Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Disney Detox Week

I am so sorry that I did not post last week. My family was at Disney World, and I did not have internet access in our room. Actually, I did not have FREE internet access in our room. I could have paid for it, but opted out.

Anyhow, my family had the most special, magical week.It was my first time at Disney, making the fact that I saw it with my own children so extraordinary. Few experiences surpass what I build up in my mind, but Disney did. After seven days of the warm, Florida sun; we returned to unseasonably cool temperatures and lots of rain. I miss the Disney weather. I miss seeing my children fascinated countless times a day; and I miss the food!

We took part in the Disney Dining Plan. If you are not familiar, the plan REQUIRES that you eat enormous amounts of food during your Disney vacation. Who can turn down a dessert when the plan you have purchased says you get a dessert with your lunch?

Among my favorite Disney treats were Dole Whip (a pineapple frozen, soft-serve that flowed endlessly from a machine in our hotel). That Dole Whip was available twenty-four hours a day. Might I add that the dining plan allows that I had a snack each day. Dole Whip qualified as a snack, so I had to partake.

Another favorite was Tonga Toast. This also came from a restaurant in our hotel. It was made from sourdough bread, stuffed with banana, and coated in cinnamon and sugar.

This week is Disney Detox for my family. We must come back to real life where Disney characters do not come to your table during meals, parades do not wind down the street everyday, my family does not get to sit on a fake beach to watch fireworks explode over a castle every night at ten, and Dole Whip is not in endless supply.

Oh, Jiminy Crickets! I miss Disney!!!!!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Edible Fungus

Yes, it's that time of year again, when I go 'shrooming. Found some yesterday. :)

Here is the Culinary Chronicles column I wrote about my favorite fungus back when I wrote for World Wide Recipes (The best darn recipezine in the whole darn Universe).


I'm talking about MORel, the edible fungus, not morEL, the deadly nightshade relative. I know, "edible fungus" sounds like something Little Miss Picky would say "ick" to, but I love morels. It's almost that time, and I can hardly wait for the first nice day after the rain we've been having. Just give me some insect repellent and a mesh bag, and I'm happy for hours. Morels are known in Europe and Asia as well as the USA. High in flavor, sufficient in protein and low in calories, morels have been said to taste like steak or clams. They're sometimes called "sponges" or "honeycombs", and don't really look much like anything else, not even much like false morels. If you find some true morels, rinse them off, cut them in half and soak them in salt water to encourage any creepy little critters who might be homesteading inside to vacate the premises. Then cook and enjoy (the morels, not the critters). Important safety tip: IF YOU GO FORAGING, DON'T EAT ANY WILD PLANT THAT HASN'T BEEN IDENTIFIED BY SOMEONE WILLING TO EAT SOME OF IT. In the case of morels, I'll be glad to volunteer.

I'm posting different stuff on the same subject on my own blog today, along with a picture of my latest haul.

Marian Allen

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Santa Fe and Chili Pie

I’m sad that I didn’t make it to the Left Coast Crime Mystery Conference in Santa Fe, which is going on even as I type. Santa Fe is one of my favorite places on God’s green earth, so beautiful. I have many happy memories of the place from years ago, when I was a newlywed living in Lubbock Texas, some 300 miles east of Santa Fe. My husband and I drove over there almost every time we had a three day weekend to enjoy the ambiance - and the food! Things have changed a lot in Santa Fe since the early 1970s. The place is a heck of a lot bigger and more urban than it was then, but there’s still plenty of ambiance, and the food is still to die for.

New Mexican cuisine is a thing unto itself. It’s similar to Mexican food, and Tex-Mex, but NOT the same. The big difference, I think, is in the seasoning. New Mexico chiles are famous, and native dishes are mouth-searingly spicy. They also use a lot of blue cornmeal, and more beef than some other Southwestern cuisines. Not so much cheese, either.

