Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Quick Cook Uses What's There--Once It's Found!

Last week I posted my Quick Cook Tips that I write about once a month in The Pinewood News, a small town paper in Munds Park, Arizona. I’ll be doing a series on some of those tips so you can see how it might play out in your kitchen.

Your Quick Cook Tip #7 is:
Organize your pantry

A few years ago, I was helping my mother organize her food pantry and other food storage areas. Ay yi yi yi yi! She had five boxes of cocoa and that was just the beginning. I asked her why she had so many of so many different products. And you know the answer. She couldn’t find cocoa powder so she bought more. There was fish in the freezer that was more than five years old. And so out it went.

I took everything out of her pantry, cupboards, refrigerators, and freezers and tossed old or duplicate products. Then I arranged foods in categories. She had a hard time with “like goes with like”. But it makes such sense to me to put spices only with spices and ingredients you use for baking together. Soups should all be together. Beans and other veggies together. Fruits together. I bought her organizers to help with that principle and to use space well.

I do not think I am anal retentive but for The Quick Cook to put a meal on the table fast, it means I cannot spend time hunting for foods. Grab and Go! Pick and Pour! Match and Mix!

The pantry principle also applies to your closet. Who hasn’t taken out everything and laid it around the room discarding/or repairing the torn, giving away the unworn, and keeping the clothes you know you wear. They say (Have you ever wondered who “they” are?) that we wear 10% of our clothes 90% of the time. That is probably true, as I look at my daily clothes choices.

I’ll bet the same is true, or close to it, for our foods. There’s that lovely pumpkin pie spice sitting there and used rarely. It sits next to pepper—used daily.

Like your clothes reorganization—you discover the shirt you ALWAYS wore with one pair of pants can be used with that skirt or those shorts—it is productive to see where else you can use some of those food products.

Now that you’ve got your kitchen all organized, let’s try mixing it up a little. Perhaps you are nervous about putting ingredients together that you never tried before. That’s natural. No one wants to waste food. So, an easy place to try your experimentation is with appetizers.

Generally we make smaller portions of a few dishes to serve as appetizers. If you don’t like something, just don’t make it again. But remember, someone else tasting your creation may think it is spectacular.

Here are six suggestions to start:
Pop a batch of microwave popcorn and toss the hot popcorn with chocolate chips and that package of leftover nuts. Or melt the chocolate chips and drizzle over the popcorn and nuts. I often toss popcorn with dried cranberries and nuts.

Soften cream cheese and mix with that half-jar of leftover pepper jelly and use as a spread for crackers. Or spread the mixture on a flour tortilla and layer on cheese slices and baby spinach leaves. Roll up tightly and slice into 6 pinwheels. Pulverize the can of black olives and mix with cream cheese for a different spread.

Mash up the leftover black beans and add in the dab of corn you have left. Blend in salsa and fill tortilla chip cups with the blend for bite-size appetizers. Or crumble corn chips and put in bottom of shot glasses. Layer black beans, corn, diced tomato, and diced green onion topped with more crumbled corn chips. Serve these salsa shots with a tiny spoon to eat.

Your turn. What’s in your refrigerator and pantry? Be adventuresome!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Tips for Being a "Quick Cook"

I’ve been writing a food column for a small town newspaper for about a year and a half. In the spring, summer, and early fall, I write one column a month. In the winter, I post every other month. You can take a peek at current and past issues by going to The Pinewood News  

I called my column “The Quick Cook” because DH, before he was DH, told me he’d never seen someone put a meal on the table as fast as I could. Well, I am pretty good!

A big part of being a quick cook is prepping and knowing which nutritious pre-prepared foods are worth the money. But there are some other ways to meet my goal. I want to feed people nutritious food but quickly and cheaply.

Each column includes a QC Tip and at least one recipe. Here are my QC Tips to date and a little bit about the column it appeared in.

The Quick Cook Tips:

QC Tip#1
Always keep some basic mixes in the fridge for quick cooking.
You can slather these basic mixes onto food you’re cooking or food already cooked. Flavorful and savory, these easy spreads fancy up a meal
Recipes for Savory Butter and Cream Cheese Spread

QC Tip #2
Keep basic seasoning mixes in the cupboard for quick cooking.
Don’t buy pricey seasoning blends. Make your own.
Recipes for Poultry Seasoning, Taco Seasoning, Chinese Spice Blend, and Pumpkin Pie Spice

QC Tip #3
Use seasoning blends in new ways
Ideas for different ways to use the five seasoning spice recipes I gave
More D-I-Y recipes for Seasoned Salt and Italian Seasonings

QC Tip #4
Keep basic mixes in the cupboard for quick cooking.
Measure out ingredients for a double recipe. Bake one and bag one to mix up fast another day.
Recipe for Cran-Pecan Oatmeal Cookies

QC Tip #5
Use your kitchen gadgets and appliances
Using appliances in unexpected ways is one way the quick cook gets food on the plate fast
Recipe for TQC Risotto

QC Tip #6
Develop a kitchen-awareness of foods on hand.
Know what foods you have on hand and play the TV cooking show, “Chopped”
Recipes:  I give several suggestions for combining foods or stretching them

