Saturday, July 30, 2011

Fallback Food

I asked my husband Don what he had for lunch yesterday when he stayed home to work.

“Cheese sandwich,” he replied.

“You eat a lot of cheese sandwiches,” I observed. “You must like them.”

“It was kind of boring, actually, but I fooled around too long and didn’t want to go to any trouble, so I just made myself another cheese sandwich. That’s my fallback food.”

We spent the next few minutes talking about our favorite fallback foods. Don can always eat a cheese sandwich. My mother could have lived off of BLTs. For me, it’s some variety of eggs. If it’s lunchtime, I’ll throw together my own version of an a fast-food egg muffin sandwich. I’ll melt a little butter in a large skillet and fry an egg over easy so it’s still a but runny. While the egg is cooking, I’ll “grill” the split muffin in the same pan. Then I’ll put the egg on one hot muffin half and a slice of swiss on the other, salt and pepper it up good, and eat away.

If I have the right ingredients at hand, I also like to make a “scrambled egg salad”, which sounds odd but is delicious. I scramble up a couple of eggs with some milk and hot sauce, make a circle of lettuce and tomato around the outside of a plate, put the scrambled eggs in the middle, drizzle a little balsamic vinegar on the salad and sprinkle some shaved parmesan over all. It takes ten minutes to make and I can always eat it.

Do you have a meal that you fall back on when you’re short of time or inclination or just don’t want to think about it?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Feeling Nostalgic

I have just begun reading John Grisham's Bleachers. This is one of those books that I have had a hard time putting down. Bleachers is by no means a new book, so many of you have probably already read it.

If you have not read this book, do not expect a John Grisham legal thriller. Bleachers is a character driven tale about some high school football players that reunite after fifteen years because their former coach is dying.

What I love about this book is how Grisham captures the intangible quality of a life-long friendships and hometown ties. His main character has been away from home for quite some time yet he quickly falls into conversations with old friends and finds comfort in visiting all of his old hangouts.

John Grisham is able to show that when we have a true bond with someone or some place, we are forever at ease that person or in that place. To me, this book shows the vast scope of John Grisham's writing ability. He can cross genres, and still make it great!

It is a particularly poignant time for me to read this book. In the past few weeks, I have met with old friends from high school who have been home visiting their families during the summer.

Reading Bleachers had made me very thankful for these reunions!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Marian, T, #4 and Sarah Go To White Castle

Fellow Southern Indiana Writers Group member T. Lee Harris and I were at FandomFest this weekend, sharing a table with Hydra Publications. (For The True Story of what happened there, click this link.)

Meanwhile, a dear friend of #4 Daughter was visiting #4 from out of town. Friend Sarah had never been inside a White Castle, but had seen it in the movies. So we met at one next to the Festival.

Now, I grew up on White Castles. In fact, we were so poor, White Castle was considered fine dining. When I was expecting #4 (originally expecting her, I mean, not this weekend. "Expecting", not expecting, you know.), the only thing that would settle my all-day-sickness was -- yes -- sliders (slang for White Castle hamburgers, so called because they slide down your gullet). I absolutely LOVE 'em!

Sarah's final decision: "Thank you for the White Castle experience, but I'm not entirely sure I've had food."

Ah, well. Maybe you have to be raised on 'em to fully appreciate 'em.

Marian Allen
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Mojito - why mint was invented

Like Donis I also have a patch of mint in the garden. And as most of us gardeners know, a patch of mint enevitably becomes a LARGE patch of mint. Without attention it might well become a garden of mint with a patch of grass. I like to put two or three fresh leaves into tea, particularly at night after dinner. (Better mention that in Canada tea always means hot tea. Iced tea is consumed occasionally, but has to be refered to as iced tea, and is not very common.) One of my favourite uses of mint is to make a mojito. Nothing better sitting out in the deck with friends on a hot summer's evening while the BBQ is warming up. Here's my recipe.

Serves 4

2 cups sugar
1 cup whole mint leaves
1 lime cut into quarters
light rum

Combine 4 cups of water with the sugar. Bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature. Put the sugar-water into a plastic or glass bowl and refrigerate until chilled.

Put ¼ of the mint into each of 4 glasses. Squeeze ¼ of the lime in each glass, and add 2-3 dashes of bitters. Mash with the back of a spoon. Add ice. Add 1 ½ oz rum to each glass and fill the remainder of the glass with sugar syrup.
Enjoy in the sun on your back deck, preferably with a good crime novel.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

It's A Peach

It’s peach time again. June and July are when our local markets are flooded with enormous succulent peaches from the orchards of California and southern Arizona. Some years are better for peaches than others, but when Mother Nature is on her game, there is nothing on this green earth that is better than biting into a fragrant, ripe peach and letting the juice run down your chin.