For many years, there was a spectacular French bakery just down the street from St. Francis Cathedral. That was the first place I ever ate a Napoleon. Sadly, I hear it’s gone. I haven’t been to Santa Fe in four or five years so I don’t know whether the Woolworth’s is still on the square. I hope so. I hope, too, that they still have their lunch counter. The Woolworth’s Drug Store on the square in Santa Fe is the birthplace of the Frito chili pie. Nowadays, the Frito chili pie is a casserole-like dish of chili and grated cheese topped with corn chips, but the original - created, I believe, in the 1930s and served at least until recently - went like this:

Tear the top off of an individual package of Fritos brand corn chips. Ladle in a big old glop of incendiary New Mexican chili and top with a handful of grated cheese. Walk around the square while shoveling chili pie right out of the package into your mouth with a spoon.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Murder Takes the Cake Launch Week

  • Murder Takes the Cake launches on Tuesday, March 29, and Pocket Books and I have a lot of fun activities planned:

o Monday, March 28 - I'll be appearing on the Newscenter 5 at Noon show with Tarah Taylor (

o Tuesday, March 29 - Virtual Book Launch Party at Gayle Trent and Amanda Lee, Cozy Mystery Writer - Simply "like" the page and then join us on the 29th to win great prizes all day long. The fun starts at around 8 a.m., and prizes will include signed copies of Murder Takes the Cake, gift certificates from, Mrs. Fields Cookies gift, tote bags, gift cards and more!

  • Thursday, March 29 - Mega Blog Tour:

o Friday, April 1 - Book Signing and Cupcake Decorating Competition at Babycakes Cupcakery in Kingsport, TN

o Saturday, April 2 - Book Reading/Signing at Barnes & Noble in Johnson City, TN

o Murder Takes the Cake will be featured in the April e-newsletter, Buzzing About Books

o Advertising in the Spring issue of Mystery Scene Magazine on stands April 15

o Advertising in the May issue of Suspense Magazine on stands April 28

Join me, and let's have some fun!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Remembering Elizabeth Taylor

Found this photo from the movie, showing Cleopatra with her golden dining implements. Remembering a beautiful actress and great talent...

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Rabbit in the Log

Ever since our dog murdered the neighbor's rabbit, I've been thinking about rabbits as food. Not rabbit food, you understand, which is what we vegetarians eat (what we mostly vegetarians mostly eat).

I've been thinking about "Feast Here Tonight", an old-timey song I first heard from The Kingston Trio:

There's a rabbit in the log and I ain't got my dog
How will I get him I know
I'll get me a briar and twist it in his hair
That way I'll get him I know.

If you'd like to listen to it, here's a page of MP3 downloads of several versions.

I think about the movie Savannah Smiles and how Bootsie fed Alvie a dead squshed rabbit scraped up off the highway. Alvie defended himself: "It was still warm!"

I think about hasenpfeffer (German stewed rabbit), which I used to eat back when I still ate sweet little bunnies.

But those days are gone.

Unfortunately for Bubbles, we did have the dog and did not have a log. Knowing those neighbors, who are self-reliant and practical people, I have a feeling Bubbles wasn't long for this world, anyway.

Marian Allen

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Worst Time of the Year

For someone who likes to eat locally, at any rate. The contents of the freezer are diminishing; the farm stands are dark and empty, the fields are just an endless expanse of brown. I used up the last of the fingerling potatoes yesterday. I threw the rest out because they are getting soft and sprouting. (Of course if I was a true locovore and didn’t eat anything but local foods, I’d keep on with the sprouting potatoes in lieu of anything else)

About all I can think of that I’m eating locally is eggs and chicken. Got a big package of chicken from the farmer earlier in the month and the farm where I stop to get my eggs still has enough for the locals. Did you know that chickens stop lying in the dark winter months? Small scale farmers will use lights in the coop to extend the daylight a bit over the winter. On industrial farms, I guess it doesn’t matter as those chickens never know if it’s summer or winter anyway.

