Saturday, September 3, 2011

Can She Bake A Cherry Pie, Billy Boy?

I knew that I was not being a good blog parent, but honestly, I did not realize that it had been a year. Which begs the question, where does the time go? It was a busy year - no doubt about that. I was handed a lovely day job, my daughter entered and completed her senior year of high school, and I continued writing, and yes, eating. But I didn't do much cooking. Hardly anything fancy or inventive. Perhaps that is why my inspiration for checking in with you got dampened, or drowned. But I'm back so here's some 'food for thought.'

We took a lovely vacation to a family cottage on the shore of Crystal Lake, Michigan in August. That's where I took the pic of the fruit and vegie stand. This area is so fertile, so temperate, and best of all, so replete with orchards and farms, its tough not to eat your produce - smiling all the while. When we arrived sweet cherries were still available, as were plums, peaches, apricots and blueberries. A sweet feast.

This is also the land of smoked fish. I had my first taste of smoked whitefish pate - really a dip or cracker topping - concocted of the smoked fish and mayonnaise, or if you prefer, sour cream or cream cheese. Recipe to follow. Both the fish dip and fresh fruits offer your character's something to do with their hands, but better than that, is the symbol of eating juicy cherry flesh only to discover that pesky pit. Isn't that a bit like the tension between your love interests'? It all starts out so sweet and fine, then *crunch* your teeth hit the pit. It gets rolled around and around, you suck off the fine fruit that is stuck to the seed. But what to do with the leftover offending orb. You can't swallow it. You must get rid of it, preferably in some polite way. Do you stick your fingers in your mouth and aim for a napkin, or just rear back and spit? How are you going to approach the kernel of wisdom that seed has imparted? How can you get it out of your mouth without upsetting the balance, ruining the sweetness.

And how long can you hold it in your mouth before something must be done? Must be said? Depending on the mood and demeanor of your characters, you could roll this seed around for a really long time, or just spit it out, get on with it. So who are your characters? What would they do? How they treat the sweet may be interesting and fun, but how they dispose of the seed makes your writing exciting.

Anyway - while you're considering that - let's make a cherry pie: Crumb Topping Fresh Cherry Pie

Cherry pitting -- this may be accomplished with a paring knife and your fingers (which will be stained!) or a cherry pitter. If you're going to do a whole bunch of cherries this is a good investment. Cherry juice splashes. Wear red just in case.

The Pie Crust: For a crumb topping you'll only need one recipe - but if you want to make a standard double-crust, double this recipe:
For each crust you'll want 5 T cold butter, 1 cup flour, (I always use whole wheat pastry flour) a pinch of salt. Cut flour into butter until the consistency of corn meal. I love my pastry blender and think every kitchen needs one. Knives will also work, but it takes a lot longer. Add ice cold water one tablespoon at a time, stirring with a fork until dough leaves side of bowl. Press to make sure it holds together. If it does, take from bowl, wrap in plastic wrap or put in plastic bag and refrigerate for half an hour or more while you prepare filling. When you roll out, put flour on a cold clean countertop if you have one. You may also roll out dough on a clean tea towel (no nap) or wooden board. Flour liberally to prevent sticking and have a scraper on hand to help lift any spots that stick.

The Pie Filling:
Pit the cherries. Each pie will require about 4 cups pitted cherries.
1/2 cup water
1 to 1 1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 Tablespoons cornstarch
Place cherries, water, sugar and spices together in sauce pan. Cook on medium heat to boiling, stirring frequently. Remove from heat. Dissolve cornstarch in water. Add hot cherry liquid to cornstarch bowl and stir until well blended - keep adding until a sufficient volume is achieved, then add to saucepan. Stir until well blended. Return pan to heat and stir continually until liquid is thickened and clear again. Remove from heat.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Roll out bottom crust and line pie plate. Put slightly cooled filling into crust.

Place in oven for 30 minutes. Remove, reduce heat to 350 degrees, put on topping and bake another 20 minutes.

2 Tablespoons butter slightly softened
1/2 cup cut oats
1/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/4 to 1/2 cup sugar
chopped pecans

Allow to cool thoroughly before cutting or you'll have a mess.

We like our pie cold, but you can also cut and reheat this pie if you like it warm with cold vanilla bean ice cream.

