Saturday, February 27, 2010

What Do You Eat When You’re On Your Own?

When I was  single and lived alone, I could go for months eating exactly the same things,  meal after meal, day after day.  I would become enamored of some particular dish, and enjoy the heck out of eating it every single day, until suddenly I couldn’t stand the thought of making it for myself even one more time.  Then I’d have to engage my brain and come up with something original, which I would do.  And if I hit upon something I particularly liked, it would become my new BFF dish.

For several years, while I was in grad school, I ate an English muffin with butter and honey in the morning, a deviled ham sandwich with slivered onion for lunch, and some variety of Swanson’s T.V. Dinner every evening.  Not the most nutritious fare, but I was young and busy and wasn’t in the mood to have to think up something to eat.  Besides, I quite enjoyed my comfort meals, and looked forward to them.

After I married, I took a greater interest in cooking better meals, and became rather creative.  Don inspired me, since he enjoyed cooking (and still does).  He wasn’t taught to cook, though, as I was, so even though he was enthusiastic, I’ve always had better kitchen skills, and the two of us together made quite the chef.

Now, here it is, beaucoup years later, and because of our schedules and/or dietary needs, we find ourselves cooking and eating our own meals more often.  I am usually gone over the lunch hour , and he cooks for himself.  Almost every day he makes a Stroganoff-like dish from Quorn ground ‘beef’, sauteed onions and garlic, and fusilli noodles.  “I always enjoy it, and I can never think of anything I’d like better,” he told me.  I suddenly harkened back to those days of yore when I ate the same thing every day.  

Even now, when left to my own devices, I tend to fall back on either a boiled egg and toast, or a grilled cheese sandwich, because, at least for this particular era of my life, there isn’t anything I’d like better.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Peanut Butter Banana Cake

I was working on Killer Sweet Tooth and needed a cake flavor for an Elvis impersonator's cake. On a lark, I did a search for a peanut butter and banana cake. Sure enough, I found one! I found several, actually; but this one sounds the best.

Peanut Butter Banana Cake


3/4 cup butter

2 cups sugar

3 eggs

1 1/2 cups bananas, mashed (about 4 medium)

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

3 cups flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

3/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup buttermilk


4 tablespoons peanut butter

2 tablespoons butter, softened

4 cups powdered sugar

6 tablespoons milk


Preheat oven to 350°. Grease and flour 9x13 pan.
In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time. Beat in bananas and vanilla.
In a small bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add to creamed mixture, alternating with buttermilk.
Pour into prepared pan. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in middle comes out clean. Cool on wire rack.
For frosting, in a large mixing bowl, beat the peanut butter and butter until smooth. Beat in powdered sugar and enough milk for desired consistency. Spread onto cake.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Butter, Lard and all that "Good" Stuff!

Every time that commercial featuring The Buttertons comes on - you know the woman grocery shopping with a cart full of stacks of butter or serving up baked potatoes topped with sticks of butter - I laugh, even if that isn't the main message.

The commercial also prompted hubby and I to remember all those things we grew up with - cans of Crisco shortening, lard for frying, butter on everything. The downer - or maybe just "junk science," heard on the news that doctors now say heart problems start in childhood and they'd mentioned looking at toddlers' heart health. Toddlers? So we never had a chance right? ha! .

I looked around at some sites sharing old recipes from the 1950s and as I'm not much of a cook, I don't know the amounts of butter or margarine used today in most recipes. But holy cow, this sounds like a lot:

* Recipes for Fresca Cake and a couple other cakes call for a half-pound of butter!

* An interesting article on The Rise and Fall of Crisco

* This is cool: find what the foods were for almost any period in time at the Food Timeline

* Remember any of your favorite 1950s-1960s foods?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Final Wrap-Up

This is, I promise, the FINAL recap of my Cutie Pies Sweet Read Valentine Book Tour. I know, I know, I have gotten tons of blog mileage out of this tour!
My third stop on the tour was Miss Melanie's Tea Room in Johnson City, TN. This stop was very special in that a couple of my husband's cousins and my mother-in-law came by and had lunch with me.
I ate tomato and basil quiche and roasted red pepper soup. I also shared a pot of white hot chocolate/orange tea. In honor of my signing, Miss Melanie featured pies for dessert. I had the peanut butter pie with a chocolate crust. Everything was just delicious!
A Jane Austen Tea was taking place in one of the dining rooms at Miss Melanie's. Melanie introduced me to the ladies attending the tea. I handed out fliers that reflected a special discount for her patrons. As with the previous two stops on the tour, I had articles about me and my books to hand out.
My final stop was The Gift Box in Gray. This is a gift shop, rather than a place that serves food. Nonetheless, the owners had me at a very cutely decorated table with a big platter of mini pecan pies and a clear bowl full of iced-down soft drink and bottles of water. How welcoming that was to people who wanted to come up and chat about my books!
It may be gimmicky, but building my book tours around food seems to work best. This tour got me on two local television shows and in two local magazines. A local paper had a review of my book and the tour dates were on several local calanders of events.
Post tour, I just had an interview and photo appear in another local paper. In a couple of weeks, I'll be doing a radio interview with a gentleman I met on one of the tour stops. I also sold a good number of books.
Guess I had better start seeking out some more eateries! I encourage any writer to build a tour around a concept from their book. It is just different enough to attract interest and it is so much fun!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Another Meaning of the Term

I was talking to my #4 daughter last night, and she asked if I'm still working on the story about "the cooking people." I am, in fact, still working on the story about the cooking people, although the terms are "the cook" and "the cook's apprentice." They have to challenge a huntsman and his apprentice, and the only weapons they have are their cooking tools--which are, of course, wicked sharp.