I haven’t been cooking anything imaginative lately, just the usual repertoire and using up the soup I froze in the fall.

I’m writing a new standalone for Poisoned Pen Press right now. This book will have a back story of a Loyalist (i.e. refugee from the American Revolution) woman to came to the wilderness of Upper Canada (now Ontario) in 1783 in the way that Scare the Light Away and Burden of Memory, my first two books, had a backstory of something that happened in World War II.

Writing her story is making me think about how we lived when everything was local. You grew what you ate or you didn’t eat. The Loyalists got assistance from the British government to settle once they arrived including land and money and farming equipment and supplies. They stopped giving supplies in 1788, Just in time for an exceptionally severe winter. Most of the settlers didn’t have productive farms yet,. Remember they had to cut down the forest and build their houses first. And there were no cities or towns within an easy travelling distance. It was a tough winter and some people starved.

No supermarkets to pop out to when the last of the potatoes were finished. No fresh greens trucked in from California when you got tired of eating cabbage. And none of the neighbours had any more than you did.

I’m thinking maybe shrimp curry with rice and imported bok choy for dinner tonight. And I’ll raise a glass of wine to my ancestors who worked so hard so that I don’t have to.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Salmon of Knowledge

Did you ever wonder what food was like in Europe before the “discovery” of the New World? For instance, what did Italians eat in pre-tomato days?

After my life as a librarian and before I became a novelist, I spent more than a decade running a small Celtic gift shop. Ten years immersed in the culture taught me a lot about Scottish and Irish history and ways, and every year on St. Patrick's day, when all the pubs and restaurants and grocery stores are touting green beer, corned beef and cabbage and mashed potatoes, I am given to think on what native Irish food was like before the advent of the potato.

Potatoes weren’t introduced into Ireland until the late 1600s. Before that, and before the English made themselves such a presence in Ireland, the native cuisine consisted of lots of meat and milk, honey, fish, wild fowl and eggs, herbs, grains, some veggies like leeks and onions, and later, turnips and cabbage.

A Roman writer (of course) described an Irish feast thus [my words] - they spread the ground with dried grass and cow hides and sit in a large circle so that none has his back to another. In the center is a fire over which hangs a cauldron full of boiling meat, plus many spits of roasting meat, from which they would cut chunks and joints with their daggers and eat with their bare hands.
The meat was usually beef. A person’s wealth was measured in cattle. The Celts mostly ate their beef in the winter, and milk, cheese, curds, and butter in the summer. Pork was common, and mutton, too, though less so. They also liked geese and ducks and their eggs. I remember seeing an article that described a common Celtic way of cooking birds by covering them, feathers and all, with wet clay, then placing them in the fire until the clay was rock hard. Then it was broken off, taking feathers, skin, and all with it. I thought this was interesting, since I know certain American Indian tribes do exactly the same thing with fish.

The Celts were big beekeepers as well. Honey wasn’t just a sweetening. They used it to baste meat and as a sauce and condiment at the table. They made mead, too, which is a fermented honey wine seasoned with herbs.

They grew oats and barley to make porridge and flatbread. They didn’t bake bread in ovens, but on a flat stone by the fire.

Depending on where in Ireland you lived, you ate lots of fish and shellfish, and seaweed, especially for thickening. There is a lovely traditional pudding made of milk and seaweed (carrageenan) that is still eaten on some islands. Sounds yummy, doesn’t it? Salmon was particularly prized. It was considered a wise fish and eating it would make you smart. In fact, there was said to exist one particular magic salmon called the Salmon of Knowledge, and if you caught and ate it, you would know everything. It was finally caught by an old Druid named Finnegas, who asked his acolyte, Finn McCool, to cook it for him before he ate it. Finn poked it with his finger to see if it was done, and got burned. He stuck his finger in his mouth, and thus sucked up the knowledge himself. Finn McCool became a great hero, and every time he needed to know something, he sucked on his finger.

