Saturday, May 29, 2010

A Tea Party

I decided to do something different for the launch party for my newest novel, Gold Fever: A Klondike Mystery. Several scenes in the book involve people sitting down to afternoon tea, and then running from the room, fainting, falling in love and other standard tea party activities. What better for the launch party than afternoon tea. I rented out The Tea Room, on Marine Drive, in Oakville, Ontario for the event, and a grand time was had by all. The food, a befits a proper afternoon tea was sandwiches and little desserts. And tea, lovely tea.

The Corn is High

I hope you all will bear with me for one more entry about my garden.  My excuse for not dropping this topic is that I haven't had such a lush veggie garden in many, many years, and I suppose I just can't get over it.  I can only guess that the unusually cool May helped, as well as the fact that I left the plot fallow for a couple of seasons and mulched like it was going out of style.  Whatever the reason, let us look at it as research for my books.  My character, Alafair, raises a huge garden every year, and in every book I write, I dedicate some of the action to her activities in the garden. 

The book I'm writing on right now is set in November.  She's bringing in the last of the pumpkins, storing the nuts and apples, squashes and potatoes in the root cellar and the attic, and preparing the garden for winter. When my grandparents retired from the farm
 and moved into town, they still plowed up their entire back yard and raised their own vegetables until they grew too old and frail.  Gardening was no hobby for their generation.  It was a matter of going hungry or not.  

When I write about what it was like to grow your own, I want to show what the earth and greenery smelled like, what the dirt felt like in the gardener's hands, how she could tell just what a plant needed by the way it looked, and when it was ready to pick.  How she knew when and where to put each plant into the ground, and what companion plants were best to grow near it.  I can look all that stuff up.  But there is nothing like experiencing it for yourself to be able to write it from the bone.

The top picture is the corn crop, which is beginning to tassel. As you can see, since I am actually from Oklahoma, I make sure that I always grow the corn as high as my eye, if not an elephant's eye. Maybe I can at least manage to grow it as high as one of those miniature elephants that lived on an island off the coast of Alaska until a couple of thousand years ago.  The lower picture is my amazing spaghetti squash.  I stuck my foot in the picture so you could see the size of the thing, Dear Reader.  And yes, I know I'm wearing sandals with socks, but it is my own back yard and no one could see me.

I can't promise that I won't say another word about the garden this season, but I promise that from here on out, I'll try to restrain myself.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Days of Our Hectic Lives

We join this episode already in progress.

7:50 a.m. - Hopeful time of departure: 8 a.m.

Teenage Boy: Mom, I don't have any clean jeans, so I'm wearing these again. I got them out of the hamper.

Mom (wide-eyed and bending down to smell leg of jeans): Why didn't you tell me this last night?

TB: I didn't know.

Mom: Don't you have any shorts you can wear?

TB (shaking head): They're all too small.

Mom: How about the khaki pair downstairs in the laundry room?

TB: I'll try them and see. (Ambles down the stairs.)

Mom (gathering laundry and racing downstairs to find TB shut in the laundry room): Do they fit?

TB: Yeah.

Mom: Leave me the jeans you were wearing so I can put them in the washer.

8 a.m.

TB ambles up the stairs. Mom grabs car keys and purse. TB returns to the bathroom saying, "We're gonna be late anyway."

MOM (panic-stricken and snatching his lunch box off the table): I'll turn the car around!

And now a word from our sponsor:

Things Daily Time Management Planning Cannot Prepare You For - by Murphy

Sorry for the weird post. Deadline is looming & I am panicky!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Old Snack Food Favorites

Snack foods come and go, but you always hope that your favorite sticks around.

And some seem like they've been here forever, right? Remember Combos? Still a favorite, though I don't remember this odd "breakfast" version that supposedly launched in 2008. Bacon, Egg and Cheese Combos? Ick. (Anyone try this?)

If you go to a true candy store, the fun is in finding old childhood favorites. Remember those caramel sucker Slap Sticks? Or what about those coconut neopolitans? Red Hots are always a favorite, as are those sticky sweet red coins.

