's Eat

For all of the authors on this blog, food, eating, and cooking figure prominently in our writings.  We are on to something.

Food is the universal bonding element for human beings.  In fact, cooking and eating and together may be how we became human beings in the first place.  A new book entitled Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human, by Harvard professor Richard Wrangham, posits that the invention of cooking is what led to the rise of humanity.  Wrangham writes that “the adoption of cooking had profound impact on human families and relationships, making hearth and home central to humanity and driving humans into ... traditional male-female household roles.”

Whether this is true or not, I do know that bonding over food is something all of us understand. For all the people on earth, eating is a communal experience.  We learn cooperation, sharing, and love over the cook fire.  Families eat together, and communities come together to feast.  In ancient times, breaking bread together created a sacred bond between individuals.  Eating is sensual - the description of a meal, its appearance, presentation, the aromas; the feel and texture of food in your mouth, your hand; the atmosphere of the kitchen, the diner, the campfire, the restaurant.  The reader understands all of this on a visceral level.  She shares what the character is experiencing.  The author has bonded with the reader over a meal.

Here’s a scene from my second book, Hornswoggled:

“Girl, you’re a block of ice!” Josie exclaimed.  “Get in here and eat something this minute.”  She practically carried Alafair into her big, warm kitchen...

“You’re not going anywhere ‘til you try this cobbler,” Josie informed her.  “I opened a quart of the peaches I canned last June.  It’s still hot.”  She was ladling sweet, runny peaches and crispy-gooey crust into a bowl as she spoke.

“Josie,” Alafair attempted to protest, with a laugh.

“I’ll put some cream on it,” Josie interrupted her, snatching a pitcher off the windowsill.  “Put some meat on you so the cold won’t bother you so much.”

Alafair was so enthralled with the cobbler that for a moment the conversation didn’t register.  The heady aroma of peaches dripping with sweet heavy cream had just about knocked every sensible thought out of her.  “There’s cinnamon in this crust,” she observed dreamily...

Y’all sit down, now.  Eat.

Friday, January 15, 2010

A writer's rant

This post is about writing, rather than food; although the two often go hand in hand with me. When I have a success, I want to eat to celebrate. When I suffer a failure, I want to eat to console myself.
Is it writers, women in general or just me who feels the need to please everyone? I'm not talking about the usual people: family, employer, neighbors, postal workers, store clerks, the doctor I see once a year.... Last visit he said I should lose a few pounds. He'll be so disappointed if I don't.

Really? Do I honestly believe the man will go home and be sighing over his plate of grilled chicken until his wife asks, "What's wrong, dear?" so he can reply, "Gayle Trent...she didn't lose weight like I asked her to."

Alternatively, I don't think he'll go cartwheeling down the hall in unrestrained joy if I show up for my next visit a few pounds lighter. Sure, I'll probably get a high five, but I don't think I'll be nominated for patient of the year.

Mainly, though, I'm talking about reviewers. Someone posted a review which turned up in my Google alerts which said Murder Takes the Cake was obviously written by a man using a pseudonym who knows nothing about baking. I pretty much laughed it off, given the fact that there have been more good reviews of the book than bad. But, still, somewhere deep inside I was wondering what would it have taken to make that reviewer like my book?

Once again, I "pretty much" laughed it off, although I did mention it to my editor after she'd sent me a glowing review from a top Amazon reviewer. I said, "Thanks I needed that especially after...." She wrote back that I should listen to the Amazon reviewer--her review has more clout. And that's what I needed to hear.

It's another reason I'm thankful for this group. We can applaud each other's successes and say that anyone who doesn't like our work is just plain mean. :-)

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Food and Mysteries - Books that Sound Good Enough to Eat

Ever notice that when you're hungry, almost everything sounds good enough to eat?

That's why, as we all know, you don't go shopping when your stomach is growling. But no one warned you not to read when you're hungry.

Food has always played a role in books, but more and more books, it seems, are relying on food and funny puns to make the contents sound even more appetizing. I get a kick out of the puns some of the books come up with, but I can't help feeling a bit hungry, too. Gee, I wonder why?