When potatoes came in, the Irish population exploded. You can get all the nutrients you need from eating nothing but potatoes and milk. Remember those traditional cauldrons of meat? Throw in some potatoes, maybe a bit of cabbage and a turnip, and what have you got? An Irish stew.

The Celts were a very hospitable people, apparently, for they taught that one should never fail to feed a stranger, nor do business before eating together. Words to live by.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Green Treat for St. Patty's Day

I always like to have something fun and green to eat for St. Patrick's Day. Here is a recipe that can incorporate any flavor of jello. Lime jello makes a beautiful green dessert. I prefer to make this dessert in little clear plastic cups.

Cool Jello-o Layers
prep-5 minutes makes 5 servings
1) Stil 1 and 1/2 cups boiling water into gelatin in bowl until dissolved. Add 2/3 of an 8 ounce tub of FROZEN whipped topping by the spoonful. Whisk until whipped topping is melted and mixture is blended.
2) Pour gelatin mixture into cups. Refrigerate 2 hours or until set.
3) Top with remaining thawed whipped topping.

My green dish for this year's dinner will be guacamole. It's not exactly Irish, but it's green!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Wilkie Collins, ROBOT!

I just finished reading Wilkie Collins' THE WOMAN IN WHITE, which I enjoyed very much. You can read it free from Project Gutenberg, if you're so minded.

The book held only two disappointments for me. One, I hint at on my own blog today. The other was the food.

They didn't eat any. Oh, they had breakfast and dinner, but no food was described or even, insofar as I remember, mentioned. Apart from tea, wine, brandy and the occasional Mickey Finn, nobody ingested anything of note. Most disappointing.

There were several fatalities, but none involving food or drink, and even our villains were preserved from committing violence by their own hands. Personally, I would have relished seeing a couple of characters beeyoch-slapped, but it was not to be.

Collins walked a fine line between sensationalism and refinement, and did it jolly well, all in all. I raise a ladylike glass of sherry in his honor.

Marian Allen

Friday, March 11, 2011

Cookies saved my life....

It may be true. Let me explain.

Those of you who are friends with me on Facebook know I've had a vicious sinus infection and have been searching for "the cutest shoes ever" to be buried in because that's the part of me I want showing if this stuff kills me. I don't want people plodding by my casket lying, "Doesn't she look natural?" I want them to say, "Ooooh! Cute shoes!" But, I digress.

On Tuesday night, feeling no relief whatsoever despite being three days into my antibiotics, I wailed, "Just shoot me!"

"Mom," my son chided. "We can't shoot you."

My little heart stood on its tippy-toes to get closer to my ears, yearning to hear the words of adoration he was sure to spout next.

{Heart's dream sequence.... Orchestral swell of "Love is a Many Splendored Thing" followed by sweet, sweet child-o-mine saying: "We LOVE you so." Or "You are the glue that holds this family together." Or "You, dearest mother, are the shining beacon that guides us all home each day." Heart flutters and sniffles.}

And then came his actual words:

"The people at school would be so disappointed."

{Heart's music scratches to a stop. Heart says, "huh?"}

He nodded and grinned that million dollar smile that once again gave the heart hope.

"Take today," he continued. "I couldn't eat all my lunch, so I pushed the bag that still had two of my cookies in it to the middle of the table and watched 'em fight over it. They were all saying, 'Man! These are awesome! Did your Mom make these?' I said, 'Yep.'" He smiled. "See?"

As my heart was processing the fact that I would not be shot because I make a decent chocolate chip cookie, my brain kicked in.

"He's a teenager," Brain told Heart. "And that was praise. Any praise from a teenager is wonderful!"

"You're right!" said Heart. "I'll take it!"

