Wednesday, December 31, 2008

What's Cooking Wednesday: Chicken Pot Pie a la Nigella

Please go to Shan's place for more What's Cooking Wednesday participants.

It's been pretty snowy and blowy here in Michigan, and when I snapped on a Nigella Lawson program during a workout the other day, I was intrigued by what seemed to be an exceedingly easy and delicious-looking recipe for Chicken Pot Pie.

When I actually looked at the recipe, I found it was for "Chicken, Bacon and Mushroom Pie", and while I love all of those ingredients, I really wanted something that was heavier on vegetables and didn't use bacon (much as I love it). I felt the use of puff pastry was probably enough in the "over the top" category.

There were two things I particularly loved about the recipe, though - she has a trick to make an easy-peasy roux, and she had a trick to make the puff pastry actually seal to the rim of the bowls.

And I did have dinner on the table, start to finish, in about 40 minutes and this got six thumbs up from three people, so I think that was probably pretty good odds. So... my version of Chicken Pot Pie a la Nigella:

Chicken Pot Pie a la Nigella


1 TBS garlic infused oil (I cooked a large, smashed garlic clove in olive oil for 30 or so seconds)
10 - 15 crimini mushrooms, quartered
1 large stalk celery, sliced
2 medium - large carrots, sliced
1 lb. chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon butter
1 1/4 cups hot chicken stock
1 tablespoon Marsala (I used Sherry)
1 (13-ounce) 9 by 16-inch sheet all-butter ready-rolled puff pastry - I used Trader Joe's sheets, which are smaller, and I probably used 1 and 1/2 sheets for three people. I think next time, one sheet will probably do it.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

1. Prepare the oil and saute celery and carrots until they begin to soften. Add in the mushrooms and cook for 1 - 2 minutes more.

2. Toss the chicken strips in the flour, and then melt the butter in the pan before adding the floury chicken and all the flour left in the bag. Stir around with the vegetables until the chicken begins to color.

3. Pour in the hot stock, thyme and Sherry, stirring to form a sauce and let this bubble away for about 5 minutes.

4. Make a pastry rim for each of your pots for the pies, by this I mean an approximately 1/2-inch strip curled around the top of the pots.

5. Cut a circle bigger than the top of each pie-pot for the lid, and then divide the chicken filling between the three.

6. Pop on the top of each pie, sealing the edges with your fingers and making fork impressions around the edges.

7. Cook the pies for about 20 minutes turning them around half-way through cooking. Enjoy! (Serves three)

Monday, December 29, 2008

Meme via Gunfighter via Los Angelista

I've been brain dead lately, ergo no posts and now, a meme. Gunfighter posted this meme, which he found via Los Angelista. Both have uber-fabulous blogs, and if you haven't checked them out, you should!

1. What is your occupation right now? I teach literature and writing classes to high school students

2. What color are your socks right now? None - I'm wearing nice, warm booty slippers.

3. What are you listening to right now? The clock ticking in my office.

4. What was the last thing that you ate drank? Trader Joe's drinking chocolate - bliss.

5. Can you drive a stick shift? under duress, yes.

6. Last person you spoke to on the phone? a friend from NYC who is also my mother's friend. We were discussing the move. Again.

7. Do you like the person who sent this to you? Well, no one actually sent it to me, but I DO like both Gunfighter and Los Angelista. They are both thoughtful writers with huge hearts. Gunfighter is also a brilliant rosary artist and Los Angelista is training for her first marathon and she ROCKS!

8. How old are you today? 49... half a year from the big 5-0 and I'm just delighted about it! Seriously.

9. What is your favorite sport to watch on TV? Ice Skating during the Winter Olympics

10. What is your favorite drink? Whatever I'm into at the moment, but probably water over all. At the moment, I'm liking drinks with juice and rum.

11. Have you ever dyed your hair? Years ago and I really didn't like the texture, so I go natural now

12. Favorite food? Hard to say - I really prefer things with veggies and cheese, though.

13. What is the last movie you watched? GET SMART. I watched it with C after Fran died and we both needed distraction and a good laugh as therapy. And we got it.

14. Favorite day of the year? the first day of school

15. How do you vent anger? I yell. Embarrassing, but true. Hey, I grew up in NYC, what can I say?

16. What was your favorite toy as a child? Lite Brite (See my last meme).

17. What is your favorite season? Um... fall. Wasn't I just asked this?

18.. Cherries or Blueberries? Blueberries - now wait... THEY are my favorite food!

19. Do you want your friends to e-mail you back? Um.... I guess this was originally an e-mail meme. I do like it when friends e-mail me back, don't you?

20. Who is the most likely to respond? Whoever else doesn't know what to post

21. Who is least likely to respond? D, because he never posts anything.

22. Living arrangements? a usually somewhat messy house on a dirt road that's near a relatively lively small city. I share this abode with C, D and the 2 piggies (guinea pigs) and sometimes our various assortment of exchange kiddos (who are all adults now, so I shouldn't call them kiddos).

23. When was the last time you cried? Probably December 12th (when it really sank in that Fran was gone - my MIL)

24. What is on the floor of your closet? Clothes. Shoes. Okay, so this is the way both GF and Los Angelista answered this, but what would anyone say here? If anyone says they never have clothes on the floor of their closet, then they scare me a little.

25. Who is the friend you have had the longest that you're sending this to? Um... given that Anno and Charity both read my blog from time to time and I've known them about equal lengths of time... probably Anno and Charity

26. What did you do last night? Played Fluxx and watched Buffy episodes and had a great, homemade Italian dinner.

27. What are you most afraid of? Honestly? Global warming and its aftermath.

28. Plain, cheese or spicy hamburger? Cheese. In fact, I could skip the burger part and just do the cheese (as long as it was *real* cheese, not a "cheese product".

29. Favorite dog breed? Golden Retrievers

30. Favorite day of the week? Mondays, because I usually get to teach on Mondays

31. How many states have you lived in? New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, California, Michigan, Tennessee

32. Diamonds or pearls? Neither - opals.

Monday, December 22, 2008

What's Cooking Wednesday (early): A Jew Does the Cookie Thing

Please go to Shan's place for more What's Cooking Wednesday participants.

Like so many Americans, I'm proud to proclaim myself a "mutt". Maybe not racially, but in terms of my heritage. On one side I'm Irish/German Protestant and on the other side I'm Polish/Belarus Jewish. Add in a little bit of Welsh and maybe a Brit or two, and stir well.

Spiritually? Who knows... I'm still trying to figure that out. Culturally? I feel like what I am - a blend of things.

It's taken me a long, long time to feel comfortable with this. That's all I'm going to say right now.