That made me think of one of the climactic scenes in Mervyn Peake's TITUS GROAN, which was a battle to the death between a disgraced but loyal royal retainer and the castle cook--a grim and grisly scene, which will surprise no one who has read the GORMENGHAST series. I highly recommend it, by the way.

And THAT made me think of this passage from my own precious darling novel SIDESHOW IN THE CENTER RING (coming soon from Echelon Press):


Tosun unhooked his knife and skewer, and unslung his shield. "Time for these."

"Aren't you being a little previous? Shouldn't we wait and see if they send for this Chitamar? See what he says?"

"No," said Tosun. "Now."

This was sure a swell time for him to go rash on me. "You don't even know Honey. If you did, you wouldn't like her. This is my problem. I have to handle it."

"Yes, but I've got to do my part."


He put his shield, hollow side up, onto the coals, nestling it into them. He pulled a thin flat stone out of his chestpack and some mutton out of his supply bag and began cutting wafer thin slices with his knife. He folded the slices around dried mushrooms and onion wedges and threaded the packets onto the skewer. He wrapped the filled skewer in parchment-like leaves and buried it in the coals. He cut a chunk of pork, and began cubing it.

"Your knife and... You cook with them?"

Tosun looked at me blankly. "That's what they're for."

"That, and for waving around while you jump all over the living room like a crazy person."

"Right. For balance and dexterity. Like juggling."

"Sure," I said. "Naturally. Like juggling."

He sat back on his haunches, his eyes nearly shut, his tongue showing behind his needle teeth. "You thought they were for fighting. You thought--just now--I was going to whip them out and go at it..."

"Who knew? I'm flying blind, here. Most of what I know about this place I've learned since I met you. I came here on vacation, for pity's sake, and here I am cutting a deal for somebody's life. Is that fair? And you sit there shaking your head and wheezing at me. Is that fair?"

"I'm sorry, Managlawn. It isn't fair. You're doing beautifully. Rest quietly on your center, and the right responses will practically make themselves."

Tosun tossed the pork into his shield--well, his wok, but it would always be his shield to me--and stirred it with his knife. When it was browned all over, he poured in enough beer to cover it and added some dried citrus fruit and long, clear noodles, as fine as hair.

Zander sniffed, looked around, and said, "We've decided to send for Chitamar."

Tosun pulled a steak out of one of his bags and began slicing it across the grain. He sprinkled it with salt and dusted it with white, black, and red pepper, and sat it near the fire pit to warm.


Sort of a non-fatal foodie, I suppose.


Monday, February 22, 2010

Goin' to Hawaii....

Actually by the time this post is up, I will BE in Hawaii! So for my post today, I thought I'd take a look at some Hawaiian cuisine.

Let's start with poi. I first read about poi in James Michener's HAWAII (why oh why did they cast Julie Andrews as Jerusha?). Actually most of my knowledge/info pertaining to Hawaii came from HAWAII. From this book I learned how to recognize an impending tsunami and that the Hakka Chinese did not bind their feet. And I read about poi.

According to Wikipedia, Poi is a Hawaiian word for the primary Polynesian staple food made from the corm of the taro plant (known in Hawaiian as kalo). Poi is produced by mashing the cooked corm (baked or steamed) to a highly viscous fluid. Water is added during mashing and again just before eating, to achieve a desired consistency, which can range from liquid to dough-like (poi can be known as two-finger or three-finger, alluding to how many fingers you would have to use to eat it, depending on its consistency). Go here to read more

Doesn't sound that appetizing and according to some, tastes like glue. I still want to try it.

Then there's kalua pig, the traditional main dish at luaus. Once again going to Wiki:

Kālua is a traditional Hawaiian cooking method that utilizes an imu, or underground oven. The word kālua literally means "to cook in an underground oven" and also describes the flavor of food cooked in this manner - e.g. the kālua pig (Hawaiian puaʻa kālua) which is commonly served at luau feasts.

Traditionally, extremely hot volcanic(lava)rocks were placed in a hole approximately 6' by 4' by 3' and the hole was lined with vegetation such as banana leaves. A salted pig was placed inside and covered with more banana leaves to preserve the heat and flavor. Then, it was covered with burlap and soil, and left to steam all day. Once removed from the imu, the pig was ready to be served.

I have never been to a luau. It would be fun, but I'm more interested in actually just trying the pork. It sounds kind of heavenly to me.

Remember the old C&H commercials? The jingle: C&H (C&H) - Pure cane sugar (pure cane sugar) - From Hawaii (from Hawaii) - growin' in the sun (growin' in the sun).... and so on and so forth. I was always fascinated by the sight of little kids gnawing happily on sugar cane as if it was an especially yummy lollipop or other treat. I was disappointed when I actually tried it. Probably just well since gnawing on sugar cane on a regular basis is a sure way to make your dentist unhappy.

