Wednesday, June 30, 2010

What's Red, White & Blue and is Also Good for You?

The answer to this riddle is Calli's Berry Kabobs. With all of the hot dogs and burgers everyone will be eating this July 4th why not sneak a little fruit on your plate?

These could not be easier. In fact I have my six-year-old make them. You simply thread berries and marshmallows on a popsicle stick. The one pictured uses blueberries and strawberries. Blackberries and raspberries are pretty too. These can be displayed standing up in a pretty juice glass or a piece of floral foam.

Another option is to set up a "kabob bar" where bowls of berries and marshmallows are set out and everyone creates their own stick. For this weekend, I bought a bag of holiday inspired red, white and blue marshmallows to use on the kabobs.

So, this weekend, while I am scurrying like mad to prepare for our July 4th get-together my daughter will be busy making her soon-to-be-famous berry creations! Keeping her busy and having her make something that she will be proud to show our guest is a win-win.

Happy 4th everyone. God bless America!!!!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Cabbage in the Raw

The farmers' markets are open! Beeeeeeeeeeeeans! Squaaaaaaaaaaash!

We planted beans, but none of the plants came up. Tough luck for the rabbits, who ate them down to the ground last year. We also planted yellow squash and zucchini, and those are coming up, but the market has kinds of squash we don't--those little scallopy ones, for instance, which are VERY nice, and just big enough for a reasonable portion.

I went to a fund-raising dinner yesterday, where the menu consisted of: roast pork, pork and beans, slaw, buns and potato salad. A vegan could have feasted on buns and slaw, and an ovo-lacto-vegetarian could have added the potato salad. I had a little of everything but the potato salad. And, to tell you the truth, the slaw was the best thing there.

What the slaw tasted like it had in it:

* Cabbage cut in thin strings, like for saurkraut
* vinegar--LOTS of vinegar
* salt
* onion
* chopped yellow bell pepper
* chopped carrot--not much

It had eye-watering bite, and warmed you all the way down like a shot of good Bourbon. Oh--did I say "Bourbon"? I meant "tea".


Sunday, June 27, 2010

A Culinary Disaster

My eldest daughter Caroline is visting and I wanted to make something lovely with strawberries. My mother had read my previous Fatal Foodies post on my strawberry cake and reminded me of my late great aunt Maude’s strawberry pie.

Oh, my gosh, I had LOVED that pie.

Now, Great Aunt Maude would have fit in perfectly in one of Donis Casey’s novels. A tough pioneer woman from Saskatchewan, raised on a hardscrabble farm, moved to the East during the Great Depression when so many farm families were forced to leave the land. She was a nurse, and I remember the fabulous photograph of her in her graduating uniform. (Must try and locate that picture).

In my childhood Great Aunt Maude and Great Uncle Jud lived not far from us so we visited regularly.

She was very scornful of the Beatles, as I recall. She was a great card player, and we played Canasta a lot. I haven’t played Canasta since then. But there was no card playing in her house on Sunday.

But the thing that most sticks in my mind, which indicates how shallow I am, is Great Aunt Maude’s strawberry pie.

Thus with enormous enthusiasm I got the recipe from my mother and set about making the pie yesterday. I made the dough myself, none of that store-bought stuff for this strawberry pie, used berries bought fresh from the farmstand. Bought cream to pour on top.

Made the pie in the morning. Proudly took it out of the fridge after dinner. It looked lovely, browned crust, glistening strawberries. It wobbled precariously as I carried it to the table.

Caroline said, as we both peered into the pie plate, “Looks like soup.”
Imagine you made a rather tasteless and overly sweet strawberry soup and poured it over soggy pie crust.

That was my pie.

Caroline declined to taste it and instead enjoyed fresh strawberries with cream. I bravely took a slice, a spoonful really, of pie.

And tossed the rest into the garbage.

Great culinary disasters.

Want to share some of yours?

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Lunch Box Days

There was a feature in my local paper not long ago about a company that provides gourmet brown bag lunches for their customers to take to work. The fare they offer includes things like beautiful fruit salads, hearty soups with crusty bread, sandwiches on baguettes or buttery croissants. It all sounds quite wonderful. Brown bagging wasn’t quite like that when I did it. For several years, I would pack myself a lunch of nothing more than a banana and a couple of rice crackers.

When I was a schoolgirl, my mother sent our lunches with us every day. Not in a brown bag, though. We carried metal lunch boxes with pictures on them. I’ve tried to remember what my lunch box had on it, but for the life of me I cannot. I was in elementary school in the pre-Star Wars/Scooby-Doo/Happy Days/Barbie era. I’m guessing mine was something like Mighty Mouse or Dale Evans and her horse Buttermilk.