Anyway, Christmas cookies were never a part of my experience growing up. I think that had more to do with my mother's lack of interest in baking than anything else. Also, too, we both lit the candles for Hanukkah and had Mom's family over for Christmas, and I think there was just too much to do.

Lovely early food memories were receiving a huge, heavy tin of Mrs. Brown's shortbread that we'd receive each Christmas time. That was the sum total of my understanding of Christmas cookies.

My first year as an elementary teacher I was presented with the best plate of Christmas cookies I've ever tasted. Maybe they were that much better because I'd made it through my first semester, but no Christmas cookies have touched these since, and those cookies first intrigued me with the whole Christmas cookie idea.

So our Christmas plans changed this year, and all of a sudden more presents were needed and also all of a sudden we were plunged into grief and chaos. Shopping completely stresses me out and I really felt a strong need to stay close to home. Finally, Christmas cookies seemed to be the answer. Making things would be relaxing.


Well, it was interesting, although after my first morning of baking I had herring and pickles for lunch - I think my Jewish side was rebelling against all this sugar and excess.

I planned my cookies carefully. I planned a swap. I searched recipes. I read tons of blogs. I haunted the Food Network and Epicurious.

Finally, this is what I came up with:

The bottom layer - traditional Christmas cookies, apricot-chocolate biscotti, espresso crinkles, candied walnuts with orange rind and chocolate

And this is what I came up with:

The top layer - pistachio-raspberry ribbon cookies, mincemeat swirls, cherry shortbread and peppermint bark.

For a first year, these were not bad. Did I make my own recipes? Heck no, I'm definitely not ready for that, yet.

Here's what I did make:

Traditional Christmas Cookies using a sugar cookie dough by Alton Brown. The reviews said that the cookies were bland, so I added 1 TBS rum and 1 tsp vanilla to the dough. I still found them bland, but C and his friend K loved them. And they are Christmas cookie fans, so who am I to judge? For the coatings I mixed a glaze of powdered sugar, water and rum. It was fine - the cookies were decorated by D and C, with some being decorated by me. The dough was PERFECT to work with. The recipe worked exactly as stated and rolling out and cutting out the cookies was easy (and I STINK at rolling and cutting). My new silpat pastry mat may have helped, too.

Apricot-Chocolate Biscotti: I used this recipe from Giada De Laurentiis, but I obviously changed the add-ins and I switched from lemon rind to orange rind. I used a TBS of Grand Marnier and 3 TBS of orange juice as flavoring, and added in 1/2 cup of chocolate chips, chopped fine, and 2/3 cup chopped apricots. Again, the dough and the recipe was perfect. If I had these to do over again, I'd use more oj and skip the Grand Marnier. There was a slightly bitter taste, and I think this would resolve it.

Espresso Crinkles. These were from Cooking Light. Don't. Bother. For chocolate lovers and children only. They're *okay* and C likes them fairly well, but they're not all that pretty and don't taste good enough and they were a pain to make. 'Nuff said.

Candied Walnuts with Orange Rind and Chocolate - I got these off an e-mail list, and I don't want to print the recipe without permission, but these ROCKED. I will find the author and get this to you. Promise. They were a tiny bit bitter, but cutting back on the orange rind would take care of it, I think.

Pistachio-Raspberry Ribbon Bars and Mince Pinwheel Cookies. Both of these recipes are by Marye Audet, and these were my two favorite cookies. Hands down. My only additions were that I used more jam and more Mince than Marye called for. The Mince Pinwheel Cookies may be my all-time favorite cookie, after Tollhouse Chocolate Chips. If you're a mince fan, you will LOVE these. The Ribbon Bars can be found here and the Mincemeat Swirls here.

Cherry Shortbread... hmmm... this did not work as well as I would have liked, although D thinks it's great. I used this shortbread recipe from the Hearty Boys, omitting the espresso aspects and stirred in one cup of chopped, dried cherries. The cherry flavor came through beautifully, but the shortbread really refused to set. I think I'd add 1/4 cup of flour the next time, due to the moistness of the cherries.

Peppermint Bark - easy-peasy and delicious! Just melt a cup and a half of bittersweet chocolate in the microwave, pour it on a parchment-lined, large cookie sheet with a lip, and sprinkle crushed candy canes on top. Let set. Break. Yum.

Phew. I'm exhausted.

I leave tomorrow morning for family and love and good fortune and I can't wait. See you in a few days. Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and Happy Kwanzaa for anyone celebrating those holidays!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Christmas Traditions

I saw this on Widney Woman's blog and loved it. If you end up doing this, too, please let me know - I love reading about others' traditions!

1. Wrapping paper or gift bags?
This year, a lot of cookie tins, as I'm making cookies as a major part of my family gifts. We usually do a mix of all kinds of wrapping, though.

2. Real tree or Artificial?
Neither. Given our mixed background (Jewish/Christian/Secular) our decorating usually runs to roping or a wreath that we decorate:

3. When do you put up the tree decorations?
The weekend after Thanksgiving. And we always have hot chocolate and homemade cookies of some sort. And a fire.

4. When do you take the tree down?
When pine needles start being a danger to the guinea pigs (they are poisonous to piggies).

5. Do you like eggnog?
Adore it. Especially Calder's Eggnog. The guy at Plum Market described it as crack cocaine, and I think he's right. Calder and a shot of rum and I am absolutely in the holiday spirit!

6. Favorite gift received as a child?
Lite Brite. And interestingly enough, my first professional career was as a lighting designer for theater. Coincidence? I think not.

8. Easiest person to buy for?
No one, because I truly, truly hate to shop. Easiest person to find gifts for? Maybe C, because he's not fussy.

9. Do You have a nativity scene?
No. We do have assorted Christmas settings, decorations from our exchange students, though, such as Swedish Star Child and Lucia candle holders and one of those things that whirl around when you light candles. Oh... and our favorite - a beautiful Santa hand-carved by our German daughter's mother, Margareta.

10. Mail or email Christmas cards?

Um... depends. This year, I'm not sure. We usually send AFTER Christmas, though, and do more of New Year's greetings.

11. Worst Christmas gift you ever received?

Um... sorry, D, but it was that shoe bag you gave me for our first Christmas together.

12. Favorite Christmas Movie?

Probably Scrooged. And the original Miracle on 34th Street.

13. When do you start shopping for Christmas?

Whenever I see something that will work for someone for Christmas.

14. Have you ever recycled a Christmas present?

In a sense, but I haven't regifted specifically.

15. Favorite thing to eat at Christmas?

Mince Pie!

16. Lights on the tree?

We've done New Year's lights instead - pigs and chili peppers (don't ask).

