Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Alli Wesson: Guest and Personal Chef from the "DInner is Served" Culinary Mystery Series

Sharon: Hello, Readers. Today I have Alli Wesson with me. Alli is a personal chef in the “Dinner is Served” series. You can follow her amateur detective work in Mission Impastable. Welcome, Alli, to Write Away.

Alli: Hello, Sharon. A big shout-out to all my blog followers who are finding your site today. 

Sharon: Alli, I know you are experiencing some success with your personal chef business now that you got out from under that police investigation. What happened there?

Alli: Well, when Gina, she’s my BFF and business partner, when Gina’s boss was poisoned, we were the prime suspects since we cooked for her family. I had to clear our names with the police, or our business would have been cooked before it was even put in the oven. The theft of a jade dragon just added in complications we didn’t need!

Sharon: (laughs) You and Gina are pretty different. How does that work when you are planning your menus for your personal chef business?

Alli: We’re a good counterbalance. Oh, sure, I’m not a measurer, but Gina is, and if I tell her my recipe ideas and we taste it together, we’re pretty able to come up with a recipe we can replicate. It just takes longer than I like to spend on the dreary part of cooking. Inventing, creating, experimenting, that’s the fun part. And sometimes it even tastes great!

Sharon: I know you are a busy girl, so I won’t keep you long, but what’s up next for the “Dinner is Served” culinary mystery series? 

Alli: Book two is Prime Rib and Punishment. We take jobs at a cooking school, but the head chef hates amateur cooks and we, well, mostly I, tangle with him. So when he ends up dead, I’m kinda the main suspect. And I just get out from under that when the cooking school owner dies suspiciously. It’s hard for a girl to keep on truckin’ sometimes!

Sharon:  Omigosh! That does sound complicated. I heard that you have a couple of guys on the string? True? How serious?

Alli:  Of course, Evan is introduced in Book 1. He’s a cop I have an on and off relationship with. I kinda tick him off sometimes with my crime solving. But it’s not like I go looking for this stuff. Murder just seems to find me! Oh, and Mostel, he’s a guy from high school. We have a history, and that keeps pulling me back to him.

Sharon:  Keep us guessing, eh? (laughing) Is there another adventure planned for you and Gina?

Alli: Our third book is Cooks in the Can. Gina and I cook for the county sheriff’s jail, using mostly canned goods commodities, when his regular cooking crew are out with a big flu epidemic. We clear some family friends of wrongful accusations and have to solve a murder at the jail. You know, just another day in the life of Alli and Gina!

Sharon: And that book will be filled with good recipes, too, I’ll bet. Before you go, any cooking tips for our readers? Or a quick recipe maybe?

Alli: Sure. In Mission Impastable, I included a really easy appetizer. You can whip this one up in five minutes with a couple of minutes leftover. The sweet-sour of the chutney is a nice counterpoint to the sour-creamy of the cream cheese.
Alli's Super-Easy-but-Elegant,
Never-Fails-to-Impress Cream Cheese Cracker Spread
8 oz. cream cheese
4 T best-quality chutney
Carr’s Water Crackers or other expensive cracker
Unwrap the block of cream cheese and place on an elegant plate with a silver butter spreader to the side. Place the chutney in tablespoons equidistant from one another down the middle of the cream cheese. With the spoon, arrange the chutney so it artistically drips down the sides of the cheese.
Serve with a small basket of crackers.

Sharon:  Umm. I just tried a bite of that recipe. Oh, yummy! Thanks to Alli Wesson, visiting from Mission Impastable in the “Dinner is Served” culinary mystery series by Sharon Arthur Moore. We hope to see you again--and in print! Oh, and don’t forget to check out the Cooking with Gina and Alli video on YouTube, “Hermosillo Salsa” at http://bit.ly/XgepIq

Thursday, November 1, 2012

A New Poll: February Month-of-Food

Remember last February’s Month-of-Soups recipes? Those were very popular blog topics, so I thought I would do it again, but not, you know, with soup. I will employ DH’s tongue rating system again.

I know you think it’s early, but I have to get a head start on thinking up and modifying recipes for you all. I know I make it look easy, but I put some time in on these things. Besides, it is the voting season!

Take the poll below and decide the February Month-of topic. You’ll get twenty-eight, DH-rated recipes in the winning category.

Poll: Which should I do for the February Month-of recipes?
Month-of-Ground Meat
Month-of-Mini Desserts

Sample recipes that would be included for each category:

Cocoa Chile Chicken (entrée)
Chicken Puffs (appetizer)

Month-of-Ground Meat:
Bierocks (entrée)
Casa del Moore Empanadas

Month-of-Mini Desserts
Black Forest (shot glass layers)
Lemon Curd Shortbread Tartlet

Potato Skins Grande (appetizer)
Easier Duchess Potatoes (side dish)

Which of the four would you like to see 28 new and/or refurbished recipes for? Vote in the poll below. If you have another suggestion, write in the comments section. Only one week to vote! I’ll let you know which one won!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Twick or Tweet!

I love to tweet recipes. I think it’s a hoot! Inspired by Maureen Evans’ book of tweeted recipes (Eat Tweet: 1020 Recipe Gems from the Twitter Community’s (at)cookbook). Incredibly ingenious. I wrote about this before. I’ve always liked cryptography (I’ve decided I’m probably reincarnated) and word puzzles, so it’s no surprise I loved her book.  