My mother had a peach tree in her back yard for much of my youth, and every year she made preserves and jam and put up quarts and quarts of peaches which showed up in the winter as peach cobbler. God’s own dessert, peach cobbler is.

Since I’ve been out here, I’ve been introduced to yet another lovely way to take advantage of the peach, and that is peach salsa. It’s fresh, cool, delicious, and will perk up your sandwich, your chips, your party, your roast, your pork chops, or whatever else you want to put it on.

And it couldn’t be easier to make. I don’t use an actual recipe, but here’s how I whip it up in a small batch for immediate use. This will keep in the refrigerator for a couple of days. I’ve never tried to freeze it, but I’ll give it a try and let you know how it works out.

One or two large peaches, peeled and chopped fine (Or chunky if you’re in a hurry or like it better that way)
2 tablespoons of finely chopped red onion
A handful of chopped fresh cilantro
One chopped green chili pepper (We like it mild, but go wild if you don’t)
The juice of one lime or 1/2 lemon.
Salt to taste.

I’ve been known to add a chopped tomato, too, but only when they’re in season.
Mix all ingredients together and enjoy. Even better after an hour or two in the fridge.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Once a Month Cooking

I came across a blog post on once a month cooking (OAMC), and I was intrigued. Could I really cook once and facilitate my dinner hour for an entire month? What would this cost (all at once)? How much time would it entail? Would it be worth it? I investigated and found such a cool blog that it stopped me from further investigation (for now):

Once A Month Mom - I don't know who does this blog, but she (or maybe they) are all over it! They have traditional menus by season, a whole foods menu, a gluten-free/dairy-free menu, a baby food menu, a vegetarian menu, and a diet menu. Instructions and grocery lists are included, and readers are advised on how to create their own menus.

From the main menu, I clicked on Traditional Menu and then on the July 2011 post. To my surprise, this blog really means once a month cooking! Not only are dinners included, but breakfast and lunch meals are listed on the menu as well.

Not finding many items on the July menu that I thought my children would find appealing, I checked out the June and May menus. Within those, I found enough meals to please my picky eaters as well as my husband and me.

I'm currently on a deadline, but afterwards, I'm hoping to take a couple weeks off before beginning another book. I want to give this a try. I'll keep you posted! If any of our readers have tried this before, please leave a comment with your thoughts.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Best Medicine

If laughter is the best medicine, this book can cure what ails you. To the left is an image of the book Awkward Family Photos along with some related merchandise.

The book has become a phenomenom, probably because we all have an awkward family photo or two in our past. You can view lots of funny photos on:

I dare you not to laugh! You may even be inspired to go through old photo albums to retrieve some of your own awkward family photos.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Who Stings the Honeybee?

Our youngest grandson got stung the other day, running through the yard (he's fine--it hurt, but there were no ill effects). Charlie said, "I wish I knew what it was that stung him. If it was a honeybee." "Oh," I said, "wouldn't that be wonderful?"

My husband and I kept bees for two years. Everything bad that could happen to bees happened to ours, with the exception of a raid by bears. Our hive was where the souls of bad bees went when they died. Our hive was what mama bees threatened their little bees with to make them behave. We finally gave our now-empty hive away. A few months later, a storm took down a tree, which fell directly across the placed where our hive had been.

Honeybees aren't native to North America; they came over with settlers from Europe. Almost all the honeybees here are kept. A nasty little customer called the varroa mite pretty well wiped out all wild honeybees--any many of the kept ones--right about the time we tried to establish a hive.

The Beekeeper's Lament by Hannah Nordhaus fills you in on the world of bees and beekeeping. It sounds like a snoozer, but it's a wonderful book, beautifully written, and gives a real feel for the practicality and goofiness of those of us who love bees.

Another book about bees I love, and possibly more appropriate to this site, is Frank Parrish's Sting of the Honeybee, a Dan Mallet mystery. I won't tell you anything about it except that Dan Mallet, an ex-banker who gave up a lucrative career to come home and take care of his ailing Mum, and who is saving up money for her hip replacement by poaching, runs afoul of a heartless criminal. Bees help. I'm usually not a fan of criminals as heroes, but I make an exception for Dan. Mostly.