Interesting seeing what we'll be chewing and munching on in coming months. According to the recent Candy Expo 2010, closing today in Chicago, you can expect some old favorites, but with new twists.

Remember that larger striped coconut bar from years ago? A new version, the Coconut Slice Peg Bag, is coming out in red, yellow and white stripes. How about a fun new flavor gum? Sunkist is coming out with interesting sugar-free fruit flavored gums. Grapefruit or Key Lime anyone?

There are plenty of more neat new candy items coming. Even better, if you want to have your snack and feel better about it, then there's an intriguing Vitamin Cookie that comes enriched with a day's worth of vitamins and minerals. Bye-bye guilt.

* Got a snack favorite?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Fun Summer Freebie

Doesn't that limeade look mouthwateringly refreshing? The Taco Bell site has a coupon for a free limeade sparkler. There is a traditional limeade and a cherry limeade.

For the past two summers, I have been so addicted to Taco Bell's Frutista Freeze (in mango strawberry) that passing up a Taco Bell drive-thru has required a huge amount of will-power. If the limade is as good as the Frutista Freeze, I'm in trouble! Download your coupon and try one this Memorial Day weekend.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Cross-Cultural Restaurants

I'm not talking about chi-chi World Cuisine with two lumps and a string of grass on a plate the size of Texas. I'm talking about "ethnic" restaurants that remember what ethnic food means--the food of a people--and incorporate where they are into where they originated.

It tickles me to see a menu in a Chinese restaurant that includes hot dogs (usually only in the children's section). Some people dislike that, saying that it shields kids from having to try new things.

Speaking as a child who wouldn't order anything in a Chinese restaurant except chicken noodle soup, I can tell you that it didn't do my any harm. The chicken noodle soup lured me into going to the Chinese restaurant, where I saw everybody else at the table chowing down on food that looked weird to me (anything but meat and potatoes--and chicken noodle soup--looked weird to me then) but was obviously enjoyable to them. When I got over my pickiness, the first ethnic food I was ready to try was Chinese food. Early exposure turned the trick.

In my short story "Blossom on the Water", Bud Blossom is a Chinese-American who has a houseboat/restaurant in a small Midwestern town. The restaurant is called The Golden Lotus, but it includes catfish sandwiches along with Chinese dishes. His restaurant is always packed, in spite of his personality.

If I may segue into some blatant self-promotion, I've collected the stories I wrote about Bud and some of his customers/employees into an e-book called THE KING OF CHEROKEE CREEK. It's available on Amazon for Kindle (text-to-speech enabled) and on Smashwords in various formats, including ones that make it readable on or printable from a just plain computer.


Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Tomato Race

It finally reached 100 degrees here yesterday.  The temp has been flirting with 100 for a while now,and in fact it’s cooler again today, if you consider 95 cooler.  This has been a very cool spring for us in southern Arizona.  By this time, we’ve usually had a several days that have topped the century mark. But if there is one thing you can count on in the Sonoran Desert, death and taxes not withstanding, it is that the hot weather will come as sure as the sun will rise, and it’ll stay around until autumn.

I bring this up because our cool spring has given us the best tomato crop we’ve had since we moved here nearly twenty-five years ago.  We planted three heirloom tomato plants back in February, all yellow varieties, and they are beginning to ripen.  I’m now able to get four or five of the grape variety off the vine every day. In a few days, it’ll be dozens. Believe it or not, the end of February can be too late to plant tomatoes here, for if a really hot spell strikes in the spring* and you’re not prepared with shade cloths, you could end up with burned fruit.  Even if you are prepared, and shade and water your plants religiously, days on end of super-hot weather makes for a tomato with hide like an African elephant.

It’s already too hot for the radishes and lettuces, and many of the herbs have bolted.  I have some good sized bell peppers and cabbages, acorn and spaghetti squashes as big as my fist.  We’ve been getting zucchini for a couple of weeks. 

