Friday, April 30, 2010

A Fellowship for Appalachian Writers

I came across this today and thought I'd share it since it seems like a wonderful opportunity for writers living in the Southern Appalachian region:

The Jean Ritchie Fellowship seeks to support, encourage and honor writers from the Southern Appalachians. The fellowship is the first of its kind for the region's writers, and is committed to Appalachian voices. The fellowship strives to support artists who create works of beauty and social relevance, while honoring traditional heritage and forging a new path.

Submissions for the Jean Ritchie Fellowship in Writing come from literally every state in the region, as well as from natives who live in various states across the country. However, before applying, please consult the map (found at http://www.lmunet.edu/mhlf/fellowship.shtml) to determine if the county and state in which you live, or are originally from, is eligible as defined by the fellowship requirements. Indicate your county and state in the cover letter (specific guidelines are on the website).

Award amount: $1,500
Application fee: Ten dollars per submission.
You may apply in more than one genre. For each genre in which you apply, there is an additional five dollar reading fee.
Fellowship Guidelines:
Poetry: Submit no more than ten pages.
Prose (Fiction and Nonfiction): Submit no more than twenty pages.
All work samples must be double-side printed and page numbered. Previously published material will not be accepted. No collaborative work samples or joint applications, please. Include a very brief, one page cover letter. To ensure an anonymous reading process, please do not put your name on any application materials excepting the cover letter. For all genres, include a statement of purpose—no more than two pages. Specific statement of purpose and application guidelines are on the website.Please visit http://www.lmunet.edu/mhlf/fellowship.shtml for full guidelines.

If you enter, good luck; and be sure and let us know if you win!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

No More Happy Meals?

So one county in California has banned that childhood (and collector's) favorite - the Happy Meal, saying that it is partly to blame for childhood obesity.

Oh?

Granted, fast food is not - and should not - be standard dinner or lunch fare. You can hope that parents do not take their kids to McDonald's that much and let them nosh on cheeseburgers more than a couple times a week.

The keyword here - parents. Yes, advertising those toys makes the meals a top choice to kids. But... can a burger once or even a few times a week really be the culprit for weight problems?

Sorry, but a knee-jerk reaction blaming one thing simply isn't the answer. Most likely it's letting kids eat lots of junk food (candy, cookies, snacks), and overeating, combined with less exercise and more TV watching-video game playing that is the real reason why kids (and a lot of us) are packing on pounds these days. Banning one item won't solve the problem.

Your opinion?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

In Case you Need a Good Excuse to eat Ice Cream

What's better than an ice cream cone? Cold, sweet, creamy ice cream in a crispy, crackly cone hits all of my taste buds in all the right spots.
Today, everyone who loves ice cream can indulge their sweet tooth at a cheap price for a good cause. Participating Baskin Robbins are selling 31 cent scoops. The proceeds will go to a charity that honors fallen firefighters.
http://www.baskinrobbins.com/spotlight/31CentScoopNight.aspx
If you cannot get down to Baskin Robbins, here is a simple ice cream treat:
Bake a batch of slice and bake chocolate chip cookies. Once the cookies have cooled, make sandwiches by flattening out a scoops of mint chip ice cream between two cookies. Wrap each cookie sandwich in waxed paper, Place wrapped cookie sandwiches in freezer bags.
You won't be able to stay out of your freezer with these treats inside!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Tofu Tikka Masala

I am inordinately fond of tofu, carnivore though I am. I also love chicken tikka masala, but I’m off factory chicken, so I decided to try adapting my chicken tikka masala recipe for tofu.

Tofu Tikka Masala

  • 1 block EXTRA FIRM tofu, NOT SILKEN
  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • garam masala to taste–I used about 1/4-1/2 tsp
  • salt to taste
  • 1/2 tablespoon butter
  • 1/2 tablespoon garlic-flavored olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
  • 1 cup heavy cream or half-and-half or milk–if milk, mix with 1 tablespoon flour

Freeze the tofu, then defrost it. Squash as much liquid out of it as you can and cut it into cubes.

Mix yogurt, lemon juice, garam masala and salt. Combine with tofu and toss to coat the cubes. Marinate at least an hour.

Heat butter and oil. If you don’t have garlic-flavored oil, add garlic powder to tofu coating mix. Put tofu into hot butter/oil and turn to brown on all sides. Remove tofu from pan.

Add tomato sauce and paprika and heat. Add cream, half-and-half or milk-and-flour. Cool, stirring, until sauce thickens. Add tofu and heat through.