In honor of Halloween, I thought it would be fun to transform some recipes I found into Twitterverse language. Now, keep in mind: ingredients for a recipe cannot be copyrighted, only directions, so these recipes do not violate copyright. However, I am sharing below the sites where I found the recipes so you can follow the real thing.

Wicked-Easy Snack: Combine ½ c each pretzels, candy corn, corn chips, and peanuts. Mix and serve.

Handy Pretzels: Dip 1 end of lg pretzel stick in melted candy coating. Top w/ sliced almond 4 fingernail. Place upright n jar covered w/ shirt sleeve cuff.

The Last Witch: + shot glass of pom jus 2 shaker w/ ice. + 2 shts vodka, splsh Curacao & lemon jus. Shake. Pour n2 glass w/ lem/berries garnish

Popcorn Balls:Pam bwl+9c popcrn N medpan+1c gransug/.3c lt crnsyrp/1t whtvingr/1t salt Mix to 260º +4T btr/.5t van Stir Pour on crn Do balls

Caramel Apples: Melt 28 oz caramels + .25c h2o 1min n micwv or lngr. Put 8 stks in dry tart apples. Dip in caramel to coat.

White Slime:Brng 2 simmr 1c whp crm+.25c btr Tk off ht +22oz wht bk candy Str +7oz mrshmlw crm Kp wrm in fondue pot Srv w/ cake & fruit

Have a party. Here are the beginnings! And easy, too!


Thursday, October 25, 2012

Kitchen Safety Tips

My grandfather used to say you had to sharpen your kitchen knives often. You were more likely to cut yourself with a dull knife slipping about on the food than a sharp one that went where you wanted it. He probably had something there.

About 18% of home accidents are in the kitchen. 14% of kitchen accidents are from trying out new recipes. Apparently we are taken with how the TV chefs slice and dice stuff, and we soon find out we are not TV chefs! Unfortunately, some of us find that out with blood involved.

How can you keep safer in the kitchen? Of course the obvious stuff about looking for frayed electrical cords and keeping said cords away from water and putting in GCFI outlets you are already doing.

Same with not leaving pan unattended on the stove or adding water to a bunch of oil in a skillet or never forgetting to turn off the stove after cooking. You’re doing all that. So what else?

1) When I place tableware and cooking utensils in the sink for washing, I always put them in the same way. That way I am less likely to get stabbed by a tine. I keep the knives on the counter and clean them separately. I put all utensils at the front of the sink pointy ends to the left.

2) If you get a bad burn, cut a cold tomato in half and cover the burn. It helps! Or hold it under cool running water. Do not put on ice, butter, or Vaseline.

3) Immediately after dropping something on the floor or spilling something, wipe/pick it up. If you decide to get it later, you may be down on the floor before you can get to it.

4) Use a sturdy stepladder to reach things up high. Do not stand on boxes, chairs, or counters.

5) Minimize the chances of catching fire: tie back your hair, avoid loose/flowing tops, rollup your sleeves, and tuck in loose clothing. You also are less likely to get food stains with this tip. And you never lean across a burner, do you?

6) Keep knives and other pointy things in a knife caddy or put a cork over the sharp end if keeping in a drawer.

7) Turn pot handles in so they aren’t accidentally bumped or grabbed by a curious child.

8) Make sure your fire extinguisher is easily accessible in the kitchen and fully charged. If you don’t have a fire extinguisher, baking soda or salt might help with the fire. Keep a lid nearby to smother flames.

9) Always use a cutting board instead of slicing those bagels or cutting apples in your hands. It’s too easy to slip.

10) Don’t dig your toast or bagel out of the toaster with a metal fork. Duh!

11) Don’t touch the blades of an electrical appliance while it is plugged in. Even if the appliance is off, it is too easy for it to be turned on.

12) It is better to keep kids and pets out of the kitchen while you are cooking so you don’t trip over them or spill something on them.

13) Don’t cook barefoot or in sandals. People have dropped knives on their feet or caught a frozen package from a badly organized freezer.

14) Keep a first aid kit in the kitchen so you don’t have to trail blood through the house looking for a band-aid.

15) Never use a wet potholder. It conducts the heat rather than insulating.

Please stay safe in the kitchen and make sure others do as well. This is a happy place. It shouldn’t be the cause of so much misery. Hsppy and safe cooking until we meet again.

Here are some resources I used:

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

20% of Food Poisoning Cases are from Home: Food Safety Tips

I adore DH. You know that, right? But did you ever notice how sometimes even those adored ones DRIVE YOU CRAZY???

He’s not a kitchen kind of guy, but when I had some serious health issues, he stepped up. Partly so we’d have something to eat, of course, but he knew I was anxious about how we’d be fed, and he wanted to reassure me. He was a peach during those months, learning how to cut a mango and the right way to cook rice. (No, do not add it to cold water and bring to a boil.)