17. Favorite Christmas song?

This is truly impossible for me to answer. I am a REAL Christmas music fanatic. I may have more Christmas music than any other category. There are so many that I love. Particular favorites right now are "Mistletoe" by Colbie Caillat, "Winter Song" by Sarah McLachlan, "Angels We Have Heard On High" by the Roches.

18. Travel for Christmas or stay home?

Usually we get to travel to my wonderful, fabulous, lovely sister- and brother-in-law! We're going there this year and we can't wait!!!

19. Can you name all of Santa's reindeers?

Dasher, Dancer, Donner, Blitzen, .... um... no.

20. Angel on the tree top or a star?

Growing up we always had a star and a dove.

21. Open the presents Christmas Eve or morning?

Both. We do a gag gift exchange, which is great fun and has a lot of rules, at my SIL's house on Christmas Eve. We usually open family presents with my BIL, SIL and nephew on Christmas morning.

22. Most annoying thing about this time of the year?

Shopping, shopping and shopping. And people getting stressed out when the holidays should be about love and reflection.

23. Favorite ornament theme or color?

Love those pickle ornaments! (Just the one you hide, though).

24. Favorite Christmas dinner?

Roast beef, yorkshire pudding, steamed green beans, squash pudding and mince pie.

25. What do you want for Christmas this year?

Baking, from My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan

Friday, December 19, 2008

Events: Blogger Aid, Menu for Hope, Worldwide Blogger Bake-Off

This is a season of giving. It's also a season when the hungry may very well feel it the most.

Various bloggers have taken up this cause in a variety of ways. I'm going to talk about a few of them here, all of which I learned about via Bellini Valli of More Than Burnt Toast. I've seen these logos on various other blogs, but Val tirelessly pushes for food bloggers to do good in the world. My hat is off to you, Val.

Bellini Valli of More Than Burnt Toast, Giz of Equal Opportunity Kitchen and Ivy of Kopiaste have an event called Blogger Aid. The premise behind it is to send out food that can feed a crowd and also raise money for the U.N.'s World Food Programme via lovely items that Giz has made. You can read all about it here. I can't fit in more cooking this week, so I'm going to return to some old favorites as my entry for Blogger Aid. While Giz's items are beautiful, I chose to make a direct donation to the World Food Programme and you can also do that here, if you'd like. This event runs through December 28th. Here are my entries:

World's Easiest (and BEST) Chicken Noodle Whatever Soup


Jen's Rockin' Summer Vegetable Soup

Both are economical, can feed a crowd, and provide plenty of nutrition.

If you want some mystery bang for your buck in donating to the World Food Programme, join Pim at Chez Pim and buy raffle tickets for Menu for Hope - another sponsorship of the World Food Programme. Raffle tickets cost just $10 U.S. a shot, and there are oodles of fabulous prizes. You can read all about that contest here. This event runs through December 24th, so hurry!

Finally, the Worldwide Blogger Bake-off raises money for Breadline Africa. They have a very active site with great information on joining, supporting various fundraising efforts and donating. You can read all about it of here.

I will be baking for the last event, but only after the holidays.

I know many of you have supported these wonderful events already, but if you haven't - quick! Get going!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

What's Cooking Wednesday: Seven Fishes Feast Entry: Tuna-Potato Chip Casserole

First of all, I want to thank everyone who left such lovely condolences here and via e-mail. I'm truly overwhelmed. Please forgive me for not getting back to each of you individually, but I'm still behind with everything, and probably need to really focus on catching up with family and Christmas and school issues. Again, despite the lack of response from me, the comments were absolutely appreciated in every way.

Thank you.

So D has been gone since Saturday working first with his brothers to help his dad, and now staying on to continue to be with his dad until his brother, J, arrives today, and D will come home (yay!). In the meantime, C and I have been on our own, and it has been downright frigid here in Michigan, and frigid calls for some rib-sticking, gut-warming foods.

I was really hoping to join Maryann of Finding La Dolce Vita and Joe of Italyville in their Seven Fishes Feast, as I've always loved the idea of this tradition, and it may be the one night of the year, more than any other, that I wish I could claim Italian ancestry. I was hoping to create something elegant. I was hoping to create something visually spectacular.

I was hoping to create ... something.

It didn't look like I was going to make it by the December 18th deadline, but then when C called yesterday afternoon between his school and theater commitments I asked him what he wanted for dinner and an old family favorite reared its ugly, but oh-so-delicious (and rib-sticking and gut-warming) head: Tuna-Potato Chip Casserole.

So let's think of this as the "children's dish" for the Seven Fishes Feast. This was a favorite from my childhood, and I dredged up the recipe from the internetz, as my mother was horrified that she'd ever made such a thing and had lost the recipe at some point (probably tore it into shreds and dumped it someone else's garbage).

Anyway, in all its ugly glory, here it is:

Tuna-Potato Chip Casserole


2 cans albacore tuna in water
3/4 cup 1% milk
1 can 98% fat free mushroom soup
3 cups crushed - don't crush them too much - just use your hands to crush them a bit - potato chips (I prefer reduced fat Ruffles - you can NOT used "baked" potato chips in this recipe - they're actually made with dehydrated potatoes rather than real potatoes, and you end up with a gloppy, icky mess that DOES NOT taste good)
1/4 cup 2% sharp shredded cheddar or other reduced fat cheddar

(Needless to say, you can use full fat on all of this and it will be even better, but we really do just fine with the modifications).


Preheat oven to 350.

Mix milk with soup. Bring slowly to a boiling point, stirring frequently. Take off burner.

Crush potato chips.

Put 1/3 of potato chips at bottom of casserole dish sprayed with cooking spray.

Layer with half of the tuna. Put another layer of 1/3 of the chips. Put the rest of the tuna. Put the last layer of the chips.

Pour soup mixture over all.

Bake at 350 for 20 minutes. Take casserole out and sprinkle the cheese on top. Bake for 5 more minutes or longer to get the cheese melty and slightly browned.

Number of Servings: 4

There's still time to join the Seven Fishes Feast. To find out what to do, just click here.

Please go to Shan's place for more What's Cooking Wednesday participants.

Friday, December 12, 2008


This has been a hard week.

I was in NYC helping my mother on her move (which I'll be writing about soon), and I got a call from D that his mother had died. D's mother had Stage 6 Alzheimer's and has been on hospice care since August, so it was both not a surprise, and in many ways a blessing, but she was a wonderful, sweet, loving, smart and funny person, and she will be (and for all purposes has been) missed tremendously by all who were lucky enough to have her in our lives.

I'll be back when/as I can.

I miss all my fave readers and blogs and I hope everyone is enjoying the holiday season.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Day to Read: January 8 2009

Soccer Mom in Denial is at it again. She wants us to take a day and sit on our heinies. Well, it is for a good cause.