I mean, who wouldn't mind starting out the day with Eggs Benedict (Arnold) (ha!) or a cup of Holiday Grind?

** Eggs Benedict Arnold, Laura Childs, Berkley Prime Crime, Dec. 2009;

** Holiday Grind - Coffeehouse Mystery, Cleo Coyle, Berkley Hardcover, Nov. 2009.

Got a sweet tooth? Well you know the old saying, I Scream, You Scream.... or how about a Bakers (Fatal) Dozen?

** I Scream You Scream, A Mystery a la Mode, Wendy Lyn Watson, Signet, Oct. 2009

** Baker's Fatal Dozen, Lisa Harris, Barbour Publishing, Aug. 2008

Oh, and food mysteries have had their influence on politics, too, it seems. After all, what else would the president have in the morning but "Eggsecutive Orders." (sorry, I couldn't resist!)

* Eggsecutive Orders, Julie Hyzy, Berkley, Jan. 5, 2010

** What are some of your favorite food-related mystery titles?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Tastes Like a Million!

Let's hope these are million dollar muffins.

My high school classmate, Cynthia Bowser, is a finalist in the Pillsbury Bake-Off for the second year in a row. I am not even going to tell you how jealous I am!

I tried her muffin recipe yesterday afternoon. They were a perfect treat for that three o'clock afternoon crash I have everyday. My little girl had one with her cocoa. We both loved them! The muffins remind me of jelly donuts. This morning I heated one up in the microwave and it tasted just as fresh as the hot muffin I ate yesterday.

Here is the link to her recipe. Be sure to rate it. Soon Cynthia will travel to the Bake-Off where she will make her recipe for a panel of judges. If Cynthia wins, she gets a million dollars. Good luck girl!

Note: I used strawberry jam, because that's what was in the fridge.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Eat or Die

A friend of mine kept telling me about Wen Spencer's Ukiah Oregon books--yes, that's correct, no comma between the town and the state, because Ukiah, Oregon is where he was found and Ukiah Oregon is the name he was given. Don't worry about that.

This is near-future science fiction. In fact, it was so near-future when it was written that it's now set in the near past. Don't worry about that, either.

She kept telling me about this series, and I kept going, "Oh, how interesting. Would you like some more coffee?" So she GAVE me the whole series for Christmas, and now I'm totally hooked.

To say that Ukiah Oregon is half-alien is do Spencer's imagination poor justice. That is SO just the beginning! He's nearly indestructable, but the same thing that makes him nearly unkillable also makes him very vulnerable. I'm hampered here by the same thing that hampered my friend: I don't want to tell you all the cool stuff, because it's so cool to find it out for yourself by reading. That, and you'd think I was nuts. I'm talking major imagination here, folks.

At the same time, the characters are very real; larger-than-life in the same way that real people are in our minds. The misunderstandings and miscommunications these folks have are the kinds real people have, and are suffered or overcome in the same ways that really happen. No fake stuff for the sake of pushing the plot here.

As for the title of this post.... What would you expect someone who is nearly indestructible would need to do to recover from being mostly dead? Sleep and what?


Saturday, January 9, 2010

No Flour Cornbread

Before I get down to business, I'll mention that I was interested to see Lisa’s entry below on fellow Oklahoman Ree Drummond, the Pioneer Woman  I happen to be sitting here with a copy of her cookbook in my hand. Last month, I was talking to Gayle Shanks, owner of Tempe's fabulous local independent bookstore, Changing Hands, who told me that when Ree’s publisher called to arrange a signing at the store, she almost demurred because she didn’t know about Pioneer Woman.  She’s glad she didn’t, because the publisher sent her 400 copies of the cookbook, and they all sold out in a week, before Ree even got there.  The  publisher sent another 400, which arrived the day before Ree’s event.  They’re sold out again. Ree’s website,, gets about 13 million page views a month.  You heard right.

Here’s my contribution to the cornbread challenge.  This is a really basic, old time recipe that consists of not much more than cornmeal. A farm wife could raise most of the ingredients herself and not have to buy anything but the soda and probably the salt.  The resulting bread is very dense.