I remember the particular aroma that arose when you opened those boxes--a combination of warm bread, bologna, and apple. We ate a lot of bologna sandwiches. I was always happy when we got olive loaf or pb&j. No rye or whole wheat bread for us. Wonder Bread built strong bodies twelve ways. Sometimes Mama would put in a cookie or a hard-boiled egg. Or a banana, which would be pretty soft and speckled by lunch time in those air conditioning-less days.

The lunch box had a thermos that fit into a special holder to keep it from rolling around and squashing your sandwich. Some kids’ moms put chocolate milk or lemonade in theirs, but we always got plain whole milk. That was okay with me. Chocolate milk with a bologna sandwich is just wrong.

My mom took her lunch to school in an actual pail when she was a girl. I asked her once what her mother made for her, and she said she often had biscuits and ham or a piece of cold chicken. But her most common lunch was a bean sandwich. Smash those cooked beans into a paste, spread them between two pieces of bread, add a little slivered onion, and now you’re talking.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

My Beach Read Made me Crave Italian!

One of the books that I took on vacation this year was Very Valentine, written by Adriana Trigiani. As with all of Adriana's writing, I just adored this book. For fellow Fatal Foodies this books will entice you palate as well as your mind.
Valentine Roncalli is the main character in this books. She works as an apprentice for her family's custom shoe company. Trigiani beautifully describes the process of shoe making in a way that made me understand why Valentine is so passionate about her craft.
Another thing that Valentine and her whole Italian family is passionate about is their food. From decadent pasta dishes, to crusty breads and rich desserts, I was drooling all the way through. The taste bud titilation becomes even more intense when Valentine begins dating a hot Italian chef. This dreamboat, but workaholic of a man prepares food with the same love and intensity that Valentine puts into making a custom shoe.
Trigiani creates a feast for the eyes as she takes the reader from the hustle and bustle of Greenwich Village to the tranquility of a tiny Italian town, then on to the luxurious and intoxicating Isle of Capri. She made me want to visit each of these locations, espcially the Isle of Capri!
This book is truly a celebration of some of the best things in life; love, family, passion, travel and food. It is a must read!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Cover Me!

My publisher, Karen Syed of Echelon Press, sent me the cover for my upcoming book, EEL'S REVERENCE. The color is rather virulent, but it's an ebook and needs to grab eyeballs. I rather think this will. ;)

This is, as the cover might suggest, sf/fantasy, but I wrote it, and you gotta know that means there's food in it as well as crime/mystery. At one point, any doubts the main character might have about who falls where on the shades-of-gray moral scale is cleared up by what they give her to eat.

The book comes out in July, but I have Chapter 1 posted at my web site and invite any and all to come read it.


Saturday, June 19, 2010

A Bowl of Cherries

Vicki’s post on strawberries last week reminded me of a wonderful recipe I saw once for strawberry chicken salad. It basically consisted of chicken, mayo, pecans, celery, and strawberries. Oh, yum. I used to grow strawberries every year when I lived in a place that had cool weather and damp soil.

The cherries are out right now. Cherries are the fruit that I wait for every year. I particularly like the big, dark red ones that stain everything they come into contact with. Aside from being unspeakably delicious, cherries have another property that I had forgotten about until recently. I have a tendency to develop neck and shoulder pain when I sit in front of the computer for too long, and boy did I do myself in a few days ago. I could barely turn my head for the sore muscles. I don’t like to take pain relievers, so I have to be in pretty bad shape to consider it. And considering it I was. I decided that I’d sit down for a minute and have a relaxing drink and some fresh cherries, and listen to some music, first, and if the pain didn’t improve considerably, I’d take a couple of Tylenol.

Twenty minutes later, after my CD was done, I realized that the muscle pain was gone and I had forgotten all about it. Was it the rest and the music? That’s when I remembered that cherries are supposed to have an analgesic effect. I have actually read that a dozen fresh cherries are supposed to be as effective against pain as an aspirin. I’m guessing that the combination of rest, music, and cherries did the trick.

