Saturday, April 30, 2011

Rule Britannia


It's hard to return to the frippery of the Royal Wedding after reading Gayle's post yesterday. Being a native Oklahoman myself, I've lived through many a scary night of storms, but the devastation in the south during the past week defies description. My prayers go out to Gayle, her family, and to all the people who have been affected.

A beautiful fairy tale can sometimes help us get through some tough reality, and yesterday's royal wedding certainly qualifies as a fairy tale. Did you see the festivities? I’m guessing that if you turned on your television at all, you had no choice but to see at least something about it.

Whether you’re a royal-watcher or not, a big British blow-out is the perfect excuse to indulge in a great English breakfast or have a spot of tea in the afternoon.

The English do breakfast like nobody else, with perhaps the exception of American farmers. I’ve spent many happy hours in a British b&b, starting my day with fried eggs, sausage with no spices in them (bangers), cold toast like a shingle (lots tastier than you’d think), baked beans, fried tomatoes, tea strong enough to take the skin off your tongue, and lots of butter and orange marmalade. That’ll get you through the day.

My favorite English food tradition is afternoon tea. So in honor of Will and Kate, set aside some time at about four o’clock this afternoon and enjoy a nice cuppa, a few yummy little tea cakes, and a gorgeous warn scone fresh out of the oven. No need to go hunting your local bakery for scones, either. Nothing could be easier to make or tastier when still warm and crumbly. Just check out Lisa's entry of Thursday for the recipe.

After they’ve cooled enough to eat, enjoy your scones slathered with some clotted cream (if you can find the real thing), a big dollop of lemon curd, or a smear of strawberry jam.

Rule, Britannia, indeed!

Friday, April 29, 2011

Perspective


Wednesday night, I lay in bed listening to hail pounding our house; and I worried about broken windows. On Thursday morning, I awoke to learn that we had hail damage to our cars and that a large tree had become uprooted and was lying across our backyard. I was thankful the tree didn't do much damage.









Then I turned on the TV. My jaw dropped as I saw images of Glade Spring, VA--my hometown, where my parents, my brother, many friends and other relatives still live. The photo above shows what is left of the church my grandmother attended before she got too feeble to go. This one to the right is at the intersection where you turn to go to my parents' house. Thankfully, my parents didn't suffer a devastating amount of damage to their home. They're still under roof--just some damage to a carport, porch, and vehicle. They have no power or landline phone service, and the EF-3 category tornado flattened the Verizon cell tower so cell service is spotty. But they are safe, and they still have a home.




My friend, Mary, who I grew up with has (had) a house a stone's throw away from my parents' front porch. She and her husband had just finished some major remodeling. Her roof caved in, and her home has been condemned. But, thankfully, she and her family are okay.




People lost homes, businesses, and at least four lost their lives. With 130 mph winds, all this happened within seconds. As the baby of the family, my parents have dared me to come to Glade. "It's too dangerous, and the State Police are stopping everyone and asking where they're going and why." Those of you who know me through this blog or Facebook know that I'll be going to my parents' house this afternoon. The police can either escort me or let me through. I'll post pics when I have them (I pilfered these from other sources).


I'm not sharing this with you guys to bring you down. But I just want to remind you to hug your children, your husband, your parents, your friends, and your pets today. More than once if you can. And while some of us might want a bigger house with another bathroom and an office...and a library would be totally SWEET...be thankful for what you do have. Because even if it's not all that, it's better than nothing. Please pray for the residents of Glade Spring, VA, Greene County, TN, and all those touched by heartache through these storms in the south or through other storms (literal, physical, emotional).


Wishing you peace and love,

Gayle














Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A Spot of Tea, Scones and a British Chick Flick













My cravings for food and entertainment are heavily influenced by current events. This week, with all of the hoopla surrounding Will and Kate's nuptual's, my tastes are running a bit British.

