Saturday, May 30, 2009

Grape Dumplings

I subscribe to the Haskell News, which is a small town weekly newspaper from Haskell, Oklahoma, where my grandparents lived for many years.  Haskell is about 10 miles from Boynton, OK, which is the setting for my Alafair Tucker Mysteries, but Boynton is too small to have a newspaper any more.

Last month there was a notice in the News that the Haskell Friends of the Library was holding its annual Wild Onion and Grape Dumpling Breakfast fundraiser.  This is why I take the newspaper - otherwise I would have missed this blast from the past  

Grape dumplings are a native Cherokee dish made with the wild grapes that grow all over the woods in eastern Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, and probably the entire Southern United States east of the Mississippi.  We always called them possum grapes.  They are tiny blue grapes that grow in clusters, and are wonderfully sweet.  Traditionally, grape dumplings were made by boiling the grapes, mashing them, adding cornmeal until you have a thick batter, and boiling them in grape juice.

Nowdays, this is the way its done:

1 cup flour

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

2 tsp sugar

1/4 tsp salt

1 tbsp shortening

1/2 cup grape juice

Mix all ingredients into a stiff dough, roll thin, and cut into strips, or roll dough in hands and break off pea sized bits.  Drop into boiling grape juice for 10-12 minutes.


Wednesday, May 27, 2009


I'm playing my "Tired New Mommy Card" for this morning's post. My sleepless couple of nights have occurred because I jinxed myself. I began bragging WAY to soon that Skylar is a very good sleeper. I would preface my bragging with "I'm probably jinxing myself" thinking that would undo the curse that bragging too soon can bring on.
After 2 nights of her suddenly fighting sleep and waking up several times during the night, I know that I officially jinxed myself! I'm tired as can be, but with such an angelic smile, I can't complain too much!
I'm now going to power breakfast (Special K Red Berries, Diet Dr. Pepper and a cup of coffee). If that doesn't work, I might have to give into a nap.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


Yesterday was Memorial Day, and one of the people I remembered was my grandmother, a woman who lied as easy as breathing. She usually used her vast power for good, not e-vil, unless you count messing with my head. I'm still finding out things she lied to me about, just for the fun of seeing me believe her.

She told me once she used to sing on local radio when she was a child, under the name of Baby Ruby Goodman. She told me my grandfather was a motorcycle hoodlum when she met him. These are both POSSIBLE, but I've found them to be totally unfounded.

MAN, I miss her!

Besides being a great liar and one of the world's premier collectors of dirty jokes, Gramma made the best hamburgers in the world.

Baby Ruby Goodman's Knockout Hamburgers
  • ground beef, NOT TOO LEAN
  • skillet with cover
  • hamburger buns
Make patties bigger around and flatter than you want them. They draw up as they cook. Put them in a medium-hot pan and cook them until nicely browned on one side. Flip them, put the buns on them, bottom half cutside-down on the burger, top half cut-side down on the bottom half, cover and reduce heat. This finishes the burger and steams the bun at the same time. If you want cheese, put a slice on when the burger is almost done.

Best. Burger. Ever.


Saturday, May 23, 2009

Oxalic Acid Blues

We discovered recently that my husband's kidney stones are of the common calcium type.  His body does not properly excrete oxalic acid, so it seems that in addition to all the food restrictions we already put up with, he now has to restrict his intake of high oxalic acid foods.  Sadly, this includes all kinds of veggies that are normally very good for you.  Many dark green things are therefore verboten.  No spinach, kale, green peppers.  Tomatoes are okay, but not tomato paste or sauce!  Rhubarb is terrible. Beans are bad, except for lentils.  No nuts or berries.  Wheat germ is bad, so whole wheat bread isn't the best thing to eat.

Oh, well.  As I read on one web site, when you have to restrict your oxalic acid intake,  "white food is your friend."   So until I can get myself educated on how to cook healthy, vegetarian, low oxalic acid meals, we'll be eating a lot of cauliflower, cheese, and rice.

Here is a recipe for a cauliflower sandwich spread that I've been making for years, which fits our requirements exactly and is delicious to boot.

Break one small head of cauliflower into flowerlets and steam until very tender.  Put florets into a large bowl and mash with a potato masher.  Add 1/8 cup of mayonnaise, 2 tablespoons of Dijon mustard, salt and pepper to taste.  Spread the filling over one piece of lightly buttered toast and serve open faced.  (I like to use a light onion rye for my toast.  I also enjoy a few sauteed onions on the sandwich.)