Smoked Whitefish Pate
This dish is on the menu of every restaurant in Northern Michigan. I swear. You don't even have to like fish to love this!
3/4 cup smoked whitefish, deboned (you do this with your fingers) and shredded
1/2 cup mayonnaise, sour cream or a combination of these with cream cheese
4 to 6 green onions, whites and greens, chopped fine
salt & pepper

That's it. Mix these together, cover tightly and refrigerate. Serve with crackers as an appetizer.

Hope you are well, your characters are lively, and you'll come back to see me. I'll be back soon!

Friday, July 16, 2010


It's the same in recipes as in fiction: you think you know what you're doing until you get started. It begins with an idea, maybe a dish you've made a hundred times before, maybe something brand new. The recipe calls for this, but you don't have it, so you leave it out, or you substitute, or you think, ummm, I know what would perk this up, so you tweak it. And before you know it, you've created a brand new recipe.

In fiction, it's the characters who create the mix you weren't expecting. For example, I'm writing a pivotal scene near the end of my wip a couple days ago. The heroine just received the unexpected registered letter with a return address she knows, and fears. She leaves the post office with every intention of going straight to the hero for moral support, (at least that's where I was going to make her go), when up pops her best friend. I wasn't expecting her best friend. But, hey, who am I to thwart the will of my muse, so together we set off on the unplanned path. I could have made the girlfriend go away and taken her to the boyfriend, but --- that would not have been wise, because while she and the girlfriend were talking another, and better, plot twist popped into being. A much better one.

Who knows where the muse will lead? Not I. But I've learned to let her communicate through my fingertips, guiding my characters into new situations, adding ingredients that were never before plotted or planned, usually with much better results.

Same with recipes: my most creative work happens when I just stand in front of the spice cabinet or vinegar stash, or wine possibilities and feel my way into a new recipe.

Here's a recipe - a glaze for meat or a dipping sauce - that you can test out your muse on. I used it to grill salmon and shrimp skewers for company.

Mango Sauce

This is a no-cook sauce. Several recipes I read recommended cooking -- naw! My Kitchen Muse says it's fruit and it's summer.

One ripe mango - peeled and cut in chunks
1 Tablespoon prepared stone ground mustard or brown mustard or spicy mustard
1 Tablespoon sugar
2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar - or whatever kind you have
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon celery seed ground (use mortar and pestle)
salt and pepper
Green herbs -- if you want to add more spice, try grinding oregano or thyme. Cilantro?
Other spices -- fennel would be good, or a little clove or ginger to heat things up

Put all ingredients in a blender or food processor or best - my favorite kitchen tool - the post mixer. You know what I mean: the handle has a button and you plunge it down in a glass. Mine also has a chopping attachment that has its own container. It was a gift, and is probably the most used electric appliance in my kitchen.

Taste it. Adjust it. Add heat or sweet or sour or spice until it meets your needs. We put it right on the meat on the grill, then served it as a sauce at the table. The mango is sweet and gooey so it makes a lovely glaze. If you have too much, it will keep for a few days in the fridge.

I hope your muse is working overtime! Have a lovely summer day.


Monday, June 28, 2010

SUMMER FEASTS for the characters in your life - Fact or Fiction

The yummy lobster and corn on the cob meal happened at Port Clyde in Maine last summer. Highly recommended!

My home, however, is nowhere near an ocean, unless you consider the ocean of corn stretching for miles across the heartland. It holds its own beauty. Just like the salty ocean, the wind whips it into undulating waves, and it, too, yields a bounty of food.

I'm a big lover of cold foods in summer, but some cooking must be done to make a great pasta salad (see recipe below) or potato salad. For many years I avoided baking anything in the summer, but there is this great invention, the grill, that takes the heat out of baking - or at least takes it outside!

Two weeks ago I catered two days at two different venues for one event - 100 people a day. We cooked 18 feet of pork loin on the grill in 2.5 hours. That would have taken 8 hours in my oven. (I'll give you this recipe, too.) It was fabulous. The day we served it, the temperature at noon was 95 degrees. We served it cold. Ah, the happy faces of well-fed people.