Serve over rice.

~~~

I put Basmati rice, drained canned peas, butter, salt and water into my rice cooker and it came out very nice. Not having any naan bread, I brushed flour tortillas with butter and broiled them for a couple of minutes. Also very nice.

I liked it very much when it was fresh. Leftover, the tofu absorbed too much liquid and wasn’t as nice, though the flavor was unimpaired. Charlie thought it was “okay,” but he loved the rice-and-peas.

MA

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Can't wait for that lettuce


The picture is of my garden plot. You will note that it looks a mite bare. Hopefully it will soon be bursting with all sorts of edible wonders.

I planted lettuce seeds yesterday.

Yahoo! I can almost taste those fresh leaves. Last year was the first time I had grown my own greens. I could not believe how good they were. I would sometimes go out to the garden and pick one or two just to pop in my mouth. They needed almost no dressing, just a touch of oil and vinegar. And the colours, not only green, but all different shades of green, red, purple, green with speckles. A salad of fresh greens doesn’t need any sort of accompaniments. Maybe a couple of cherry tomatoes, but you don’t want to clutter it up with carrots, mushrooms, peppers, and certainly not with cheese. Nuts are nice for a bit of texture though.

(Why do Americans smother salad with grated cheddar cheese anyway? In Canada you never get salad with orange cheese, sometimes with crumbly blue cheese or creamy goats milk. Never cheddar. And the cheese is always very good and quite expenseive)

The difference between fresh grown lettuce and the stuff you buy in the supermarket, even if it is supposedly fresh, is unbelievable. Like they’re completely different things.
Here is my recipe that I only make when I have super fresh greens from my or a friend’s garden.

Vicki’s Salad Dressing

Olive Oil (3 parts oil to one part vinegar)
Vinegar
1/2 tsp sugar
1 tbsp Maggi seasoning sauce
Salt and pepper

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Lard

Ive finally ‘finished’ the manuscript for my fifth book, Crying Blood, and am now in the process of writing the recipe section that goes at the back of all the Alafair Tucker novels.  This particular book contains a plot element that revolves around hog butchering and the process of putting up the meat. 

Butchering a hog or two after the first frost was an annual task for my grandfather, and for most American farmers of the previous couple of centuries. One good sized hog could feed your family for a year, if it was properly preserved.  Every scrap of the carcass was used.  Even the ears were smoked and given to the dogs.  My grandmother pickled the trotters, or pig’’s feet, which my father loved all his life.  I liked them, too, when I was a child and hadn’t yet developed the delicate sensibilities I now possess.

One of the most useful products to come from a hog carcass was lard.  The pure white fat was used for more than just cooking.  It was used as a lubricant, to make lotions and medicines, and to make soap.  I know that these days, the idea of cooking with lard is anathema.  The very word conjures up visions of fat-clogged arteries and multiple-bypass heart surgeries.

One of the more interesting facts I came across while doing my lard-rendering research is that lard in and of itself is not unhealthy.  It becomes dangerous when it is hydrogenated, which is what food companies have done for years in order to keep lard from spoiling on the shelf.  According to more than one source, home-rendered lard actually has its benefits, and is way better for you than hydrogenated vegetable shortening.  It has less saturated fat that butter, a high smoking point, foods fried in it tend to absorb less lat, and it has and a neutral effect on blood cholesterol.  And if you’ve ever eaten a pie crust made with homemade lard....well, it cannot be beaten, tastewise.

But here’s the rub.  You have to make your own.  It ‘s not a hard task, but it isn’t fragrant, and it is a lot of trouble.  But if you’re game, here’s how you do it:

Buy a big hunk of pig fat. (you can get it from your local butcher, but I’d be concerned about the quality of life of the pig it came from. If you live near a humane, organic, family pig farm, get your fat from that farmer.) Cube the fat and add it to a small amount of water in a large pot.  Heat on fairly low heat, stirring occasionally, until the fats melts.  This will take a while, about an hour for a pound or so of fat.  The fat will pop and crackle as it melts and the air pockets burst.  Stir often with a wooden spoon.  

Eventually, little pieces of crispy pork will begin floating to the surface.  These are the ‘cracklings’.  When the cracklings begin to sink, the lard is done.  After it cools, pour the liquid fat through cheesecloth into sterile jars.  The cracklings will be caught in the cheesecloth.  Save them and eat them as a snack.  They’re yummy, if my childhood memory serves. Chill the lard in the refrigerator, or, like Alafair would have done, outside on the porch in the crisp fall air.  It will solidify like butter and turn pure white. I have never rendered lard, myself, though if I remember correctly, my sister gave it a try many years ago.  (DId you, Carol, or am I hallucinating?)  My grandmother rendered her lard in a big iron cauldron out in her back yard. I understand that when kept cool, lard will keep for months.


Friday, April 23, 2010

Help for Bakers