Friday, May 22, 2009

Summer Salad and Other "Stuff"

Sorry to be so late in the day with my post, but alas, the Virtual Writers' Conference is behind us. The good thing is that it will stay up and continue to be a resource for writers. There has been so much interest in the conference that I'm hoping we can do another one...maybe a mini conference in the fall or something. We'll see.

Shading my eyes at my son's baseball games has had me longing for a new hat. So this morning, I went to VistaPrint and ordered this one. How cute is this?! Plus, the skull and flowers design was one of the standard designs, so I didn't have to pay extra for it. All it cost was $4.?? shipping. :-) I know you can see "Gayle Trent," but can you see the little spider web in my "G"? [giggle] I love it. And I love VistaPrint, too. Where else could I have bought a personalized hat for under $5? I might have to order a Fatal Foodies hat next. Or a t-shirt with The Seven-Year Stitch Mystery Series. Or a car magnet. Or.... Yeah, I get obsessive.

Okay, now to the summer salad. I had this at my desk yesterday. While I'm the only person here (at my house) who will eat it, you might spring it on some of your Memorial Day guests. It's soooo good. As a matter of fact, I got this recipe from a Jill St. John cookbook years ago. This is a modified version, but it's really simple, tangy, sweet and spicy.

Summer Salad

Vidalia Onions
Navel Oranges
(Both of these are dependent upon the number of people you are serving. With me, two oranges and one onion are plenty.)
Italian Dressing (I use Fat Free)

Cut your oranges and onions into slices and layer them in a bowl. Once you've finished layering the oranges and onions, cover the entire mixture with Italian dressing. Cover with a lid or plastic wrap and place into the refrigerator. It's best to let the flavor combine overnight. And don't think, "Ew, oranges and onions" without giving it a chance.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Create a Winning Ice Cream

Ben and Jerry's is famous for having fun, creative ice cream flavors. It is hard not to smile when you hear the names Chunky Monkey or Cherry Garcia.
The powers that be at Ben and Jerry's are having a contest that allows people to create their next great ice cream flavor. To enter "Do The World a Flavor" go to:
A "flavor generator" allows you to mix and match ice cream flavors, chunks and swirls. Deadline is May 26. Go on and get to creating that next famous Ben and Jerry's flavor!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Free?! It's FREE?!

The Virtual Writers Conference is happ'nin' NOW! I'm so excited! The first post is by my friend and mentor, Leslea Harmon, who is wise beyond her years. She also skates in the Derby City Rollergirls, which is another plus.

Check out our own Gayle Trent, welcoming all attendees and 'splaining to Lucy how a Virtual Writers Conference works, and what the virtual banquet is like. Glad it's only virtual....


Saturday, May 16, 2009

Sopapillas for Cinco de Mayo Plus Ten

Last month, I went out to lunch with two mystery author friends of mine, Vicki Delany (Valley of the Lost), and Deborah Turrell Atkinson (Pleasing the Dead).  Both women have new books out and were touring the Southwest together, after attending Left Coast Crime in Honolulu.  I met up with them in Tempe, where I live, after their gig at Tempe Public Library, and went out for supper with them in Scottsdale before their event at Poisoned Pen Bookstore.

I took them to a fabulous little Jalisco-style Mexican restaurant in Scottsdale called Frank and Lupe’s.  We sat outside on the patio, ate fish tacos and drank Cervezas, and generally had a spiffy time. 

After the meal, the waiter brought to our table a basket of sopapillas. (so-pa-PEE-ah) Now, Vicki is a Canadian, and Debby has lived in Hawaii for thirty years, and neither of them had ever seen this Mexican treat before, much less knew how to eat one, so it was my great pleasure to introduce them to the joys of the sopapilla.

For the uninitiated. a sopapilla is a cross between Indian fry bread and a doughnut.  A three-inch square of dough is tossed in a deep-fryer until it puffs up. It is sometimes sprinkled with granulated sugar and maybe a little cinnamon when it’s fresh out of the fryer, but a purist does not sweeten her sopapillas before they go to the table.  In fact, sopapillas can easily be eaten as part of a savory dish, stuffed with beans or chili.

But when they bring them to your table, all hot and puffy, with a squeeze bottle of honey, at the end of your meal, the only thing to do is to rip off one of the corners of your little pillow and squeeze a whole bunch of honey into the cavity, swirl it around, and eat it up.  If you don’t end up sticky as Winnie the Pooh, then you’re not doing it right.


