Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Taking it to School

If you enjoy talking to youngsters, you might like doing author appearances at schools. I had talked to several classes at various levels in the past (elementary, middle school, high school and college).
Since the release of  my first children's book, BURTON THE SNEEZING COW, I have been reading to lots of elementary school children.
In advance of my appearance, I send an order form for the teacher to distribute. The order forms are due on the day of my appearance. On the form, I tell about my book, give the price and ask how they want the book signed. Something the kids enjoy is getting to pick their favorite color from my vast selection of colored permanent markers.
So that the teacher gets something for hosting me, I give back $1.00 from ever book sold to be used for the classroom. It is a win/win!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Vegetarian Chili Soup

Chili Soup, comfort food of my childhood! We didn't call this chili soup at my house, we just called it chili. I was stunned when I found out other people made chili thick! And without spaghetti!

Here is what I was raised to call chili, except that we used browned ground beef and chili powder, and I used Fantastic World Foods Taco Filling Mix (which is vegetarian):

  • spaghetti, broken in pieces and cooked
  • 1 can chili beans or kidney beans
  • 3 cans tomato sauce
  • 2 cans water
  • ground beef (cooked) or vegetarian taco mix

Combine beans, sauce, and water, and bring to boil. Add spiced meat or vegetarian mix and reduce heat. Cook (if using mix) according to package directions. Serve over spaghetti. Sprinkle cheddar cheese on top, unless you're vegan. Then, don't.

I can hear chili aficionados howling now. To further my apostasy, I like to crumble up soda crackers into it.

Wonderful, on a cold and dreary day!

Marian Allen
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

Monday, January 28, 2013

Green beans that will stop a vampire! By Joyce Lavene

Garlic Green Beans!

I love those green beans they make in Chinese restaurants. Unfortunately, they're made with oyster sauce and being vegetarian, I'm not going to eat that.

So I came up with own recipe for garlic green beans which I think is just as good and no oysters were harmed in the making. It's a good way to make your green beans flavorful instead of drab.

Combine one tablespoon sesame oil in a large skillet (low heat) with two sliced cloves of garlic. The slicing is very important. The cloves can't be crushed to get the right effect. Add one tablespoon of sugar or sweetener equivalent and four tablespoons of soy sauce.

Add about one pound of fresh, trimmed green beans (washed and dried). Cook until the green beans start to soften. Cover the pan, if you can, and it will be faster. Delicious side dish!

This is even better if you add some little shallots. Cook the same way with the green beans.

Joyce Lavene

Look for some upcoming hot and spicy pepper recipes as April begins drawing nearer with the release of my first Sweet Pepper Fire Brigade Mystery, That Old Flame of Mine. The series takes place in Sweet Pepper, Tennessee, home of the sweetest, hottest peppers in the world. Every October heralds the Sweet Pepper Festival where the recipes are imaginative, and made of all things pepper!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Eat Chocolate AND Do a Good Deed?

What a win/win! If you're in or near the Baltimore, Maryland area, and if you're a chocolate lover, you might want to check out the Health Care for the Homeless Chocolate Affair. Participants will enjoy a "seated chocolate-inspired dinner" prepared by Chef Carlos Gomez, formerly of The Hotel Hershey (and if anyone knows chocolate, it's The Hotel Hershey). There will also be hors d'oeuvres and a dessert extravaganza prepared by Baltimore's best restaurants, caterers, and chocolatiers.

The cost of an individual ticket is $150, with $88 being tax deductible. The event takes place on February 9, 2013, from 6:30 to 10 p.m. at the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront Hotel.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Bunco Tarts and a Whipped Cream Warning

I hosted my Bunco group last night. We meet once a month to play Bunco, mingle and eat. One of the most popular things I served were my Pumpkin Pudding Tarts.
Here's how to make them:
Make tart shells by tearing refrigerated pie dough into walnut-sized balls. Press one ball into each cup of a mini muffin pan that has been coated with cooking spray.
Bake shells @ 375 degrees for 10 minutes.
Prepare one box of pumpkin spice pudding (according to package directions)
Once tart shells have cooled and pudding has thickened, spoon about a teaspoon of pudding into each shell.

One roll of pie dough makes 20-24 tart shells. One box of prepared pudding fills about 60 tarts.