My children turned 14 on Wednesday; and for the first time since their first birthday, I made them a combined cake. I used a chocolate cake recipe that has been in our family for years. You make the cake and the frosting, and you frost the cake as soon as you take it out of the oven. It's delicious. In fact, I meant to post the recipe here. But for some reason, the cake didn't turn out as I'd remembered. It was still good, but it didn't rise as I thought it should've and the texture was a bit rubbery.

I did a search and found this site: Askville Baking Help. The site has a lot of good questions and answers for your problems. As for my cake, although the receipe didn't call for baking powder (only baking soda), I should have added baking powder as well. Now I know. *sigh*

Anyway, this is a really good resource should you need one!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Picture's Worth a Thousand Words.... at least with food




Didn't know what to write about today, so thought I'd do a visual post. This is the amazing cheesecake my nephew Steven and sister Sharon dreamed up. Gorgeous! Steven even made that orange rose.

The cheesecake originated as part of my mystery set in a diner that I'm sending around. I'm calling it Mandarin Dream. It has a fantastic orange flavor. Almost too pretty to eat! (but we did and it was great!)

I'll share the recipe later, but for now here are some flavored cheesecake recipes - tropical, strawberry, and even chocolate malted? Hmmm...

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Pickled Limes



Little Women is one of my favorite books of all times. I have a beautiful hardback version that I received for Christmas when I was about 10. This is one of those books that I cannot wait to pull off the shelf and share with my girls.

One scene that I always think of from the books is when Amy laments over the things that they cannot afford. She becomes focussed on the pickled limes that other girls bring to school. Her sister Meg gives Amy a bit of pocket change to buy some limes. Amy becomes heartbroken when, after being caught eating the limes in class, she is instructed to throw the limes away.

Because of this scene in the book, I have wondered about pickled limes ever since I was a kid. One Google search revealed that they were brought over from England, and were apparently fashionable in New England. I also found this discussion of them on Amazon:



Has anyone ever had them? My childhood curiosity has again been piqued!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Spear of Doom


Marian here, with another ghastly idea.

That's what we called asparagus when I was growing up. It didn't really matter what we called it, since we hardly ever had it and, when we did, it was canned smoosh hardly worthy of the name--or any name, other than canned smoosh. Still, I came to like it and was MOST disappointed when I had some fresh and it didn't taste like salted aluminum and had an actual texture other than...you know...smoosh.

But I thought it was way cool that people could actually grow their own luxury item so, when we moved to the country, I bought a package of asparagus seed. Folks laughed at me. "Don't you know it takes three years from planting before you can harvest asparagus?" I was like, "How long will it be if I don't plant it?"

As usual, the laugh was on me, because you can buy mature crowns (the bit that grows underground and sends up the asparagus shoots) to cut the time. Ah, well. Meanwhile, I got to see the little teeny baby asparagus shoots and ferns, which was a charming experience. It was like fairy food. Miniature folks, please note: How cool would it be to plant asparagus seed in tubs outside your miniature house and have tiny little living plants come up? Very cool! (By the way, by "miniature folks", I meant people interested in miniatures, not, like, The Borrowers or The Incredible Shrinking Man, although they're welcome to the idea, as well.)

Anyway, now we have an asparagus bed. Yesterday, we had fresh asparagus for supper. It was not salty aluminum smoosh, it was full-flavored and crisp-tender and delicious. And this is what it looks like when it first comes up. I kid you not. Yes, it looks like some wisenheimer bought some asparagus spears at the grocery and stuck them into the dirt, but this is how they come up. Then those nubs at the top open into fronds and you get this pretty lacy ferny plant. The female ones (sorry about the s3x) grow little red berries, which drop and make more baby plants.

The bad thing is the asparagus beetles. Heartbreaking, to come out and find bugs all over your asparagus spear (is it getting hot in here, or is it just me?). Anyway, Charlie says he's going to dust the bed with Sevin to see if he can wipe out the bugs early in the harvest. That means I'll have to wash the spears in warm soapy water before we cook or marinate them.

But what if my character didn't? What if he/she didn't like asparagus, but somebody he/she didn't like did? Wonder how much dust "Pat" would have to put on before it was enough? If I invented the chemical, it wouldn't have to be much. Bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha!

Evil lurks. It lurks!

MA

Monday, April 19, 2010

Would you like a muffin, Ma'am?


There used to be a bakery in La Jolla next to the wonderful Karl Strauss Brew Pub (an entire post could be written on their microbrewery beers alone). I think the name was Alpine Bakery. Something like that, conjuring up a cozy skiing town, the scent of cinnamon rolls and muffins permeating the street. La Jolla is hardly a cozy skiing destination, but the aromas from the bakery did their best to permeate the entire block.