But, before and after, I was always on him about food safety issues. He just doesn’t seem to believe there are bacteria out there lurking, watching, waiting to kill us if we aren’t vigilant. How many times have I returned his Half and Half to refrigeration? Why wasn’t he poisoned by lunch meat made into an unrefrigerated sandwich at 6 a.m. and not eaten until 2:30? And doesn’t he understand you shouldn’t wipe a spill off the floor and then go back to washing dishes with it? Sigh.

In my continuing efforts to bring you helpful information, I scoured the Internet for food and kitchen safety tips. (Okay, I spent about 5 minutes. You’d be surprised how much is available.) Let’s do food safety today. We’ll save kitchen safety for another time. A list of sites I referred to is at the bottom.

1) The number one tip, doesn’t even have to be on the list, but it always is: Wash your hands before and after handling foods, especially raw meat. Dry them with a paper towel. Don’t risk transferring food particles to the dishtowel you’ll be using later. And do you know you are to use hot water and wash for as long as it takes you to sing “Happy Birthday” twice?

2) Don’t let DH take the chicken kabobs to the grill, and then put the cooked food back on the same plate. NEVER EVER.

3) Don’t take a sip of soup and re-use the spoon. Don’t lick the cookie batter and then keep making cookie mounds on the baking sheet. In other words, keep your saliva (and the kids”) away from food. Don’t count on the heat of cooking to kill germs. Use your brain and your self-control to kill germs. You don’t need those calories anyway.

4) Put away food that can spoil immediately after use. While food can stay on the counter for serving (for seconds) for a short while, before you rinse the dishes, put the food away. Never let it sit out more than 2 hours. If the temp is 90° or more, refrigerate after one hour.

5) Have a cold? Best to coerce someone else to cook for you, but if you cannot, turn away AND cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing. Did you know a sneeze can travel up to 131 feet? That it can travel at speeds 95mph to 630 mph? Do you really think your hand can stop that? Use a tissue and then wash your hands (“Happy birthday to you . . .”).

6) At the grocery store shop the center aisles first (where canned/boxed foods reside), then shop produce, refrigerated, and frozen food aisles so you put the most perishable items in last.

7) In the summer, keep perishables in the car on the way home from the grocery, not the hot trunk.

8) If you live 30 minutes or more from the store, bring along a cooler with ice in it to bring food home. Don’t do errands after grocery shopping.

9) If you can, make sure refrigerated/freezer items are bagged together so you can put them away first when you get home.

10) Ignore the label that says the veggies or fruits are pre-washed. Wash them all under cool running water before using.

11) To extend the life of your berries, dip them in a vinegar/water solution (1part vinegar to 10 parts water), rinse and store in the refrigerator. It kills mold spores.

 12) Do you wash (or at least rinse) your can opener after every use? Why not?

13) Invest in a food thermometer to make sure you are cooking foods to temps that will kill bacteria: ground meat, 160°; ground poultry, 165°; beef, veal, and lamb, 145°; fresh pork, 160°; chicken breast, 170°; and chicken thighs, 180°.

14) Use cooked leftovers within 4 days.

15) Storing warm food in the refrigerator in smaller rather than larger, and shallow rather than deep containers, allows the food to chill faster.

Oh, you could add more food safety tips. Food poisoning is real. According to the CDC, 20%, that’s one in five cases of food poisoning, originate in the home. Safety up here. We can drop that figure!


Thursday, October 18, 2012

When Can Openers Can't

And the winner is: The Quick and the Dedd. I will be blogging about planning and writing this story now through the end of November at “Write Away” (www.samwriteaway.blogspot.com)

Now that we have that little story thing out the way, I want to invite you to take another poll. Remember how last February I did the Month of Soups, with a different soup recipe each day? I want this to be an annual affair, but what shall I do 28 recipes on? Take the poll at the bottom and vote for mini-desserts, chicken, or potato recipes. That’s different enough to get you thinking!

Today, however, let’s get to one of my current kitchen irritations.

I don’t get irritated often in the kitchen. It is my happy place. It’s where I go to get un-irritated. So, I’m ticked.

 We have an electric can opener, a One-Touch, that I can store away in a drawer when not in use. I have never been a fan of the stand electric can opener. I hate giving it prime real estate. Be that as it may--I have used my One-Touch for years, occasionally replacing batteries when it gets sluggish, but all in all, we’ve had a very satisfying relationship.

Until now.

Have I mentioned that our chunkymonkey Maudie is on the green bean diet? Half her meals are kibble (weight control) and the other half of the food in the dish is green beans. (She prefers unsalted, French-style, but, honestly? She’ll eat anything. She’s a lab after all.)

So, a while back, the can opener stopped and wouldn’t finish cutting the lid off. No prob. We replaced the batteries. (When I say “we”, that means “DH”.) Didn’t work. Uh-oh.

Pull everything out of drawers. Has to be a manual can opener in here, right? Every kitchen has at least one. Well, I did have one, but could we figure out how to open cans with it? Not without great difficulty and irregular success.

Did I mention that Maudie likes her meals? The sound of that electric can opener has signaled “FOOD COMING!” ever since we got her last January.

So here sits the dog, drooling, as we try to figure out how the daggone manual opener works, and we finally did. (Uh, remember what “we” means.)