While I probably will not be up at 4:00 a.m. to watch then tie the knot, I might be making a pan of scones and brewing a cup of tea. I have posted this recipe before, but it is so good, I feel like posting it again:

Fruit and Oat Scones

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup cold butter
1/2 cup diced dried fruit (I like dried cranberries)
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 4oo degrees. Combine flour, oats, brown sugar, baking powder and salt. Cut butter into mixture until it resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in dried fruit. Add milk; mix just until dry ingredients are moistened. Turn dough out onto lightly floured surface; knead gently 8-10 times. Roll out dough onto baking stone or lightly greased pizza pan. Dough should be rolled into a 9 inch circle, about 1/2 inch thick. Using a pizza cutter, cut dough into 12 wedges; seperate slightly. Combine sugar and cinnamon; sprinkle over dough. Bake 15-17 minutes or until golden brown. Serve warm.



Yield: 12 scones


This talk of British romance also has me itching to watch Emma and Bridget Jone's Diary. Both of these wickedly indulgent movies are based on novels.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Vegetarianism, Safe or Sorry?

Here is another post recycled from my past days as Culinary Chronicles columnist for World Wide Recipes, a position now held by the magnificent Karlis Streips.

THE DANGERS OF VEGETARIANISM

Every so often, I turn to EATING TO LIVE LONG, a book written in 1920 by William Henry Porter, M.D., for medical advice that is unrivaled in being almost invariably wrong. In a chapter entitled "Food Fads and Foolishness", he says, "Forcing one's self to live for a protracted period upon an exclusive vegetable diet is an abuse that falls only a few degrees short of suicide--or slow murder." He says it causes anemia and under-nutrition, "as well as being a frequent cause of tuberculosis"--charges he levels at just about anything he doesn't approve. A vegetable diet, according to Dr. Porter, causes nervous defects and cantankerousness. Vegetables are hard to digest, he says, and ferment in the digestive system, producing irritation and "intestinal catarrh". We will not delve further into Dr. Porter's detailing of the unpleasantness of a vegetable diet at the terminus of the digestive process, but he assures us that an excess of vegetables is "a source of danger". He considers vegetables an important part of a balanced diet, but compares vegetarianism to eating hay and warns us that "we can't afford to emulate the cow". Nuts are "squirrel food" and fruit is a "foodless food". Vegetarians, he says, are almost always lean (which I've noticed with some envy myself) and usually have something wrong with them, even if the something wrong is only chronic grouchiness. Ah, dear Dr. Porter! I am no vegetarian, and yet I can be irritated into such a state of grouchiness that only my Recitopian Pledge of Niceness stands between my cantankerous self and people who disrespect my vegetarian friends! The Vow holds, however, and Niceness reigns.

Marian Allen

Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Vicki Delany dines on Shrimp and Grits


I don't have time to post anything much today, we're heading off for brunch at the Carolina Club. We're in North Carolina right now, part of the Older, Hotter, Deadlier book tour. I like to try new things so here I am having shrimp and grits for lunch yesterday in Ferrington. It was FABULOUS!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Happy Easter Eggs


For several years I’ve been interested in natural techniques for dying Easter eggs, so imagine my pleasure when I saw a display of just such naturally colored eggs at my local Trader Joe’s grocery store.

I asked if I could take a picture of their display, and they graciously said yes, and on top of that, they gave me a list of the foods they had used to attain the really nice colors. I’ve dyed eggs with food many times, but I’ve never achieved such bright hues - until now! Here’s Trader Joe’s secret recipe for beautifully colored, all naturally dyed eggs.

Boil the eggs for fifteen minutes in a large pot with any of the following foods to create the color you desire. Add one teaspoon of vinegar to the boiling water to improve the uptake of color.

Red : Beets, cranberries, or frozen raspberries.
Orange: Yellow onion skins
Green : Fresh spinach leaves
Blue: Frozen blueberries

After 15 minutes, remove the pot from heat and let the eggs sit in the coloring water overnight.
Here’s all you Fatal Foodies followers a happy, healthy Easter with lots of friends and family, lots of good eats, and lots of love.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Happy Easter!