Back when I lived in L.A., I'd visit my hometown of San Diego at least twice a month on weekends, sometimes (during my more carefree days as a temp) for a week or so at a time, sometimes alone, sometimes with Brian (my then boyfriend/husband). We'd meet Maureen (best friend) as early in the morning as any of us could stand it, pick up coffee and pastries, and go for walks along the cliffs, beach and neighborhoods of La Jolla. One of our preferred places to get breakfast was the Alpine Bakery because of their impressive selection of muffins, cinnamon buns, croissants and other baked goods. A carb-loader's dream.

My personal favorite was their mixed berry muffins, available in low-fat and fat-fat versions. These babies were studded with blueberries, raspberries and blackberries. No 'three blueberries and call it a day' muffins here!

What I didn't like about the Alpine was one particular counter gal; a stocky woman in her mid to late twenties with a a chip on her shoulder the size of Texas (and you know everything bigger in Texas!) and the most interesting case of passive-aggressive behavior I've ever experienced. Oddly enough, when I was looking for an illustration of an 'angry smile,' Google images came up with the cover of this book. I may have to actually get a copy of it 'cause I found this woman (henceforth known as Muffin Ma'am) absolutely fascinating even while she set my teeth on edge.

First time I got in her line, I smiled as I reached the front. She smiled back, a momentary baring of teeth in a rictus worthy of Enzyte Bob. Large, blank eyes stared at me from behind black-rimmed glasses. "Can I help you ... MA'AM?" She didn't quite yell, but the emphasis on that one word felt like a slap in the face.

"Er... sure! I'd like a mixed berry muffin and a--"

"A mixed berry muffin, MA'AM?"

"Yes. And a--"

"Would you like anything else, MA'AM?"

By this time I was getting cranky. "Yup, a coffee. Thanks."

"Is that all, MA'AM?"

"Yup." Almost against my will, I paid her and left a minimal tip in the jar.

Maybe she'd had too much caffeine that morning, I thought. Whatever, it was just weird. I dismissed it as a fluke and forgot about it until the next visit to the Alpine Bakery.

Muffin Ma'am was behind the counter and this time she Ma'am'd both me and Maureen. Brian did not get the Ma'am, but then I ordered for him while he read a newspaper in the corner.
Each "Ma'am" once again felt like a bludgeon with which this gal beat unwelcome customers. Killing us with a courteous word that thinly disguised possible murderous intent.

"Maybe she was in the military?" Maureen hazarded a guess.

Maybe. But that still wouldn't account for the barely veiled hostility radiating from every pore of Muffin Ma'am's body.

We never did figure it out. We liked the baked goods well enough to risk what was truly an unpleasant encounter every time we got Muffin Ma'am as our counter clerk. But I never got over the feeling if she could have poisoned every berry in every muffin she served, she would have.

She'll make a great character in Murder for Hire: The Big Snooze!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Grow Your Own

Health problems made 2008 and 2009 horrible years around my house, though all our crises seem to have abated and things are distinctly looking up by now.  One of the consequences of having to deal with in-your-face health problems is that many other details of daily living go by the wayside.  Such as yard work.

I did the best I could to keep the front yard looking presentable enough that the neighbors wouldn’t call the police, but the fenced-in back yard only got dealt with when I couldn’t navigate my way through to take the trash out to the alley without a machete.  Finally, I simply couldn’t keep up with it and found a guy to come by every two weeks and do it for me.

Best decision ever.  It took my yard guy a few visits to get the place looking spiffy again, and now he not only keeps it in good condition, every time he comes, he spends a little time on some beautification project.  Section by section, he cleaned out and relined the xeriscaped areas beside the patio.  He brought in some extra river rock he had left over from another job and filled one of the flower beds that is too shady to grow anything in.  Then, he brought in a leftover tomato plant and planted it by the back fence.

Once upon a time, Don and I were avid, if somewhat unskilled, gardeners.  Many years ago, he built a deep bed garden in the back, where we enthusiastically attempted to grow our own veggies.  I say attempted, because what we learned about raising crops we learned in the southern plains of Oklahoma, where there are seasons.  Arizona is a whole different ball of wax.  The ‘seasons’ are Warm and Hot, Dry, and Not So Dry. Sometimes our garden succeeded, sometimes not, but when we did manage to produce something, it was wonderful.  For several years, we had spectacular artichokes.  We did very well with giant sunflowers, which if you’ve never grown , harvested, dried, and processed your own sunflower seeds, you don’t know what you’re missing. 

The whole time Don was ill, and I was doing basically nothing with the yard, I did manage to cover that deep bed with newspaper, whatever weeds and grass I was able to cut, or leaves I could rake, and a few shovelfuls of soil.  Then, for two years, I used that garden as a compost heap, where I buried all my orts and scraps of food, coffee grounds, tea bags, and egg shells. And so it sat, and the rain and the heat and the long sunny, dry days, slowly turned my vegetable trash into loam.  Then the yard guy planted a tomato, and we were inspired..