WARNING-I wanted to top each tart with a bit of whipped cream. The canned, lite whipped cream in a can made pretty swirls on top of the tarts. What it did not do was stay whipped. Next time I will either make my own whipped cream or use the kind from a tub.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Saving The Spuds

I love, love, LOVE baked potatoes. So I made some the other evening. As always, I didn't just make enough for the meal; while I had the oven all hot, I baked a buncha spuds.

Charlie said, "Not very good. They're dry." Well, they were Russets, which are supposed to be dry. Makes them nice to doctor up with butter and sour cream. But he doesn't do that, so he didn't like the potatoes.

The next day, I sliced one of the baked potatoes and fried it.

"Even drier," sez Charlie.

So here I am with two massive baked Russets and a husband who rejects them. What to do?

Easy peasy! I cut them in quarters and scooped out the innards, cut them into cubes, and put them in a pan with lots of margarine and some milk and heated them through. They were creamy and delicious, with enough bite left in them to be most satisfactory.

Charlie? "Let's have this again."

~fist pump~ YES!

Marian Allen
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

Monday, January 21, 2013

Beets: Not just another pretty pink food!

Do you eat beets? A lot of people either haven't tried them, or don't like them.

Beets were known as beet root for years when people ate the green, top part of the plant as a salad, but didn't eat the root. The root was prized by physicians for its healing qualities but considered unappetizing to eat.

Beet roots have been used since the time of the early Greeks and Romans. It was said that the goddess Aphrodite ate beets to retain her youthful beauty. They have been used for ailments from dandruff to obstructions of the liver.

In modern times, scientists have found that the lowly beet root contains many B-vitamins, calcium and iron. American and British researchers have found that beets or beet juice can help with high blood pressure. Recently, it has been tested for use in reducing and eliminating tumors.

What a great little root, huh?

Another interesting aspect of the beet is how it has changed shape since it was used in those early times. The beets we eat today are very round. They have been 'engineered' to be more attractive. Beets from a thousand years ago were shaped a lot like carrots!

I like to eat beets. It's difficult to find them locally (outside Charlotte, NC). You have to look around. You cook them very much as you would potatoes. Be sure to wash thoroughly before cooking. Cut the green top off and boil until tender. Don't peel until after they have cooked and cooled to reduce the amount of beet juice lost in the pan (And on your hands!).

Once they have cooked and cooled, I peel them and cut them into thin slices. I like them warm, with a little butter, but my favorite recipe is the one below.

Enjoy your beets!

Pickled Beets

Three medium sliced beets, cooked, cooled and peeled
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1tsp. cloves
2 cups vinegar

In a bowl (use glass, beets will stain plastic) add vinegar, onion and cloves. Add sliced beets and stir. Let sit for at least 30 minutes before serving for the beets to absorb the flavoring. Serve cold.

With all the healthy properties of beets, maybe you should give them a try!

Joyce Lavene 

Friday, January 18, 2013

Bon Me?

These days when I think of Boston, I tend to think first of Rizzoli and Isles and second of the Red Sox (because my husband and my son are such fans)...and third, of course, of Ben Affleck. Today I ran across this article about Bon Me food trucks. Apparently, the food trucks are popular around the Boston area and are getting ready to open up their first brick-and-mortar store.

The cuisine is Vietnamese and offers rice bowls, noodle salads, and the "Bon Me Sandwich." The article says the sandwich is famous but doesn't say what's on it. I can see Maura going there, but I'm iffy about Jane and Ben. ;-)

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Make Due with What You Have

 Making due with what you have is easy if what you have is corn tortillas. I have found a couple of really easy and tasty uses for them.

Last night I wanted to have tacos. I was out of both flour shells and hard corn shells. Not wanting to run out to the store with two kids in the pouring rain, I decided to use something I already had on the shelf.

I keep a bag of corn tortillas to make baked taco chips:
1) cut tortillas into triangles or strips with kitchen scissors
2)  spray baking pan with cooking spray and sprinlke pan with Kosher salt
3) place cut tortillas on pan
4)  spray top side of tortillas with cooking spray and sprinkle with Kosher salt
5) bake for about 10 minutes at 350 degrees or until crisp

Instead of chips, I used the corn tortillas to make crispy taco shells last night:
1) heat about 1/8 to 1/4 inch of vegetalbe oil in a skillet (med-high heat)
2) fry one side of tortilla for about twenty seconds
3) flip with tongs and fry other side for about twenty seconds
4) fold tortilla with tongs and continue to fry until golden
5) as tortilla fries, shape it with tongs
6) drain on paper towels (tortilla will crisp as it cools)

I do not like to fry things, so I will be experimenting with ways to bake crispy corn tortillas. If I find something that works, I will let you know!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013


January is the time of catalogs. We have enough catalogs to paper a room, if we wanted to do that. We don't, just so you know.