A bit more from Wiki on Hawaiian cuisine:

cuisine of Hawaii is a fusion of many cuisines brought by multiethnic immigrants to the Hawaiian Islands, particularly of American, Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Polynesian and Portuguese origins, including plant and animal food sources imported from around the world for agricultural use in Hawaii. Many local restaurants serve the ubiquitous plate lunch featuring the Asian staple, two scoops of steamed white rice, a version of American mayonnaise-based macaroni salad or Japanese mayonnaise-based potato salad (or a combination of both) Korean kimchee or other Korean vegetable or Japanese pickled seaweed, and one to three choices of main entrees ranging from the hamburger steak and gravy, Chinese charsiu chicken, Chinese cold ginger chicken, Japanese style tonkatsu or torikatsu, Filipino pork, chicken or fish adobo, Filipino lumpia, Korean chapchae, Filipino pansit, Korean beef short ribs, Korean and Japanese-style BBQ beef and chicken, grilled Ahi, Korean meat jun, or traditional Hawaiian lu'au favorites, kalua pig, lomi salmon, laulau, and poi.

I suspect we will not go hungry during our visit.

What about you? Do you have a favorite Hawaiian dish/recipe? If so, please share!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Food is Everything!

Today I was at the Capitol Crimes meeting (Sacramento Chapter of Sisters In Crime) and I was thinking about how food is everything. If you want a great marketing idea - add a little food. The fortune cookie that opens up and has the name of your book you've just written, the chocolate or sweet treat that draws the crowd to your table, raisins attached to a postcard for a book set in the wine country or cookies with the title of your book in frosting.

Even at my school - food is "top of the priority" list. The PTA is giving us a luncheon. Yeah! We all show up. We have to go to a night meeting - the most important question is "Where are we going to dinner first?" We have a staff development day - it doesn't matter what we are doing or who is presenting. Again, the most important question is "Where are we going for lunch?"

My latest book, Secrets at Sea, was written because I fell in love with the Chocolate Melting Cake on a cruise to the Mexican Reveira. I already had the characters in two previous books in the series and even knew who was going to be "bumped off" and why. When I thought about a setting - the Chocolate Melting Cake dripped through my mind the way it oozes off the vanilla ice cream you've dipped it into.

I've just come to one great conclusion - Life is, of course, all about the people we love - but the food runs a very close second!

Write What You Eat

Does what you eat affect your writing?  Do you fortify yourself with a favorite food or drink?  Do you eat more, or less when you’re in the middle of a manuscript?  Do you pace your house and think, nursing a big mug of milky tea all the while?

I sit for a while at my desk and sketch out my writing for the day.  The pen is in my right hand, a piece of toast in my left.  Eventually, I get up, make myself a cup of tea, and go to the computer.  I type, drink my tea, make more tea, type some more, drink more tea.  I stop when I simply must pee.  Eat lunch while reading what I just typed.  Jot down some more notes.  Go back to the computer and type. Is this scene going to work?  I need to think about this.  I grab an apple and pace around the floor, gnawing, while I work out the details.  

Crunchy food is good for action scenes, and so is spicy.  Chips and salsa are a perfect snack for a chase or a fight.  Chocolate for romance, of course, or red wine.  I like a good cup of herbal tea when I’m describing nature.  If it’s autumn, something made of pumpkin evokes the season. I write a historical series set in the American Mid-Southwest that features a lot of eating and cooking big, heavy, rich meals.  I do have to research these meals, naturally, and nothing gets me in the mood to write about farm eating like a big pile of mashed potatoes and gravy.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Girl Scout cookies are here!

What's so special about Girl Scout cookies? Sure, they taste great; but the stores are filled with cookies that taste great. But they don't hold the same excitement and delight for us that Girl Scout cookies do. Maybe it's because they're only available once a year. Or is it nostalgia?

Other posts this week have talked about nostalgia and food. Maybe Girl Scout cookies take us back to our childhoods. Maybe it's the feeling of helping a good cause that makes the cookies taste even better.

My neighbor Sydnie and her mom came over a few weeks ago. Sydnie, who is normally not shy at all, looked at the floor and shuffled her feet as she stood there in her little uniform with the badges on the sash.

"What do you say?" her mom asked.

"How many boxes would you like?" Sydnie asked, handing me her order form.

I ordered four boxes--Thin Mints, Tagalongs, Samoas and Do-Si-Dos. They're supposed to be here tomorrow. I don't know which I'm looking forward to more: the cookies or seeing Sydnie in her Brownie uniform again. :-)

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Olympics and Chocolate

There's a commercial that makes me laugh every time I see it. It talks about the person dreaming of chocolate and I keep thinking, boy, then you have a real problem right?

Yes, my name is Chris and I'm a chocoholic. Luckily I don't dream about it, but it did get me thinking, what other things could be done with chocolate? For authors, who are always looking for a new gimmick to promote their book, this can be pretty useful.

Sam's Club has a 50-pc bar set with wrappers you personalize. Well, at $150, that can be pretty pricey.