My husband is in good shape again, and for the first time in years, we are growing our own herbs and veggies.  First, two heirloom yellow tomato plants joined their compatriot, then several herbs took up residence in pots and planters.  Then we moved to the deep bed, where now grow melons, potatoes, corn, cucumbers,  carrots, onions, rosemary, lavender, several mints, garlic, and two or three kinds of squash.  Everything looks hale and healthy, and I’m already harvesting fresh herbs for cooking.  The compost is keeping the garden moist and keeping the weeds down.  The tomatoes are covered with flowers.  

The only thing that remains to be seen is if we can sustain this lovely beginning until harvest.

Friday, April 16, 2010

CakeGirls

Sisters and "cakegirls" Brenda and Mary Maher once shared a bedroom and an Easy Bake Oven. Since 2000, they've been equal partners in the Chicago bakery Cakegirls. (More about the sisters' business is contained in a June 30, 2009 Business Week article.) On March 29, 2010, their shop burned to the ground. As you can read in a letter on their site, they're grateful no one was harmed and for the outpouring of encouragement they've received from the public.


Since bakery employees' jobs are on hold while Brenda and Mary rebuild their business, Cakegirls is selling t-shirts to help their staff "bridge the gap." If you'd like to help out by ordering a t-shirt, here is the link. In the meantime, please keep Brenda, Mary and their employees in your prayers.


Thursday, April 15, 2010

Snap, Blog, Eat

I saw this story a couple weeks ago and knew I had to mention it here.

I know that a good diet tip is to write down everything you eat. That way you'll keep track. But there are people, it seems who take pictures of everything they eat. Not for diet purposes. Not for journaling, but for blogging. They cook, snap, then eat or blog then eat. Read more about it here.

Is it a new form of neuroses? Nothing better to do?

I guess it can be interesting, especially when you read about someone in another country, like the guy from Ecuador who is obsessed with blogging about his meals. But do you really care what someone else ate every day and day after day, ad nauseum?

Maybe it is a good diet tip; sharing your terrible habits. Or it can turn you off to a food quick if the pictures look bad.

So, what do you think? Yes, the tortillas were dinner tonight - tacos. Trust me, they were good. No, I'm not sharing the rest of the day's meals.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Bake-Off Winners on Today's Oprah

Some lucky person is going to win 1 million. The Pillsbury Bake-Off winners will be announced on today's broadcast of Oprah. Unfortunately, my friend who was a finalist did not win. She has said on her Facebook page that she had a really great time at the exciting Bake-Off finals.

The Pillsbury website has some great looking recipes from the competition. They may just inspire a Fatal Foodie to enter the next Pillsbury Bake-Off!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Food From The Past

"Long past?" "No, your past." --Sorry, a Dickens fit took me. No, this is not about A Christmas Carol, although you're welcome to break out some of that off-season egg-nog some stores are trying to off-load during Easter if you want to.

This is about FaceBook, sort of. I got on FaceBook and now I'm in contact with old school friends. Some of us went to the same grade school together, and we've reminisced a bit about foods we remember. Mom and I did some of that the other day, too.

One of the things we remember is peanut butter on buns. Isn't it weird to think of a time when all children were given peanut butter as a matter of course? That would be a horror story, these days. Mom remembers having a slab of chocolate on hers, but we only had peanut butter.

Another thing my friends and I remember is something that sounds disgusting, but was--and is--a real comfort food. Split a banana, put on a glob of peanut butter and a glob of mayonnaise (YES) and sprinkle liberally with brown sugar. OH, it is so good!

In fact, I mix equal amounts of mayonnaise and brown sugar to use for a dip or dressing for fresh fruit. When one of our daughters was little, she asked what I was making and I said, "berry-dipping sauce," but she misheard me. It's been "bear-whipping sauce" ever since.

I think I've told that story before. Mom says that pretty soon we'll only need one book and one video, because neither one of us will remember ever having read or seen it before. I hope they're good ones.

MA

Monday, April 12, 2010

Apologies!

Once again I am running mega late with my post! I didn't crack another tooth (see last Monday's post), but the existing cracked tooth with temp crown is still very persnickety about that I can eat and can't, and how long it takes me to consume things. Luckily I've moved past having to sip my wine with a straw! That was just kind of humiliatin'...

I've been working overtime on my current WIP and realize it is lacking in certain details I usually include in all of my work. Like descriptions of food and drink. This is probably because I'm writing a paranormal horror/romance set in a zombie apocalypse and the main source of food is human flesh. Kind of cuts my inspiration for food related posts off at the knees a bit.

But I will persevere and next Monday I promise a post about muffins and the 'Ma'am' counter clerk.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Ten dollars for breakfast!