4 cups white flour

2 tablespoons baking powder

1 tsp salt

4 tablespoons of shortening,

1 1/2 cups of warm water

enough vegetable oil for deep frying

Combine flour, baking powder, salt, and shortening and mix well.  Stir in water and mix until the dough is soft.  Cover the bowl and let dough stand for about 20 minutes.  Punch down the dough and roll it out on a floured board to about 1/4 inch thick.  Cut the dough into 3 inch squares.  Heat the oil in a deep fryer to about 375 degrees.  Drop the dough squares into the oil and fry until golden.  Let the sopapillas drain on paper towels for a few minutes, then serve hot.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Chef Salad Wrap

Yesterday, as I was wondering what to post for today, my family went out to dinner. It wasn't so much that we were celebrating anything; but more that I've been on a tight deadline with The Quick and The Thread and didn't want to cook.

Anyway, we went to Perkins where I saw something new on the menu: a chef salad wrap. I decided to give it a try. It's ham, turkey, tomato, lettuce, hard boiled egg, cheese and ranch dressing rolled up in a flour tortilla. Yum!

It was unusual but really good. If anyone is interested in a recipe, I was able to find one online at Hmmm.... A salad you can eat as a sandwich. Who'd of thunk it?
On the other hand, isn't that what a BLT is? ;-)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Working in My P.J.'s

In her book, Self Promotion for the Emerging Writer , our very own founder and mentor, Gayle Trent touts the benefits of the over-the-phone interview. I got the pleasure of doing one of these recently. A local radio station set up a time to call my home. On the morning of, I made sure that my baby was fed, changed and drifting off to sleep. My five-year-old was warned not to make any noise. I took the call upstairs (kids were downstairs) in a room with the door shut.
The whole thing took about five minutes and went off without a hitch, a child barging in, a crying, etc.
Best of all, I was in my comfy P.J.'s, I didn't have to get out, and a celebratory cup of coffee was waiting for me after I had completed the interview. Gayle, you're right, the phone interview is a good thing!
Another good thing is Gayles Book, Self Promotion for the Emerging Writer. It's a must read for writers. Here's a link:

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Death of a Dish...Or Not

Yesterday, I went out to the garden and gathered some asparagus. Lovely, lovely!

When I came in, I heard my husband calling me from the bathroom. "I need you to bandage something for me." The place looked like a slaughterhouse--blood everywhere. I feared the worst. As it happened, he had cut his fingers--not too badly, but several of them--while cleaning his chain saw. Bled copiously. We got antibacterial on the cuts and antibiotic ointment, and I wrapped them up. We had to move from the sink to the throne and then to the living room floor, as he gets woozy at the sight of blood.

By the time I had gotten him fixed up and cleaned the bathroom so it didn't look like the set of a Hannibal Lector movie, it was later than I usually fix supper.

One of the things I made was: portobello mushroom slices and asparagus stems in sherry and garlic-infused olive oil, covered and simmered. While it was simmering, I went in to check my email and got involved. When I went back in, the sherry had all cooked out and the vegetables were blackened on the underside. Just for penance, I ate a piece. It was good! I put in some more sherry and the asparagus tips and WATCHED it this time until the tips were crisp-tender. I called it "pan-grilled asparagus and mushrooms" and it was pretty darned good.

So far, Charlie seems to be okay except for his pride.


Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Magic of Truffles

Dave and I visited my sister two weekends ago and she cooked several dishes for dinner one night. The one that stands out the most to me is asparagus grilled on her cast iron panini grill, lightly coated with olive oil and truffle salt. We also had a cheese plate and one of the cheeses was a truffle cheese from Italy.

Have you ever tasted truffle? Musky, sultry...a taste and a scent like none other that I've experienced. The subtle flavor, according to, " is often compared to garlic blended with an earthiness or pungent mushroomy flavor."

I don't agree with the comparison, actually. It's much more subtle than garlic and while 'earthy' at least starts to describe the scent, 'musky' works a lot better for me. The Love Potion website talks about truffles as an aphrodisiac (the post there is very comprehensive and far more detailed than I could write, so I urge you to check it out!) and I admit the scent and flavor bring to mind things of a sultry, sensual nature.

The hint of truffle salt on the asparagus turned it from ordinary albeit tasty fare to something far more exotic and decadent than any vegetable dish I've tasted before. I look forward to experimenting with truffle infused olive oil to see what I can do with other veggies!

Saturday, May 9, 2009


I got up relatively early this morning and immediately had a bunch of tasks that had to be done and errands to run, and didn’t get to have my usual cup of coffee.