I hope everyone has a wonderful, blessed holiday!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

In Miniature Style II - Small Bites (for the dollhouse)






Thought I'd share some food I've made... for display, that is. These are dollhouse miniatures (in case the penny didn't give it away. ha!)

The potato salad (which does use a real-life, secret food ingredient) is one of the how-to projects in my new book, IN MINIATURE STYLE II, with over 40 how-to projects, profiles and photos.


Available in eBook (pdf); e-formats for Sony Reader, Kindle, etc. at Smashwords, and in print.

** See In Miniature Style II details and photos.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Dang-Blasted, Glass-Filled Cucumber Sandwiches and This Week's Other Mishaps














I have not been on top of my game for the past few days, especially in the area of food prep and transport. Let me give you a rundown of the worst three incidents:


Friday, April 15-I volunteered to provide a snack for my daughter's class. The day before, I baked four batches of mini apple-cinnamon muffins and cut up a bunch of oranges. Early the next morning, I proudly packed the muffins, oranges and some drinks in a basket big enough to float baby Moses down the Nile.
I got home from dropping off my daughter and the snacks only to realize that I forgot to pack the plates and napkins. Besides that, I forgot to send Calli's lunch with her, which would have doomed her to the cafeteria's options of fish nuggets or steak and gravy.


On top of all that, I had sent an envelope to school for her cafeteria account. The outside of the envelope said that it contained twenty dollars, but the check was still on my kitchen counter. So, back to school I went to deliver plates, napkins, Calli's lunchbox, and a check for the cafeteria.


Sunday, April 17-Our church's Childrens' Choir put on a wonderful Easter program. Following the program, everyone was invited to have a time of fellowship and refreshments. My plan was to contribute cucumber tea sandwiches for the refreshment table.


I put a great amount of care into my cucumber tea sandwiches. The English cucumber was scraped down with a fork before I sliced it, which made it look prettier. The pretty cucumber slices were then marinated in vinegar, water, sugar and salt. The bread rounds were cut into perfect circles with a biscuit cutter. I blended cream cheese, mayo, worcesterchire sauce and seasoning salt into a creamy spread to marry the cucumber to the bread.


Once I had assembled about three or four dozen sandwiches, I packed them for transport. They were divided amongst two Pyrex dishes and one plastic container. All of the containers, Skylar's diaper bag and Calli's clothes for the show were packed into my big basket (the one mentioned above that is big enough to float Moses and a week's worth of diapers down the Nile).


At some time during the drive to church the weight must have shifted. When I opened the hatch of my car, the basket crashed to the pavement. The horrible shatter of glass was followed by a mild expletive that came out of my mouth.


I looked around to make sure that nobody heard my utterance. Cussing in church is really bad. Saying a mildly bad word in the church parking lot cannot rank far behind!


Then, I took in the sad sight of my sandwiches. The cream cheese layer was the perfect adhesive for bits of glass. My beautiful little glass encrusted sandwiches were completely beyond salvage. Only the few packed in a plastic container survived the fall. One of the survivors is pictured above.


My mom saved the day by getting a nice cookie tray from a nearby grocery store. Thank you mom!


Tuesday, April 19-I tapped tiny holes into a dozen eggs, blew out the yolks with a coffee straw; then washed the eggs. As I admired my carton full of handiwork, I reached for my red cup of ice water. There was one problem. I also blew the egg yolks into a red cup. Instead of a mouth full of icy refreshment, I got a mouth full of slimy, salty gook. The taste was bad, the texture was worse!



Will I finally snap out of this whatever state I am in that is causing all of these disasters? Tune in for next Wednesday's post.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Man Bites Fish!

Well, yes.... Hardly worth getting excited about, really.

But wait! There's more!

I'm talking about piranha! Are you excited now?!?