I use food non food purposes quite often. Oatmeal makes a spectacular facial mask. Just mix some with warm water and when it gets soft, smear it on your face and let it dry. Then wash off with warm water and pat your face dry. Actually, strawberries are very good for the complexion, if you’re not allergic, that is. So are tomatoes and avocado. We all know about cukes on the eyes. Lemon is a great deodorizer, astringent, and disinfectant. The peel repels insects, too. Blended-up oranges and peel will get rid of an ant den. Vinegar is what I use to clean and disinfect my shower. It’s also good for mixing with water and soaking fruits and veggies to clean and help remove pesticides and waxes from the peel.

p.s. I second Marian’s opinion (see below) that everyone should read Richard Wrangham’s book, Catching Fire.

Friday, June 18, 2010

New kid in town

Meet Cooper, the latest member of the Trent clan. He's a 13-week-old Great Pyrenees. His owners were moving and had to find him a new home.

I'd forgotten how tough it is to have a baby in the house! Thank goodness, though, he's doing well with potty-training. Now if we could only get him to sleep through the night.

If anyone would like to help out, we are registered at Paws 'R Us. Kidding! But, seriously, folks, if anyone would like to help out other Great Pyrenees, check out the National Great Pyrenees Rescue. You can adopt, surrender, foster or donate to the cause.

One of the best Pyr adoption stories I ever saw had a picture of a darling puppy that was about six months old. Below the picture was written, "Can you pass this test? Chickens are a) to be guarded with your life, or b) tasty snacks. I didn't pass the test."

Well, the children and I are off to take the baby to the park. Wonder if they allow polar bear cubs in the dog park? ;)

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Chocolate and More Chocolate!

Yum! I saw a mention of this Chocolate Cherry Muffin on Facebook and followed the link to Sassy Radish - wow this sounds good! See the pix at the link and be prepared to drool!

Chocolate Cherry Muffins
Gourmet, January 2005

3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate (not extra-bitter), coarsely chopped
1 cup whole milk
2 large eggs
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup dried sour cherries (4 ounces)


Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 400°F.

Heat butter and half of chocolate in milk in a 2-quart saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly, until just melted. Remove from heat. Cool 15 minutes. Add eggs and whisk until smooth.

Whisk together flour, cocoa, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl until combined well. Add chocolate mixture and stir until just combined. Stir in remaining chocolate and cherries.

Divide among 12 greased (1/2-cup) muffin cups. Bake until a tester comes out clean, 14 to 18 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack 5 to 10 minutes.

Yield: Makes 12 muffins — note, we got 8 muffins out of this – maybe our muffin pan was larger than usual?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

All in the Name of Research

In my fourth book for the Cutie Pies Chronicles, I am having my main character go on a trip with her girlfriends. When it came time to decide where the ladies would go, Hilton Head Island, South Carolina was my choice.

Hilton Head has been my family's summer vacation destination for the past three years. I am typing this post while sitting in the sunny breakfast nook of out beachside condo with my coffee beside me and family running all about. It is all in the name of research for my next book! Do you think the IRS would consider this all a business expense?

For my next post, I will tell about a couple of great beach reads!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Cooking the Past

The Times Literary Supplement (my husband subscribes) of June 4, 2010 has a book review by Barbara J. King that I found most interesting. It’s a review of CATCHING FIRE: HOW COOKING MADE US HUMAN by Richard Wrangham.

According to Wrangham, “We are cooks more than carnivores.” He says that, as reviewer King puts it, “raw foods can’t properly sustain the human body for longer than about a month”.

Cooking makes foods more digestible (with the exception of beets--nothing makes beets digestible) and reduces the amount of time required to chew, which assumes that primative men chewed their food rather than breaking or cutting off chunks and swallowing them whole. But Wrangham assumes chewing and King doesn’t question it, so maybe they know something I don’t know about that. I wouldn’t be surprised.

Then King and Wrangham part ways: He assumes that women took on the role of cook and paired with men in a preparer/provider-protector bond. She points to bonobo society, in which females form alliances to protect one another from male bullying.

I’m like, “Go, Barbara J. King! Cool thinking!”

I love envisioning a society in which the smaller gender (in this case, female), and the larger gender divide up the work into equally valued parts, saying, “Us big ones will kill and cart home the meat and will gather and haul home the veg, and you smaller ones do that magic thing with the fire and make it taste better and give us more strength.” “Okay, and if anybody gives us any trouble while you’re out hunting and gathering, we’ll gang up and whale the tar out of him.”

I love seeing cooking as an important contribution--possibly the most important contribution--to the evolution of Homo erectus, as Wrangham claims. I’ve read books before that claimed there are many activities associated with cooking and communal eating that contribute to what we call civilization and humanity, but this is the first I’ve heard of the theory that rendering food more digestively efficient was, in and of itself, responsible for physical evolution.