This is kind of cool - besides personalized chocolate wrappers, you can get personalized lip balm for about $2 each. Not sure of the minimum needed.

But since the Olympics are going on now, how about Chocolate trophies & medals You can have your own Olympic medal in chocolate and eat it, too!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

All Good Things Must Come to an End

Sadly, last Saturday marked the end of my Cutie Pies Chronicles Sweet Read Valentine Book Tour. As promised, I am giving a wrap-up that includes what I ate on this tour. Despite the best of intentions, I did not get many pictures. I had a camara in my purse the whole tour, but either got too busy or simply forgot until it was too late. Anyway, here's the scoop:
Stop #1-Babycakes Cupcakery in Abingdon, VA I learned something very important with this stop. My discovery is nothing new. If you give people something, they are more likely to buy your product. I had several copies of local magazines that had articles about me, my books, my publisher, etc. During my time at Babycakes, I walked around handing out copies of these magzines. The articles helped explain my books better than I could explain them myself. Plus, I think it lent me credability to have someone else saying good things about my books.
I went home from this stop with a half-dozen cupcakes. The half-dozen was comprised of Elvis (banana cupcake with peanut butter frosting), wedding cake, chocolate, Italian cream, carrot cake and key lime/coconut. They were all delicious. The Elvis was my favorite. That combination of banana with peanut butter icing was unbeatable.
Stop #2-The FAMILY Bakery in Gate City, VA
It was sort of a nasty day, with a snow/rain mix falling ever-so-often. The weather concerned me, in that it might have discouraged folks from coming out, but it turned out to be the perfect day for coffee, soups, and baked goods for which The FAMILY Bakery is known. By lunch time the place was hoppin!
As with Babycakes, I had things to hand out to customers as they came in. Besides magazines, I also brought fliers that had a picture of my book covers on the front and a blurb about my series. The fliers were folded in half. Inside was an excerpt from chapter 1 of my first book and a teaser about the story line that follows. Talking to people about my books while they were eating would have felt intrusive. Handing them something to look at while they were eating was much easier.
This was a 3 hour signing that yielded great sales. Most that bought, purchased more than one book.
I bet you wonder what I ate. Well, spending a day with the Roberts family was like being at my grandmother's house. I was constantly being offered food. It was fabulous! Upon arrival, I had a glass mug of vanilla chai. For lunch, I ate chicken salad on a flaky made-from-scratch croissant with a side salad composed of various lettuces, dried cranberries. sugar-coated nuts, and other goodies.
They sent me home with a complimentary big cup of broccoli-cheddar soup. I also took home a box of cookies. The cookies were the size of salad plates. I had chocolate chip, double chocolate, oatmeal coconut and peanut butter.
Okay, I promised the scoop, but it was just the half-scoop. Next week, I'll tell about the last two stops.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

My Day Again

Welcome to the day named after me: Fat Tuesday! I got an email from one of my UK Twitter buddies, telling me that it's also called Shrove Tuesday or, he says, Pancake Day. He says that the purpose is to have a feast, using up all the rich food in the house on the day before Lent. He wanted a recipe for "American pancakes" and I asked him for a recipe for "English pancakes", so here both recipes are. English pancakes are a lot like crepes, only quick and easy. We'll be having some for supper, probably rolled around cheese or maybe chopped ham AND cheese. And maybe some more for dessert, wrapped around cottage cheese and marmalade. We shall see.... And now, the recipes:

From me--

Pancakes, flapjacks, flannel cakes...aren't they the same in England as here? I know the French have crepes--I would love to trade American/British pancake recipes!

This recipe comes from BETTY CROCKER'S COOKBOOK, and you don't get much more American than that. I've explained the ingredients a little, but the instructions are straight from the book.

1 egg
1 cup buttermilk (or use regular milk with 1 teaspoon white vinegar added and let to sit for 5 minutes or so)
2 tablespoons shortening, melted, or salad oil
1 cup all-purpose (not self-rising) flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
Beat egg; add remaining ingredients in order listed and beat until smooth. Grease heated griddle if necessary. To test griddle, sprinkle with few drops of water. If bubbles skitter around, heat is just right.
Pour batter from tip of large spoon or from pitcher onto hot griddle. turn pancakes as soon as they are puffed and full of bubbles but before bubbles break. Bake other side until golden brown.
Ten 4-inch pancakes.

[Note from me: When she says "bake other side," she means "cook on the griddle"; she doesn't mean bake it in the oven.]

American pancakes are usually served with maple syrup.

Sometimes I chop up pecans or apples into the batter. Sometimes I put chocolate chips in and top them with powdered sugar instead of maple syrup. Blueberry pancakes are REALLY good, which is simply pancake batter with blueberries in it.

Have some ham or bacon on the side.... Mmmmm......

From Simon--

Thanks for that, time to crack out the blue berries and bananas :)

English pancake batter is very simple, it was after all a way to empty the larder before lent...