Maybe not that much, okay. But I'm excited, because I never knew piranha were edible. It turns out they're considered delicious, and are eaten throughout parts of Central and South America. Since irresponsible North American pet buyers have been buying small piranha, possibly to impress themselves, and then dumping them into the local waterways, we can eat fresh piranha here, too.

It seems that piranha aren't the bone-stripping devils the movies make them out to be, that they have lots of predators who are like, "Piranha? Bring it!" and that it's more likely that, in an eating contest between the fish and the anthropoid, the anthropoid ends up picking his teeth with a fish bone rather than the other way around.

Here is a nice Wiki article on piranha, which is also where I scored the accompanying photograph.

Marian Allen
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Road Meals

I’m off on the Older Hotter Deadlier tour next week. That’s me and two other Canadian authors, Mary Jane Maffini and Elizabeth Duncan, hitting the road to North Carolina for a week of talking and signing and schmoozing.

And hopefully, eating.

After North Carolina we’re driving north, stopping in at Bethesda, Maryland for Malice Domestic and then Oakmont PA for tea at the library followed by the highlight of my promotional year – The Festival of Mystery put on by Mystery Lovers Bookshop.
I go to Malice ever year and I really enjoy travelling south through spring. It’s sort of like travelling though time.

I’ve travelled with MJ several times before but this is the first time with Elizabeth. When we are on a long road trip we usually follow a pattern. Breakfast either from the free ‘breakfast’ at the hotel (if it’s at all bearable) or coffee and muffin from a coffee shop munched in the car. Lunch will be a chance to stop and stretch our legs and we don’t want to venture far from the highway. So that usually means Applebee’s or a similar sort of chain restaurant. No fast food, thanks, we want to sit and rest and be waited upon.

For dinner we try to do something nice and hopefully regional. We’ll ask at the hotel or our hosts if they can recommend a good restaurant. No cheapies here – we’ve had a long day and we deserve a nice meal. A glass of wine or two might just happen to appear on the table.

When in North Carolina we’re being hosted by Molly Weston, guide extraordinaire, and we’re very much hoping to try some real North Carolina cuisine. I have absolutely no idea what that consists of. But I’m looking forward to finding out.

What’s your pattern when you’re on the road?

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Volunteers


When you cook up your veggies from scratch, what do you do with the scraps? Do you have a compost heap? Do the potato eyes, the carrot peels, the pumpkin innards go into a pile with twigs and leaves and dirt and worms and coffee grounds?

Whyever not? Do you live in an apartment with no room for a garden? Not even container gardening? Maybe you’re like me - or at least the me I was during my nine-to-five life - simply without the time or energy to do what it takes to tend a garden. Yet doesn’t it seem like a shame to waste all that lovely compost? That’s the way I always felt. So even though I never kept a formal compost heap, I very often lugged my veggie scraps out to the back yard and buried them in any open piece of dirt I could find - under a shrub or rose bush, in a bare spot beside the back gate. I comforted myself with thought that at least I was nourishing the soil and not simply flushing all that lovely organic matter through the garbage disposal and into the water system.

But then something wonderful occurred. One year something sprouted out by the fence and I let it grow. I didn’t give it any more care than I did the lawn itself, and that was not much more than water. But apparently it was enough, because my volunteer flourished and made a gorgeous spreading vine that bloomed with big yellow flowers, and in the fall it gave us several good-sized butternut squash out of the goodness of its heart.

Ever since, and that was probably twenty years ago, I save squash and melon innards from particularly tasty specimens, as well as sweet and Irish potato chunks with the eyes, and bury them along with other bits of raw veggie detritus in a special small area beside the back fence that I call my “volunteer garden” Something interesting almost always comes up and grows like glory. Sometimes I can tell what it is, but sometimes not, and we get an interesting surprise crop in the fall.

I love to try and grow something from the seeds or cuttings of any interesting thing we’ve been eating that I think will sprout. I’ve sprouted any number of citrus seeds, avocado seeds, and pineapple tops, though I’ve never persevered with them long enough to get anything but a nice temporary green house plant. Someday I’ll do some research and see what it takes.