This was also the first I’ve heard of bonobo female fighting alliances, but I’ve long been familiar with statements like, “Just because I’ve got my hands in the dough doesn’t mean your Aunt Rose can’t smack you for picking at the food.” So it totally makes sense.


Sunday, June 13, 2010

Strawberry Season

If there is one food I won’t eat out of season and not local it is strawberries.

That means I only eat strawberries for about four weeks a year. And then I really enjoy them. Fresh, local strawberries are best eaten right out of the box after a quick rinse. No need for sugar, whipped cream, ice cream. They are perfect as is. All those condiments are added to the packaged and shipped stuff which needs something added to give taste.

The best strawberries are wild ones, but they are hard to come by. For some reason people thing big = better. With strawberries it’s pretty much the opposite. Those giant ones you see on platters at buffets? They need to be dipped in chocolate because they have no taste of their own.

I wonder how many people there are in the world who eat strawberries but actually have no idea what one tastes like?

Last week I stopped at Laundry’s farmstand on County Road 1 in Prince Edward County and bought boxes of berries directly from the grower. Some were used in strawberry cake and here is the recipe.

Vicki Delany’s Strawberry Cake

1/3 cup butter
1 ½ cup all-purpose flour
1 ½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
½ cup milk
1 tsp vanilla
1 lb strawberries, hulled and cut in half.

1) Preheat oven to 350. Butter 10 inch pie plate
2) Sift flour, baking powder, salt into a medium bowl
3) Put butter and sugar in large bowl. Mix on medium-high until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Mix in egg, milk, vanilla
4) Gradually mix in flour mixture
5) Transfer batter to buttered pie plate. Arrange strawberries on top, close together. Sprinkle sugar over berries
6) Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce temp. to 325 degrees, Bake until firm and golden brown, about 1 hour.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The End Is Near

... but let’s not wax too philosophical here. I’ll just mention that I’ve almost finished the rewrite of my latest manuscript, and expect to have it off to my editor in a week or two. The books in this particular series always end with a recipe section in the back, which entails several weeks of recipe testing for me while the book is being written.

I haven’t really been able to do that in the same personal way with this book. That’s because I focus more on the men in this story, so there is a lot of hunting and campfire cooking, butchering, and putting up meat. In fact, this is a particularly meaty book. The story takes place in November, which is traditionally hunting and butchering time, the end of the season, time to get ready for winter.

Since I live in a place that has what seems to me reverse seasons, I’m coming to the end of growing time in real life, as well. Spring is definitely over. The minute June began, the temperature shot up like a bottle rocket. Each day is a losing struggle to keep the garden alive as long as possible. I go out in the morning around ten and cover the tomato plants with a shade cloth to keep the ripening tomatoes from cooking on the vine. Many of the fruits near the tops of the vines are sunburned anyway. The squashes faint every afternoon like delicate Southern ladies. Many of the vines are burning. They won’t be able to last much longer no matter how much shade and water they get, not unless the temperature abates considerably. Which it won’t. It’s June, the end of the season, time to get ready for summer.

I did have a fun squash crop this year. Don planted zucchini and acorn squash, but we’ve had three volunteer squash vines come up and thrive. It was exciting waiting to see what they were going to turn out to be. Much to our enjoyment we ended up with some beautiful Delicata (the striped one), and a great collection of spaghetti squash (the big one). The third volunteer has several squashes on it, but I still don’t know what they are. They look a bit like streaky cucumbers. They have to be something we ate and composted, but I can’t imagine what. When we finally figure it out, I’ll let you know.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Welcome to Rita Golden Gelman, author of Female Nomad and Friends: Tales of Breaking Free & Breaking Bread Around the World

Welcome to Rita Golden Gelman, author of Female Nomad and Friends: Tales of Breaking Free and Breaking Bread Around the World.

The book is a celebration of the joys of cross-culture connections told via a collection of stories and recipes from over 40 authors from around the world. Learn more about Rita Golden Gelman at her website.

Excerpt from Female Nomad and Friends:

SOUL FOOD - Melanie Ehler

When I was a child, my Nana would take me along to the Old Reg’lar Baptist meetings at her church. Full of good-hearted people, we had a much higher preacher-to-sinner ratio than your average church. The Old Reg’lar Baptist meetings generally went through three or four different preachers during the same service, and the sermons often lasted several hours.