Marian Allen
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Ice Cream Floats I Have Known and Loved

I'm loving the summertime entries on this blog: fair food, salads, jerky, mint. Summer just calls for certain foods like it calls for sundresses, flip-flops, and fire engine red toenails. It isn't summer without a hot dog, a hamburger, lemonade, a cone, an ice cream float.

My childhood was enhanced by many a root beer float and a communal bowl of popcorn in front of the t.v. with my parents and sibs, watching "Make for Room for Daddy".* Root beer and Coke floats were all the rage in the olden days, but I haven't found too many drinks that aren't enhanced by a scoop or two of ice cream.

After a conference meeting in St. Louis in the steamy summer of 1981, a colleague bought me a large cup of hot coffee and had the waitress put a big scoop of Irish cream flavored ice cream into it. The coffee was scalding but the ice cream was frozen rock hard, and it melted oh-so-slowly to create a creamy hot-cold concoction I still dream of. A cup of hot chai and vanilla or cinnamon ice cream is a particularly felicitous combination.

Yesterday my husband brought home a bottle of Torani Grape Syrup and made a purple cow. That's it in the picture. Don't you wish you had a long spoon and a straw right now?It tasted as good as it looks, though it doesn't seem purple enough to me. We always made our purple cows with Grape Nehi.

You couldn't have a party in the '60s and '70s without a punch bowl full of sherbet and 7Up.** Fortunately there's no law that says you can't spoon up a couple scoops of sherbet into a tall mug and pour your own 7Up over it. Any kind of sherbet is wonderful, but I've always been partial to lime, myself. A sherbet float is particularly summery, clean, icy, refreshing, and just the right pastel color to go with the bright sunshine.

I had a friend once who liked to put a scoop of vanilla in her orange juice. I was skeptical at first, but it tastes just like an orange push-up and you can't complain about that. Here's another good one that a friend invented. She called it a Banana Split Float. Put 2 scoops of strawberry ice cream in a tall glass, push 1/2 small banana down one side of the ice cream, fill the glass with chocolate milk, drizzle with chocolate syrup and top with whipped cream and a cherry.

Put on your sun dress, paint your toes red, and have a float while the weather is hot. If you have another idea for a fabulous float, Dear Reader, let us know.
*This was before most of you were born. We also went to school in a horse-drawn school bus.
**Sometimes there was something besides sherbet and 7Up in there, too.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Fair Fare

Deep-fried Kool-Aid--yep, you read it right--has been selling like crazy at fairs across the country, according to its creator "Chicken" Charlie Boghosian. Sign On San Diego reports that 400 to 600 orders of fried Kool-Aid were sold per day during the opening weekend of the San Diego County Fair.

Chicken Charlie has already gone through 150 pounds of Kool-Aid powder and 1,500 pounds of flour. Selling five Kool-Aid balls per order, that amounts to around 9,000 deep-fried Kool-Aid balls being eaten during the fair's opening weekend.

One taster says, "It starts off tart and tangy, and then finishes really sweet."

Personally, I think I'll stick to the caramel apples.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Nothing says "I Care" Like Beef Jerkey!

A guy friend once told me that he thought it was cool when his girlfriend sent flowers to him. I asked my husband if he would like to receive flowers from me. Todd did not take to the idea at all.

Since flowers are out of the question, perhaps he would love a bouquet of beef jerky. Where could I find such a bouquet? On of course!
Pictured on the right is their Meat Float Bouquet. Why send flowers when, as their slogan states, you can "say it with meat!"?

Click on this site to see that I am not kidding. There are an assortment of bouquets for various budgets and occasions.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Stuffed French Toast

As Aunt Becky says, "I know, right?" What could you stuff French Toast with that would make French Toast even better than, you know, French Toast?

Well, some friends and I had brunch at a joint called Toast on Market, and they stuffed theirs with ham and cheese, and also with blueberries and cream cheese.

I didn't have cream cheese, but I had a couple of bananas that were about to go to Jesus, so I mished them up and used them in place of the cream cheese. So:

  • butter or margarine
  • 4 pieces of bread - stale is fine
  • 1 egg
  • 3 or 4 Tablespoons of milk (almond or soy is fine)
  • small blip of vanilla
  • 2 bananas, mished
  • blueberries or other fruit
  • pecans or other nuts, chopped
  • cinnamon
  • powdered sugar
Melt butter or margarine in skillet. Divide the bananas between two of the pieces of bread. Sprinkle with blueberries and pecans. Top with other two pieces of toast. Beat egg, milk and vanilla. Dip sandwich in egg mixture, turning once, and place in hot skillet. Repeat with other sandwich. Sprinkle with cinnamon. When bottom of sandwich is browned, turn and brown the other side. Remove to plate and sprinkle with powdered sugar.