My whole day has been thrown off.  

I didn’t enjoy running around the Phoenix metro area in the heat (103 today) and the pollution (ozone warning), and when I finally got home around 2:30, I was hot, tired, grumpy, and had a splitting headache.  I could blame it on the ozone, which I’m sure didn’t help, but I have to say that even as overheated as I was, I was desperate for a cup of coffee.

So, after changing into something more comfortable, I sat down at the kitchen table with my newspaper, which I also missed, and a nice cup of coffee, and within twenty minutes I knew that I was going to live to see another day.

The effects of coffee have been debated.  A few years ago, coffee was anathema, according to the health experts, and I gave it up.  I got used to living without it, so my addiction was broken.  But I still missed it.  I missed that hot, fragrant, bitter taste, and the ritual of making it, waiting for the smell to permeate the house, the anticipation of that first cup.

Now, those same experts are saying that coffee may actually be good for you, so my favorite morning ritual has been restored.  And when it comes to what’s good for me, I’ve decided to pay less attention to the “experts” and more attention to my own instincts.

I use a French press to make coffee, but the protagonist of my series, Alafair Tucker, early 20th Century farm wife and mother of 10, makes coffee the same way my grandmother did.  She put 1/2 cup of coffee in the bottom of a tin coffee pot, filled the pot with water, and boiled it furiously for ten or fifteen minutes.  She settled the grounds with eggshells and/or a little cold water. She knew the coffee was ready when a spoon stood up in the cup.  My old farm relatives usually drank their coffee with two or three spoonfuls of sugar.  After drinking a cup of my grandmother’s coffee, you could go out and happily plow the south forty, with or without a mule.  

Friday, May 8, 2009

The Trents' Own Little Pandemic

What a week! Busily working on The Quick and The Thread, which is due to the publisher by June 1, I do not have time to get sick.

I'm sick.

Not as sick as my son, though.

My son had been coughing for a couple days. Since he has had bronchitis in the past, I got worried he might have it again. So yesterday morning, I took him to the urgent care medical center we frequent (who bothers with appointments when they're sick?). The doctor (who, by the way, looked as if she should be on E.R. making eyes at Noah Wiley) said his lungs sounded good but she wanted to test him for mycoplasma, the virus that causes walking pneumonia. The test was positive. The doctor warned that this is an aggressive "bug" and that it has an incubation period of up to four weeks. In other words, I could have the bug but not show symptoms for up to four weeks. At that time, my son would be better but could catch the bug again.

When my husband got home from work, I told him I thought the rest of us should be tested. After all, if another of us has the bug, wouldn't it be better to be treated for it now than for us to keep reinfecting each other? I called the urgent care facility and spoke with a nurse. She said having the rest of the family tested was a wise idea.

Every member of our family has mycoplasma. However, none of us except Nicholas had symptoms until the rest of us were told we had mycoplasma. Now, it seems the power of persuasion has our throats hurting, our bodies aching and our heads hurting. And if we hear of any more symptoms, we'll probably have those, too! We are all on antibiotics, though, and should be well soon.

In the meantime, if you have the usual upper respiratory problems, fatigue and body aches that just won't go away, have yourself tested for mycoplasma. I'd never even heard of it before yesterday, but apparently, it's nasty stuff. Maybe not as bad as the "flying pig virus," but it's all relative.

Also, if you have a sore throat, that ice cream sundae looks pretty good, doesn't it? It will help mend the body and the soul. :-)

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Italian Guacamole

Last week, my post was full of paranoia that my kids and I would get my husband's stomach bug. This week I am happy to say that none of us caught it.
Yesterday evening, I made something that might have made even the strongest of stomachs queasy. Luckily, I tasted it before my dish made it to the table.
In observance of Cinco de Mayo, I made crunchy tacos and guacamole for dinner. Making guacamole in East Tennessee can sometimes be tricky. Many times, a store will have a whole display of avacados that will not be ripe for several days. (Putting an avacado in a paper bag will speed up the ripening process.) Yesterday morning, I fondled about a dozen avacados to find the one that was perfectly ripe and "guacamole ready".
I tasted a bit of the avacado as I cubed it up to make guacamole, and it was really good. I quickly mashed all of the other ingredients into the avacado. Once I was done, I dipped a chip. Something was not right! I dipped another chip "yuck".
Convinced that the mixture needed a touch more salsa I grabbed the big jar off the counter. It was then that I discovered my problem. I had grabbed a jar of spaghetti sauce from the fridge instead of salsa.
I hate to concede to failure in the kitchen so I began trying to save my guacamole. I added lots of salsa, more lime juice and salt. That did not help. I resorted to pouring the guacamole through a strainer and doctoring the chunck of avacado that were left. It was less gross, but still not good.
I finally admitted to defeat and dumped the guacamole.
Sometimes, Food Network chefs love to meld international cuisines into some new dish. Here's a new challenge, Italian Guacamole!
This recipe from Food Network seems to do a good job at combining Latin and Italian cuisines. It sounds much better than what I made last night!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

I Poke My Eye Out

Not really, but I did poke my eye. Details, prayer and writing prompt at my blog.