What she'd really like is for us to turn OFF the computers and the other idiot boxes for the day and read. Really read. From a book. You remember those? They have many words on actual paper, and they're usually placed between two pieces of either paper-thin or thicker cardboard, sometimes or sometimes not covered in cloth. (And if you're having luck on January 8th, you won't read ANY sentences like my last one).

Despite my joking around, this is a serious issue. From SMID's launch blog post:

"...according to a report released last year reading books is linked to civic engagement. This National Endowment for the Arts reports that young folks aren't reading like they used to. Get this:

* only 30% of 13-year-olds read almost every day

* the number of 17-year-olds who never read for pleasure increased from 9 percent in 1984 to 19 percent in 2004 - that is 1 in 5 kids don't read for fun

* Almost half of Americans between ages 18 and 24 never read books for pleasure

* The average person between ages 15 and 24 spends 2 to 2 1/2 hours a day watching TV and 7 minutes reading

According to Dana Gioia, the Chair of the NEA,

'The poorest Americans who read did twice as much volunteering and charity work as the richest who did not read. The habit of regular reading awakens something inside a person that makes him or her take their own life more seriously and at the same time develops the sense that other people's lives are real.'"

So those are all the good and civic reasons to do this, but I also want to hit on the FUN factor. To get the party started, I want to issue a bookworm challenge and also give you some suggestions for those books for Day to Read.

First, the bookworm challenge:

I found this fun challenge at anno's place:

THE CHALLENGE: Pass this on to five other bloggers, and tell them to open the nearest book to page 46. Write out the fifth sentence on that page, and also the next two to five sentences. The closest book, not the coolest, or the one you think will sound the best. THE CLOSEST.

The book closest to me is, believe it or not, BOOK OF POISONS: A GUIDE FOR WRITERS.

"A white crystalline solid, napthalene will usually be ingested."

er.... hmmm. I'm sure you all needed that information today. CYRANO is also nearby, but BOOK OF POISONS was closer. Darn. At least I get the very cool button.

I'm not passing this on to five more bloggers - I'm going to tag anyone who wants to play and NEEDS this very cool button on their site.

The Books

So, recently, there have been some great book launches around the blogosphere. One you read about on this very blog - SHOT GIRL by Karen E. Olson. Again, I'd recommend reading her entire Annie Seymour series first, but SHOT GIRL stands alone and it's just a fabulous ride. I think tying up a series can be difficult as hell, and Karen E. Olson does it beautifully. For anyone who knows her character, Annie, they know that Annie has more than her share of flaws and attachment issues. She has to face those in this final book, and Ms. Olson carries it off with aplomb and not a speck of melodrama. I just loved this book. From Karen's site:

New Haven police reporter Annie Seymour has a talent for running into trouble. So it should come as no shock when her co-worker's bachelorette party at a local club turns into a crime scene. What is surprising is that the dead bar manager on the sidewalk outside happens to be Annie's ex-husband - and the bullet shells around his body match the gun she has in her car.

Coming face-to-face with her past, Annie delves into a conspiracy involving everyone from a male stripper to a shot girl. If she wants to get the story, she'll have to escape a killer . . . before she becomes the next headline.

A book I read last spring via download, is about to be out in paper. For those of you who love romance - ENJOY!!! Marianne Arkins is a funny, warm-hearted writer and her many stories and this novel show her flair for comedy and her penchant for absolutely, melt-in-your-knees happy endings. (And there's often a cute dog, too). From Marianne's site:

Olivia "Liv" Leigh, wealthy socialite and spa owner, suspects her fiancé of cheating on her, so she takes drastic steps to discover whether appearances are deceiving. And if those steps require a bit of stalking, a change of appearance, a hippo-sized dog named Spike, and sacrificing her manicure to clean house for a sexy but sloppy man whose neighbor is determined to break several of the strangest Guinness Book of World Records, why should that be a problem?

Mike, a happily single auto mechanic, is more than content sharing his bachelor pad with piles of laundry, dirty dishes, and a sneaky ferret. But when a half-crazed woman in a bad wig shows up on his doorstep, what's a nice guy to do? Why, invite her in, unknowingly help her in her search for the truth and, in the process, fall head over heels for a woman who's never been less his type.

There is also this cool give away contest, so hurry over to Marianne's site right now!

Michelle, of Bleeding Espresso, recently had this post interviewing Diana Sprechler, author of Who By Fire. There is also a giveaway involved with Michelle's post, so by all means hurry over there. The interview with Diana was fascinating, and I believe Diana will be a guest here in the next few weeks, as well. From the Harper Collins site:

Bits and Ash were children when the kidnapping of their younger sister, Alena—an incident for which Ash blames himself—caused an irreparable family rift. Thirteen years later, Ash is living as an Orthodox Jew in Israel, cutting himself off from his mother, Ellie, and his wild-child sister, Bits. But soon he may have to face them again; Alena's remains have finally been uncovered. Now Bits is traveling across the world in a bold and desperate attempt to bring her brother home and salvage what's left of their family.

Sharp and captivating, Who by Fire deftly explores what happens when people try to rescue one another.

So let's all read a good book. And write about our reading. Wander over to Soccer Mom in Denial and find out how to get more involved.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

What's Cooking Wednesday: Apricot/Chocolate/Pecan Muffins

Please go to Shan's place for more What's Cooking Wednesday participants.

So I think Anno felt sorry for me. I've been having a rather rough time with some family issues lately and I was reading this post and pressing my nose up against her blog window like a dispossessed orphan.

I can be whiny like that.

But happily, she loves me anyway, and when Monday rolled around, it was the last day of classes at the place where we both teach, and her charming daughter, m, brought me a plate filled with the kind of Christmas baking I was whining that I had no time to do.

And it was a truly lovely plate, and if I'd had my act together I would have photographed it, but ... um... no such luck.

It had all sorts of goodies, but I was particularly struck by a bread that contained apricots and chocolate and nuts of some type. So, given that my whining had worked so far, I whined at her for the recipe. And she pointed me in this direction. She told me that actually, she was trying to reproduce a recipe that her mother made, and that she might get the real recipe this weekend, so maybe she'll have her own post on this combination.

She also said that the bread she'd made seemed very crumbly and that a full tablespoon of baking powder seemed like a lot.

I agreed. And as I looked at the ingredients and saw mounds of butter, etc., I decided that I was going to have to make major modifications on this one. And that muffins would be better, because if I'm going to splurge with these sorts of ingredients, a whole, big, lovely muffin is so much better than a little slice of a 12th of a loaf (and they're the same serving size in terms of recipe portion). So I got up this morning, and made these muffins, as per D's request from his sick bed, and also experimented with the "Food of the Gods" recipe. And yeah, it's pretty darned good.