So, Dh says we have to buy a new electric one, and we did. But we put the batteries in wrong, but when it finally worked, the darn thing didn’t! It stopped part way around, so maybe when I yanked the stuck lid out of it’s little mouth, maybe I did something to its inner workings--or maybe it just hates me.

Where we stand is, it sometimes works perfectly. And then it doesn’t, and it sees me approaching with pliers and it releases the can top. But is this frustrating or what???

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Boo Soup!

Last morning to vote for NaNoWriMo story. Poll at the bottom of the page.

Finally it is cooling down here in Arizona, but part of that is because we are near Flagstaff and it’s always 25-30 degrees cooler here.

So it is soup time. I am making my pork posole tomorrow so the flavors will get to know one another for Tuesday dinner. Served with Guinness beer bread-Mmmm, good! (See February’s Month of Soups for my recipe. While you’re there also check out my Pumpkin Soup with Black Truffle Oil.)

I’ve been trying out pumpkin-black bean soup possibilities. What a great flavor combo, and don’t hold back on the garlic--you know me!

I was telling Pattycake about it, and she said, "Halloween Soup.” By golly, Miss Molly, you’re right! Orange pumpkin and black beans floating around. Perfect Halloween Soup! But isn’t that just a too boring name for delectation? I’m calling it Boo Soup. Don’t you think the kids are more likely to eat that???

Boo Soup (serves 6-8)

2 T olive oil
1 lg onion, diced
1 tart apple, diced
4 garlic cloves, sliced
2-15 oz cans pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie mix)
2 cans black beans, rinsed
4 c chicken broth (or vegetable broth)
1 t curry powder
1 t red pepper flakes
½ c Calvados (apple brandy)
1 c cream (or Half-and-Half)

Heat oil in Dutch oven. Add onion and sauté until almost softened. Add apple. Stir and cook until soft. Add garlic slices and sauté. Remove from heat. Add in pumpkin puree, beans, broth, curry and red pepper flakes. Heat to a simmer. Add in Calvados. Bring to simmer again. Add in cream. Stir. Remove from heat. Dish up and garnish with cilantro.

Enjoy a pot of this and you won’t even miss the meat, it is so filling! We usually serve soup with fruit, cheese, and crackers or bread. As Maria, in my culinary mystery series would say, “Bone Appetite!”

Thursday, October 11, 2012

White Castle Hamburgers: A Taste of My Past

Don’t forget to vote at the poll at the bottom of the page for the story you want me to write for NaNoWriMo. Thank you for your help!

Long ago and far away, there was a city with magical hamburgers. They were tiny, but no one had even created the term “sliders” in reference to sandwiches. Word spread throughout the kingdom and lo, other cities wanted what the first had.

People would line up at the clean, white, porcelain-fronted stores and wait patiently for their bag of a dozen or more of the savory treats. One had to buy many of them, because one dissolved in a moment of mouthwatering flavor, similar, I have heard to that first Krispy Kreme donut.

My first White Castle hamburger was from Columbus, Ohio in the 1950’s, though they were originally created in Wichita, KS in 1921. White Castle is credited with being the first fast food chain. The food concept was original, too--a round ball of meat was squashed thing into fresh onions on a grill and then served up on a steamed bun, sans condiments but with a dill pickle slice. It is so hard to describe that flavor to anyone who has not eaten a White Castle.

When desperate for the taste and far from a fresh source, I have bought the frozen ones. Oh, dear. No offense, Mr. White Castle, but, umm, it’s not the same.

Others must have felt that same pang of loss as there are many recipes on the Internet. Here are three links that you can try if you are inclined to re-create your own lost past.

This one from Recipe4Living seems much less complicated than the second one, and, to my tastebuds, not as authentic.

Top of Form
My Recipe Notes:  Save recipe note
Bottom of Form
  • 12-14 dinner rolls, Parker house shape, 2 1/2" x 2 1/2" size
  • 1 lb. lean ground beef (80% lean)
  • 1/2 C. water
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 3/4 C. diced onions
  • 1 beef bouillon cube
  • 1/2-1 C. water
  • Dill hamburger slices

In food processor place ground beef, salt and water. Process for a few seconds so water and salt are blended through ground beef and meat should look a little pasty. On a 11" x 13" jelly roll pan place plastic wrap on bottom. Place hamburger in middle and with another piece of plastic wrap on top of meat. Roll hamburger out to 1/4" thick. Remove plastic wrap and cut meat into 3" x 3"squares, leave ground beef pieces on tray. You should get between 12 and 14 squares.

Perforate each piece five times with the end of a plastic straw, this will give the meat little steam holes. Cover hamburger with plastic wrap and place in freezer until meat is partially frozen but not solid. Place onions, beef bouillon, and 1/2 C. water in fry pan. On medium low heat sauté and stir onions until they are clear, more water may be added as needed.

Turn heat off until ready to cook hamburger patties. When beef patties are ready to prepare, turn fry pan on medium low heat and add enough water to onions just so the bottom of fry pan is covered. Place patties in pan and cover with lid. Frying time is just a few moments. Turn patties and cook until done but not dry. The patties should be juicy.

When hamburgers are finished cooking place on top of a roll add pickles, cover hamburgers so they will steam slightly or pop in microwave covered just for a few seconds until ready to serve.