So the tomato race is on. Will the fruit be able to ripen on the vine before the weather gets too hot, or am I doomed to pick as much as I can and cover my kitchen cabinets and window sills with green tomatoes?  One of the great memories of my youth is of my mother’s kitchen with all flat surfaces invisible beneath tomatoes of every hue and at every stage of ripeness, redolent with the sunny smell of summer.

By the way, when tomatoes were first introduced in Europe, there was a rumor that they were poisonous, so they were not much eaten.  I wonder if you could kill someone by feeding him a food he thought was poisonous and letting his subconscious do the rest? Mystery writers are always thinking these kinds of thoughts.


*Which it often does.  In March of 1986, the first year I set up a merchant booth at the Phoenix Highland Games, the temp reached 104 and melted several of our audio tapes.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Southern Cooking

Simon & Schuster's imprint Gallery bought Murder Takes the Cake, are making revisions and are rereleasing the book in January of 2011. One of the things the NY publishers are revising that had not been a sticking point with Bell Bridge are some of the "Southernisms" I take for granted that everyone knows. Apparently, they don't.

Case in point, this sentence: The smell brought back memories of our grandmother mixing up dressing every Thanksgiving while I stood by her side and waited for a taste test.

Now, ya'll know what dressing is, right? No, it isn't salad dressing. It's stuffing that's not stuffed. LOL! To clear things up for non-Southern folks, I'm including the dressing recipe in the new book. Since the book won't be out until after this coming Thanksgiving, I'll put the recipe on my webpage.

The revisions got me to thinking about how people often have Christmas in July promotions. Well, I suppose we could have Thanksgiving in June, then--after all, it's just a little over a week away. So if you want some dressing, to go with your Thanksgiving-in-June, here's a recipe:

Grandmother's Turkey Dressing

2 long loaves of bread
2 medium onions (diced)
Cooking oil
Turkey or chicken broth
Rubbed Sage

Preheat oven to 350°. Toast bread on both sides until lightly browned. Sauté onions in enough oil to cover bottom of frying pan. Crumble toast in large bowl. Add sage and pepper to taste. Pour in onions. Saturate mixture with broth. Mix well. Add rubbed sage to taste. Bake at 350° until brown.

Yum! I can almost taste it now. And better than that, in my mind I can smell the sage and see her strong hands mixing the dressing while I go back and forth from the living room to the kitchen in my nightgown to tell her what's going on with the Macy's Day Parade. Happy Thanksgiving, Grandmother.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Picture Worth a Million Words: Miniature Food

I can only wish I could create such amazing foods in miniature, so I enjoy admiring the work of others. I think you'll be amazed too. These are 1/12th scale (1" = 1 foot). Most cakes are around or under 1" in size. Hungry yet?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Career Day Handout

This afternoon I am going to speak at a middle school career day. I have done this several times and always enjoy talking to young people about what I do. Here is the information from a handout that I will give to the students. It is a condensed version of an inservice I presented to educators this past fall. If any of you can use this information, feel free to copy and utilize as you please:

So You Want to be a Writer

Presented by Lisa Hall
Fans of Cutie Pies Chronicles site on Facebook

1) Write everyday
2) Read like crazy
3) Pay attention in English class
4) Get published by entering contests, working on the school newspaper, yearbook, etc.
5) Check out these cool sites: (all kinds of contests) (click on Kid’s page) (click on Teen Page link)

I write a story like I put together an outfit.
Scenario: Put on basics (pants and top). Add essentials (socks and shoes). Finish with accessories (jewelry, etc). Finally, I do a once-over to make sure it is all okay. Often, I will get another opinion.
When I write a story, the first draft is all about telling the basic premise of the story (beginning and end). Next, I put the most work into the middle. This is so important, because it is literally what moves the story from beginning to end. If the middle is boring, people may not finish the book. Then I add details and dialogue that make my story more interesting and my characters more identifiable. Finally, I edit for punctuation, spelling, flow, clarifications, boring words, overused words, and name checks.