To a kid, they seemed interminable, as infinite as salvation itself, though not nearly so sweet. Most Sunday mornings, I would busy myself in ways other than spiritual. First, I would rearrange the contents of my Nana’s patent-leather purse, eating all the interred peppermints and circus peanuts. Then, I’d lean back in exaggerated repose and vigorously wave one of the church’s paper fans, overly enthusiastic in my attempt to be mistaken for a Southern belle. The fans were the old-fashioned, paddle-type that had a vibrant Biblical scene on one side with the name of a funeral home underneath it. The message seemed to be, “Just because Lazarus was revived after four days, it doesn’t mean you’ll be. Buy your coffin early.”

I would interrupt my fanning five or six times to make trips to the drinking fountain. All these activities never took up more than fifteen minutes. Once I’d gone through my routine, I’d stretch out on one of the wooden pews for a nice, long nap. My casual attitude provoked a story that still circulates in my family. Upon being asked how I liked church, I purportedly answered in a peevish tone of voice, “It’s fine for the most part, but the preachers keep waking me up when they holler ‘Amen!’”

At any rate, for both somnolent sinners and attentive saints, a certain earthly reward was attached to the church meetings, and that was the church supper. All the good ladies of that church knew how to cook, and they did not waste their talents doling out dainty portions of haute cuisine. No, these soft-bellied, gentle souls served up homey foods, comfort foods, soul food, every Sunday creating a sumptuous spread that covered three fold-out tables. Immediately following services, a line of people gathered in front of those tables, and the prayer that was given before supper was always the shortest one.

Even the everlastingest preacher couldn’t ignore the tables laden with home-cooked food. There were mashed potatoes piled in high, snowy peaks, sitting side-by-side with thick pools of gravy; there were mounds of dandelion and turnip greens picked fresh from the nearby woods. There were tureens of red beans in savory sauce; there were round cakes of golden-grained corn bread and white corn pone. On occasion, there was turkey with stuffing or dumplings bobbing in gravy. And there was fried chicken. Always and forever, there was fried chicken, a crowd pleaser that just about everybody piled on their plates.

And so it was, many years later as a graduate student, living far from the comforts of home, alone and hungry, and perhaps a bit homesick, that I got a hankering for fried chicken. Now, meat of any sort was not a regular part of my diet in those lean years. I was supported solely by the money garnered from my assistantship. As per the usual assistantship trade-off, in return for teaching freshmen classes, the university offered to pay my full tuition, along with a bit extra to cover living expenses--so long as said living expenses didn’t include luxury items, such as heat in my room or more than one meal a day.

I lived on the thin of things, always on the fringe of hunger. I existed on a diet that consisted chiefly of bananas and cereal moistened by water.

Upon occasion, I would see fit to reallocate my meager food budget. That is to say, I would sometimes spend my grocery money on admission to a local swing dance. After such occasions, I would, from necessity, scavenge samples at the local grocer’s for my next meal. Whatever food samples were being offered, I would take two, sly vulture that I was, and after circulating the store twice, my stomach would be full, or at least it would stop growling for a few hours. I certainly had nothing in my budget that would allow for eating out, not even at the most humble establishment.

Yet, there I was, this one particular day, hungry as could be; and nothing could divert my mind from fried chicken. I could not make fried chicken, my cuisine art was limited to microwave food and toast, and so, with little-exercised extravagance, I went into a local diner.

“How many pieces are in the adult portion of chicken?” I asked the waitress. “Five pieces,” she answered. “And in the small?” I asked. “Three,” she responded.

I did not need to finger the money in my pocket to know how much I had. The thing with being poor was that I always knew, down to the last cent, how much money I owned. I had enough for the large portion, unless they charged tax. I could never remember if restaurants charged tax, and then there was also the embarrassment of leaving a cheap, nearly non-existent tip.

“I’ll have the small portion,” I said in a tiny voice. Perhaps my eyes looked hungry. I might have also sighed.

When the waitress brought me the plate, it was heaped with fried chicken. It did not contain three pieces, or even five pieces, it brimmed with ten pieces of chicken, all coated in a crisp, peppered, golden skin and, as I found out by sampling, with tender white meat inside. Thin curls of steam rose from the chicken. I ate and ate and ate. I ate that hot, delicious chicken until I was full, and then – oh, unheard of luxury – I kept going and ate past being full. Even so, I couldn’t manage to eat all the chicken. I carefully wrapped the remaining pieces in paper napkins and discretely deposited them in my purse. They would be for tomorrow. When I got the bill, the total cost was listed as $3.99, the price for a child-sized portion.