This was SO GOOD! Try it. I think you'll like it. :)

Marian Allen
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Salad Days in Ontario

Unlike Donis in Arizona, up here in Ontario we’re enjoying our summer. The days are sunny and warm, not too hot or humid (that will come) and just right for sitting out on the deck and taking the occasional dip in the pool. My mom is visiting and during the week we went to the beach. Sandbanks Beaches on Lake Ontario are as good as beaches anywhere (really) and the water is great for swimming. But don’t tell anyone, please, because we get enough tourists here.

One of the things I most like at this time of year is fresh greens. It will get very hot and humid here soon and the lettuce will all bolt and turn bitter and that will be the end of most of it. But in the meantime I enjoy it.

I prefer a salad of really fresh, locally grown (hopefully home grown) with no accompaniments. No grated carrots, celery, peas, sunflower seeds, cheese. Not even tomatoes. A couple of slices of green onion might be nice, and tonight I’ll toss in some mint a la Donis. But that’s all. And with a salad as light as that, I always make my own dressing. At other times of the year a hearty salad with all sort of tossed vegetables, nuts or cheeses can hold up to a bottled dressing, but not a handful of tender leaves.

Here’s my favourite homemade dressing. I never measure ingredients, but try to make suggestions here.

Vicki’s Dressing for Fresh Greens
1 small garlic clove, minced
½ cup best quality olive oil
Less than ¼ cup vinegar (oil and vinegar should be 3 parts to 1)
1 tsp Maggi (the secret ingredient)
½ tsp sugar
Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste.

Put everything in a jar, screw on lid and shake vigorously until all ingredients are blended. The excess dressing can be refrigerated and just needs another shake to be ready to use again.

Use very sparingly, you don’t want to drown the greens.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Mint Condition

We’re still trying to stay cool out here in the wilds of Arizona. If any of you Dear Readers have been watching the news lately, you know we’re also trying to get the grit out of our teeth from the Great Haboob of 2011. I won’t go on about what it was like in the middle of a gigantic dust storm worthy of the Dust Bowl days, but suffice it to say that I haven’t seen anything like that since I was a newlywed living in Lubbock Texas in 1975 and endured a storm so big that afterwards I had to scoop an inch of red dirt out of my bathtub. In any event, we are dusty but unscathed.

Summer is mint season, and I’ve been using a tremendous amount of mint lately. If your mint plants are as productive as mine have always been, you’re continually looking for new ways to use the stuff. I have learned over the years that there is hardly anything you can eat or drink that doesn’t taste good with mint in it. I’ve been keeping a jug of mint-infused water in the refrigerator as the perfect cooler after I’ve been outside. It’s great frozen in ice cubes, and a sprig or two in tea or lemonade is just what the doctor ordered.
I’ve been putting mint leaves in all my salads. Not just the green salads either. Potato salad, egg salad, bean salad are all improved with chopped mint. I even like it on sandwiches.
One thing I have never tried to make is mint jelly, and I would like to. The recipes I’ve found are basically apple jelly with mint, but I have to admit that I’m not a good jelly maker. If any of you Foodies have had success with a simple and un-screw-upable recipe for mint jelly I’d love to hear about it.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Friday Fun!

Is this a fun gift for a Fatal Foodie, or what?! I just found it on Foodbeast (here's the link). On the back of the mug, it says, "The Killer Element."

This made me wonder what other fun gifts are out there for writers. Here are links to what I found:

There are some really cool things at this Cafe Press site. One of my faves: "Writer's Block: When Your Imaginary Friends Stop Talking To You." There are other Cafe Press sites with merchandise aimed at writers. Just type what you're looking for into the search bar.

Shakespeare's Den also has gifts for writers, including literary finger puppets and action figures!

I'm going to have to go back to these sites when I have more spending money.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Got Leftover Slaw?

Over the holiday, we had a ton of company. Although I made countless batches of food, we are not burdened with too many leftovers.

The one thing that I feel an urgency to use is a tub of leftover slaw that needs to be used in the next couple of days. That is why tonight, my family will be having ham and slaw reubens.

These are delicious sandwiches! Trade the rye bread for sourdough. Swap corned beef for ham, and use slaw in place of kraut.