Meanwhile, I managed to make some good meals. I had some rather old mushrooms and some fresh-picked asparagus and a boatload of new-laid eggs from two friends who keep chickens. I've learned that, if you store mushrooms in a paper bag instead of the plastic/styro in which they come from the grocery, they dry out but don't spoil. So I put the mushrooms and asparagus into a frying pan along with some sherry and simmered, covered, until the mushrooms reconstituted and the asparagus was tender. Meanwhile, I beat an egg, an equal volume of milk, salt and marjoram (would have used cracked pepper, but husband can't have it). Put some butter in the veggies and then the egg mixture, covered and cooked until puffy, flipped and cooked until browned. Lovely!

Yesterday, I mixed some "rotisserie chicken seasoning mix" and water, put a bit in the bottom of a slow cooker, put in a couple pounds of frozen chicken breasts, topped with the rest of the flavored water, covered and cooked on high for about six hours, then turned to low. A little long, I think, but I was concerned that the chicken be thoroughly cooked. Very flavorful, plenty of leftovers, and the juice will make a delicious soup base.

Also braised a bunch of chopped celery in butter and some of the chicken liquid. If you've never eaten celery as a cooked vegetable all on its own, I highly recommend it!

Don't forget the upcoming virtual writers conference, coming up May 19-22!


Monday, May 4, 2009


Hey, gang!

I'm in the midst of work deadlines and book deadlines and am not finished with my Fatal Foodie post for today. I hope to have it up later in the afternoon, but if not, please accept this token offering of a sumptious repast to feast your eyes upon until I get my post completed!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Food as Medicine

All this brouhaha about the swine flu (excuse me - the N1H1 strain), coupled with the reports of  my blogmates’ illnesses, has made me consider how people used to treat sickness before the advent of antibiotics and antiviral drugs.  It was not so long ago that our foremothers knew all about the medicinal qualities of food.  Unadulterated food still has medicinal qualities, but do we know what they are anymore?  Not likely, unless you’re a foodie, a scholar, or old.

Garlic has antibiotic properties, and was actually used during the 1918 flu outbreak as a treatment, especially in Eastern Europe.  The Romans really thought highly of garlic - they believed that it gave you strength, and gladiators chewed raw garlic gloves before a match for just that purpose.  I saw a recipe for a garlic soup to be fed to a flu sufferer which called for  24 cloves of garlic simmered for an hour in a quart of water. That’ll clear your sinuses.

Ginger is a traditional cure for nausea.  It really works, too.  You can use it for nausea of any sort.  Commercial garlic pills are sold to prevent seasickness.  Make a nice ginger tea by boiling a slice of fresh ginger until the water turns golden, sweeten it with honey, and sip it hot.  

Onion, like garlic, is antibiotic, as well  Here’s an anecdotal story about the curative power of onion.  I was told this by the person to whom it happened.  When my friend was a young boy, he developed such a severe case of pneumonia that the doctor told his mother to prepare herself for his imminent demise.  In an act of desperation, his mother sliced up a raw onion and bound it to the bottoms of his feet with strips of sheet, then put cotton socks on him.  In the morning, his fever had broken, his lungs had cleared, and the onion poltice had turned black.  I make no judgment.  I’m just saying.

My grandmother’s very favorite remedy for fever, cold, or flu, was a hot toddy.  She swore that this never failed to break a fever and make you sweat.  A hot toddy is made thus :

1 teacup hot water

juice of half a lemon

1 tablespoon sugar

1 jigger Scotch whiskey

She was so enamored of this curative that she made it often, just as a preventative.

P.S. If you should see any of these traditional remedies show up in any of my future books, don’t be surprised.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Virtual Writers' Conference

I'm under a major deadline crunch, but I do want to direct you over to the Virtual Writers' Conference where there is a little pre-conference contest going on. Since you Fatal Foodies have the advantage, the chances are really good one of you might win!

Good luck!