I find my characters to be happiest when they're fed, too. And many of them are interested in food - growing it, cooking it and eating it. They show their pasts in the choices they make, their openness to try new things, their disgust or their joy through their reactions to flavors, and best of all, they reveal their passions in the way the eat - or in the way they feed each other. Whether its a couple licking icing off their fingers in a picnic seduction scene, or a mom feeding her family at a table crowded with fried chicken and all the fixin's, the message gets through because of our common love of food.

Mediterranean Pasta Salad

For a family or pot-luck dish - cook one pound of pasta, add one each of vegies, one can of artichoke hearts, and mix vinaigrette in a pint jar.

Cook up some rotini - I like three-colored spirals
A little more than al dente - then rinse thoroughly in cold water to stop cooking
Olive Oil
Red Wine Vinegar or Rosemary Balsamic or any other Italian-style flavor (basil would be good)
The proportion of oil to vinegar is usually 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar --- try less vinegar to start and add to taste.
I prefer 4 or even 5 to 1 so the herb flavors come through.
Herbs and Spices - I use all dried or powdered for stronger flavors
Garlic powder
Onion powder
Basil - crushed leaves
Rosemary - crushed leaves
Tarragon - crushed leaves - about half of other leaves
Marjoram - crushed leaves
Thyme - crushed leaves
Onion - chopped fine
Red pepper - chopped fine
Artichoke hearts - chopped fine
Cucumber - chopped fine
Nuts - if no one is allergic
Pine nuts

Mix up vinaigrette with herbs and spices in a jar. Shake well.
Add chopped vegies to cooled pasta in a large bowl. Toss with vinaigrette. Add nuts if desired.
This recipe keeps well for several days. Best if made one day ahead for melding of flavors.

Grilled Pork Loin

Grill a big pork loin and freeze part for another meal or two. Reheats beautifully - or eat it cold!

Wash and dry pork loin. Cut off excess fat. There should still be a sliver of fat on one side.
On the lean side crush and sprinkle herbs:
Garlic powder
Onion powder

In a large (steam table size) aluminum pan, place meat fat side down and place on grill. This pan keeps the meat really moist. You can grill it directly over coals, but you'll get a lot of shrinkage. There is virtually no shrinkage with the pan -- if your grill is big enough. You could also make an aluminum pan with foil.

Bake at 400 degrees (hopefully your grill has a thermometer) until instant-read thermometer says 155 degrees. Remove from grill, but let it set. The internal temperature will continue to rise. Cool before cutting. Eat warm if you want, or chill and eat later.

These two recipes together with a green vegetable (grilled green beans? yum!) make a wonderful meal.

Happy Eating! Happy Writing!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Spicing up Sweet with Sour

I once thought that sweet and salty or sweet and sour foods were odd combinations, but my tastes have changed and now I'm convinced that they're the best!

If I said the words watermelon and onion to you, would you cringe? These were the major ingredients in a salad I ate in a Swedish restaurant yesterday. And it was fabulous. The recipe is similar to the one my mother always makes with cucumbers, vinegar, a smidgeon of oil, a hint of sugar. This one also had a little bit of spearmint, and was served with spicy arugula.

It reminded me that my characters need a little twist of something different to make them unique, fresh, and that my plots could use the same treatment. Just something for you writers to think about.

Here's a stab at the recipe -- season to taste.

Watermelon Salad
recipe serves 2

2 cups Ripe Watermelon - 1/2 inch cubes of seedless melon
1/2 red onion - thinly sliced and quartered
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
Olive oil ---- a splash or two
Spearmint - fresh is best, if dried - add to dressing

Prepare the dressing - vinegar, sugar, oil and dried mint. Cut up fruit. Toss everything together and chill. Toss before serving in a cereal bowl with undressed arugula on a side plate.

This is very low calorie and good for you.

While I'm munching, think I'll make notes on my heroine - who could use a bit of vinegar.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Time for Tea

My fiction characters are thirsty! These hot, humid days make me think of cold beverages, condensation cascading off of glass tumblers, cool and damp to the touch, luscious on the tongue.

Beverages provide an excellent opportunity for characters to "do" things during those long conversations. While girlfriend "A" is filling in girlfriend "B" about her big date and that disappointing good-night kiss, they can be stirring up lemonade, snagging ice from the freezer, pouring, slurping, maybe even cooling their cleavage with the cold glass.