Good writing keeps a reader interested.
Better writing gets the reader emotionally involved and/or touches the senses.
The best writing stays with the reader.

The ONLY thing that separates me from most others who want to be published is that I pursued it!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Novel Ingredients

The Southern Indiana Writers Group and I were on Authors' Row at a Chautauqua this weekend. Saturday was sunny but just enough overcast to keep it comfortable. We sold books hand over fist. Sunday was drizzly, with showers and storms predicted all day.

We had a waterproof canopy, so we went anyway. Sure enough, it was drizzly--sometimes just plain rainy--but not windy or stormy. Most authors didn't even show up. We made the canopy into a tent by lashing plastic tarps to three sides and set out our books.

Two authors without canopies--Sheri Wright and Hope McKim--showed up in the hope that the wet would pass, but it didn't. We invited them to share our tent. There were four of the SIW, so now we had six writers, about 25 book titles, a cooler, a hamper and six chairs, all crammed into a 10 x 10 improvised tent.

The day flew by. We shared food, made jokes and talked about writing, editing and various forms of publishing. People showed up for the day, even in the rain, and all the exhibitors who showed up wandered around visiting with each other. We all actually sold a few books, too!

One of the books the SIW took--and sold--was NOVEL INGREDIENTS. The stories and poems in it are about food, and every story has a recipe with it. We published it spiral-bound, so it can be used as a cookbook as well as a story book. It's been so popular, we may do another one.

Here's one of my poems from the book:

Marian Allen

Choose one from the basket
(They aren't all alike).
It's been poisoned to keep it safe--
Death guarding Life from Life

Run water over it
strip its defenses
with gentle hands.

Take. Eat.

So much rich ripeness
the lips can't contain it
it yields mouthfuls of savor
in flesh, in fountains.


Bitter at the start
where the tongue
meets the skin
Bitter at the heart

but sweet
so sweet
while it lasts.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Pease Porridge Hot

I got the first zucchini out of my garden today.  I was ridiculously excited about it, though as anyone who has ever raised zucchini knows, by the time the plant stops bearing, I'll never want to see another zucchini again as long as I live.  The vine is covered with big yellow flowers.  I have never eaten squash blossoms, but I would love to give it a try.  I believe that one dips them in batter and fries them.  If any of you Dear Readers have a good squash blossom recipe, I'd love to have it.

I am currently undergoing one of my periodic healthy eating frenzies.  I do this with some regularity every couple of years.  This time I'm back on the macrobiotic diet, which is basically seasonal, whole foods and lots of whole grains. I plan to do this for a couple of months as a dietary tune up.  Perhaps it will do me good, or perhaps not, but it does make me feel virtuous, at least.
I bring this up because I find it impossible to make just a little bit of rice at a time.  I make enough rice, or millet, or lentils to feed an army, then end up with a pot full of ... well, pottage, which I keep adding something to every night, like carrots, or a tablespoon of peanut butter, or toasted sunflower seeds, any handy vegetable, herb, green I have on hand.  My last mess of rice and lentils lasted a week in its various incarnations.

This is the way people in Europe ate for centuries.  The lady of the cottage kept a cauldron hanging on an iron swivel arm by the fireplace, simmering at all times. Her son would bring in a rabbit, or she'd find some wild onions or herbs, or pull up a turnip, and into the pot it would go, along with a cup of dried beans, or a handful of barley.

There wasn't necessarily a set mealtime.  The hungry family member would come in and scoop up a bowlful whenever he felt like it.  A simmering cauldron full of a hearty soup/stew and some nice crusty flatbread baked up fresh on a flat stone by the fire any time you want it - now, that's convenience! 


Friday, May 14, 2010

Tiramisu Bundt Cake

I made this cake to take to my children's National Junior Honor Society, and it's delicious. Not only that, it's one of the easiest cakes I've ever made. I got the recipe from the May issue of Family Circle. Try it and see what you think.