This year I have a couple of beautiful potato plants coming up. I don’t know what variety they are. I like to buy odd potato varieties, though I like Russets and Yukon Gold the best. I guess I’ll see.

p.s. that’s an artichoke in the back corner, behind the potatoes.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Dear John, Send Shrimp!



I am so out-of-date and off-trend. The book has been out for years, and the movie has long been available on DVD. It is just recently that I got around to reading Dear John by Nicholas Sparks. So many of you had probably read the book and/or seen the movie, that retelling the story seems quite redundant. I will briefly summarize the premise for those of you who are not familiar with this work.


John is a young man who is a bit rough-around-the-edges. After graduating from high school in Wilmington, North Carolina, he joins the army. Savannah is a sweet college girl who volunteers with Habitat for Humanity.

John and Savannah meet and fall in love while he is on a leave in Wilmington and she is there working on a Habitat house.

Sadly, John's military deployment soon puts many miles between them. Although time and distance lead to the end of their romance, their love never truly dies. That love is put to the test many years later when John makes a huge sacrifice to benefit the man who has taken Savannah away from him.

Okay, so that is a brief retelling of the story. Now, let me tell you what the book had me wanting to eat.

Nicholas Sparks lives in the Wilmington area. He does a wonderful job of capturing the casual vibe. If he had his main characters eating caviar, the mood of this book would be completely different.

John and Savannh munch on good, simple beach food. There is a cookout with Savannah's habitat friends, which made me crave a grilled hotdog and chips. In another cookout scence, John dusts off his dad's old grill so that they can have steaks, baked potatoes and salad.

The Wilmington area is full of little shack-like places where the locals dine. John takes Savannah to one of these places for a cheeseburger and to another for a bucket of boiled shrimp. Of course the cheeseburger scene had me wanting to head out to the closest greasy burger joint.

The bucket of boiled shrimp was the entree that made the greatest impression on me. What is better than a big bucket of peel-and-eat shrimp with lemon and cocktail sauce? Makes we want to be eating at some little dive in a sleepy, laid back beach town on the Carolina coast!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

And Very Good They Are

Most of us have read Wanda Gag's MILLIONS OF CATS, either as children or to children. But That wasn't the only book Gag wrote. When my big girl was little, she also loved Gag's THE FUNNY THING.

THE FUNNY THING is about an old man named Bobo who lives in the hills and provides food for all the wild animals. Then a "funny thing" which looks a great deal like a dragon but calls itself an aminal comes along. It turns up its nose at Bobo's food, claiming it only eats good children's dolls. "And very good they are, good children's dolls." So Bobo mixes all the animals' foods together and rolls it into balls and calls it jum-jills. The aminal loves jum-jills and eats them by preference. "And very good they are, jum-jills."

So my daughter and I put together some things we liked and rolled them into balls. Other people call those truffles. We called them jum-jills.

Chocolate Nutty Jum-Jills
  • 2 cups chopped nuts - one kind or mixed
  • 1 cup nut butter
  • 1/4 cup chocolate chips
  • ~ OR ~
  • 1 1/4 cup Nutella in place of nut butter and chips
  • 4 Tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup dates, chopped
  • 1/8 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Toast the nuts in a skillet or toaster oven, heated and watching until the nuts begin to smell toasty.

Meanwhile, mix nut butter, maple syrup and chocolate chips. Stir in the warm nuts.

In another bowl, mix sugar, cocoa and cinnamon

Roll the nut mixture into balls and roll in sugar mixture to coat.

This particular recipe is basically one from THE TEEN'S VEGETARIAN COOKBOOK. And very good it is, THE TEEN'S VEGETARIAN COOKBOOK.