2 1/2 cups yellow cornmeal                   

1/2 tsp soda,

1 tsp salt

3 tbsp bacon grease

2 beaten eggs

2 cups buttermilk

Mix the dry ingredients together.  Add the egg and oil to the buttermilk, stir in the dry ingredients, and beat until the batter is smooth.  Pour into a greased, 9X9 pan and bake at 400 for 35 minutes.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Special Guest - J. B. Stanley

I'd like to welcome to the Fatal Foodie kitchen, Jennifer "J. B." Stanley, author of three mystery series. She's here to introduce us to her latest, Stirring Up Strife, the first book in the Hope Street Church Mystery Series.

Don't forget to add a comment to this post to enter to win a copy of Stirring Up Strife!


When I joined my first Bible Study two years ago I expected to read a lot of Scripture and do a great deal of soul-searching. I had no idea I would also encounter the most amazing baked goods on heaven or earth!

No one can bake like a church lady. Sorry, but Emeril and Rachael Ray have nothin’ on a bunch of women who’ve been baking cookies, breads, coffee cakes, sausage spirals, casseroles, and pastries since I was in diapers.

That’s why baked goods feature so prominently in Stirring Up Strife, the first of the Hope Street Church Mysteries. The main character, Cooper Lee, lives with her parents. Her mother, Magnolia Lee, bakes gourmet cookies for a living so I spent weeks baking and testing recipes. (No worries - I only gained five pounds)! The three best are featured at the end of the book.

In fact, each of the Hope Street Books will contain three recipes, but I plan to post more on my website throughout the year. (See for recipes from the Hope Street Books and the Supper Club mysteries).

Publisher’s Weekly can do a better job telling you about Stirring Up Strife, so I’ll leave it to them:

“The lighthearted first Hope Street Church mystery introduces 32-year-old Cooper Lee as she grapples with the end of a five-year romance. Despite the best efforts of her loving sister and grandmother, the Richmond, Va., office machine technician can't muster the enthusiasm to move on. When a client, Brooke Hughes, invites Cooper to attend a service at her church, Cooper decides it's a good opportunity to mingle with a new crowd. On her first visit to the imposing church, Cooper is welcomed into the Sunday morning Sunrise Bible Study group and learns that Brooke has been murdered and the police are holding her husband as the prime suspect. The Sunrise members believe him innocent and sweep up Cooper in pursuit of the real killer. Stanley's faith-based crime detection has plenty of charming appeal.”

Now I’d love to ask you a question: What is your absolute favorite baked good? Anyone who posts a comment will be entered to win a signed copy of Stirring Up Strife!

Good luck and thank you for letting me stop by today! Here’s a cookie recipe to cure the winter blues:

Magnolia’s Marvels: Comfort Cookies
1 ½ cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 cup (2 sticks) softened unsalted butter
2/3 cup sugar
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 eggs
1 cup golden raisins
1 cup sweet & tart dried cherries (Maggie uses Sunsweet)
3 cups oatmeal, quick cook or old fashioned

Preheat over to 350 degrees. In medium bowl, mix flour, salt, baking soda, and cinnamon. Set aside. In large bowl, cream sugars, butter, eggs, and vanilla. Gently stir in flour mixture and then stir in dried fruit. When well mixed, stir in oatmeal.

Drop by the tablespoon onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 for approximately 10 minutes. Cool 2 minutes on sheet before placing on racks.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Eating and Reading: Food, Cheesecake and Mysteries

Hello all and glad to be back!

In my absence, I've been busy finishing up a cozy mystery that is food-related, it being set in a small historic diner.

What's funny is that while I enjoy reading mysteries with food and recipes, I'm not much of a cook. Oh, I can make some things and I'm not a bad cook overall with the basics, but one of my characters is a great cook and loves to bake. I don't bake unless it comes in a package. I've never baked anything from scratch. Ever.

But you can't help where your creative muse goes, can you? And being a writer, being a baker is not a prerequisite. I'm relying on my crack baking team - my sister and nephew - to make up an original cheesecake recipe for the book. I'll add some other basic recipes like my famous Pizza Meatloaf. (Yes it's like it sounds. Yummy!) I'm now seeking an agent and publisher. I'll let you know of my progress.