4 heaped tablespoons of plain flour
2 large or 3 medium eggs
pinch of salt
enough milk to make a smooth batter (not very helpful but I'll explain)

Basically it's a thinner version of Yorkshire Pudding batter

Sift the flour and the salt
beat in the eggs
then add milk and mix until the batter is runny but will still coat the back of the spoon.

the best way to cook is in a very hot omelette pan with a little oil, pour about half a ladle'ish it to the pan and tip to spread out. They should be slighty thicker than a crepe. (The first one will be a disaster but the rest normally turn out fine). When the underside is cooked, loosen the edge and toss/flip, the use of spatulas and fish slices is strickly frowned upon, and cook the second side. Serve immeadiatly, they don't like to stand around, unlike we Brits who love queueing :)

once you've got the hang of the tossing/flipping you can try this....

They are normally served with lemon juice and a sprinkling of caster sugar but basically if it's in the cupboard and has to be used before lent, chuck it on...




"Caster sugar" means powdered sugar.



Monday, February 15, 2010

Foods I Miss

I was going to post about Valentine's Day, but I'm writing this several days before the 14th and won't know what I'm going to be having at our romantic brunch at the Cliff House until we actually go there. Convoluted sentence, anyone? :-)

So I decided to go with a wave of nostalgia I've been surfing for a few weeks. I've been missing old friends, family (when a marriage breaks up, so, sadly, do some of one's in-law relationships), activities, places, and food specific to these places.

Most of my culinary nostalgia centers around Grand Blanc (pronounced Grand Blank, with a total Midwestern disregard for the French origins of the name) and Flint, both in Michigan.

I used to visit Michigan every year or so with Brian, who was born and raised in Grand Blanc before moving out to California, where we met at a Science Fiction convention in San Diego. Yes, I was (and am) a bit of a geek. But a SWORDfighting geek, which made me kind of cool. Yeah, that's right. That's my story and I'm sticking it.

Anyway, my first trip back I was introduced to three culinary treats which have taken their place in Dana's Food Hall of Fame for life: Fannie May chocolates, specifically Trinidads; Angelo's Coney Island hot dogs; and my mother-in-law's holiday nut bread.

This is a box of Fannie May chocolates. Now I am a huge fan of See's Candy (a childhood staple that has stayed part of my diet through adulthood), but the first time I had a Trinidad (rich dark chocolate truffle filling enrobed by creamy white chocolate with little hints of coconut), I was hooked. I have never had a better chocolate in my life, at least not for my particular taste buds. I'm also fond of their truffles (substitute dark chocolate for white chocolate), and mint meltaways.. Whenever we'd visit Brian's family, a trip to Fannie May's was made the first day or so and I'd have a box of the chocolates on my bedside table to last throughout the trip.

These are Trinidads. Creamy, delicious, sinful memories ... I think it's time for me to order a box, something I haven't done in many years...

Now let's move on to Angelo's Coney Islands. Angelo's is a little restaurant in Flint and a Coney Island is a hot dog (specifically Koegel's brand) slathered in a rich meat sauce, topped with minced onions. I don't like the onions, but the meat sauce is to die for. I would go
there with Brian and his best friend, Grant, and the three of us would pork out. Two Coneys, fries, and malts or milkshakes. Part of the fun was the food and the rest was the company, and sharing a tradition with Brian and Grant that they'd been sharing for years.

Here's a view of the inside of Angelo's. I recognize and have sat at some of those booths and tables...

While searching Google Images for pictures of Angelo's, I came across an old blog entry waxing downright poetic about Angelo's and Coney Island dogs written by a Flint, Michigan native. Check it out here!

The third item is one I have no picture of, but the memories are vivid and wonderful. Teresa (Brian's mom) would make batches of nut bread every year at Christmas and Easter, a delicately flavored bread with cinnamon streusely filling spiraling through the loaves. Hot out of the oven, thick slabs in the morning with or without butter, accompanied by cups of hot chocolate or coffee ... heaven. I have never had anything like it and never will again. Sure, I may find a recipe for it, but nothing can replace the taste and smell of the nutbread, eaten at the kitchen table at my in-law's house. I am grateful for the memories even though they hurt to remember.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

A Box of Chocolates or Just One?

Vicki here, wondering how I ended up being the blogger on Valentine’s Day? I have remarkably little to say on that subject.

Today, as on so many occasions we use food to express our feelings. Candies for children, boxes of chocolates for lovers, romantic dinners for couples. I wonder how many women have asked their loved ones not to give them chocolates for Valentine’s Day – I’m watching my weight – ended up with a big box anyway. And of course ate them all.

Speaking about chocolate, chocolate provides an apt metaphor for the world we live in today.

I was recently on a shopping trip with my daughter, and we stopped in at a little, privately owned chocolate store. You know the place – bright and colourful, filled with display cases of perfectly formed confections. I treated us to a truffle.

Each truffle cost about $3.50 and was about the size of a golf ball cut in half.

We pondered the display, discussed the choices, made our selection, chose something, then changed our minds and chose something else. Each little chocolate was carefully placed in a small box. We stood outside taking tiny bites, savouring each mouthful, and commenting to each other on the wisdom of our choices.

I spent $7.00 on a mouthful of chocolate for us each. I could have gone to the convenience store and bought giant chocolate bars made by mega-corporation for half that and we could have gorged ourselves.

I think I got the better value.