Marian Allen
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Ant Wars


In the time period I write about, what we think of as food was often used for lots of things other than eating. Medicine, notably, as in honey and lemon juice for a sore throat, and beauty products. I love to refer to the old remedies in my books. Here’s an excerpt from my fourth book The Sky Took Him:

Alafair finally offered her opinion... “...if you’d just start rinsing your face in buttermilk at night, like I’ve been telling you, you’ll never have to worry about getting too brown.”

Martha smiled but didn't comment. Her mother had a home remedy for everything under the sun. Many of them were quite effective, whereas others...Alafair had bathed her face in buttermilk every evening for as long as Martha could remember. She eyed her mother’s sun-brown face and came to her own conclusion about the efficacy of dairy products as whitening agents.

A strawberry mask is supposed to be good for refining the skin, and we’ve all heard of cucumber slices to soothe the eyes.

Lemon and beeswax to polish furniture, and club soda to lift stains, black or cayenne pepper to keep cats out of the garden. Folks knew how to take care of problems without resorting to Max Factor or Weed-B-Gon. Or an exterminator.

We’ve been visited lately by ants in the kitchen, which has afforded me the opportunity to conduct my own field experiments in natural pest control.

This happens about once a year, usually in the spring, before it gets too hot. They come in around the kitchen window, tiny Houdinis who find openings no matter how many times we re-caulk. Most of the time we live in cautious harmony. If they don’t bother us, we don’t bother them. There have been a couple of times when a large anthill appeared in the back that got too bothersome to ignore, so Don got rid of them by flooding them, then dumping blended-up oranges, peel and all, into the hole. Did we destroy the den? I doubt it, but he did persuade the colony to relocate its main entrance elsewhere, at least, for we never saw that particular group again.

The batch that has invaded us this year is insidious. They are teeny-tiny little black things that eat the bait in ant traps and laugh. We lined the sill with sticky paper, but these ants are so small that they just waked right under it. We haven’t been able to find the den itself so after a war council, Don and I decided that the only answer is some sort of barrier between them and our kitchen. Following is a report on how we finally seem to have gotten them under control.

After consulting the internet, the 1879 edition of the White House Cookbook, and the 1878 edition of Housekeeping in Old Virginia, we began by laying down a line of baking soda across the window sill. It looked rather like a dusting of snow, and the ants decided to go skiing. No good.

I followed that up with a line of cinnamon, which worked like gangbusters. The ants absolutely refused to cross the line, and the cinnamon had the added benefit of making our kitchen smell like Christmas. However, have a look at the photo and tell me if you want your kitchen window to look like this. Besides, the ants solved their problem by walking up the wall and crossing into the kitchen above the line. Dang.

Since pungent smells are apparently the answer, Don saturated a cotton ball with eucalyptus oil and rubbed it up and down the window sill. This worked for a while, but the smell fades and ants are patient. So he saturated several more balls, some with eucalyptus, some with rosemary oil and some with lemon oil, and stuffed the balls themselves in the corners where the window pane joins the wall. It’s been two days, and no ants seen - yet.

One task left before the annual re-caulking party is to wash down the wall outside under the kitchen window with a bleach water solution to get rid of their chemical trail. We hope. It’s worked before.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Yum! Fondarific!

With the rerelease of Murder Takes the Cake, my thoughts have been more equally divided between embroidery and cake decorating. When I learned that Fondarific offers a sample pack of their three most popular flavors plus two of your choice, I was thrilled! What a great way to use just a little fondant to decorate small cakes or to make embellishments without having too much on hand. Even though fondant has a shelf life of one year, I don't use enough of it to justify buying a large tub unless I have a specific project in mind.

One of the new Fondarific flavors I was really excited about was coffee mocha. The sample pack came in today's mail, and I eagerly opened it. The smell of coffee mocha immediately filled my kitchen. Was that angels I heard singing? :) Seriously, I had to quickly put the samples back into their container so I wouldn't eat the coffee mocha.