Oh, and since I'm talking about cheesecake, here are some cheesecake recipes and a basic cheesecake how-to which I know I'll be reading! haaa!

By Christine Verstraete

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Pioneer Woman

I am making a prediction that we will be seeing lots more of this lady. Her name is Ree Drummond. She has a blog called The Pioneer Woman and a cookbook titled The Pioneer Woman Cooks.
I first became aware of Ree when Southern Living recently did a piece on her. It was not long before I was flipping channels and saw her again selling cookbooks on QVC.
You have got to look at her blog! It has beautiful photos, interesting stories about her life on an Oklahoma ranch, and hearty recipes.
Ree is a former city girl, married to a rancher. She has four children that they homeschool, because the commute to the closest school is so far. Ree tells about their life with humor and creativity. She bucks sterotypes of the rural housewife by being stylish and cool. Ree's blog has a huge following, and I think she may just be the next big thing in the cooking world. I am betting she gets her own Food Network show someday!

Charlie's Cornbread

I'm taking up the Dueling Cornbread challenge.

I do love sweet cornbread--with enough flour and sugar for it to qualify as cake. If I find some in a restaurant, I'll get it for dessert. Warm and buttered, it's better than a brownie, and this is from a chocoholic!

We don't think sweet cornbread goes very well with, say, chili or kielbasa and kraut, though. So here is Charlie's favorite cornbread. He taught me the recipe when we got married.

  • 1 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 1 scant Tbs baking powder
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup BUTTERMILK (or milk with 1/4 tsp white vinegar stirred in)
  • about 1/4 tsp salt
Mix well. Melt butter in skillet. Drop by large spoonfuls into hot pan. When the top is dry and the bubbles have popped and the edges are brown, flip and brown on the bottom.

You can also pour it all into the pan at once and cover the pan. Lower the heat and watch for the signs it's ready to turn. Slide it out onto a plate and flop it back into the pan. Don't cover. Turn off the heat and let the hot pan finish the cooking.


Monday, January 4, 2010

Happy New Year

A very short post, but I wanted to wish my fellow Fatal Foodies and our readers a prosperous, happy, and stress-free 2010. I am starting the year with a great deal of sadness (my father passed away two days after Christmas) and paradoxically, much optimism for the new year.

On a food related note, we are taking our cat Foster (pictured below) into the vet's this morning as he is off his feed due to a bad tooth. Given that eating is (obviously) one of his greatest pleasures, this must be fixed post haste.

Love to all!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

A Traditional Canadian Christmas

I am absolutely delighted to have been invited to join the gang at Fatal Foodies. I love to eat (see official photo) and I am quite a good cook, if I say so myself.

I own a small 100-year-old house in the country in Prince Edward County, Ontario. I am surrounded by farms. A field (beans this year, wheat last) is on the other side of my driveway; I can see my neighbour’s two horses out the kitchen window, and when I sit outside on long summer nights I can sometimes hear cows lowing.

I have only lived here 18 months, and this summer past I put in the start of a vegetable garden. Not much, just lettuce and tomatoes, but I plan to expand the garden every year. The County (as we call Prince Edward County) is famous for farms and wineries, so in the summer and fall I can buy almost anything in the way of produce, eggs, cheese either by walking to a nearby farmer’s gate stand or driving a short distance.

The picture is of a flock of wild turkeys crossing the field beside my property.

I think I am the only Canadian on the blog, so I thought that just coming off the holidays, I would give you an idea of what we ate over Christmas. Probably pretty close to a traditional Canadian Christmas, if there is such a thing in this most multi-cultural of countries.

Christmas Eve. I made a very traditional Quebec pork pie called a Tortière, which I served with a big green salad tossed with cranberries and pine nuts in a dressing flavoured with maple syrup. For dessert we had butterscotch pie.

Christmas Morning. My brother and one daughter made pancakes, scrambled eggs, bacon and sausages. The pancakes were slathered with maple syrup from the farm about 10 kilometres from my house.