Tiramisu Bundt Cake

1 box white cake mix (I used golden vanilla)
1 pint coffee ice cream, such as Haagen-Dazs, melted
3 eggs
1 container whipped vanilla frosting
1 teaspoon instant coffee granules dissolved in 1 tablespoon water
Cinnamon sugar for dusting, optional

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 10-cup bundt pan with nonstick cooking spray.

In a large bowl, beat cake mix, melted ice cream and eggs on low speed for 1 minute. Beat 2 minutes on medium speed. Scrape into prepared pan.

Bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean. Cool in pan on wire rack for 20 minutes. Invert onto wire rack to cool completely.

In large bowl, beat together frosting and instant coffee mixture.
Place cake on stand and spread with frosting. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Dust with cinnamon sugar, if desired.

The magazine includes nutritional information along with this do-ahead tip: cake may be baked up to 2 weeks in advance. Cool completely on wire rack. Wrap unfrosted and freeze. Remove from freezer the day of the event and thaw for 3 hours before frosting.

Thanks, Family Circle! You made me feel like Sandra Lee. ;-)

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Eat and Run: Drive Through Groceries

Other areas have had this already but Meijer's is set to start up "drive-through" grocery service in Chicago. A "personal shopper" picks and packs your food; you drive up and pay.

Good idea if you're short on time but... if you're picky - do you want to buy something you haven't seen? What if that meat has more fat than you like? Or you want to squeeze the fruit first? It just seems hard to buy sight unseen, at least when it comes to food.

Would you want to shop this way?

See the video.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Sweet Read and Pie Tasting

Tomorrow, I will be having my first Sweet Read and Pie Tasting. I am going to a local library where I will read from the Cutie Pies Chronicles, offer pie samples from recipes that are included in the books and sell signed books. A proceed from sales will go as a donation to the library.

If this goes well, I hope to visit some more libraries to do the same type of event. Wish me luck!

Gotta go make some pies. I plan to make a raspberry swirl cheesecake and some tomato tarts. I will also have iced tea and water to drink.

If you live in my area, I will be at the Sullivan Gardens Public Library on Bluegrass Drive in Kingsport from 11-12.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Another Dreadful Thought

Marian here, with another example of why it's lucky I use my powers for good instead of for ee-vil.

This thought began with the somber reflection that we've lost several of our older members from our congregation in the past month, two of them married and passing within a few weeks of one another.

You'd think that would focus my mind on serious things and make me vow to be clean and pure and noble, at least for a while.

But being a writer is a gift...(say it with me)...and a curse.

Because, whenever a member of our congregation--or a close relative of a member, or someone who was never a member but was a friend of ours--passes, we furnish a lunch for them in our fellowship hall after the funeral, with various members bringing assigned foods.

You can see where I'm going with this.

What better way for someone with a grudge against a whole family, or someone with a grudge against one member of the funeral party and who doesn't care who else gets hurt, to cut a wide swath.... Or to target one person and mix up the tracks by having the poison/allergen in the dish someone else prepared....

Lucky I'm a friendly cuss and like everybody. :)


Monday, May 10, 2010


I am under a rather large deadline gun (it kind of looks like a canon in my imagination with a lit fuse slowly burning down to the butt end) and had an out of town guest this weekend (plans made before the deadline became quite so imperative), so I am going to be on blogging hiatus until the end of May. I did want to share one quick food-related story, though, before I vanish into my hermit pit.

My guest, BB, and I walked from my house (near the zoo) along Ocean Beach to Golden Gate Park, between two and three miles, and then planned on walking through the park, looking at sights such as the Japanese Tea Gardens, etc., along the way until we reached the Haight. There we would have lunch and poke our heads into the various eclectic stores along Haight Street. We entered Golden Gate Park up at the far north end across from Ocean Beach, marked by a large windmill. Now I have a very good sense of direction and have walked through the park several times. This time we decided it would be fun to take some of the less traveled paths in the wooded parts of the park and see where those took us. We could see the houses of the Sunset District on our right as a landmark as to which direction we needed to go.

Makes sense, right?

Well, I thought so too.