If your only experience with fondant is the plain, bland, icky stuff sold in baking supply stores and hobby shops, you're in for a treat with Fondarific. Their flavors include buttercream, chocolate, strawberry, chocolate cherry, lemon, grape, berry, melon, cherry, vanilla, tutti-frutti, and coffee mocha. I wouldn't have believed fondant could taste this could if I hadn't tried it myself at the Oklahoma State Sugar Art Show.

If you're looking to add dimension to some Easter baking, or if you'd simply like to try fondant, check out the Fondarific sample pack. You get five samples (shipped) for $6. And, no, this is not a paid Fondarific endorsement. However, if the kind folks at Fondarific would like to send me some fondant as a thank-you, I will gratefully accept! Hey, it was worth a shot, right? ;)

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

I'm the April Fool


Comedians say that a key to telling a good joke is timing. Boy, was my timing ever off when I decided to play an April Fools' joke on my daughter Calli!

Calli likes toast with a hole cut in the middle, with an egg fried in the hole. For an April Fools' joke, I made the "egg" from marshmallow cream and yellow cake icing.

The toast (pictured) looked pretty convincing to me. As I sat it in front of her and smiled smuggly to myself, she pointed out that the egg looked more perfect than usual. Apparently my artistic rendering was a bit off.

She tasted the toast and realized the joke. Calli's amusement was mild, not at all the hackling, horse-laughing, "Mom that's the best joke EVER" I had hoped for.

Later that morning, I told my husband about my little joke I played on Calli; only to be told that it was not April Fools' day. To prove him wrong I walked over to the calander on the fridge, poised to point at the date and say "Nuh uh, see it's April first."

I never got to tell my husband he was wrong because he was right. It was the day before April Fools'. Turned out I was the fool. Oh, and also turned out that Calli thought my joke was funny enough to share with her teacher and class; meaning my faux pas was made public (before I made it public on this blog). Yeah, her teacher and class probably thought it was really funny; not my fake egg-in-hole-toast, but my doing it on the wrong dang day!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Dim Sum

"Dim sum" is probably derived from a phrase meaning "a little token". It's a meal or snack made up of a variety of small dishes, such as dumplings, savory buns filled with vegetables or meat, sweet buns filled with custard or bean paste, meatballs, rice, porridge, pudding.... The list goes on and on, including at least 2000 dishes. One of these is Phoenix Talons, an impressive name for chicken feet, something I must give a column of its own, some day. Dim sum began in teahouses in southern China and spread along the Silk Road, as an accompaniment to tea, which puts it into the category of bar food. Although dim sum can be eaten throughout the day, it seems associated with mid-morning to early afternoon. Workers from China who helped build the American railroads brought dim sum with them, and our "brunch" -- a word combining "breakfast" and "lunch" which originated at about the same time as the railroads -- may be an American version of dim sum.

My favorite item on any dim sum menu is sesame dumplings filled with sweet red bean paste. Sounds dreadful, but trust me--it's delicious!

Back at my own blog, I'm participating in the April A-to-Z Challenge. Today is D, and I'm posting on Death by Chocolate. What a way to go!

Marian Allen

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Road Food - the good and the (really) bad



Back from New Mexico and Arizona. What a super time I had.

Left Coast Crime in Santa Fe was wonderful. A great conference and very well organized. Far as I could see, there wasn't a single mis-step.

The conference was in the historic La Fonda Hotel, which was quite different than the usual big modern hotel these things are in. It was a challenge finding some of the rooms and getting around was occasionally difficult for those with mobility impairments.

I will never recommend serving a buffet meal to 400 people! But what a great New Mexican meal it was.

As well as the fun of the conference, the chance to catch up with Barbara Peters and Rob Rosenwald and the Poisoned Pen authors in attendance, the spectacular scenery and architecture – there was the food. Yum, yum.

The burritos at the hotel restaurant were wonderful, the lunch New Mexican buffet great, shrimp dinner at the Guadalupe Café spectacular, and enchiladas at the Shed where I lunched with my agent. Fabulous. I am running out of adjectives. And me, a writer.