Christmas dinner. I made two types of Crostini as the starter then we had a fresh, free-range turkey with The World’s Best Stuffing (TM), mashed potatoes, squash and sweet potato casserole (flavoured with nutmeg and maple syrup), green beans, and gravy. Dessert was left-over butterscotch pie, and apple pie with ice cream.

Boxing Day. (The day after Christmas is a holiday here). My daughter’s friends came to visit. Between rounds of cards and board games, I served a green salad and homemade cornbread to go with baked beans. The beans were special for me as I made them with navy beans I had harvested myself. The neighbouring farmer told me to help myself to all the beans I wanted. And so I did. I picked bowls and bowls of beans, shelled them all, and packed them into glass jars.

Total effort expended on harvesting and storing two cups of beans used for Boxing Day Dinner – about an hour.

Cost of two cups of beans if purchased at the store – probably about a buck fifty.

Satisfaction from knowing exactly where my food came from – incalculable.

Saturday, January 2, 2010


I hope everyone enjoyed New Year's Day.  In a previous incarnation I owned a small Scottish import gift shop for over a decade.  In Scotland, the New Year celebration, or Hogmanay, is a bigger deal than Christmas.

In preparation for the big event, people spend several days beforehand redding the household, which involves cleaning the place from top to bottom. When the bells ring  bells ring in the year at midnight, one greets the year on his feet, for good health, with a coin in his pocket, for wealth, and a glass of whiskey in his hand, for good times.  After the bells have rung, the first person to cross your threshold will set your luck for the year.  This is called first footing, and for good luck, you want to make sure that the first foot across your threshold belongs to a black-haired man, and not a blond, or ,heaven forfend, a red haired woman!  The first footer will bring a present of coal for the hearth, a black bun* or shortbread, and of course a drink of whiskey, and the householder will always have food for her guests. 

In the morning comes the saining, or blessing of the house. A burning juniper branch is carried around  so that its smoke can purify the house and all its inhabitants.  Boughs of rowan are placed over the lintel for luck, and a sprig of holly to keep out the faeries. 

A lot of drink is involved,  and a lot of good cheer, and of course a toast to auld lang syne.

So here’s a hand my trusty fiere

And gie’s a hand o thine

And we’ll take a right guid willie waught*,

for auld lang syne.


A black bun is a pastry filled with raisins and currants, almonds and citrus peel, flour sugar allspice, ginger cinnamon, black pepper, baking powder, egg, brandy or whiskey, and milk.  It looks like a tall pie, and is aged for several weeks, like a fruitcake

A willie waught is a good slug  of spirits, always a good way to start the new year


A thousand welcomes to my friend Vicki Delany, our newest Fatal Foodie, whose first post is tomorrow.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year!

I just wanted to take a moment to wish everyone a happy New Year and to introduce you to our newest blogger, Vicki Delany.

Vicki Delany’s newest novel, Winter of Secrets, received a starred review from Publishers Weekly, which said, “she uses…artistry as sturdy and restrained as a Shaker chair.” Vicki writes everything from standalone novels of suspense (Burden of Memory) to the Constable Molly Smith series, a traditional village/police procedural series set in the B.C. Interior (Winter of Secrets), to a light-hearted historical series (Gold Digger) set in the raucous heyday of the Klondike Gold Rush. Vicki owns a small (very small) country property amid the lush farms of Prince Edward County, Ontario. She tries, sometimes, to grow her own food and to eat a ten mile diet, which is easy in the County. In summer and fall. ( Vicki's post day is Sunday.

I also want to welcome back Christine Verstraete ( Christine has been away while trying to meet a deadline. Her post day is Thursday.

I have some exciting news to share as well. Due to a campaign by the publisher of Murder Takes the Cake (the first book in my Daphne Martin Mystery Series) wherein the Kindle version of the book was offered free to Kindle buyers for a limited time, Murder Takes the Cake is ranked number two in overall Kindle sales and number one in mystery. However, what I think is the bigger news is that the trade paperback copy is now (as of 12/31) ranked #65 in Mystery Series (the Kindle version is still at #1), and the paperback's overall Amazon rank is #15,707 in Books, which is up nearly 10,000 from yesterday.
Happy New Year, everybody!