Here's a chocolate chip cookie recipe (that contains vanilla extract) if you'd like to make a batch of cookies not to die for. [It's not the one I use; but Cooper is lying behind my chair, and I can't get up to copy the one out of the cookbook. But this one sounds really good. I need to try it!] :) Or you could order some from Mrs. Fields. That, too, could save your life.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Sweet Potato Queens

If you are looking for a read that is just a

total fun, guilty pleasure; I have an author

for you. Her name is Jill Conner Browne. She has not only written books, she has created a wacky movement.

In God Save the Sweet Potato Queens, Jill explains the over-the-top ways of a Sweet Potato Queen. A true Sweet Potato Queen is a no-nonsense gal on one hand. On the other hand, she is not afraid to deck herself out in sparkly gowns, jewels, giant wigs and fishnets when she in the mood for a good time with some girlfriends.

Jill is a Mississippi gal, but we all have a little Sweet Potato Queen in us.

Jill's books are a party on every page. They have inspired ladies all over to squeeze into sequin dresses and other gaudy attire for the sake of marching in parades and such.

Jill's idea was born when the organizer of a Jackson, Mississippi parade asked her to ride in the parade. Since a friend owned a sweet potato farm, she came as the Sweet Potato Queen. Nearly twenty years after that her book was written.

If you are not into sequins and fishnets, how about some sweet potato fries:

Sweet Potato Fries

Cut sweet potatoes into strips. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with Kosher salt. Bake @ 400 degrees until outside is slightly browned.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Fat Tuesday, Schmat Tuesday

Today is Fat Tuesday, so it's appropriate that I (aka Dale the Whale) should post today. Fat Tuesday is the English translation of the French Mardi Gras, the Tuesday (Mardi) before Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent, the time of fasting and penitence leading up to the celebration of Easter.

On the Tuesday before Lent begins, observant Christians eat up all the rich, fat (gras) foods in the house. Of course, this time comes at the end of winter, so the chance of there being loads of food of any kind, back in subsistence days, was not large, and eating light in the period before spring crops had sprouted made a virtue of necessity. In other words, they didn't have much to eat anyway, so tying light eating to spiritual growth was a brilliant and constructive notion.

So enjoy your Fat Tuesday, as I intend to do, but I venture to imagine there's nothing we can eat today that'll give us as much pleasure as a buttered egg gave a peasant who wouldn't have another one for forty days.

Marian Allen

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Adventures in Eating: Can you help me out?

I don’t consider myself to be all that old, yet I am of the generation and culture in which food was, to put it mildly, pretty unadventurous. My mother was considered an exotic and adventurous cook because she made things like “Chinese Food” i.e. meat and vegetables cut up and served with rice, or “spaghetti” i.e. bolognaise sauce made with canned tomato soup (for which I recently provided the recipe here).

Now that we’re travelling so much more, and living with people of so many different cultures, our food horizons are almost limitless. Tonight I’m going to the theatre with friends to see a Flamenco performance. First we’re having dinner at a German restaurant. There’s a multi-cultural experience for you.

I have a packed schedule of book tours this spring. At the end of March, I’m going to Sante Fe for Left Coast Crime and then driving to Arizona for appearances at the Poisoned Pen and the Teague Library and to give a talk to the Scottsdale Association of Women Writers.

I’d absolutely love and any all suggestions of places to eat that serve true local cuisine.

Particularly on the long drive from Sante Fe to Phoenix – not only where to eat but suggestions of places to stay and to visit along the way.

Then in April, I’m driving down to the Durham, Raleigh area of North Carolina with Mary Jane Maffini and Elizabeth Duncan on what we’re calling the Older Hotter Deadlier tour. As we drive, we tend to seek out chain restaurants for lunch and breaks. As the aim is just to refuel and keep on going, that seems better than taking a chance on something that might turn out to be a mite iffy. But once we arrive, we’re going to be looking for the best places to eat and again hoping for some good regional cooking. Barbeque maybe?