In my last post I talked about the massive quantities of food that potential prospectors had to schlep over the Chilkoot Pass on their way to the gold fields of the Yukon during the Great Klondike Gold Rush.

When they got there, they weren’t necessarily restricted to a diet of beans and bacon and dried potatoes that they’d carried.

Anything considered a luxury was, as you can imagine, incredibly rare and thus expensive.

Bear in mind that this was a time in which a labourer, and a Constable in the North-West Mounted Police (precursors to the RCMP), earned about a dollar and a quarter a day. When the first cow arrived in town, its owner sold the milk for thirty dollars a gallon. Tomatoes were five dollars a pound. Oranges and lemons: 0.50 to 1.30 each. Champagne: $20 to 40 a pint

Some tinned oysters arrived and were bought by a restaurant owner who then charged $15 for a bowl of oyster stew.

Restaurant meals were sometimes not entirely as advertised. Porterhouse Steak at $8.00 was on the menu at the Eldorado Cafe. What you got was a bit of moose meat, or beef, beans, a small dish of stewed apples or peaches, bread and butter, and a cup of tea or coffee.

At Pete’s (which for some reason was so named although run by a guy named Jake) the menu advertised:

Sandwiches $.75
Caviar Sandwiches 1.00
Sardines 1.00
Doughnuts .75
Canned fruits 1.00
Hamburg steak 2.00
Chocolate or cocoa .75
Tea or coffee .50

Despite the extravagance of its menu, at most times, Pete’s rarely had much on hand other than a few tins of sardines, a pan of beans, and a loaf of bread.

In Gold Fever, the newest book in the Klondike Gold Rush series, one of the dance hall hostesses treats a friend to breakfast.

The remains of a lavish breakfast were on the table in front of them, not yet cleared away. Streaks of yellow egg yolk ran across the girl’s plate. More precious than gold, the eggs alone would have cost Irene a fortune.

Drama ensues and everyone rushes out of the restaurant neglecting to take time to pay.

The waiter from the Imperial restaurant stopped one of the young Mounties. “That woman,” he shouted, “didn’t pay her bill. Ten dollars!” he waved the paper in the air. Even over my terror … I was shocked that anyone would spend ten dollars for a breakfast!

It’s all relative, isn’t it?

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Writing and the History of Food


Several years ago, Australian Colleen McCollough, author of many best sellers, including The Thorn Birds, wrote a series of novels set at the end of the Roman Republic and the beginning of the Empire.  I’m a sucker for historical epics, and these books qualify in spades.  The first book in the series, The First Man in Rome, begins in about 110 B.C. Anyone who has ever read McCullough knows that she writes in tremendous detail about every aspect of the lives of her characters, not just how they are affected by the Great Events of the Times, but about the minutia of their daily lives.  This includes what they eat for dinner.

I always enjoy reading about how and what people in the past ate.  This is why I concentrate on this aspect of life in my own books.  However, it’s easier for me to find out how people fed themselves in early 20th Century Oklahoma than it is for another author to discover what was on the table in Rome in the first century before the common era.  It wasn’t what we would now consider “Italian food”.  How could it be, before the European discovery of either the tomato or pasta? Or the potato, corn, chocolate, or bell pepper?

Did McCullough have access to an early Roman cookbook?  I would think that some recipes exist somewhere, since the Romans of that era were so literate, and left all kinds of records of their lives for us to read.

Early in The First Man in Rome, McCullough describes a “plain but well-cooked” dinner that a Senator is serving to a guest.  On the menu is  bread and olives; dumplings made of spelt, egg, and cheese; grilled sausages basted with garlic and honey; salads of cucumber, greens, celery, and onion, dressed with oil and vinegar (Italian dressing B.C., I’m sure); steamed broccoli and baby squash; cauliflower with olive oil and grated chestnut (I’ll have some of that).  For desert, these happy Romans ate little fruit tarts, sesame and honey sticky squares, and “pastry envelopes filled with raisin mince and soaked in syrup of figs.” Top that off with some good local wine, and now you’re talking!


Friday, April 9, 2010

"Home" Cooked in a Hurry


As you all are aware, I've been under a tight deadline for Stitch Me Deadly, book two in the embroidery mystery series. I finished the book and turned it in (YAY!), but somewhere in the hustle and bustle (can't remember which day), I had to take my son to the doctor. He had a sore throat, and I was afraid it was strep. It wasn't (again YAY!); but by the time we left the urgent care center, we were both exhausted. He'd even gone to sleep while we were there. Add to that the fact that it was a rainy, nasty day.
"I'm too tired to make dinner," I told him. Still, I wanted us all to have a "home-cooked" meal. And I wanted comfort food. The logical choice? Cracker Barrel.
I got out my phone and looked up Cracker Barrel's website. It had a tab called Country Meals to Go. I clicked the tab and saw that what I wanted--chicken and dumplings--is on the country meals to go list. I ordered chicken and dumplings, mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese and biscuits. We were told we could have another side, and my son asked for fries. (I said home-cooked and comforting--not necessarily healthy).