Apricot/Chocolate/Pecan Muffins


2 eggs
1 cup lowfat butter milk
1/2 cup orange juice
1/2 tsp rosewater (Marye has made me a big fan of rosewater in baking)
1 TBS canola oil - (take THAT 1/4 lb. butter!)
3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup oat bran
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup pecan pieces (the original recipe called for walnuts, but what I had was pecans)
1/2 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
1 heaping cup chopped dried apricots (these can most easily be chopped using a food processor if you have one)


1. Preheat oven to 400
2. Beat eggs, stir in other wet ingredients.
3. Pour dry ingredients into the bowl, stir together (minus the "goodies")
4. Stir in pecans, chips and apricots
5. Spoon the batter into a greased muffin tin.
6. Bake for 20 minutes.
7. Let cool in pans for 5 minutes before removing muffins.

Post-mortem. I love Marye, but I think I'd use a TBS of Grand Marnier next time rather than the rose water, and if I'm really feeling ambitious, I'd zest in some orange rind. Other than that, these have gotten thumbs up from the fam.

Nutrition Info:

Fat: 6.4g
Carbohydrates: 27.4g
Protein: 4.1g

Nutritional info provided by

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

How to Clean Your Kitchen

One of the problems in working from home is that you have days when things are just going to hell not falling into place.

I mean, yeah, I had them at the workplace, too, but here I generally have no one to blame but myself. You know, at work, there's always someone else to blame. And that can be therapeutic, if inaccurate and unkind.

I was supposed to be in NYC this week with the ongoing project of "helping mom move".

D, however, ended up getting sick with a nasty bronchial thing, and since he's asthmatic and has run into pneumonia, it didn't seem really fair to leave D and C to fend for themselves, especially since C doesn't really drive yet and D has ended up in the hospital on occasion for these bronchial things.

So here I was. In Michigan. With no appointments or plans. I have papers to correct, but no lesson plans, as my last class session was Monday.

This is unheard of.

So I immediately schedule a bunch of appointments that I've been putting off during the time of "the move" and thought about projects that really, really needed to get done.

And, well, there was the kitchen.

The kitchen is absolutely, positively in need of an overhaul. That is frequent at this time of year because I'm still using up the last of my various farm share stuff, and I sort of end up converting from summer/fall ingredients to actual winter things.

What are winter things? Oh... things like oatmeal. Cookie-making supplies. Lots of soup bases and various containers of last summer's frozen soups defrosting in the fridge. Meat.

And then there were all the leftovers from THE turkey, and the things accompanying THE turkey, and the things that were made from the leftovers of the turkey and accompaniments, and those things made from those things, and if I ever see a turkey again...

But I digress.

So, here's how I clean the fridge when I'm in this kind of mood:

First, find appropriate music.

Decide you have no appropriate music. Use your last bit of iTunes money from your July b'day and download this.

Transfer it to your iPod.

Set up iPod in the kitchen.

Now you're ready.

Except you need a glass of water. And then it's probably time to check your e-mail. Because, you know, you only checked it fifteen minutes ago and maybe an agent wrote to tell you she NEEDS your book. Or maybe a student has a question. Or maybe D wrote.

Ooops, no. D is asleep in the bedroom. He's sick. D'oh.

Anyway, you've checked the e-mail and you cross the house back to the kitchen. But you've left the water in the office. So you go back for your water. And you walk back to the kitchen. (Are you bored yet? I was.)

Now that you're actually in the kitchen with Fiona Apple singing "Blue Christmas", you realize that you really need, yes need, a Torrone nougat before you get started. This is because you only buy these at Christmas time, and there's Christmas music playing. And you have to eat the Torrone as slowly as possible because a. it's food of the gods, and b. you're not supposed to be eating them anyway, so if you're going to splurge, you should really. take. the. time. to enjoy it.

So three bites and fifteen minutes later, you're ready to clean the kitchen.

Go check your e-mail.

Damn. That agent still hasn't written.*

Back to the kitchen. You realize that you probably truly have run out of excuses this time. You pull out the garbage can and drag it over to the fridge.

You have a guilt/panic attack because you're going to throw out food and that is wasteful. You make several silent pledges that you will eat everything from now on. Every scrap. Always. You have a sudden image of yourself as the Goodyear blimp. You have a panic attack for a different reason.

You go to turn up the music to drown out your internal dialogue. It doesn't work.

Shelf by shelf, you go through unmarked packages, moving things from side to side and realizing that what was really wanted was organization. You and your family did NOT let things rot, despite your worries that caused this massive procrastination in the first place. You are a good global citizen. You are not wasteful.

You are, however, very disorganized.

You finally decide that you can find things again, you make a mental list of dinners/cooking projects for the next few days and happily shut the door. You still have to clean the rest of the kitchen, but... nah.

Time spent cleaning the fridge: 14 minutes.
Time spent avoiding cleaning the fridge: 42 minutes.

Uh huh. Mission accomplished!

*Note to self: since you have no submissions out currently, the reality that the imaginary agent is going to write is slim to none.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Fight the Hate

There have been many posts this week of personal lists of things to be thankful for.

Many people wrote about their thankfulness for their family, and sometimes for their spouses in particular.

I'd like to remind us all that those who are thankful for their spouses should be thankful that they're given the right to have those spouses.

Those who are thankful for their children, also need to be thankful for the fact that they are allowed to raise their children unencumbered and legally.

And in this day and age in the U.S., at a time when an African American has finally made it into the White House, we still have a large percentage of our population who do not share those basic human rights.

Our Declaration of Independence, the document on which our country was founded, puts things this way: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Shouldn't a loving relationship, a legally-sanctioned, I-love-you-forever kind of relationship count as part of that pursuit of happiness? Since when did the 14th Amendment guarantee rights to only part of our population?

In case you forgot about the 14th Amendment, let me just refresh your memory:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

There has been a great deal written about Proposition 8. The California dream that allowed couples to legally wed, was snatched away quickly in November. And no, don't even think that it was "the voice of the people" speaking - as with most major political campaigns, this was all about who had the most money and the most power. There was a concerted effort to remove this basic right from our LGBT citizens.

Along with Proposal 8, there was Florida Proposition 2, developed to amend that state's constitution to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman. There is already a state law on the books to this effect, but this wasn't enough for straight Floridians who apparently feel that the right to marriage should only be given to certain parts of the population, that apparently the "everyone is created equal" business doesn't apply to LGBT citizens.

Then there's Arizona's Proposition 102, similar to Florida's Proposition 2, which also passed. This was seen to have passed because it didn't forbid Civil Unions - I mean, that's fair, right? You can still have a "legal partnership".