I was too embarrassed to thank my waitress properly. I just smiled shyly when paying, hoping she’d understand. Some hunger can be satisfied with food, but there is also another, more intimate type of hunger which can only be appeased by kindness. I was filled that day with both food and compassion. I’ve never felt more full. And I’ve never been richer.

* Melanie Ehler has paddled a gondola down Venice’s Grand Canal, fallen asleep during a root canal, and eaten at Burger King when they ran out of burgers. She’s danced the tango in Prague, the blues in St. Louis, and lindy hop everywhere from grocery aisles in Ohio to cocktail clubs in Oahu. Several years after obtaining her Master’s degree in English, Melanie decided to spend a year living in Seoul, South Korea, and from there, she will circumnavigate the globe.

** Reprinted from “Female Nomad and Friends” by Rita Golden Gelman. © 2010. Published by Three Rivers Press/Crown Publishers, a division of Random House, Inc.

* Follow the rest of the Female Nomad and Friends virtual tour.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

One for the Kiddies

Lately, I have been trying all sorts of new events to promote my writing. Today I am going to do a program for children at Sullivan Gardens Public Library.

The program is for an hour. My focus will be on exercies that promote creativity. Here is what I plan to do:

1) Introduce myself.

2) Let all of the children introduce themselves and tell 1 thing about themselves.

3) Talk about my love of reading/writing and how it began in childhood.

4) Do paper bag exercise- Pretend you will be on island alone for 24 hours. All kinds of food and fresh water have been left for you. What 3 things will you take that can fit in a small paper lunch sack? Each kid gets a sack and 3 slips of paper on which to draw or write. We will go around and talk about our 3 items.

5) Favorite food exercise- Tell them about the importance of descriptions. Writers use good descriptions to interest the reader. Each child will describe their favorite food. We will try and guess what it is. They may talk about ingredients, preparation, smell, taste, appearance, etc.

6) Tips for future writers- Most important is to read everyday!

7) Read one of my favorite children's books.

I left fliers about my books for the parents who pre-registered their their children for today's program. The fliers invited parents to shop while their children attend my session. I also brought fliers for today that promote a children's book that will be coming out next spring. Never too early to create a buzz!

The best part about today's event is that I'm bringing my own kids! No having to get a babysitter.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A Cautionary Word

I've been reading Laura Bickle's wonderful urban fantasy, EMBERS, which is all about firefighters, fire elementals, dragons and, naturally, fire. At the same time, we've had some beautiful weather, sending my thoughts in the direction of cookouts.

The combination of the two made me think of a cousin of mine who, like far too many people, combined the two in an unfortunate way.

Every year, people are hurt or killed because they didn't respect the power of fire: rapid, rapid, rapid oxidation.

Some people neglect to carefully inspect--or don't know how to inspect--the equipment they're going to use. Me, I just have one of those round metal pots with a grill on top. Attempt to make a fire in it and, if the fire takes hold of the charcoal, cook. But some people have gas grills, or smokers or fryers or pressure doo-dahs that, if they go wrong, can go disastrously wrong.

Some people don't attend to their fires, so stuff blows into it or out of it, or something--or, God forbid, someONE--gets too close to it.

Some people forget that, even when the cooking is done, even if the fire is out, the grill is still hot. I've had a few ouchies from that, myself.

What happened to my cousin is damage I'm always in danger of sustaining. His fire wasn't catching, so he squirted flammable liquid on the hot-but-not-flaming coals. Now, the thing about flammable liquid, the thing one must always remember about it, the one thing one should always bear in mind, IS THAT FLAMMABLE MEANS IT BURSTS INTO FLAMES. The temptation to give smoldering coals one more squirt, since they aren't flaming, is almost impossible to resist. But my cousin, along with many other equally highly intelligent people, gave in to the temptation and squirted. The coals were hot enough to ignite the liquid as it touched them. The fire almost instantaneously traveled up the stream and the can exploded, spattering my cousin in burning liquid.

He was badly but not critically hurt, and told everyone who visited him in the hospital to remember him whenever they thought it might be a good idea to squirt flammable liquid onto a sulky fire.

I do, and it's probably saved me from agony many times.

So do respect your equipment and Mr. Fire Element. Don't be a fatal foodie. And this is ME saying it.


Saturday, June 5, 2010


Back in December we bought ourselves a new range and oven for Christmas. It’s one of those all electric glass-topped jobs, easy to clean, but I’m still having trouble figuring out the proper way to cook with it. Especially the oven. Maybe it needs a thermostat adjustment. It seems to take the oven much longer to heat up, and I swear that 350 degrees isn’t as hot in the new oven as it was in my old Harvest Gold relic from the late 1970s. I find I must set the temperature 25 degrees or so higher than called for in the recipe. But not always. It depends on the material the pan is made of. Glass pans heat differently than metal pans, as any cook knows.