QC Tip #7
Organize your pantry
Look at the foods in your pantry like matching new clothing combos in your closet. Try new things together.
Recipes: I give six suggestions for food pairings like what to do with cream cheese or leftover black beans

QC Tip #8
Clean out the refrigerator before shopping
We have some odd food pairings before I go grocery shopping. Sometimes it’s an archaeological expedition as I uncover that bit of roasted veggies (So that’s where it went!). I want my fridge and cupboard to have space for the new stuff so I make all kinds of un-replicable dinners.
Recipe for Garbage Soup

QC Tip #9
Wow ‘em with dessert if dinner is ordinary.
Let’s face it, some meals are just good, and that’s good enough. But if you’ve got company make their last memory of dinner a spectacular but easy dessert.
Recipes for Salted Caramel Dark Chocolate Avocado Pudding, One-Minute Chocolate Microwave Cake, and Frozen Chocolate-Nut Bananas

QC Tip #10
Make menus before and after shopping.
I survey my food reserves, make menus, create a shopping list. After shopping I make more menus for the bargains I found that weren’t on my list.
Recipe for In-a-Hurry Pumpkin Soup

QC Tip #11
Make quick breads and store in freezer for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
When making muffins, mix up one batch; package dry ingredients for a second batch to speed up making them again.
Recipe for Cran-Nut Oatmeal Muffins

QC Tip #12
Make convenience mixes so you never run out
It’s a pain to need yellow cake mix, cake flour, baking mix, or self-rising flour and you have none. Make your own with my recipes.

QC Tip #13
Cook foods in small sizes for faster cooking
Serve dinner faster by cutting down on cook times.
Recipe for my meatloaf which I form into small football shapes for single serving.

QC Tip #14
Be in charge of portion control for the health of family and friends
Mini-desserts are one of my “things”.
Recipe for Mini Nutella Cinnamon Brownies

QC #15
Minimize kitchen time for large-gathering breakfasts
I give ideas for cooking for a crowd in a way that doesn’t take you away from your guests.
Recipes for Omelets in a Bag and Waffle Iron Hash Browns

Down the road, when I have another batch of these Quick Cook Tips, I’ll do another column of them. For now, happy quick cooking!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Guest Post: "Healer: A Novel" by John M. Wills

It is a delight to welcome a wonderful person and writer to "Parsley, Sage, and Rosemary Time" today. John M. Wills took on a very serious topic with his book, Healer, A Novel. What does it mean in this modern age to perform miracles? He shares information about the writing of Healer: A Novel and his special interest in the subject of faith healing. What he doesn't tell you is that he is an extraordinary photographer as well. I have enjoyed dozens of his photos on Facebook. Thank you, John, for being my guest this month. 

Thank you, Sharon, for hosting me on your blog and giving me an opportunity to inform your readers about my latest novel, HEALER. I’ve been involved in law enforcement for almost 45 years as a Chicago police officer, FBI agent, firearms expert for a private training company in Seattle, and monthly columnist for for 11 years. With all of that experience it’s natural for me to want to include that knowledge in my writing. However, I’ve also tried my hand at genres other than police stories. I’ve won awards for fiction, non-fiction, short stories, poetry, and technical writing.

I’ve always loved being involved in my Catholic faith. In fact, growing up I thought I was called to the priesthood. However, after spending some time in the seminary I realized I was more suited to saving people from thugs, rather than from themselves. But having read the Bible from cover to cover twice the past several years, I became enamored of the stories in which the Apostles and Saints healed people. Moreover, I took an interest in a more contemporary priest (1887-1968) who is now a Saint, Padre Pio. His gift of healing is legendary among believers throughout the world.

Anyway, the phenomenon of someone being able to spiritually heal someone got me wondering—what would it be like in contemporary times if a healer appeared? Would he/she be accepted, or would people look upon him/her as a freak or fraud? Thus the genesis of HEALER.

HEALER’s protagonist is 16-year-old Billy Anderson. In his young life, he has already sustained three major blows—he walks with a limp from a birth defect, his mother succumbed to cancer, and his soldier-father died in battle. Unfortunately, his parents’ deaths mean Billy must live with an aunt who has a drug problem. Her constant apathy toward him and her poor choice of friends causes Billy to prefer to live on the street, rather than endure the drama and neglect his aunt offers each day.

But Billy is a strong young man and even the sad turn of events don’t dissuade him from being a role model for others. He has friends and a remarkably strong faith that drives him to attend six o’clock Mass every morning. One morning at Mass, an elderly parishioner has a stroke. Before she dies, she transfers to Billy an extraordinary gift: the supernatural ability to heal. Soon, Billy’s life takes on a whole new dimension. He heals a classmate’s knee and changes the kid’s life. The public begins clamoring for Billy’s help. Yet he cannot act without God’s command. Moreover, every act of healing takes a little more of his strength and health.

HEALER explores the hope and heartache young Billy’s gift inspires. This interesting and thought-provoking story will tug at your heartstrings and challenge your thinking. What is the Gift? Who is the Giver? And in the end, what does love really look like?