Another version that I think is likely closest to the original, from what I understand to be true of the original, is this one from Anne Dolce of The Daily Meal and is posted at http://shine.yahoo.com/shine-food/oen-white-castle-sliders-home-212500859.html .

• 1/4 pound ground chuck
• 1/4 pound ground beef
• Salt and pepper, to taste
• 4 tablespoons butter
• 1 cup finely diced onions
• 6 dill pickle slices
• 6 square dinner rolls

In a medium sized bowl, mix together the beef and chuck, carefully so that you do not over-mix the meat. On a clean surface or a cutting board, lay out 1 sheet of parchment paper. Place the beef in the center and top with another sheet of parchment paper. Roll out the beef until very thin, about ¼-inch thick, into a rough rectangle that is about 7-by-10-inches. Trim the edges of the square and use the scraps to pat into a neat rectangle that is 6-by-9-inches.

Season the hamburger square generously with salt and pepper. Using a spatula, cut six 3-by-3-inch patties out of the square. Using a straw, poke 5 holes in each patty, one near each corner and one in the center.

In a 12-inch skillet, melt the butter. Add the diced onion, season lightly with salt, and sauté in the butter for 1-2 minutes until it begins to sweat. Spread the onions evenly along the bottom of the pan so that the bottom of the pan is covered. Turn the heat to medium-low, and top the bed of onions with the patties, 4 at a time, seasoning side down. Allow the onions to "steam" the patties. Cover and cook the patties until they are no longer pink and cooked through, about 4 minutes.

Meanwhile, dampen a kitchen towel and wrap the 6 buns in it. Place in the microwave for 10-20 seconds to steam the buns.

To assemble the burgers, take each patty with no more than 1 tablespoon of the cooked onions and place on the bottom ½ of the bun, onion side up. Top with 1 pickle slice and the top ½ of the bun. Serve with ketchup, if desired.

This third version is really fun to view. Go to http://mytastytreasures.blogspot.com/2009/03/white-castle-burgers-ala-hurley-my-bil.html for a highly entertaining, time-intensive, but likely delicious version.

Are you a WC junkie? What have you tried to get your fix?

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Is NaNoWriMo a Cute Stuffed Animal? Most Assuredly Not.

We interrupt our regularly scheduled show for this
service announcement.

Today will NOT be about food, or recipes, or kitchen gadgets, or cooking
tips, or any other reason for showing up here.

I need your help. I am entering the NaNoWriMo this November,
 and I need your help selecting a story to work on.

Here is a blog entry being posted on all three of my blogs this week
trying to get enough people involved to pick a story. Here goes:

Is NaNoWriMo One of those Cute Boutique Animals for Grandparents to Buy?
Someone in one of my FB groups asked that (cute, huh?), so I thought I would rip it off, err, borrow it for the title of this blog. No. NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. It’s a non-profit organization, so any donations made are fully tax deductible.

NaNoWriMo is my new Pillsbury Bake-Off. For years I said that I was going to enter some of my delectable dishes in that contest. One year I finally said to myself, “Put up or shut up.” So, that year I entered 4 recipes. None were ever even acknowledged, let alone placing in the competition. I call them my Pillsbury Bake-Off Losers”--and I still make them.

Same thing with NaNoWriMo. I want to enter. I want to be a winner. But, I just never got around to it. So this year, “Put up or shut-up.”

The rules are pretty simple: you write 50K words during the month of November and upload at the end for a word count to verify. 50K? You’re a “winner”. Has to be done from scratch, but it’s on the honor system. You can plan in advance, write character sketches, and do research--just no composition of scenes or chapters. 

That sounds pretty clear.

What shall I do? I have tickler files with dozens of story ideas. I kind of wanted to work on my Slippin’ into the Future book (daughter/father relationship complicated by dementia) or book two of my culinary mystery series (Prime Rib and Punishment) or even book two of my erotic romance “Sex Sells” series, but you can’t have written any of it--honor system--in advance, and I have.

So digging deeper into the tickler files I find three plots that really, really interest me. (Who am I kidding? There wouldn’t be a tickler file if it didn’t really, really interest me!) So help me pick one of these three! Vote below or with your comments. As a side note, I have never written a novel in any of these genres, so I am stretching myself that way, too.

1)   My paranormal rom-com I call my Quick and the Dedd series. Isabella Quick owns a security agency: I.Q. Security, “Your intelligence is safe with us”. Isabella is hard-boiled divorcee, carries a gun, votes Republican, and is a founding member of the N.F.A. (National Firearms Association) .Riley Dedd, a widowed hunk, was one of her investigators. He was a liberal on social issues, but tough on crime. That is, before he was killed by an unknown assailant. She had a thing for him, sexual tension between them, but it was never pursued. He’s been dead now for several years, but recently he has been appearing to her in her dreams. At least, she assumes she’s dreaming brought on by stress. When he finally convinces her he’s real, but a ghost, they set about getting his murderer caught and convicted. Working title: The Quick and the Dedd

2)   Another paranormal takes a different tack. My tagline for this maybe-series/
maybe-single title is, “Djinni are the new vampires.” 28 year-old Gwyneth Catrin (Welsh meaning for the two names: luck, happiness and pure) Warlow, who recently broke up with long-time boyfriend, receives a letter from a Welsh solicitor regarding an inheritance. She is the closest living relative to her great-uncle, Emrys (Welsh meaning: immortal). She arrives in Wales to claim the estate left to her. It is all hers to dispose of as she wishes with the exception that she is not to touch anything in the attic. Emrys was a world-traveler and collected many things. All in the attic is to be gathered up by a mover and burnt without an examination by Gwyneth . She of course does and uncovers an artifact that is home to a djinn, Abdul Wahid (Arabic meaning: Servant of the Unique One). Complicating things is Uncle Emrys who has tricked the djinn into giving him partial immortality, and trouble ensues when he shows up. Working title: I Dream of Djinni.