At least I thought I knew what any cook knows. I find myself remembering a story my grandmother told me about her own mother’s oven. She cooked on one of those gigantic cast iron behemoths. The heat came from a wood fire that she made in the fire-box, a compartment beside the oven. After years of practice, she knew exactly how much fuel to use, and how to stoke it, flame it, and let it die down in order to achieve the oven temperature she wanted. And how did she know when the oven had reached said temperature? She opened the door and stuck her hand in. She knew by feel when the oven was just right for making biscuits or cornbread, or slow roasting a hen, or baking a pie. The oven had a hot water reservoir with a spigot just to the side of the oven. As long as she had a fire in the stove, Great-Grandma could have hot water whenever she wanted. She adjusted the heat of the burners on top of the stove with a series of flues and burner covers.

The family tale is that one year Great-Grandpa bought her an oil-burning oven, cutting-edge turn-of-the-Twentieth Century technology, as a very special gift. As you can imagine, a huge cast-iron contraption is not easy to move. But between all the males in the family and probably a couple of mules, they managed to get the wood-burning stove out of the kitchen and stowed in the barn and the oil-burner installed. Great-Grandma used the new contraption two or three times, then had Great-Grandpa, the boys, and the mules, bring her wood stove back to her.

Like any artist, with years of use and practice a cook develops a relationship with her instrument and knows exactly how to play it in order to create the perfect tones and hues she wants. Even if you are a virtuoso, starting over with a new instrument is difficult.

Friday, June 4, 2010

The REALLY Quick and the Thread

The release date for The Quick and The Thread is fast approaching, and I'm marketing like crazy. Yesterday I even paid a college kid in Washington $5 to post 15 copies of a flyer advertising the book around his campus. (Thank you, Cathy Stucker, the Idea Lady, for telling me about Fiverr!) I'm also doing a Facebook ad and sending out galleys. I'm still giddy from getting a call from Nordic Needle stating their interest in carrying the book in their store, in their catalog and distributing it to a vast network of embroidery shops.

Since The Quick and The Thread is now available for pre-order, I'm also hosting a contest for the month of June. Anyone who pre-orders The Quick and The Thread from either Amazon or Amazon UK by June 30 will be entered to win a $50 Amazon gift card.

To enter the contest, simply forward a copy of your Amazon
confirmation e-mail to or send a jpeg of your order. If you choose to pre-order from your local bookseller, please send a jpeg of your receipt with sensitive information blacked out. Be assured your Amazon confirmation is safe. Sensitive information is protected by the customer’s password. One winner will be drawn from all the e-mail addresses submitted on the morning of July 1, 2010. The winner will be notified by e-mail and will receive an electronic Amazon gift certificate in the amount of $50 US.

You may order from Amazon UK at

Or you may order from Amazon using this link:

If you decide to enter the contest, good luck!

P. S. As you know, I am not Ruth Glick. The NAL Amazon rep is supposed to be working to give the correct Amanda Lee credit for the book on the author page. :-)

Thursday, June 3, 2010

New Horror Ebook Coming: The Killer Valentine Ball - How about dinner and a party?

The dinner settings on these tables look pretty on the cover, but a closer look reveals they are not quite what you'd expect in my upcoming ebook, THE KILLER VALENTINE BALL by C. A. Verstraete.

The (light) horror ebook will be published in October by Muse It Up Publishing. I'll share more details once they're available!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Just Call me June Cleaver!

I am going to play 1950's housewife today. My husband has a business associate coming in from South Carolina, and I am making dinner.

Normally, household tasks are crammed between running around with my kids, writing and all of the marketing, press releases, ect. that goes along with that, my daily workout and errands.

Today, I will have a blissfully delightful day where I do not leave my house. I will clean. My children will remain at the house with me all day. The only schedule I have is that dinner will need to be ready by seven.

Here's what I plan to serve:

I love cooking all day, and will play this role with gusto. But, PULEEZE....I will not wear pearls around the house!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Lynne Murray Guesting

My guest today is Lynne Murray, author of the fabulously titled Bride of the Living Dead:

Indie film critic, Daria MacClellan, wants to marry the man she loves, but she's slipping on rose petals as if they were banana peels on her way to the altar. Big, beautiful and rebellious, Daria, who is most comfortable in a monster movie poster T-shirt and blue jeans, finds that her wedding is hijacked by family drama. How did she sign on for a formal wedding planned by Sky, her perfectionist, anorexic, older sister? Daria adores her fiancé and she loves horror films, but her wedding seems to be spiraling downward in that direction. Will a picture perfect pink wedding turn her into the Bride of the Living Dead?