The supporting cast of characters are an interesting lot, some that support Billy and others who try to take advantage of the naivet√© of a 16-year-old. I enjoyed writing HEALER and at times I needed to grab for some tissues. There are some very touching moments, and readers may find themselves questioning the strength of their own beliefs once they discover the depth of Billy’s.

Feedback for the book thus far has been very positive. HEALER was selected by St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Parish as their book of the month. It’s also under consideration for the Catholic Writers Guild Seal of Approval.

Inasmuch as the story deals with high school teens, many readers and some reviewers have suggested HEALER is a book suited for young adult readers as well. To ensure I was accurate with the lingo used by today’s teens, I had my 16-year-old grandson, Colin, read each chapter as I wrote. As a reward, I put Colin’s photo on the cover of HEALER.


Tuesday, April 7, 2015

6 Views on Avoiding the "Cabot Cove Syndrome"

At the Left Coast Crime Convention in Portland, OR in mid-March, I kept hearing series mystery writers bring up the “Cabot Cove Syndrome”. Like the Black Plague, these authors were concerned about how to avoid it or, alternatively, reassured people they had avoided it.

Everyone, well, everyone meaning mystery readers and writers, knows the reference. Jessica Fletcher, author and amateur detective, kept falling all over dead bodies in her remote little town of Cabot Cove. I read on Wikipedia that someone did a study in 2012 and found that Cabot Cove’s murder rate was 1,490 per million people. That’s 50% higher that the world’s highest murder rate. Given those figures, no insurance company concerned with the bottom line would insure anyone living there since the odds of dying there were so high.

So the syndrome has come to mean that murder happens in small towns or remote locations at a well-above average rate. And that one amateur investigator would always be involved, stretches credulity even more. This sobering set of facts strikes at the heart of cozy mysteries which tend to be set in smaller towns or rural areas.

No one blinks an eye at someone encountering deaths weekly in New York City or Hong Kong or … well, you name the big city. We kind of expect larger numbers of folks in higher density locales to die. But, Cabot Cove? Nah. Some people don’t buy it. Even when Jessica left Cabot Cove, death seemed to follow her. What was it about that woman?

On a search to find out how mystery writers avoid the “Cabot Cove Syndrome” I encountered some pretty interesting perspectives. Here are the six views:

1) Change up the crimes.
There is a camp of writers who change crimes in their mysteries. Not every book has a murder. And that works fine if the crime that is committed is one with high stakes so readers keep reading. Blackmail could work. It can be just as damaging to fear the loss of reputation and esteem when a secret is revealed. But keep the crime concealed and revealed as in any mystery. Nothing worse than a non-mysterious mystery.

2) After x number of books, start a new series.
Some authors think that by limiting how many bodies a series piles up they avoid the syndrome. Book six can be the exact same crime that might have been in the first series, but the author renames the series and creates new characters and sets it in a new locale, and Bingo! Book one of anew series is born, just waiting for more bodies to accumulate. It’s kind of a genius technique, yes?

3) Authors set the series in a vacation area to bring in outsiders to kill.
Some authors figure that they can increase the killable population by setting their cozy mystery in a seaside town or theme park area. Others have a growth spurt in the town via new industry or government agency. Lots of new blood, so to speak, to kill off what with new residents, transients, and tourists. A problem I see is with making the dead guy familiar enough to people so they don’t confuse him with the last book’s dead guy. But this is definitely do-able, and some authors are doing it.

4) Create a new kind of series.
At least one author has re-defined what a series is by setting each book in a very different venue and introducing characters for that book, dropping characters from other books. A unifying thread among books in the series ties them together. The antique print dealer travels and ends up in many locales. One could also have an ensemble cast, say college friends, who each takes the lead in solving crimes in her town (with the help of the friends). There are a multiplicative of ways to re-conceptualize a series.

5) In the spirit of Jessica Fletcher, send the sleuth off to new towns.
This is a twist on #4 but also a throwback to what the Murder, She Wrote authors ended up doing with Jessica Fletcher on the long-running series. It was pretty clear that about the only people left to kill were Jessica, the sheriff, and Jessica’s good friends that nobody wanted dead. A danger with this strategy is that people got attached to Cabot Cove and the series lost its local flavor. If the series starts off that way (as in #4), it would probably play better. This alternative was the most frequently mentioned by authors I studied.

6) Fuhgedaboutit!
There is a contingent of authors who don’t worry about the “Cabot Cove Syndrome”. They say that if readers like the book they will willingly suspend disbelief. They say that mystery readers may be more forgiving than mystery writers. They point to Agatha Christie’s enduring “Miss Marple” series as evidence.

So where do I come down on this? It’s not as much an issue for me since Glendale, Arizona is a mid-size town set next to behemoth Phoenix. I got bodies to kill.

I am also inspired by Louise Penny, who once said she never even considered the “Cabot Cove Syndrome” when she wrote Still Life, and it wasn’t until the third book she became alarmed as the small town residents died off at a rapid rate. Now she has her sleuth travel every second book to break it up. Book four in my series does that when Alli and Gina are demo cooks on a cruise ship in the Aegean. Nice work if you can get it.