We contributed something to a small business owner in the community, we encouraged a craft, my daughter and I had a shared experience, and most of all we enjoyed a taste sensation diametrically different than we would have gotten from the giant mass-produced chocolate bar.

And, if we’d eaten $7.00 worth of a commercial chocolate bar we would have felt mighty sick after. Not to mention consuming about a thousand totally empty calories.

Value is about a lot more than money, and that’s something that is too often forgotten these days.

Suitable for Valentines day, I also blog at Type M for Murder, and today’s guest blogger is writer Mark H. Phillips, discussing his anthology A Box of Texas Chocolates. Mark is having a contest to win a copy of the book. Click here to hop on over and have a look. These chocolates are guaranteed to have ZERO calories.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

A Valentine for Your Gumdrop

Yesterday it occurred to me that a very nice Valentine’s Day treat would be some Red Velvet cupcakes.  I haven’t had Red Velvet cake in a long time.  My mother used to make  Red Devil cake (basically the same thing as Red Velvet, but chocolate) quite a bit, and I always loved it, especially with a lovely cream cheese frosting.  But Don is not a chocolate eater, so Red Velvet it is.

Since I haven’t made it in ages, I pulled out my 1965 edition of the Betty Crocker Cookbook to see if I could find a recipe for Red Velvet, when, lo! I came across a recipe for Gumdrop Cake that I had written out in my own hand on a piece of notebook paper and stuck in the cookbook.  The date that I wrote in the corner is 1969, and I promise you that I haven’t made a Gumdrop Cake since then. Where I got the recipe, I have no idea.  I was in college and still living at home at the time, but I did like to cook and experiment even then.  I may have gotten it from a friend or relative - my aunt liked to make odd cakes.  Or I may have made it up myself. That’s possible, because I don’t like licorice and I wrote ‘alternatingly’ (which considering that I was an English major, alarms me somewhat).  I don’t remember.  It must have been a success, or I wouldn’t have kept it.

But what an interesting dessert to create for your Valentine!  I reproduce it here, just as I wrote it out in my own youthful hand, for any of you who are feeling adventurous. 

Gumdrop Cake, 1969

1/2 cup butter          2 tsp baking powder

1 cup sugar 1 tsp vanilla

2 eggs beaten              2 1/4 cup flour 3/4 cup milk

14 tsp salt 3/4 cup raisins (or nuts)

1 lb. gumdrops - no licorice

Cream butter while adding sugar and eggs.  Sift flour, salt, and baking powder together over gumdrops (chopped) and raisins.  Dredge well.  Add vanilla to milk.  Add flour mixture and milk to first mixture alternatingly [sic]. Bake in large greased loaf pan in slow oven, 275-300 degrees, 1 1/2 hours or until done.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Added a recipe page

Based on a wonderful suggestion given by Denise Turocy, I've added a recipe page to my website. I sent an e-mail to my newsletter subscribers telling them about the page and asking if they had any other suggestions. Jodi Webb wrote that I should have a recipe contest for my next book, Killer Sweet Tooth. She advised offering the winner(s) the chance to have their recipes posted in the book and their names in the acknowledgements.

My agent, Robert Gottlieb, sold Killer Sweet Tooth to Gallery/Pocket/Simon & Schuster just this week. I thought Jodi's idea was wonderful, but I didn't know how the new powers that be would feel about it. Fortunately, I spoke with Danielle (my Gallery editor) for the first time today; and she loves the idea. I'm going to wait until closer to the publication date to run the contest, but I think it will be a great way to generate buzz.

Have any of you had any terrific ideas offered up by readers or other writers? If so, please share!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Snow Everywhere, How about Snow Ice Cream?

Snow snow snow! They got clobbered in the Northeast, the drifts are thigh-high here in Wisconsin, so it made me think, what do you do with all that snow?

How about eating it?

Well... there is really such a thing as snow ice cream. (Ah so that's where that saying comes from, don't eat the yellow snow!)

Here are some Snow Ice Cream Recipes. -- And check out the video! Let us know if you try it! (Maybe you're braver than me. ha!)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Sweet Read Stop #3

Stop number three of my Cutie Pies Sweet Read Valentine Book Tour will take me to Miss Melanie's Tea Room in Johnson City, Tennessee. I had the pleasure of having lunch at Miss Melanie's recently, and was so impressed with both the quality of the food and the warm hospitality.
I stoppped by Miss Melanie's a few weeks ago to drop off promotional materials for my book tour. With ten-month-old in tow, I planned to breeze in and out before my baby got antsy. When I walked in the smells of hot soup and warm quiche had me thinking that I would soon stop by for lunch, when either I did not have Skylar with me or had someone along to lend an extra hand. Pretty tablecloths and fragile tea cups are a little scary when a little one is grabbing them!
Anyway, when Miss Melanie invited me to eat lunch as she quickly prepared a table for me, I put aside some of my fears of eating with a baby in my lap. In an overwhelming display of how sweet and gracious she is, Melanie brought out my food, then held my baby while I ate. This proved that Melanie is every bit as warm and gracious as the lovingly restored home that houses her business!
I also got to meet Chef Scott, who prepared the food and Melanie's husband, who restores and sells antique furniture.
Here is a link to Miss Melanie's site:
This lady knows her tea! She even holds tea academies to educate others on her passion for tea.
Special themed events are always on her calanders. On the day I will be signing, there is a Jane Austen tea and a Valentine dinner.
This book tour has been so fun! I have had great food, met wonderful people, gotten lots of press and (so far) have sold a good number of books. Next week, I will provide a wrap-up of the tour with details on the food I ate, pictures, and things I have learned about this whole business of selling books.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Irish In Me