3)   Number three is Sci-Fi medical thriller. I clipped news items from three disparate events that I combined into a story idea.  There is a document that always makes the list of undecodable text--the Voynich Document contains unreadable text and illustrations of strange objects and flora. The second news item detailed a mystery sunken craft in the Baltic Sea. And the third was a description of a strange new illness (named Morgellons) which causes open sores, sprouts of strange fibers on the skin, and a feeling like bugs crawling on the skin. All three cool, huh? The story premise is that Dr. Nia Parker, a marine research microbiologist is recruited under the pretense of discovering a cure for Morgellens but in actuality it is a secret government group out to discover more about the alien roots of the disease. A cryptologist, Dr. Rhys Fenner, was similarly recruited under false pretenses. He is given pieces of the document, presumed to be an ancient accounting of the disease, to decipher. The two form an immediate disdain for the other since each their needs are at cross-purposes and each is told to share info in isolation. He thinks Nia is in over her head, and she thinks Rhys is a prima donna. When they discover the government agency may be a rogue group set to control the alien resources for their own purposes, the two form an unwilling bond to fight the group. Unnamed medical sci-fi.

Vote--See the poll and the bottom and tell me which one you’d like me to write/update you on.

Recap: 30 days; 11, 669 words per week; 50,000 total words. Now if I subtract the time I’m at my brother’s wedding in Iowa and add those days’ word goals to other days, I can still do this. On average, 1667 words per day or less than 7 pages. Pshaw! Nothing to it!  Find out more, and sign-up yourself, at www.nanowrimo.org

Thursday, October 4, 2012

For Better Health: Don't "Diet"

Do you have any friends on a diet? Hahahahaha! ROTFLMAO!

Stupid question, eh? I can name at least a dozen friends on a diet at any one point in time. It’s an American pastime. And the font of big bucks for diet creators.

Oh, and the creativity of the diet creators! Who wouldn’t want to do the South Beach Diet (impying images of beach-body-beautiful), or the Mediterranean Diet (sunny beaches, laid back life style, perfect weather), or even the unnamed lose-100-pounds-in-one-hour diets?

Why am I against the plethora of “diets”? Perhaps it is because I consider myself fat if I have to upsize to Size 2. (No, that’s for SURE not it!) Or perhaps it is because I own major stock in a bacon factory. (Would that I had the kind of cash I could play stock market roulette.) Or maybe it’s because I have so many friends who are perpetually dieting because as soon as they go off the diet-du-jour, they gain the weight back.

Have you ever looked up the word “diet”? See, I’m an etymology kind of guy--love, love, love words and their origins, connotations and denotations, you get the idea. So diet is very interesting. This is from Dictionary.com:

1175–1225;  (noun) Middle English diete  < Anglo-French, Old French  < Latin diaeta  < Greek díaita  way of living, diet, equivalent to dia- dia-  + -aita  (akin to aîsa  share, lot); (v.) Middle English dieten  (transitive) < Anglo-French, Old French dieter,  derivative of the noun

Get it? Diet isn’t a short-term shock to your system; it’s a way of life.

Sure, you might lose pounds, even a lot of pounds with the extreme diets. But the research is pretty compelling that most people gain it back and pack on more pounds. Net gain: negative numbers long-term.

A dear neighbor was talking about his latest diet: 600 calories a day. That is dangerous, and I didn’t hold back on my concerns. But even very smart people  seem willing to take the risks they know lurk in such diets in pursuit of the elusive perfect body--or at least not as grossly over-weight.

I am in need of losing more than a few pounds, and after a medical crisis this spring, I decided to finally, really, seriously take charge of my health. No more sporadic exercise; that was one reason I was in the trouble I was in. No more yo-yo dieting or saying I was going to lose weight; that was another reason I was in the trouble I was in.

No, this time I was going to diet, in the etymological sense of the word. This would be my life-style eating plan, my forever-eating plan. I’ve lost 25 pounds in 6 months. I say 25 pounds in that time, but in reality it was shorter; I’ve maintained that weight loss rather than losing more because I broke my arm and couldn’t exercise. At least I maintained. Now that I am healing, I am going to get back to exercise, so I expect to take of the pounds I still have to lose.

I have to preface my diet “secrets” with this disclaimer. We already ate pretty healthfully--whole grains, 1% milk, olive oil and other healthful fats, lots of fruits and veggies, more chicken and fish than beef--you get the idea.