What is fair about some of our citizens having certain rights and those rights being denied to other segments of our population?


It is NOT fair - but more about that later.

In some ways, to me personally, the most insidious of the laws passed in November was Arkansas's Act 1, which forbids foster parenting or adoptions by any unmarried couple. And, of course, if you're a LGBT couple in Arkansas, it's illegal for you to be married. So here, we're not only affecting the rights of our citizens to be married or to be parents, we're also affecting the rights of children to be placed in loving homes.

You've heard it before, but it bears repeating: our country has a large deficit of children, especially older children, who need loving homes. Who need stable families. We have parents waiting to adopt them. We have stable couples who have committed to each other for longer than the child's parents ever did, but um, hey - they're not allowed to be parents because they love someone who is the same sex?

Having been a teacher for 25+ years, I've seen parental rights terminated. Those few terminations have been for good reasons. We're talking crack or meth addicts who've failed every attempt at rehabilitation, six-year-olds living cold and hungry because Mama drank up every last penny of income, children coming into school with burn marks all over their bodies.

I've also sat across the table from Gay and Lesbian couples who are parents of children I've taught.

And they're the same as my other strong, loving parents. They may not be perfect, but are any of us as parents?

I've only seen one situation where children suffered due to having Lesbians as parents, and that was only due to the fact that this couple did not have equal rights under the law. When the couple split up, one woman left the other for a man and decided to rescind the rights of her partner. Despite the fact that her partner had shared in parenting these children up through age nine (when the split took place), this woman decided that she was now "straight" and didn't want the partner hanging around in any way. And she was able to do this because her name was the one on the adoption papers. Because she lives in a state where adoptions by Gay or Lesbian couples is illegal. Now before you argue that this wouldn't have happened if they hadn't been Lesbians because Lesbian couples are unstable, shame. on. you.

How many heterosexual couples do you know who have split up?

We're closing in on a 50% divorce rate in this country. Some couples make it; some don't, and whether you're straight or gay has no bearing on that. And shouldn't the children of gay couples receive the same rights as those of straight couples? It's about the children, people.

Now all of you who are fathers out there, how would it be if your wife left you and took the kids, and was allowed to do so because "the mother is the only one with legal rights".

You've been with those children every second of their lives, changed their diapers, gazed lovingly in their eyes, kissed their booboos, took them swimming, tucked them in at night, were role models in right and wrong.

But hey, your womb didn't carry them, so why should you have rights?

Okay, I've gone on way too long here. In fact, I waited way too long to write this post. I've actually started this post way too many times.

There's nothing that I can write here that will be good enough.

There's nothing that I can write here that can truly express how wrong this is to live in the United States of America, this supposed bastion of Democracy and equal rights, and not have full rights extend to ALL our citizens.

Those who believe they have moral arguments, against these marriages, fine - that's your belief system. But honestly, can you believe that it's right to deny rights to only one segment of our population?

As long as this situation exists, we've got a long, long way to go. As Obama said in his victory speech: "It's been a long time coming, but tonight, because of what we did on this day, in this election, at this defining moment, change has come to America.".

But you know what? It's still not here.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving Tales

Happy Thanksgiving to all who celebrate!

So I gotta tell ya this one.

This year, we're part of a poultry CSA. We have a local farm that's got some hoop houses up and is trying to provide eggs, chickens and a turkey per family over the winter months. It's a bit of an experiment; we'll see. Our farmer's a great guy, we're contributing to local, family farming. It's all good.

So our farmer asks me about chicken sizes; I tell him we don't really care - big is fine because we'll use all the parts.

Well, I think he transferred that to our turkey size.

We noticed, when he delivered the bird Tuesday night, that it seemed, well, large.

D wanted to sleep in today, and since there will only be us and my FIL for dinner today and I could do this menu in my sleep, I said that was fine.

He asked if there was anything I needed before this morning.

I said, "Yeah, please weigh the turkey."

So he did.

24 lbs. 24 unbelievable lbs. There are FOUR of us.

I looked up turkey charts.

Yep, this sucker was OFF the charts.

So... we did what anyone would do. (Cough, cough) or at least in my house. We cut the sucker in half. So I'm now roasting it inside-side-down. And I'm guessing it will cook pretty quick. My FIL, the retired neurosurgeon, supervised the hacking slicing of the turkey in half. BTW... if you ever have to do this, your fabulous herb shears, that you keep pristine are the perfect weapon tool.

So... any guesses how my turkey is going to turn out this year? We love an adventure.

Oh, and to top it all off, my farmer told us we need to keep the fridge REALLY cold since there's no preservatives or anything like that. So we did. And froze our greens and piggy greens.

We're just kitchen geniuses around here alright.

Here's to great turkey tales on your end!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

What's Cooking Wednesday: Easiest (and BEST) Chicken-Noodle-Whatever Soup

Please go to Shan's place for more What's Cooking Wednesday participants.

It's that time of year.

We've had several snow falls this week - some of which have "stuck" (briefly), and some of which have just been a pretty pain.

It's also a time of major cooking, cleaning, guesting, hosting, preparing... well, you get it.

And it cries, no screams, for simple, filling recipes that keep us warm and happy and yes, relaxed, if at all possible.

One of my favorite "go-to" recipes for this is a very, very simple slow cooker chicken soup. There are many "maybes" with this one, and only a couple of "have-tos". It's a 10 - 15 minute prep in the morning, a 15-minute follow-up right before dinner, and a whole lot of happy faces. Enjoy!

Jen's Easiest (and BEST) Chicken-Noodle-Whatever Soup

Ingredients (varies):

A leftover chicken carcass with NO SKIN (from a roast chicken or a chicken you picked up roasted, etc.) (have-to)
the chicken neck (or whatever you didn't roast with your chicken if you, in fact, roasted the chicken yourself)
2 BIG soup carrots or the equiv., peeled, with the ends chopped off (have-to)
1 honking big onion, peeled and cut in half (have-to)
a couple of stalks of celery, leaves and all, washed well, with the bottom trimmed (nice - very good if you've got it - NOT a have to)
some sprigs of fresh rosemary or a TBS of dried rosemary (again, not a have-to, but very, very nice)
a couple of cloves of smashed garlic (same as with the rosemary)
a heaping TBS of Kosher salt (HAVE-TO - unless you have salt issues, then Mrs. Dash or something like that will do)
water (I'll explain below)
any other veggies you need to use up, cracked pepper, parmesan cheese, leftover sausage, or anything else that strikes your fancy. (not have-tos)


1. Prep veggies and throw in slow cooker.
2. Tear or cut carcass in the slow cooker.
3. JUST cover the veggies and carcass with water. Note: if you have very salty well water, you'll do much better to use spring water or equiv for this - or filtered or whatever, because salty well-water will really make this taste odd).
4. Sprinkle salt, garlic and rosemary over all.
5. IF you're going to be around, set cooker for high for 1 1/2 hours and then switch to low for 6 hours more. If you're not going to be around, just set it to low for 8 - 10 hours.
6. Go do other things. All day.