After about an hour or so of pleasant rambling, we came out onto an intersection, Martin Luther King Blvd. and JFK Blvd. BB looked at the sign, looked at me and mentioned she recognized the street signs. I looked too and shook my head. No, not possible. Then she pointed and said, "But isn't that the ocean?"

I looked. It was. We had somehow ended up approximately a quarter mile from where we entered the park in the first place. We stuck to the main drag for the rest of our walk, now very hungry and quite thirsty. We were going to wait until we reached the Haight, but the sight of a little hot dog/pretzel stand crumbled that resolve like a sand castle at high tide. We each got a bottle of ice cold water and split a hot salted pretzel with deli mustard. The water tasted like nectar, the pretzel like the finest gourmet meal.

It's not always what you eat that makes a meal memorable. Sometimes it's the circumstances under which you eat it.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

A celebration of Locavore

Locavore – one who eats only locally grown or raised food (

Locavore - A new word. So new my spell checker doesn’t recognize it.

Locavore – The title of a book. Locavore: From Farmers' Fields to Rooftop Gardens - How Canadians are Changing the Way We Eat by Sarah Elton of Toronto.

My local bookstore, Books and Company, Main Street, Picton, Ontario, last month had a visit by Elton, and a friend and I went along because it is a subject we are interested in.

It turned out to be so much more than your regular book signing and reading. Many of the local small and organic food producers were there, displaying their wares (and offering tastings, yum, yum). To our surprise when we asked to buy items, some of the vendors said they weren’t really set up to accept money. How’s that for a change?

We nibbled on cheese from Fifth Town (, nuts and greens from Vicki’s Veggies (, and smoked fish from Smoked Salmon House ( There was more produce from Honey Wagon Farms ( and many other farmers and food producers.
Oh, and did I mention wine from the Grange Winery? (

We tasted samples, bought fresh produce (yes, in Ontario in April) and talked to the farmers. Then we all took our seats and Sarah talked to us about Locavore and her travels throughout Canada learning all about locally produced food. She told us that Prince Edward County (where I live) is the locavore capital of Ontario. Who knew?
But I’m not surprised. We’re surrounded by farms and farmers, many of the determined to putting fresh and local back into eating.

After Sarah’s talk, there was lunch.


The lunch was pot luck, courtesy of the members of Slow Food The County, ( an organization dedicated to slow food, to making us all aware of where our food comes from.

Books and wine and fresh delicious food.

Who could want anything more?

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Feasting the Senses

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote an entry here at Fatal Foodies about Roman food - what people ate in southern Europe two thousand years ago, and how Colleen McCullough, in particular, used her knowledge of the Roman diet to enhance the realism of her novel, The First Man In Rome. 

I was recently reminded of another wonderful historical novel, This Hippopotamus Marsh, by Pauline Gedge, that does much the same thing, but for ancient Egypt.  Gedge's description of life in Twelfth Dynasty Egypt is so lovingly detailed, so sensual, that you can feel your clothes sticking to your skin in the heat, and the cool barley beer sliding down your throat.

In Gedge's books, we are not simply observers of the action, but we are invited to experience the characters' lives along with them, using all our senses - the sights and sounds, the feel, the smell, and of course, the taste. 

Come join in the banquet :

Flowers littered the tiny dining tables scattered over the tiled floor, trembling in the drafts from floating linen and sending their perfume gusting into the room.  Every lamp...had turned the dim expanse into a golden day. There were no shadows.  The stewards bent with brimming wine jugs over guests who held up their cups eagerly...Duck, fish and gazelle meat smoked under fresh leaves of pungent cilantro.  Stalks of celery springs of parsley and round brown chick peas nestled on beds of crisp lettuce.  Sycamore figs soaked in honey from the persea trees and little crumbling sweet cakes were offered, and the beer was flavoured with pomegranates and mint.  Kamose's musicians plucked and tapped valiantly, the melodies almost lost under the clamour around them.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Something for everybody!