So my diet, my life-style plan revolves around regular exercise, portion-control, and smart food choices. That’s it. I don’t count calories or weigh food. If someone invites me to a birthday party, I’m going to eat the cake. I won’t beat myself up over it, but I won’t eat birthday cake every day. And I won’t pick up the biggest piece on the table.

I’m into simplifying. I can do this the rest of my life. It’s not a gimmick, not a quick-loss plan, but my goal is not the immediate number on the scale. I want to live a quality life for as long as I am given breath. I want a diet--a way of living. I don’t want to be searching for the next weight loss miracle.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A Recipe for a Book--Strong Secondary Characters

I was reading posts in the “Girly Book Blog Hop” (34 of them!!!) sponsored by a member of the FaceBook group, Chick Lit Goddesses. The blog hop ended yesterday, but I’m sure you could pick them up still.

The theme was secondary characters in each blogger’s books. It made me re-think my own stories and how I have portrayed secondary characters.

Because, well, you do know I’m a writer, don’t you?

“Parsley, Sage, and Rosemary Time” is a blatant attempt at self-promotion. I lure you in with recipes, cooking tips, and gadget reviews, but it is all to serve one master: my culinary mystery series. Well, that, and I do truly like recipes, cooking tips, and gadgets.

The first book in the as-yet-unpublished series, Mission Impastable, sees Alli, my heroine, and Gina, her BFF, trying, unsuccessfully, to name their start-up personal chef business.  Later in the scene, my fave secondary character, Maria, Gina’s mom, enters. Listen in:

Given her “Luscious Mango” hair color, Alli laid what should have been a freckled cheek, but wasn't, on the top of the old oak table in Gina's kitchen. She closed her eyes.
Gina sat down across from Alli. She picked up her paper towel and swiped at a syrup puddle one of the kids had left behind for her to find with a silk blouse sleeve at some inopportune moment. She tossed the crumpled bit to the table. Gina’s eyes looked stricken. She bowed her head. She ran her hands through the sides and to the back of her blond-streaked hair.
"How about 'Meals in Minutes'", she looked over at Alli whose head remained on the table.
"Or 'What's Cooking?'" Still no response from Alli.
"Maybe we could call it 'What's for Dinner?'" Gina asked with a question mark in her voice.
"Nah," Alli mumbled from her tabletop nest. "Somebody got that one with meals people drive in and pick up over by the Black Canyon Freeway." Alli's flat voice signaled a lack of her normal ebullience. Her head bobbed up.
 "How about using our last names? 'Smithson and Wesson-food you'd kill for'? No, huh?"
Alli thought again, furrowing her brow and kinking more curls. "I know! I know! Unique! Ear-catching! Let's call it "Al-Gi Dinners'! Get it? Alli and Gina. . . Al-Gi!"
"Tell me that's your sick idea of a joke!" Gina frowned back at her best friend since second grade. Alli's cheek went back onto the table where she spied a stray cheesecake crumb--mmmm! blueberry, her favorite. Her finger darted out to capture it for release on her tongue.
Silence reigned, but a change in the air current signaled someone else had entered the kitchen. "'Dinner is Served'," Gina's mom announced, waddling over to the table, her pink, orange, and purple floral housecoat flapping limply in her considerable wake.
"Ma," Gina gave "the look" to Alli before further addressing her mother, "Ma, it’s breakfast time. Since when have you lost track of your meals?"
"No, Genius! That's what you should call this personal chef thing, which I personally think is a wastrel of your time, since any good mother would not want a stranger cooking for her family if she had any self-pride at all and who will pay you enough to feed your own children which makes you wonder who will be cooking for them while you're out feeding the world, that would be me."
Maria Martini paused for breath, "Call your business, 'Dinner is Served'."
Alli's head popped up. "I like it," Alli smiled. "Classy. Specific. Easy to remember. 'Dinner is Served' Yeah, I like it!"
"Oh, Ma! That is perfect! How did you come up with it?" Gina asked, dark brown eyes snapping in her re-animated face.
Maria gave a smile that could have been smug or a snarl. "That's what I thought of the first time you two twits thought you wanted to start a cooking business even though you didn't ask me what I thought probably because you knew I'd try to talk some sensical into you because why would someone cook for other people in their kitchens when you don't even know if they have a can opener since people who don't like to cook probably don't even own a can opener, not that you open a lot of cans.”
Gina and Alli stared at Maria. They knew she was going to start up again, and to interrupt her now would extend her explanation even further. Better to let her finish.
“But that's the name I thought of two weeks ago." Maria smiled, her lips twisted in what passed on her face for a sweet smile.
"Two weeks ago," Gina repeated flatly. "And you couldn't be bothered to tell us until now?"
"When I heard my sweet Alli say," Maria paused to pat Alli's cheek, "Al-Gi Dinners', I couldn't keep it to myself any longer because why would you have listened sooner when people need to hit the dirt on the bottom first."
She sat happy-faced, clearly relishing the look of the two of them sitting gape-mouthed. It wasn't always easy following her logic or her language, but, more often than either of them would like to admit, Gina’s mother made her convoluted points.
“You fill in the name on the forms in this pile,” Alli tapped the larger stack. “I’ll go register the name for a website.” Alli darted off to the office they shared in Gina's house, enumerating her "to-do" list aloud. "I'll be back in an hour or so," she yelled over her shoulder.
            Maria settled herself at the table with a mug of Alli’s strong and hot coffee. "My Alli," Maria’s smile reflected her pride. "Isn't she just something? She plays that computer like a deck of cards. Why don't you learn to do the computer things she does?"
            Gina felt the familiar rise of jealousy whenever her mother praised Alli’s attributes over her own. "Why should I? Alli can do that part, or even the kids if it comes to that. I save myself for the other stuff," Gina replied a little defensively.