Take it away, Lynne!

In my new book BRIDE OF THE LIVING DEAD, I have my mid-twenty-something heroine, Daria, taking cooking tips from her future mother-in-law. In my life, learning to cook came even later when I was in my 30s, but nesting was also part of the equation. Having a willing man in residence to experiment on made all the difference.

Both my parents worked throughout my childhood. I now realize that my mother felt the ghosts of pie-from-scratch-making housewives from her Midwestern childhood looking over her shoulder when she turned on the stove. She never set out to teach me any of the skills she felt she herself had never really mastered. Most of our meals involved boxes and cans. Campbell’s soup with saltine crackers is still a comfort food for me.

When we had company my mother had a few special recipes that did involve cans and packets. She also had a secret weapon but I’ll talk about that in a minute.

By the time Charlie and I got together, I was 32 and I knew how to scramble eggs, oven broil a steak and bake a potato but everything else I cooked came out of a can or package with instructions on the side to follow.

Charlie didn’t know how to cook either and we made a deal that when one cooked the other would clean up. I was interested in learning to cook and also avoiding cleaning up. He had no problem washing dishes and no interest in learning to cook.

I already owned one cookbook LET’S COOK IT RIGHT by Adelle Davis, a gift from my health food freak grandmother on my father’s side.

The main thing I got from Davis was a regrettable tendency to make blender drinks featuring nutritional yeast for breakfast, a habit not appreciated by Charlie. As a hint, he bought me a waffle iron at a garage sale. The first time I tried it, it blew out all the electrical circuits in the apartment before I could even pour the batter. It got put outside next to the trash to avoid a second attempt.

I started getting cookbooks from the library, usually the less scary ones such as CHEF TELL TELLS ALL by the German Chef, who was at that point on broadcast television, and whom I just learned from Wikipedia was the inspiration for the Muppets’ Swedish Chef or THE ALICE’S RESTAURANT COOKBOOK.

I learned a lot watching Charlie’s friend Keith’s wife, Peggy. I sat in awe watching her make Fettuccini Alfredo or Pesto, neither of which I had ever tasted before. Everything she cooked was like a religious experience, it was so good. Even though she was following a cookbook and explained what she was doing, watching her make it seemed like one of those magic acts, where you don’t know how the bouquet of flower got into the top hat.

Watching Peggy put together an impromptu picnic lunch with cheese, bread, wine and fresh figs, like an artist selecting colors, I started to get some ideas of how it could work. I filed away lessons that were never spoken such as “do not use the exact same ingredients in both the salad and the stew.”

Eventually I found a battered copy of Irma Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker’s THE JOY OF COOKING. It served as a basic reference for nearly twenty years until it fell apart and I had to buy another copy. Ironically, I had read Alex Comfort’s THE JOY OF SEX long before encountering the cookbook that inspired the title.

One of the last times I spoke on the phone with my mother before she died, I called to get her recipe for spaghetti and meatballs because my friend was bringing her boyfriend and his nine-year-old son for dinner. My mother’s recipe was simple enough, the only thing to chop was onions and green peppers, everything else came from cans, even the mushrooms. But what I mostly remember was how thrilled she was that I was lucky enough to have a young child over to visit.

“You should make sure there are some toys or other activities for the child to do, so he knows that you thought of him and you’re glad he’s there,” she suggested. Her love for children was such that she was more impressed by this than some people would have been by a visit from the Queen of England.

My mother did very well at entertaining without being a particularly remarkable cook because her secret weapon was empathy and a genuine liking for people. Some things you can’t get out of a can.

Lynne Murray, author of the romantic comedy, Bride of the Living Dead, has had six mysteries published. Larger Than Death, the first book featuring Josephine Fuller, sleuth of size who doesn't apologize won the Distinguished Achievement Award from NAAFA (the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance). She has written three ebooks of encouragement for writers as well as essays, interviews and reviews on subjects that rouse her passions, many of those can be found under "Rants and Raves" on her web site at Lynne lives in San Francisco and when not writing she enjoys reading, watching DVD film directors' commentaries and spoiling her cats, all of whom are rescued or formerly feral felines.

Web page:

Bride of the Living Dead