For all you booklovers, foodies, writers and pop culture lovers, check out author Brenda Novak's annual auction to benefit diabetes research. The auction is going on until the end of May and has some fabulous items up for grabs. I have a set of Daphne Martin books and a first chapter critique on the auction block.

Other items up for bid (do I sound like a game show host?) are movie and TV posters signed by the cast (we're talking about such hits as Pirates of the Caribbean, Lost and *gasp* Breakfast at Tiffany's autographed by Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard), gift baskets, jewelry, artwork and even vacations. There are raffles, too, as well as the opportunity to be mentored by Brenda Novak and have your work submitted to her agent. Several editors and agents are offering critiques and evaluations. Some conference and convention packages are available, and there are quite a few promotional and networking opportunities to bid on. I keep getting drawn back over, but I'm trying to keep away because I want EVERYTHING! :-)

I told you "something for everybody," right? See what YOU can find.

To all our Moms, "Happy Mother's Day!" :)

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Mmm, I love candles, but the sweet smell of -- White Castle?

For National Burger Month (which ends May 31, who knew?) White Castle had what the higher-ups must've thought was a brainstorm idea.

To benefit Autism Speaks, the company, as you must've heard by now, is selling ($10 each) special ceramic candle holders shaped like the classic "slider" container.

That's cute and a good fundraising idea. But.... inside is a candle that smells, supposedly, like onions and burgers. Ugh!

Bad enough when you cook and the smell stays in the house for awhile, but scenting it like fried onions (or whatever scent passes for it) - deliberately?

Oh, and checking out the "House of Crave" store - (egads! is WC that popular??) - it looks like enough people thought it disgusting or unique enough that the candle is Sold OUT!

** Your Turn: Ok 'fess up - did you buy one? Or would you?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Happy Cinco de Mayo!

When trying to explain to my daughter what today is, I struggled a bit. Cinco de Mayo is not technically Mexican Independence Day, nor is it simply a day to have tamales and Corona.
A radio show was dicussing the holiday just as Calli began asking questions. I came home and looked at some information that backed up what the radio hosts were saying.
Cinco de Mayo celebrates a Mexican military victory over the French. The Mexicans were far outnumbered, but were still able to claim victory. The holiday is not such a big day all over Mexico, but largely celebrated in just a particular region of the country. One of the radio hosts stated that some people in Mexico find it humorous the way we celebrate it in America, just the way that some Irish think that American's over-the-top St. Patrick's Day observances of an Irish holiday are funny.
Me, I think observing holidays of other countries is a fun way to learn about other cultures, and of course, sample their food! Here's an easy recipe for Cinco de Mayo:

Easy Chicken Quesadillas
Pour a can of Rotel Diced Tomatoes and Green Chilies into a greased or non-stick skillet. Cook boneless, skinless chicken breasts in the tomatoes until most of the liquid is absorbed. Chop the chicken and layer with cheddar or Monteray Jack cheese on flour tortillas. You can either layer the chicken and cheese on half of one tortilla, then fold the tortilla over the filling. Or, you can cover one tortilla with chicken and cheese, then place another tortilla over top. Melt butter in the same skiller that you used to brown the chicken. Cook tortillas on both sides until cheese is melted. Cut into wedges with a pizza-cutter. Top with lettuce, tomatoes, guacamole, salsa, sour cream, etc.

I love this with a side of yellow rice!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Thief Taker

I'm currently reading THE THIEF TAKER by Janet Gleeson and, man, does it fit the theme of this blog!

The POV character is Agnes, the cook in a rich and respected silversmith family household in the 1700s. One of the apprentices is found dead and the valuable commission he was guarding is gone. The same night, the kitchen maid disappears. We're with the thief, so we know the boy was dead when he got there. We're with the kitchen maid as she leaves the house, so we know she didn't kill the boy and that she's being followed.

Agnes is sent to commission The Thief Taker, a sort of private detective before there was a police force--before there were The Bow Street Runners--to find the stolen silver. If he catches the apprentice's murderer, as well, that's okay, but the commission is to recover the silver.