7. 15 minutes or so before serving: unplug cooker.
8. Make pasta of your choice in a separate pot (yes, you can do this in the broth, but the noodles absorb too much broth and the broth gets gummy).
9. Place a colander or strainer over a large bowl in the sink. Take the cooker and pour the broth through the colander. Reserve the veggies and chicken in the colander - remove and let broth cool somewhat (it's generally VERY hot)
10. Drain pasta.
11. Prep bowls - look in your fridge for leftover veggies, cut them up, and place in bowls. Strip chicken from carcass, divide between bowls. Cut up the carrots and celery, divide in bowls. Ladle pasta into bowls.
12. Ladle broth into bowls - it will heat everything (if it's cooled too much, heat it on the stove for a moment or three before adding it to the soup bowls).
13. Put lots of cracked pepper over all. Enjoy!

I don't have exact nutrition info on this, but it is lowfat and fairly low calorie - I believe it's about 150 - 200 calories per jam-packed bowl.

Here's the stages of prep with the bowls (we had peas to use up):

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Wow! And thank yous...

I was overwhelmed with the well-wishes I received in terms of my mother's move. Thank you all so much for the kind words.

I truly appreciate each and every one of them.

Things are going relatively well, so far. After taking stock of my mother, how much help she has in NYC from friends, etc., and the sheer number of tasks that need to get done, I know I will be taking more trips there than I had anticipated, but fortunately, the airfares are actually amazingly cheap right now, and all of the other trips will be between semesters for me, so I'm delighted with that.

My mother's spirits are remarkable, all things considered. She's working hard to make tough decisions, and she's taking in her friends' sorrow without succumbing to feeling maudlin or depressed herself.

I'm sure she'll collapse once she hits Ann Arbor, but for now, she's been amazing. I'm truly in awe of her.

The bad news is that the computer situation in NYC is ... um... not good. Long story short, I can't really get internet on my laptop, and my mother's computer is such an antique that doing anything like reading blogs that have ANY load time whatsoever becomes a ridiculous task. Even bringing up my own blog is close to impossible.

So I'll be disappearing a bit from time to time, both as a writer and a reader.

I'm still working on my Proposal 8 post, and I hope to post that today or tomorrow.

In the meantime, I again want to extend my thanks to all the well wishes and especially to Amy of Write Brained and Nuria of Spanish Recipes. I was delighted to return and find this lovely award from Amy:

Here are the rules:

1) Add the logo of the award to your blog.
2) Add a link to the person who awarded it to you.
3) Nominate at least 7 other blogs.
4) Add links to those blogs on your blog.
5) Leave a message for your nominees on their blogs.

I've decided to nominate blogs who are trying to create positive change in this confused world of ours by making us consider:

Greg of Scribble in the Margins - Greg pushes us to think about government tactics and to go beyond simply accepting what the mainstream media might have to say on a specific issue.
April of It's All About Balance - April has many passions, all of which include fairness and the rights of all to receive decent treatment.
Jointly to Lilac Specs of Lilac Colored Glasses and Hotmamamia of The Pittsburgh Deli - in this mother/daughter team, despite having different blogs with different emphases, it's clear that Hotmama's care for others and general sense of justice and fairness has been passed on to Lilac - AND vice versa. ;-)
Chani of Finding My Way Home - Chani reminds us to slow down, think about what we're doing, and to search for compassion.
Jointly to Carol of Northwest Ladybug and Sarabeth of I Once Was HP - both Carol and Sarabeth were tireless in their reminders about the presidential campaign - Carol in terms of news items, etc., about Obama and Sarabeth in her reminders to vote. And yes, many, many others could be included in this category, but both of these bloggers caught my attention with their clear writing and tenacity.
Jointly to Jenn of Something To Say About Life in the Netherlands and Brillig of Twas Brillig - Both Jenn and Brillig have written touching and informative posts about autism and current autism treatment, programs, etc.
Jami of Not That Different - Jami reminds us to consider the rights of ALL U.S. citizens and to remember that different viewpoints or lifestyles are just that - different - not better or worse. An important reminder at all times.

And these lovely awards from Nuria:

She did not post rules with these, except to say that they needed to be given together. Okay... so I'm randomly choosing the number 7 again and I've chosen blogs that are causing my muse to sing these days:

Anno of Anno's Place - I believe Anno's taken some kind of writing pills lately - her poetry is magnificent, as well as inspiring.
Peter of Cookblog - Peter has a wicked sense of humor, as well as a superb eye and palate. His food concoctions are extraordinarily creative and often served on his pottery, which is truly organic and just fabulous. I have no more to say.
Sandy of Momisodes - Sandy inspires me with both her words and her photos every. single. day. She seems to have a bottomless well of creativity.
Diana of Diana:Muse - Diana's stunning images, along with her insights into both artists and politics leave me breathless.
Jointly to NYC/Caribbean Ragazza and Michelle of Bleeding Espresso - While there are several blogs that do this, the unique take that both Michelle and NYC have on their lives in Italy make me both yearn and dream.
Jointly to Jenn of The Leftover Queen and Ben of What's Cooking - Both Jenn and Ben use their love of food to build community - a talent that nourishes both my kitchen and my soul.
Becca of Becca's Byline - Becca not only provides her lovely observations through her "bylines", but she also runs a number of activities for writers, and it's for her inspiration to so many that I include her here.

Happy reading! I will slowly, but surely, be catching up in the next few days.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Shot Girl Giveaway Winner and a bit of other business

Our Shot Girl giveaway winner is Dru of Notes from Me. Dru is a reader of epic proportions, and I know she was looking forward to the release of Shot Girl almost as much as I was, so I'm happy she won. (I would have been happy if anyone else had won, too, but obviously for different reasons). I've started Shot Girl and it's absolutely as wonderful as I expected it to be, so for those of you who didn't win - get thee to a (preferably independent) bookstore, or go here to buy it!

I want to apologize for my lack of comments on blogs recently. I will be even more scarce over the next week, as I am off to NYC to help my mother begin getting ready to move out of the building where she's lived for 47 years. The good news is that she's moving to be closer to us, and she's very excited about where she's moving to, but needless to say, it's hard to give up the city that's been her heart and soul for a total of 63 years now.