Then it was on to Phoenix and Scottsdale for visits to the Poisoned Pen and Velma Teague library. We decided to drive from Santa Fe to see the scenery, which was well worth seeing.

We stayed overnight in Holbrook, Arizona, self-described as “the town too tough for women and churches.” All I can say is that it must have been the food that drove any self-respecting woman out. We ‘dined’ at a steakhouse on pork ribs a lot tougher than that town, drenched in bottled sauce, and served with a corn on the cob that was squishy to the touch. What the corn was to the taste I did not bother to find out. After one of the most insipid ‘free hot breakfasts’ I have ever had the misfortune to try, we fled Holbrook. (Barbara Peters warned me not to stop there – in that, as in everything else, I should have listened.)

Things took a turn for the better when we arrived in Scottsdale and settled in at the beautiful Hotel Valley Ho. Zu Zu’s, the hotel restaurant, is very good although doesn’t serve Mexican or South Western food.

We had dinner one night with Donis at Frank and Lupe’s which was great (I had the Chicken Mole Enchiladas) and after our appearance at the Poisoned Pen bookstore we went to the Mission. The guacamole prepared at the table was to-die-for (mixed with pumpkin seeds – that I am definitely going to try) and I had the posole soup.

In my limited experience, I felt that the New Mexican food we had in New Mexico was pretty much the same as we get in Canada at a “Mexican” restaurant. I like my food moderately spicy and didn’t come across anything that was too hot for me. In Phoenix, however, the food was different. The mole in the enchiladas at Frank and Lupe’s added a real kick of flavour and the salsa served at the Heard Museum (in the picture) was particularly nice although I have no idea what was in it. I had a glass of pricky pear iced tea at the Botanical Gardens and just loved it. (Confession time - I don't much like iced tea, but this was much more like lemonaide). The other picture is of my mother at the botanical gardens.

Planting Herbs


It has taken me twenty-five years to figure out how to plant a garden here in southern Arizona, and I must say I still have much to learn. The seasons are almost reversed here, in comparison to my home state of Oklahoma and most of the rest of the world. Here one plants for fall, winter, and early spring. Forget summer vegetables unless you like to eat cactus (and a lot of people do). OK is pretty far south as it is, and one can begin planting earlier there than in the northern tier of North America, but AZ and the Sonoran Desert are a thing unto themselves.

For instance, as I write this, it is the first day of April and the thermometer on my back porch reads 98 degrees Fahrenheit. The lettuce that I bought yesterday has fainted. In fact, I wonder if it isn’t already too late for lettuce? I usually have much more luck with the fall and winter gardens. Some of the most successful plants I’ve raised in the past few years are herbs.

I love to grow and cook with herbs. If keep them well watered and shaded, I can have fresh herbs all year long, even in the dead of summer. And since it seldom freezes, I can often carry plants over the winter. I have a basil plant in the back garden that is three years old and still producing yummy green leaves. I’ve been making salads galore in the two months since I’ve been involved with book promotion, mainly because I have so many fabulous herbs right at hand. All I need is a bowl and a pair of scissors. Tonight’s salad will contain nothing more than lettuce, hard-boiled egg, onion, and my own cilantro, chive, basil, chocolate mint, and French thyme. Add some crunchy French bread with garlic butter, and now you’re talking, Bub.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Here at Babycakes

I've been at Babycakes for the cupcake contest and the signing of Murder Takes The Cake. The dreary weather must have kept most of our local bakers home because we had only two contest entrants. Still, both those entries were gorgeous! I took a photo, but Blogger won't let me download it from my phone. I'll post it on Facebook later when I find out the winner. I'm so glad I didn't have to decide!

Guess who stopped by to surprise me? Fatal Foodies very own Lisa Hall! Lisa brought her daughter Skyler, her friend (and now mine too!) Julie, and Julie's son Will. I wish I'd taken a picture of Skyler & Will (they're one adorable couple, let me tell you), but Blogger wouldn't have let me upload it even if I had. :(

Thanks to everybody who came by today!