Here's some information I've gathered about seeds:

Grains, beans, legumes and nuts are all seeds; spices are often whole or ground seeds. 

Sprouted alfalfa seeds on a sandwich make me happy and make my husband complain about eating grass, and sprouted mung beans do the same to salads and stir fry. 

We snack on sunflower seeds, mix caraway seeds into rye bread dough, sprinkle poppy seeds on buns and stir them into lemon cake. 

Our earliest ancestors ate oil-rich seeds whenever they could get them. Toasted pumpkin and squash seeds are delicious and high-calorie treats. A cup of toasted squash or pumpkin seeds has almost 750 calories, and that's without the butter I toss them in before toasting. 

Seeds are also little miracles of life, nifty little packages of potential food and beauty. Amazing!

Marian Allen

Monday, January 14, 2013

Have you succumbed to diet-itis?

This time of year, it's hard not to fall into the diet trap. Everyone is dieting - unless they're giving up smoking or practicing to run a marathon. Lose that flab! Get rid of that belly! Men's diets. Women's diets. Kid's diets. Be stronger. Be healthier.

Blah. Blah. Blah.

We all know that the new year has a certain calling, wanting us to start over and do the things we meant to do last year.

However, all the hype and all the diets in the world aren't going to make any difference if you're not ready to commit. Way less than half the people who go on diets in January, make it until February. They end up getting depressed, gaining more weight than they lose, and generally feeling awful about themselves.

A wise woman once told me that it's not the food - it's the attitude we have toward the food. It's always all or nothing - feast or famine. We can't eat less of the things we love, we have to give it all up.

Then there's the perfection myth. How close are YOU to perfection? Losing 100 pounds isn't going to make you any more perfect. You are perfect right now. And if you don't feel that way, giving up cherry pie won't help.

I'm not saying that taking control of your eating isn't a noble cause. I'm saying a better cause would be to understand that we don't have to eat the whole pie. We don't have to give up pie in favor of apples and celery.

What we have to give up is always jumping on the bandwagon because other people say we should. We have to do what is right for us, whether it is eating cherry pie or not.

Joyce Lavene
Currently on-strike from dieting

Friday, January 11, 2013

Adventures in Food

I'm not all that adventurous when it comes to food. There are many foods I haven't tried, and there are some that I cringe at the very thought of. A couple of dishes served up on the show Duck Dynasty come to mind.

So, I'll live vicariously (and take his word for it) through Inquirer critic Craig LaBan. I have to admit, whatever this is looks yummy!

Check out the article yourself at By the way, who goes to Hershey and doesn't have any chocolate?! (Craig LaBans, apparently.)

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Sneaky, Green, Kid-Approved Fake-Out

My title sounds like this post might be taking off in the direction of gross. It is only gross if you detest the thought of eating spaghetti or spinach. As a way to add more veggies to my family's diet, I sneak things like carrots and celery into my spaghetti sauce.

So, this weekend, when I spotted a bag of baby spinach in the fridge; I chopped some up for my spaghetti sauce. While simmering, the bits of spinach withered down to bits that resembled

My husband does not eat cooked spinach and enjoys leftovers about as much as, well, cooked spinach. Imagine my delight when he wanted spaghetti for three dinners and a lunch. On top of that, Todd declared it one of my BEST batches of spaghetti EVER!

My daughter had two friends over who each had a second helping. This was after I revealed my secret ingredient.

What is your favorite healthy ingredient that you sneak into recipes?

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Microwave Popcorn

This is our latest craze at our house. For years, we've had what #3 Daughter calls "Nine-O'Clock Popcorn". Every evening, at about 9, we make popcorn and chomp it while we talk or read or listen to something or watch a tape.

Recently, for some reason, Charlie decided that it would be better for us to stop using those boxes of folded bags filled with pre-seasoned popcorn. He read the ingredients or something.

Now, we buy brown paper lunch bags (did you know you can still get those?) and bags of popcorn kernels, and do our own microwave popcorn.