Or pop the top on a can of Bud, blend margaritas, salt the rim of fancy stemware, carry pitchers to the porch. All kinds of activities can revolve around the intake of cold fluids on a hot day --- or hot fluids on a cold day for that matter.

Best of all, fluid equals emotion. Use the beverage as a theme enhancer or emotional device. Lemonade? Did someone just get lemons? Sweeten up that attitude!

Tea is very versatile. Herbal teas can bring that over-emotional best friend back to earth, or rev her up for a long overdue confrontation. Spice tea before love-making? The ever civilized Earl Grey at a duller than dull party -- or, so as not to denigrate a favorite of mine -- at a garden party. Earl Grey is flavored with bergamot (a flower).

Bad dreams? Camomile. Cool reception? Cinnamon Spice.

Don't forget to describe the flavor, the sensation. Not just wet and sweet, dry or sour. Something like, "The pale brew chilled her mouth; a calming stream cascaded down her parched throat, sore from swallowed tears." That, together with a dramatized theme will have your readers' mouths watering for more.

Slake their thirst with your writing!

Until next time, keep those pages turning . . .


Thursday, May 20, 2010

Writing Food in Drops and Dribbles

Fiction characters are starving! Have you noticed? The typical 400 page novel - at least that's the length I prefer - often shows the characters eating once, maybe twice. They may slurp coffee with conversation, or toss back a cookie on the run. A picnic will show them grilling, laying out flannel backed table cloths and flipping flies off of deviled eggs, but when do they actually have a healthy meal? The television roars with a football game and beer is consumed. But where are the lavish dinners, the civilized repast?

Maybe it's because writing about food, and writing about eating food, is difficult. Hard to have a heart-to-heart talk over lobster dripping with clarified butter? Yeah. Hard to stay focused on the company when you're cracking crab legs? You bet. Hard to keep the pace when chewing is the action in the scene. Mmm - yes, again.

So, how to work in the ingredient list, the mouth-watering odors of fabulous food wafting from the heroine's kitchen, the texture of sirloin, the masterful color combinations that make nourishing meals appealing to the most finicky eater? And keep up the pace?

Drops and Dribbles. A sophisticated imaging tool that allows golden rice, accented with turmeric and saffron, to lodge on the heros chin as he moans in ecstasy over the home-cooked Indian meal. (The heroine must lift the wayward morsel in delicate fingers and seductively place it in her own mouth to make this work.)

Or the girlfriends show up for a carry-in lunch with farm-fresh vegetarian salad recipes. Lots of yummy food here, but a real pace-breaker, unless you spike the lemonade and spice up the conversation. Let food be the device that reveals your characters. Suzy, who only wears yellow, shows up with grape-tomato and mozzarella salad after meeting the Italian of her dreams. Allura, whose mom had one too many hippie lovers to pick out her dad, became an attorney, wears sweater sets and prefers basic green salad - but she switched from bleu cheese to ranch dressing after meeting Ricky Wrangler. Obviously we're working on a romance theme here, but why not? Food is a sensual pleasure. And you'll notice neither of these women is starving.

Spicing up fiction, especially women's fiction, with food is fun. You've probably got some ideas of your own. So let's read them! Now I've got to go eat my mid-morning snack. Happy Writing!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Fiction: Larger Than Life

I decided to define 'epic', since I just renamed my poor lonely blog yesterday. I'm changing the focus a bit from strictly about food to food and writing. I've actually made notes for things to write about and have a bit of a schedule to keep, so the blog space won't be quite so lonely in the future.

I digress already - About food and writing: They go hand-in-hand for me, as I'll explain further in a moment. But first, here are the three entries the web offers as definitions for 'epic.'
  • very imposing or impressive; surpassing the ordinary (especially in size or scale); "an epic voyage"; "of heroic proportions"; "heroic sculpture"
  • epic poem: a long narrative poem telling of a hero's deeds
  • constituting or having to do with or suggestive of a literary epic; "epic tradition"
For me to write a blog is "an epic voyage." Why? Because it takes me away from my WIP, my work - also writing and or designing events or pr for clients, and, yes, preparing or eating food. But it's time for me to do this, and I hope those of you taking the time to read this will find it encouraging and helpful, and maybe a little bit entertaining.