In May it’s cross Canada all the way to Victoria for Bloody Words. I’ll be stopping in Winnipeg, Regina, Saskatoon, Calgary, Nelson, and Seattle en route. I’ve been to Seattle many times, and just love it (and the Seattle Mystery Bookstore, of course). I don’t eat much seafood unless I’m near the sea. Like eating in season, it’s well worth the wait. When I’m in Seattle, it’s definitely clam chowder. Any suggestions as to the best place for it?

Friday, March 4, 2011

Pancakes--Om, nom, nom!

Did ya'll take advantage of Pancake Day at IHOP on March 1? We did! Get this: every morning, the kids and I mope around getting ready for the day. I take them to school, and they usually have to sprint to class.

But not on Free Pancake Day!!!

I said, "If we can be out of here by 7:30, we'll stop at IHOP and get the free short stacks they're giving out today."

Zoom! Like teen superheroes, they sprang into action. Zip! They were dressed. Whoosh! Their teeth were brushed, their hair was combed, and they were in the car.

"It's all about the motivation," I mused on the way to IHOP.

The restaurant was not at all crowded, which surprised me. Did no one else know about the free pancakes? Still, we had to make it to school on time, so I was definitely happy about the scant number of people there. We ordered our pancakes and drinks. When the waitress brought out our pancakes, she also brought out warm maple syrup to go on them. YUM!

This made me think that we need to have breakfast for dinner soon. We haven't done that in a long time, and often, that's the only way we ever get to have breakfast together.

Of course, while we were at the IHOP, we had to quote Jim Gaffigan and his riff on pancakes. "Let's see ya load up on THAT and try not to nap!" I'm including the YouTube clip below for a Friday Funny. :)

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Four and Twenty Blackbirds... Pie anyone?

Guess I'm happy it's spring. Officially! Forget the groundhog. Out here in my neck of Wisconsin I know it's spring by the increasing sound outside my door. We saw a few redwinged blackbirds the other day, a sure sign that winter is over.

Now while they may have been roosting on the other side of the lake or in another area, this is the first group I saw tonight. From now until fall, at sunrise and near sunset, I will wake to a growing black cloud and increased shrieks and chirps outside. The flock will grow in size as it finds refuge in the trees on the edge of the wetlands in front of my house. The sight still amazes me.

Funny since realizing I had to write this post, my first thought? That rhyme about Four and Twenty Blackbirds (Sing a Song of Sixpence) came to mind...

Ok, to be fair, here are some recipes to regular pies. Birds not needed. (G)

* See the Top 20 Pie Recipes.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Happy Birthday to Dr. Seuss and Skylar Hall!

Today is Dr. Suess' birthday. My oldest daughter's first grade class is celebrating with green eggs, ham, donut holes and orange juice. I am so thankful that her teachers embrace and celebrate the joy of reading!

Tomorrow is another very important day. My little Skylar Christine Hall turns 2! We will be celelbrating with chicken nuggets, baked beans, pasta salad biscuites and a giant chocolate chip cookie-cake. Happy Birthday Skylar!!!!!!!!!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Man Who Did Not Read

Once upon a time, there was a husband.

One day, he came to his wife and said, "Honey, don't get any more of those fancy oranges. I peeled one, and MAN! They taste almost like lemons."

Now, the wife knew she had not bought any oranges that week and, filled with a dreadful suspicion, she checked the fruit bin. Sure enough, he had tried to eat a fruit taken from a bag clearly marked, "MEYER LEMONS"

Meyer lemons, in case you aren't familiar with them, are probably a cross between a lemon and a mandarin orange. I had one once, years ago, and I've been wanting more ever since, and our local grocery store had some so I coughed up the money and bought a bag of four.

I have three, now.

Here is what The Splendid Table has to say about Meyer lemons. Here is what The Los Angeles Times has to say, including a list of 100 things to do with them, not including trying to eat one under the mistaken impression that it is an orange.

As for what I'm going to do, I'm going to make a lemon pie.

p.s. On my own blog today, Joseph Robert Lewis, writer of mystery/fantasy/steampunk and all things wonderful, talks about world building.