Maria is in part modeled after my mom, the first language-mangler I knew. Mother takes “Ibufferin” when she gets “flusterated”. Maria was easy to write. I like her as a secondary character because she has a unique relationship with Alli that goes back a long time, and she can tell Alli when she needs to shape up. Most people in my critique groups like Maria, but some think I overdo her language-mangling. What do you think? Comment below. Would her language patterns drive you nuts or do you find them endearing?

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Going to the Dogs

There’s a cute famiy story--well, Chicago doesn’t think it’s cute--but everyone else laughs heartily when the tale is told.

Chicago was in elementary school and our dog-du-jour was Tasha. I’m a cooker--have I mentioned that?--and I was experimenting with a dog cookie recipe. I didn’t like all the unnatural ingredients in the store-bought ones, they were expensive, and the fat content was astronomical. So, I thought, how hard can it be.

But, I digress.

Chicago came home from school and spied the dog cookies cooling on the counter. “Oh, goodie,” he said. “Cookies!” or words to that effect. “Can I have one?”

“Sure,” I said. (I know; it should have been “Surely”, but it wasn’t. Okay?)

“Chocolate chip?” he asked as he reached over for the biggest one.

“Nope,” I replied honestly.

He bit into it and grimaced before rushing to the sink to spit it out.

“Hey!” I yelled. “Give me the rest of that.” I bent down and let Tasha take it from my hand.

“You fed me dog cookies?” The disbelief in his voice was comical.

“To be accurate, you grabbed one from the rack. It’s on you. There’s nothing wrong with them except they didn’t meet your expectations.” I mean really, there was nothing in those cookies to hurt him. So they weren’t sweet! The only thing in those cookies that I hadn’t fed him before was a can of chopped meat dog food. You see my point?

Nevertheless, he still to this day holds a grudge.

Back to the dog cookies. Over the years and dogs, I have perfected my dog cookie recipe. Current beneficiary, Maudie, drools, reallllly drools when I am baking them for her.

When we were foster parents for the Desert Labrador Retriever Rescue group, I gave a package of the cookies and the recipe to whomever we turned the dog over to. And now, just for you, I am sharing a treat your pup will love. Promise!

Tasha and Pooh Bear Moore’s Dog Cookies

5 c. Bisquick, HeartSmart
5 c. whole wheat flour
1 c. wheat germ
6 T. garlic powder
1 qt. beef broth
1 egg
½ c. molasses
22 oz. can chopped meat canned dog food.

Mix dry ingredients well. Blend in broth. Add egg, molasses, and dog food. Mix well. Drop by tablespoons on Pam-sprayed cookie sheet. Bake at 450° until browned (~ 10-12 minutes). Makes 10 dozen cookies. Freeze most of them. Put enough for the week in a Ziploc bag in the refrigerator for treats.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Yonanas: My New Favorite Kitchen Gadget

If you’ve been reading me, you know I love, love, love kitchen gadgets. I mean, really, what’s not to love? Toys for grown-ups, or at least who look like grown-ups.

Well, you have to go buy this one. I mean it. It’s for your health. I’m thinking of writing it off on my taxes (Only kidding, Mr. IRS Man!). Even if not tax deductible, it’s worth the purchase price (which ain’t cheap, but not unaffordable).

This woman, Eileen McHale created Yonanas as an alternative to ice cream. You freeze overly ripe bananas (I know, you like to make banana bread, but how many loaves can one family eat???) rock solid hard. Freeze other fruits, too. The first one I made was Strawberry-Blueberry Yonanas. I shoved one frozen banana down its little throat, added a cup of frozen mixed strawberries and blueberries, another banana and presto! there’s this soft serve mix in my bowl. I stirred the concoction to thoroughly blend the fruits and then served a guest and me.

Did it taste like bananas, you ask? Nope. It tasted like soft serve, creamy, strawberry-blueberry ice cream. Honest! And clean-up was easier than my blender!

Last night, I served DH a concoction that WAS NOT low cal, but he loved it. I used three frozen bananas, 2 tablespoons of Nutella, 2 tablespoons of mini chocolate chips, 2 tablespoons of caramel ice cream topping, and 2 tablespoons of pecans.

I shoved the bananas down the little guy’s throat and it poured into a bowl containing the Nutella and chocolate chips. I blended it thoroughly, divided it into two ramekins, topped them with caramel and pecans, and watched DH lick his bowl. Really! Even with my added stuff, it still came in with a count lower than if I had used vanilla ice cream or even frozen yogurt.

I wouldn’t steer you wrong. Do buy this or put it on your list for some gift-buying occasion. Lil’ Bro is getting one for a wedding present. Safe to reveal here since he never reads my blogs.

Here’s a link to see what it’s like, then buy it! Seriously!