What stays is the Swiss cheese and thousand island dressing. You can either wrap the sandwiches in foil to toast them in the oven or sear the bread in a pan on the stove.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Cooking With Hilda

My mother and I love Rumpole of the Bailey, and I love looking up foods I come across in British mysteries and, if possible and desirable, making or approximating those foods.

One I particularly like is summer pudding.

Originally, it was called "hydropathic pudding" because it was served in spas and health resorts of the 19th century. It was developed as a healthier alternative to heavy puddings made with pastry. It consists of a pudding made with mixed summer fruits poured into a basin lined with bread. I say "fruits", but berries seem to have been specified: redcurrents, raspberries, blackcurrents, gooseberries and strawberries--apparently, anything with appalling quantities of seeds. In the 20th century, its popularity became more general, and the name was changed to "summer pudding" by cookbook writers. Under any name, it is delicious.

Charlie and I were invited to a cook-out at the last minute, so I made this:

  • white bread with the crusts off
  • whipped cream or "whipped topping"
  • blueberries, some reserved
  • strawberries, hulled and cut up, some reserved, one left whole
Line a loaf pan with the white bread, overlapping the slices a bit. Mish the bread flat against the bottom and sides. Layer whipped cream, blueberries, bread, whipped cream, strawberries, bread. Mish it all down firmly. The final layer of bread should be about even with the top of the bread coming up the sides of the loaf pan.

Run a knife around the sides to separate the bread from the loaf pan and turn the whole thing out. If you've mished it enough, it will retain its loaf shape.

"Frost" the loaf with whipped cream and sprinkle blueberries on top and sprinkle blueberries and strawberries around the base. Slice the single whole strawberry through to the cap several times and fan the slices slightly. Put the strawberry in the center of the loaf.

To serve, slice onto plates.

If you make this with juicy fruits, you don't need the whipped cream. But you may, of course, have it if you want it, Rumpole.

Marian Allen
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

Saturday, July 2, 2011

A Watermelon Fourth

It’s midsummer, and ouch, it’s hot. This is the time of year when God makes us southern Arizonans pay for the fabulous weather he gives us during the other three seasons. We’re going for 116 degrees today (maybe even higher, they say!) But don’t worry, we should cool down to around 106 by Tuesday. In days of yore, before the advent of the giant concrete jungle known as Phoenix, it would cool way down at night. This is because the humidity is generally very low in early June, hovering around 10 percent or less. I know that “dry heat” is a cliche, but that truly makes a difference, even considering that nowadays all the streets and houses throw off their accumulated heat at night and it never does cool down very much.

I complain, but if I have to live in a hot climate I would rather live here than in Tulsa, where I grew up. My brother and sister-in-law still live in Tulsa, and I tease them when they grouse about having to endure 106 degrees for two days. The truth is that their 106 with 80 percent humidity will kill you dead quicker than our extra degrees and lots less water in the air to boil you. I can take hot and dry better than hot and wet. Just drink lots of water, stay out of the sun, and be still. Seriously. Don’t move.

So what do you do for Independence Day in the Phoenix metro area? You get out of town if you can, go to the lake, the mountains, the woods. Or you stay indoors all day and go down to the Rio Salado after dark and watch the fireworks. You drink beer and lemonade and eat watermelon.

When I was a kid, my grandfather raised watermelon commercially. My sister and I would follow behind him through the field and watch him plunk his fingers on the giant green melons to test their ripeness. Every once in a while he’d take out his pocket knife and “plug” one, or cut a two or three inch wedge out of the top in order to taste for sweetness. Often he’d give the plug to us and we’d scarf it down.

Since there is no chance I’m cooking for a while, I’ve been going through my entire repertoire of cool food. One of my favorite summertime meals is a cucumber sandwich with cream cheese on wheat bread, accompanied by watermelon salad. It’s hard to mess up a watermelon salad, though I like to keep mine as simple as possible.

Last night I chunked up half a small watermelon and combined it with one small red tomato and a handful of yellow cherry tomatoes off my own vines. Then I chopped about half a cup of fresh basil leaves and half a cup of fresh mint leaves (whatever else you put in your watermelon salad, don’t leave out the mint.) I mixed it all together and added a couple tablespoons of balsamic vinaigrette, and my, oh my, did I have a delicious, easy, and above all, cool supper. A big glass of ice tea and a sprig of mint goes along perfectly.

Have a wonderful Fourth of July.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Independence Day

Happy Independence Day! Please enjoy the fireworks display and these July 4 Cooking Tips from Phil Lempert, the Supermarket Guru.