We were able to pick up the meal within 45 minutes, and it was delicious! I felt like I had my own personal chef, and it was Paula Deen! Since the meal to go is designed for six people, we had plenty of leftovers,; and the cost was comparable to what you'd pay for dinner for four at your average restaurant.
The next time a deadline looms or you're simply running low on time, you might want to give Paula--I mean, Cracker Barrel--a call. All the feel good, yummy food and none of the work. I think that's a winner, ya'll!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Good and Bad Food Choices: Chicken was good for you, right?

Chicken used to be good for you... (well, kind of.) Now KFC got this "brainstorm" - the new"Double Down" - two boneless chicken breasts (fried, of course!) replacing the bun.

The other ingredients? Not one but two pieces of bacon, two melted slices of Monterey Jack and Pepper Jack Cheese, plus the Colonel’s Sauce.

Here's what you also get: 1,380 milligrams of salt, more than half of the recommended daily salt intake.

And....the "sandwich" has a whopping 540 calories, 32 grams of fat - 10 grams are saturated fat, 11 grams of carbs, 145 milligrams of cholesterol and 53 grams of protein.

Oh, and you can get it grilled instead of breaded. Like that will make that big of a difference, right?

* Frankly, it doesn't really look all that appetizing to me. It does make you wonder, why do these places insist on making food with such overblown numbers? People will try it, but lemmings leap over cliffs, too. Will you try it? (Will you admit it? ha!)

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Dum-Dum Does Nice

I have a sweet story to tell about the Dum-Dum man (pictured to your left). He just happens to be my hero this week. You see, the site for his product has some merchandise that kids can order. Children must save twenty-four Dum-Dum wrappers for the prize of their choice. Actually, Mom or Dad has to download an order form and send a small check for shipping and handling; but that's not the fun part.



Calli went on a quest to save her twenty-four wrappers. She even enlisted the help of her teacher, who urged kids at school to give Calli their wrappers. When the magic number was reached, we got on the site where Calli chose her prize. A school kit in a snazzy zipper pouch caught her eye.


I downloaded an order form, wrote a check and got everything in the mail; or so I thought. The next day, to my horror; I found the check laying on a desk in the kitchen. I had neglected to put it in the envelope with the wrappers and order form.


In a lame attempt to fix my faux pas, I scrawled out a letter explaining that my daughter had saved the needed number of wrapper and that I had left out the check. The letter and check went into the mail in a seperate envelope and on a different day. I felt like such a bad mommy!


All I could think about was saving wrappers when I was a kid from a drink mix called Funny Face. For all of the wrappers, I got a plastic Funny Face mug that was my pride and joy. I would have been so disapointed had my mug never arrived.


I delicately told Calli that Mommy had made a mistake that might keep her from getting her prize. If the prize did not arrive within a reasonable number of weeks, I promised to buy a bag of Dum-Dum pops and unwrap them myself, just so she could order another school kit.


Guess what arrived in the mail this week! You guessed it. Calli got her school kit and I've got a new hero. Thanks Dum-Dum man!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

I Scare Myself

I was a weird child. --Whaddya mean, tell us something we couldn't guess?-- What I mean is, I liked mushrooms at an age when most children are going, "Fungus?! Yuck!!" The reason is simple: The first time I had mushrooms was after I gathered them with...I don't know who. My mother and I were staying with somebody in the country. The man shot squirrel and I went out with the woman while she gathered mushrooms.

Not surprisingly, I don't remember what kind they were, but I do remember she forbade ME to pick any.

Now I gather my own, but only morels, which are unlike any other. This is shaping up to be a good season. Yesterday I got enough to eat, to share with my mother and to dry for the winter. I'm told a local organic market is selling fresh morels for $29 a pound, so I'm worth my weight in gold, and that's quite a lot of gold, indeed.

So how do I scare myself? An internet friend is telling me I could broaden my menu to include porcinis and I'm thinking, "Hmm... It would be easy to tell somebody in person about a "delicious" mushroom that's really poison. Draw a picture for them but keep the picture. Only tell them in person and in private. Then, after they're gone, if anyone says, "Maisie said you told her this was a good mushroom for eating," you can say, "I told her it was NOT. She never listens to me. Listened." Then you sob real loud.

MA

Monday, April 5, 2010

Popcorn and Broken Teeth


I have been craving popcorn lately. Not the the packets you put in the microwave (and have you ever over cooked one of those? Toxic fumes for hours!) or even the light, healthful stuff you make in an air popper and spritz with I Can't Believe It's Not Butter spray. No, I've wanted the old fashioned, cooked in a big pot in oil type, then drizzled with real butter and just a wee bit of truffle salt type of popcorn.

Okay, the truffle salt is a new addition to the popcorn I had growing up. As is the dill weed I sprinkle on it. But the crispy, oh so slightly oily kernels that only come from being popped in olive, canola or safflower oil... not even movie popcorn has the same memories or flavor.