I have Cunninghams, Sullivans, Kelleys and Greens in my family tree, so it isn't surprising that I never met a potato I didn't like. On a cold, snowy day like today, nothing beats a tattie, baked or roasted. Here are some recipes:

Baked Potato
Bake a potato. But here's the trick I just learned: After you put it on the plate, cut a cross in the top and pinch the potato's ends, which fluffs the insides out. SO much better than just cutting it apart and trying to get butter to melt on the slick halves.

Roast Potatoes
Peel and cut potatoes (and carrots and celery and parsnips, if you want) into sections. Put into cold salted water and bring to a boil. Boil for about 15 minutes while heating oven to 450F. Drain water from pan. Add oil and seasonings, cover, and shake until the outsides of the potatoes are covered with starch fluff. Put to pan in hot oven and bake, turning occasionally, until brown and crispy on the outside, about 30-45 minutes. Got this recipe from one of my British Twitter friends, KJSmyling.

This Other Kind of Potatoes
Take a baking potato and cut it in half, then into not-quite-slices--in other words, don't cut the slices all the way through, just most of the way through, so the slices are still all attached at the bottom. Mix butter with herbs, salt and pepper and stick bits of it between slices. Brush outside with olive oil. Bake at 450F for about an hour, basting with olive oil.

As for mysteries, all this talk of potatoes casts my mind back to my childhood, when I read a potato mystery story in my cousin Ronnie's Boy Scout magazine. This Boy Scout was out in the woods and some kind of bad guy--an escaped prisoner or some such--came across him and caused him to fear for his life. But first the bad guy forced the kid to cook supper for him. So the kid deliberately put a potato into the hot ashes of the campfire without piercing the skin first. Ladies, you know EXACTLY what happened. The tattie exploded, the criminal freaked, and the Boy Scout prevailed. Don't remember if the Scout walloped him with a branch, or he knocked himself out, or ran into the arms of the police or what, but the Boy Scout defeated him with the help of a humble potato.


Monday, February 8, 2010

Back to Blogging

I gotta say, writing really is something that's much easier if you do it every day. Taking a break, while sometimes necessary, is a bit of a creative killer for me, even when I'm taking the break because my creativity isn't working. Sometimes a little vacation can jump start me, but other times I feel like I have to start at square one again (hopscotch metaphor!) in order to turn out anything worth reading. As to why I've been a break, here's a link to my personal blog and a post on writing and my father's death. I was hoping that post would break the brain freeze I've had for the last month or so, but while I've started getting more ideas during those hours I can't sleep, I find the ability to write them when I've actually sat down at my computer is still elusive.

Wouldn't it be nice to be able to hook one's brain up to a computer at night and have it somehow transfer the ideas straight into a nice, tidy word document? It doesn't have to be spell checked or anything. Just written down. That way those uncomfortable 'midnight of the soul' hours spent lying in bed, unable to sleep, yet unwilling to get up, would at least be productive even though they leave me exhausted the following day.

I vaguely remember being very cranky around 4am this morning because of a Cleo Coyle (Coffeehouse Mysteries) book I just finished. Holiday Grind. I've enjoyed her previous books in this series and all the details about the mysteries and mechanics of coffee, running a coffee house, and lush food/beverage descriptions. I wouldn't be a member of the Fatal Foodies team if I didn't like to read and write about things of a culinary nature. But fer crissake, Holiday Grind is over 350 pages and the mystery ends somewhere around 280. The rest of the 70 some odd pages are recipes and a glossary for coffee related terms. Now I like recipes, don't get me wrong. And I do prefer it when they're contained at the end of a book rather than interrupting the flow of the story. That just bugs me. But 70 pages worth? I dunno, I felt cheated.

How do you all feel about recipes in books? Does it bother you when they come smack dab in the middle of a chapter? I'm not talking the description of making something, but the actual recipe. Does it take you out of the story or is this something you just expect from culinary mysteries? And would it bother you to pick up a 350 plus page book and find a big chunk of it devoted to recipes? Or am I just cranky these days? :-)

Saturday, February 6, 2010

World's Best Book Club Event

Last Sunday I was invited to speak to a local book club whose latest selection was my first book, The Old Buzzard Had It Coming.  I love speaking to book clubs.  The setting is always intimate and friendly, the company is always congenial, and everyone there has read my book.  What more can an author ask from life?

The hostess provided me with the particulars of date, time, and place, along with directions, and I arrived at her home at the appointed hour, ready to hold forth. The setting of the house was beautiful, by the way, located on the bank of an urban lake overhung with trees, a splashing fountain in its midst, white ducks going about their business.  I was already impressed by the visit before I even got to the door.