I like that 'heroes' are a part of the definition, too. Because you, my readers and fellow-writers, are my heroes. You motivate me to write more, write my best, and develop the best heroes and heroines I can for you. So, this introduction to Epic Lifestyle includes my thanks to you.

I'm hungry. I'm hungry on a regular basis. Sometimes I put off eating to write/work, sometimes I put off writing/work to eat. One of my resolutions for 2010 is to bring this into balance, and I'm going to bring you along, because, my writer/reader/hero/friend, I know you do it, too. Neglect is one of our best things, right? Well, not anymore.

There are a hundred reasons to eat and eat well. There are a thousand things to do instead. I will not engage in the litany because you all already know what keeps you from eating on time and eating well, and what causes you to eat badly and at the wrong time. I have one word for today, and next time, hopefully in a few days - at least once a week - I'll have another. Today's word is: (drum roll, please)

We work sitting on our bottoms, but we don't work on our bottoms, at least I don't, though my bottom needs work. So we need to be conscious of getting our metabolism going when we aren't getting enough (dirty word coming) exercise. There's only one way to do this: eat on time and eat the right foods.

Let's try this together tomorrow: Get up in the morning and have an apple, or a peach, a plum, an orange. An apple really is best. It's crunchy, sweet, and so satisfying. It's not highly acidic, so you probably won't get a stomach ache in the twenty minutes before you eat again.

That's right. You're going to eat all the time! Next, take about two ounces of low-fat deli sliced turkey (a real bargain at the supermarket) and eat that cold, straight from the fridge. Now your coffee or tea is ready. If you add milk make it no-fat or 1%. Do the next piece of your ritual. You've checked email? Is it time to wash your face? Get your kids out of bed? Make love to your husband? Whatever.

Now another half hour has gone by, so make toast from a really high fiber whole grain bread or English muffin, put some Neufchatel cheese on it, just one ounce per piece with some fruit only jelly, or have a bowl of high fiber, low-fat cereal. You can eat this in front of the computer, right? Read blogs, plan your day, tweet, and get started on the writing task of the day. You won't need to eat again for three or four hours.

Snacks. morning or afternoon snacks can be high fiber cereal bars (some of these are amazing), or better yet, carrot sticks (those pre-cut baby carrots are great) with a tablespoon of hummus or almond butter. Plain yogurt with berries - berry good for you (sorry, couldn't resist) is excellent. Sweeten with a little honey. The low-fat jelly on the bottom kind is questionable. More calories than you think. That's why the containers get smaller and smaller.

Lunch: More vegetables. Salad is great, but be careful with dressings. They can pack a lot of calories into a teaspoon or two. Especially watch those that are no-fat. They love to add sugar to make up for taste. No,nonono. Don't be fooled. Vinaigrettes are your best bet. Vegie soup and half a sandwich - hold the cheese, or use 50% less fat cheese and just an ounce or two. Good. One little snack and you'll be good until dinner.

Okay -- I hear you. You're stopping to eat all the time, right? Yes, and no. You're planning your work around a Metabolism boost that is going to keep your thighs from spreading over the sides of your chair. This is a good thing. Also, because we are planning what to have on hand and when to eat it, we won't be wasting time standing in front of the refrigerator wondering what to fix, and grabbing the first bad thing because we're starving.

Dinner: Have dinner. I've got a ton of great ideas for dinners, and desserts, and snacks, but I promised today was about Metabolism, so I'm not going to elaborate. Eat filling foods, like veggies sans cream sauce, tomato sauces are good, whole grains and small portions of meat. That's all I'm saying.

Dessert or evening snacking: If you need to, try to limit yourself to really healthy snacks, like unbuttered popcorn or those ice cream bars with miniature dairy animals on the package. Can I say Skinny Cow here? Just did.

Water: Fluids are synonymous with Metabolism. No kidding. Drink an 8 ounce glass of water for every meal or snack throughout the day. Drink other things, too. Tea, coffee, juice (be careful here - sugar), but don't neglect water. One cup isn't much. Just make yourself do it.

I'm not one to bet, but I'll wager that if you follow this meal plan for one week you'll feel better and lose a pound or two. Wise choices, like whole grains, low-fat and frequent meals will keep you feeling good - no blood sugar highs or lows - and help you get more writing done. Let me know how this works for you.

Next time we'll talk about Slow Food and how we can schedule it to help with our writing. Until then . . .