Yesterday was a rainy day here in San Francisco and while both Dave and I were writing, we had horror movies on in the background. Rain pelted down on our roof, the cats were cozily curled up next to us on the couch and thereabouts, and it seemed like perfect popcorn weather. So I broke out my big old cooking pot, olive oil, and popcorn and made us a bowlful. Truffle salt, butter and dill all added. It was delicious and just the thing to cure my craving. Unfortunately I also love the half-cooked kernels, the ones with just a hint of fluffy white popped corn sticking out of the now (hopefully) crisp shells. But you know how now and again you'll get one of those that's still hard as an unpopped kernel?

Sigh. Yup, I got one, bit down and felt something other than the shell crack and a slight 'zing' go through my mouth. I waited a minute, didn't feel any pain and figured I got lucky. Later, however, I noticed a distinct wedge missing from a tooth on the inside of my mouth. I will be going to the dentist this week. Luckily it doesn't really hurt - most of the tooth that cracked is filling. So even though I didn't really get lucky... I still got lucky. I will try and avoid those tasty crunchy half-popped bits from now on...

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Hard Boiled Eggs

Happy Easter to everyone who celebrates it, and here’s hoping you enjoy your ham, or simnel cake, or tamales, or whatever your favorite traditional celebratory dishes are.  And whatever they are, I’m betting that they include hard boiled eggs, probably dyed all sorts of pretty colors, hidden all over the house and yard and gathered up in baskets, peeled and eaten until everyone in the family feels like Cool Hand Luke, and you still have a dozen left over.

Love them hard boiled eggs.  They’ll keep for weeks in the fridge, or at least until you can face the idea of eating another one.  There are lots of possibilities for the leftovers: include them in chef’s salads, make egg salad, put them in tuna casserole, make Scotch eggs, pickle them, or one of the easiest, and a favorite of mine, is to just make a tomato and egg sandwich.

Spread mayo, or your favorite sandwich spread, on bread, layer sliced hard-boiled eggs, sliced tomatoes, a sliver of onion, and some lettuce, slap it together, and enjoy.  Also very good with avocado, or excellent with a sprinkling of curry powder.

My husband and his brother came up with a creative way to get rid of extra Easter eggs when they were boys.  They took a basketful of them out into a field and chucked them one by one at a telephone pole.  I thought that this is such a timeless and universal boylike thing to do that I used the incident in my second book, Hornswoggled, which takes place at Easter time.

That’s an alternative you can consider if you run out of recipes using hard boiled eggs, and can rustle up some small boys and a telephone pole that nobody is using, 


Friday, April 2, 2010

Bacon Cheddar Quiche

I'm not generally a quiche person, but I tried mini bacon cheddar quiches at The Golden Corral last weekend and thought they were terrific. I asked for the recipe, but apparently, they aren't supposed to give them out. I did a search, though, and found this recipe for Bacon Cheddar Quiche which I plan on making for a family Easter gathering I'm hosting on Saturday.

Bacon Cheddar Quiche

8 strips lean bacon, cooked & crumbled
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cup light cream
1/4 tsp. dried leaf thyme
1/8 tsp. pepper
1 c. shredded sharp Cheddar cheese

Whisk together eggs, cream, thyme and pepper. Crumble bacon over the top with the shredded cheese. Bake in prepared pie crust at 375 degrees for about 30 minutes or until quiche filling is set and lightly browned.

I found the recipe at About.com Southern Food. If anyone has a tried and true recipe that sounds better than this one, please share! Thanks! :-)

Happy Easter!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

April Fooling at the Grocery

Figures I'd get the April Fool post. ha!

I've noticed a recent trend at the grocery. Remember molded butter lambs? And how about Egg Nog? They both have their place, right?

Well... not anymore.

I noticed it first at Thanksgiving and had to stop to look. Butter shaped like a turkey. Cute. Different.

Now they're playing switcheroo at Easter. Nestled near the butter lamb for Easter was Egg Nog. And I think it was actually named Easter Egg Nog. Huh?

I thought about it for a second as I like egg nog. But they didn't have any of it in light, which I think tastes better (and far less calories.) But that's as far as it went.

Egg nog is well, Christmas. And shaped butter is Easter. Yeah I see the (slight) connection - eggs, Easter eggs, but still.. We're pretty traditional that way. So nary the twain shall meet.

Interesting though as looking around I see some people never saw the Easter lamb before though we always bought it at the local Jewel food store. Seems to be a Polish Catholic tradition. You can even mold your own via this Polish site. Maybe our tradition stemmed from the grandmother I never knew. All I know is we always had one.

Hey, even this Egg Nog Recipes site didn't have Easter or candy-colored egg nog. Though I did see the word chocolate...

Nope, I"m not fooling. :>)


* Your opinion? Should certain foods stay connected to holidays we usually see them at? Would you eat certain foods at other times or outside the season?

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