The Thief Taker has the reputation of being no better than the criminals he catches; indeed, he's rumored to engineer crimes in order to drum up business for himself.

That's as far as I've read, and you better believe this is one book I'm not going to put down in the middle of a sentence, as I do more often than I care to tell you. "You know what? I don't really care if anybody in this book lives or dies," I say, and that's the end for that book. But I cared about these characters from the first paragraph, and my little brain is working all the time I'm reading it, trying to get all Mentalist with the characters and try to figure out what they're thinking, what they know, what they did, what they're lying about, what they'll do next.

Plus, Gleeson never forgets that Agnes is a cook. You could probably cook from the descriptions Gleeson gives of Agnes' activities, though boiled calf head or soup made from pounded crawfish shells are probably not going to be on my menu any time soon.


Monday, May 3, 2010

Road Food!

Which is not to be confused with road kill. No, I'm talking about stopping to eat while on a road trip. More specifically, the first time I took a road trip where I was the person behind the wheel, captain of my particular Enterprise. In charge of my destiny. Which, in this case, meant having the choice of when and where to stop for bathroom breaks and sustenance.

My first real taste of this sort of freedom was a trip to San Francisco with Andrea, a friend from Germany. We were both in our late teens (over 18, but under 21) and she was visiting our family for the summer. I wanted to take a theatrical combat workshop in Golden Gate Park being taught by an ex flame of mine (we later became engaged, but that's another story) and Andrea wanted to explore more of California. We'd have a place to stay and very little expenditure besides money for gas and food. Road trip!

Andrea and I got along with a comfortable familiarity that usually comes with years of friendship (our friendship, although separated by oceans, is still strong) and spent time bickering over whether or not I could handle driving on the Autobahn (I insisted I could, she said she doubted it. Years have taught me she was probably right), discussed the men (okay, boys) in our lives, and generally enjoyed the heady freedom of two young and attractive not-quite-women on an adventure sans any sort of guardianship. What really brought home that sense of freedom was the very first stop for something to eat along the way. I don't remember where we stopped or what we ate. It might have been as simple as a cup of coffee to keep awake as the hour grew late and the I-5 stretched in front of us. But I DO remember the feeling of absolute joy as I realized I could stop anywhere I wanted, eat anything I wanted, and had to answer to nothing other than my budget.

I've driven cross country a few times, up and down the length of California many times, and other random day trips, and each Stucky's (Caramel Nut Logs and Date Shakes here!), Flying J Truck stop, little off-the-beaten-path cafe or greasy spoon brings back that sensation of being in total control and having absolute freedom at the same time. Food never tastes so good as it does on a road trip.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Planting in Season

After seeing the picture of Vicki's garden, I have to write something about seasonal foods.  The picture at left of one of the deep bed gardens in my back yard in Tempe, Arizona, was taken two days ago.  There's quite a noticeable difference between the growing seasons in Canada and the Sonoran Desert.  I put my garden in late in February.  By the first of May, my acorn squash is covered in blossoms, the corn is knee-high, the onions are edible, radishes are on their second or third planting.  

It's not as easy to grow tomatoes here as it is in most other parts of the country, but I've got some very nice plants this year.  I set them out in February, too, and now the bushes are chest high and covered with green fruit.  The trick out here is to put plants in the ground early enough that they can ripen before it gets so hot that the tomatoes are all burned up. I have a six-inch layer of mulch over all my garden beds to help hold in the water and cool the soil, and soon even that won't be enough. In just a couple of weeks, I'll be rigging shade over the sunnier parts of the garden, and watering my potted herbs twice a day. 

The difference in when and where things can be grown was impressed upon me recently when I was reading a book on macrobiotic diets.  One piece of advice that was given in the book was that one should "avoid tropical fruits, since they are not native grown foods."  Oh, really?  Depends on where you live, don't you think?

For me, seasonal and locally grown foods include oranges, grapefruits, and lemons in the winter and spring, dates, nopal, and prickly pear in the summer and fall.