Here's how:

Into a brown paper bag, put 1/3 cup of popcorn kernels, 1 tablespoon of COLD butter or margarine, and as much salt or non-salt seasoning as desired. Fold down the top two or three times. Turn the bag on its side and jiggle it gently to distribute the kernels. Put the bag on its side in the microwave. I always put a plate and a paper towel under the bag to catch the oil that soaks through the bag. Set the timer to 2 minutes at full power. If the kernels stop popping before the 2 minutes are up, turn off the microwave and remove the bag.

This is a very light snack. If you like it greasier, you can melt additional butter or margarine to pour over it after it's popped.


Marian Allen
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

Monday, January 7, 2013


I love carrots! I don't care how you make them, or I'll eat them raw.
Not everyone in my house feels the same way. Some people don't like vegetables at all. So I found a delicious way to make great tasting carrots without adding sauces, salt or butter. I take a bag of the tiny carrots (everyone seems to like these better) and put them into a flat-bottom baking dish. I add enough water so that the bottom of the carrots are covered. Then I liberally add Mrs. Dash's Onion and Herb seasoning. Cook the carrots for about 20 minutes (or until soft when you stick a fork into them) in the oven at 350 degrees. When they come out, the seasoning has made the carrots a little crunchy on the outside but soft on the inside. They have a salty and interesting flavor that everyone seems to enjoy. Carrots are so good for you. Like all orange-red vegetables, carrots provide beta carotene) (the part that's good for your eyes), fiber, and potassium, while being very low in calories. They are better raw but anyway you can get them inside stubborn, non-vegetable eaters, the better! Joyce Lavene

Friday, January 4, 2013

Top Food Trends of 2013

Just in case you're wondering, ISUU's Food Industry News tells us that upcoming trends are going to focus on locally-grown foods and healthier meals for children.

Here are the top-ten trends predicted in Mark Braun's article, "National Restaurant Association's 'What's Hot in 2013' Culinary Forecast Predicts Top Food and Drink Menu Trends":

  1. Locally sourced meats and seafoods
  2. Locally grown produce
  3. Healthful kids' meals
  4. Environmental sustainability
  5. Children's nutrition
  6. New cuts of meat (e.g., Denver steak, pork flat iron, teres major)
  7. Hyper-local sourcing (e.g., restaurant gardens)
  8. Gluten-free cuisine
  9. Sustainable seafood
  10. Whole-grain items in kids' meals
Is there any particular fad or practice you'd like to see go away in 2013?

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Have a Bubbly, Sparkly 2013!

New Year's Eve was WILD at our house! We had pizza and  apple pie. As the night went on, we indulged in chips and dip. Finally, to toast the New Year, we drank a whole bottle of sparkly! There was yelling and screaming, rockin' music and pretty blond girls running all around the house. 
Yes, it was a celebration with the kids. The yelling and screaming was  done while watching football. Rockin' music was compliments of ABC's New Year's Eve Special. The pretty blonds were my girls, and the sparkly stuff was sparkling grape juice, which the kids thought was just so sophisticated and fun.   
As we sipped the sparkly, I remembered having punch at a wedding that tasted just like the bottled sparkling grape juice. It was simply made from grape juice and ginger ale. I think a nice garnish would be some frozen grapes. 
Try this punch for your next celebration. I think you will like it.
Happy 2013!   

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Black Eyed Peas Say Bite Me

On New Year's Day around here, we eat pork, black-eyed peas and cabbage. 

Eating black-eyed peas (for luck) and some kind of greens (for prosperity), with or without a pork product, is traditional mainly in the southern USA, but also in other places in the country. 

We drop a clean dime into the cabbage pot and whoever gets it has to host the party the next year. People have been known to win the prize, to keep quiet about it, and to slip it back into the pot for somebody else to find. Everybody's generous and self-sacrificing like that.

Photo by nep on Flickr
The tradition of eating black-eyed peas and greens originated during the War Between the States (also known as the Civil War), when raiding Northern soldiers left the black-eyed peas and greens because they considered them unfit for human consumption. On the contrary, they're nutritious and delicious!

Black-eyed peas, a legume and a sub-species of cowpeas, originated in Africa and spread from there to Asia, France, Jamaica and the American south. One of the side-dishes at the Jamaican restaurant I used to go to is "rice and peas", meaning rice and black-eyed peas. The American version of this is called "Hoppin' John" -- nobody is certain why. Whatever you call it, it's good.

Marian Allen