So imagine my delight, Dear Reader, when I walked in to find that the club members were providing a pot luck supper created entirely from the recipes at the back of my book!  Each woman had chosen a different dish to make.  The menu included brown beans and ham, meatloaf, buttermilk biscuits, cornbread, winter squash casserole (from The Sky Took Him), peach cobbler, molasses pie, and pecan pie, as well as butter, honey, vanilla ice cream, and buttermilk on the side. The hostess provided iced tea made from sweet tea syrup (from Hornswoggled), and fresh fruit

May I say that,  for me, it was the best book club event EVER!  I would suggest that if ever your book club wants to do something, special select a book that features food, then make and eat said food at your meeting.  Talk about setting a mood!

I was quite interested to note the women’s reactions to the dishes. The book club members themselves were younger women than I, and most of them had never cooked food like this before.  

So for any of you Dear Readers who are thinking about trying some old-timey recipes, allow me to offer a couple of observations:

Homemade biscuits don’t rise as high as Poppin’ Fresh, so don’t expect them to.

If you’re used to a little sweetening in your cornbread, Southern cornbread will be a shock.

If you’re used to unsweetened iced tea, Southern iced tea will really be a shock.

If you use dark molasses instead of light molasses in molasses pie, you’d better like the taste of molasses. (Which I do, actually.  Just be sure to brush your teeth after you eat it.  Besides, molasses is great for anemia. )

Don’t do your baking in a glass pan.  Your grandma probably didn’t have a glass pan, and besides, glass pans cook much faster than metal and will dry the dish out if you’re not careful.

I would love to hear from anyone who has attended a book club event like this one. How’d it go?  I can think of dozens of books that would be wonderful to read ... and eat from!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Kitchen Wisdom from Two Famous Women

I saw this in one of those email jokes and had to include part of it here.

We all can use a good laugh now and then, right? Especially when we're revising, or waiting on agents and publishers, or wondering what that agent or publisher means, or...?

I won't say which cook I probably more resemble. haa!

Kitchen Wisdom from Martha and Maxine

Martha: Stuff a miniature marshmallow in the bottom of an ice cream cone to prevent ice cream drips.

Max: Just suck the ice cream out of the bottom of the cone, for Pete 's sake! You are probably lying on the couch with your feet up eating it anyway!

Martha: To keep potatoes from budding, place an apple in the bag with the potatoes.

Max: Buy Hungry Jack mashed potato mix. Keeps in the pantry for up to a year.

Martha: When a cake recipe calls for flouring the baking pan, use a bit of the dry cake mix instead and there won't be any white mess on the outside of the cake.

Max: Go to the bakery! They'll even decorate it for you!

Martha: If you accidentally over-salt a dish while it's still cooking, drop in a peeled potato and it will absorb the excess salt for an instant 'fix-me-up.'

Max: If you over-salt a dish while you are cooking, that's too bad. Please recite with me the real woman's motto: 'I made it, you will eat it and I don't care how bad it tastes!'

Martha: Wrap celery in aluminum foil when putting in the refrigerator and it will keep for weeks.

Max: Celery? Never heard of it!

Martha: Brush some beaten egg white over pie crust before baking to yield a beautiful glossy finish.

Max: The Mrs. Smith frozen pie directions do not include brushing egg whites over the crust, so I don't.

Martha: Cure for headaches: take a lime, cut it in half and rub it on your forehead. The throbbing will go away.

Max: Take a lime, mix it with tequila, chill and drink! All your pains go away!

** Laugh and maybe that manuscript will look a little better! (Maybe!) haa!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Valentine Tour-Stop #2

My Cutie Pies Sweet Read Valentine Book Tour begins this Thursday. Last week, I wrote about Babycakes Cupcakery, my first stop.
My second stop will be at The FAMILY Bakery in Gate City, VA. As you can see by looking at their website, there is a reason it is called The FAMILY Bakery. The entire family is involved in the operation of this business.
When you walk inside, the business has that warm, inviting feel that makes you want to sit and stay awhile. Perhaps it is the close family relationships behind this bakery that make it so homey.
When I dropped off promotional materials at The FAMILY Bakery, the owners' son served me a steaming cup of spiced chai. During my signing, I plan to eat from their lunch menu. When I was there, it was too early for lunch, but had it been later, I think I would have ordered their Reuben.
When my signing is over, I'll be toting home a big bag of cookies for our Superbowl party that we're having the next night.
Maybe I ought to do bakery signings every weekend!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Cafe au Lait

You may have heard someone's skin color described as cafe au lait and you may have wonder what that means. Or maybe not. Anyway, cafe au lait is French for coffee with milk. Not just a little bit of milk. About half milk. Not just milk, though. Scalded milk. Scalding brings out the sweetness. And not just coffee. Strong coffee. No, STRONG coffee. Coffee so strong, it's still strong when you cut it with an equal amount of hot milk.

MAN, it's good. It's even good if you make it the way I did this morning, with instant coffee and hazelnut-flavored powdered creamer (no sugar required when you use as much creamer as I did!).

Made me feel musical, only, typically, not Frenchly musical. Typically, it made me feel like a corny pun, so here is the recipe:

You take
some cof-
-fe, nice and strong.
You heat
some milk,
not for too long.
Mix, half
and half.
You can't go wrong.
Then drink.
You'll love cafe ole´!