I'll be on and reading as I can. I'll also be posting some comments on Proposition 8 and other ballot measures later in the week. We still have a long, long way to go towards eradicating prejudice in this country.

No What's Cooking Wednesday this week, as I'll be happily experiencing NYC take-out.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Fox News: What McCain's campaign staffers truly felt about Sarah Palin

Okay... I'm really going to lay off the political posts. Truly.

I had to post this, though.

Fox News is our most conservative mainstream media outlet. Here is discussion by the "inside" Fox reporter who worked most closely with the McCain campaign about what the McCain staffers thought about Sarah Palin and her competency/knowledgability:

There is no one I know who reads this blog who doesn't know that Africa is a continent.

Here, also, are highlights from the Newsweek "post-election" insiders article that looks at secrets behind the scenes in BOTH campaigns. There are some revelations about Palin's behavior here, as well. Again, Newsweek is hardly a bastion of the liberal news media:

Hackers and Spending Sprees: Highlights from Newsweek's Special Election Project

There is talk about a Sarah Palin run in 2012.

With so many qualified, decent people in the Republican party, shouldn't we, as a country, deserve better?

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

November 4, 2008 11:01 PM


Monday, November 3, 2008

Shot Girl Blog Tour!

Karen E. Olson, author of the Annie Seymour mysteries and the upcoming, Vegas-based Ink series, is here to talk about her new release, Shot Girl.

I was so excited about Karen's visit, that I decided to have my first bloggy giveaway.

Yes, you can win your very own copy of Shot Girl just by leaving a comment below and I will enter your name to my random drawing (I'll announce the winner a week from today).

To whet your appetite, here's a teaser about Shot Girl from Karen's website

New Haven police reporter Annie Seymour has a talent for running into trouble. So it should come as no shock when her co-worker's bachelorette party at a local club turns into a crime scene. What is surprising is that the dead bar manager on the sidewalk outside happens to be Annie's ex-husband — and the bullet shells around his body match the gun she has in her car.

Coming face-to-face with her past, Annie delves into a conspiracy involving everyone from a male stripper to a shot girl. If she wants to get the story, she'll have to escape a killer . . . before she becomes the next headline.

You can also read the first chapter on Karen's website, and for those of you who know Annie, you'll be amazed to find her wearing stilettos. And that fact led to my first question:

Jen: So are the heels going to be a new look for Annie? I'm having a hard time with the chase/run thing. LOVED the first scene, though.

Karen: Annie is fashion challenged, but she does slip on another pair of high heeled sandals a little later in the book for what she hopes is a little dinner foreplay with Vinny.

Jen: Will Tom and Vinny ever kiss and make up, or are we going to see lots of testosterone swimming around in Annie's future?

Karen: Let's just say that everyone's taken care of at the end of SHOT GIRL.

Jen: What's up with Annie's fucking language? Did she ever serve as a Marine?

Karen: Annie works in a newsroom. I learned all that language myself as a young reporter. And when I worked as a copy editor at the paper in New Haven and we got a new computer system, a friend aptly said that its patron saint was St. Expletive. So anyone who says they've never heard such language in a newsroom is lying.

Jen: Okay, so you've been stuck with, er given the present of, Election Day as your release date, so I gotta ask - is Annie an Obama or McCain woman?

Karen: Annie is an objective newspaper reporter and would never divulge her personal political leanings in public. How's that for an evasive answer?

Jen: Will Annie ever learn that guns seem to get her in more trouble than they're worth?

Karen: If you haven't noticed, Annie doesn't actually ever shoot her gun in the first three books. I realized that myself and figured that in SHOT GIRL perhaps the gun should play a little bigger role. I mean, "shot" is in the title after all.

Jen: As a print journalist yourself for most of your career, do you advocate guns for all journalists? What about the society page writers? Maybe especially the society page writers?

Karen: No journalists should never carry a gun. It would be frightening. I did work at one point with a sports editor who kept a handgun in the glovebox of his car and we were terrified he'd go off the handle one night and go postal on us. He had a bit of a temper.

Jen: What's the one thing you most want my readers to know about SHOT GIRL, since I keep asking such inane questions?

Karen: Annie is an unreliable narrator in SHOT GIRL. Which means you shouldn't believe anything she says. And that's all I'll say.

Jen: I think it's safe to say you know New Haven pretty well. How is it writing a new series set in Vegas? Was this really a ploy to write off time at the craps tables?

Karen: I went to Vegas and didn't even gamble once. But I do get to write off my trip. Actually, writing about Vegas was incredibly freeing. I didn't have to worry about actual restaurants or intersections. I concentrated on the atmosphere, the heat, the glitz. Although I did manage to squeeze in my favorite fast food joint: In N Out Burgers, which we don't have here in Connecticut.

Jen: Can you tell us what will be coming up in the new series?

Karen: THE MISSING INK will be out in July. It features Brett Kavanaugh, a tattoo shop owner in Las Vegas, and her staff of tattooists. The plot centers around a missing woman. I've got a dwarf, guillotines, and a karaoke Elvis bar in it. It's great fun, but it's got an edge. It's not as chick-litty as I think it might look. The second, PRETTY IN INK, will be out sometime after that. It depends how fast I can write it before a pub date is tossed around. But that book will center on drag queens. I'm having a blast with these books.

Jen: Is this Annie's swansong, or will there be more Annie stories to look forward to? I must say, I'd miss Annie terribly.

Karen: Right now, SHOT GIRL is the last Annie book. Honestly, I'm not sure I could write another Annie book at the moment. I've got too many friends losing their jobs at newspapers, which are imploding. I think I'd have to either lay off Annie or have her take a buyout and it certainly wouldn't be funny anymore. Although someone suggested sending her to Vegas for a tattoo. So she might make a cameo at some point in the new series.

Jen: What are the First Offenders planning for THIS April Fools Day? You all really had me the last time. (They had a "break-up" post, which was hysterical, heartbreaking and... um... believable for certain gullible, types). Okay, so I'm just plain stupid, sometimes.

Karen: Do you really think we plan that far ahead? :)

Now run and get your own copy of Shot Girl by clicking this link or win your own copy by entering the drawing by leaving a comment below.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Seven Random Things about Me and Annie Seymour

I was tagged for the Seven Random Things meme, and I'm so rude I can't even remember who tagged me, but I know I've seen it on many of my friends' blogs, so I invite you to click on my blogroll for any random blog you've not yet read. They're all great blogs, so you'll have fun!

Tomorrow is going to be a big day around here because we have the lovely Karen E. Olson, author of the Annie Seymour mystery series, coming to open her blog tour for her latest Annie Seymour - Shot Girl. I wanted to remind you about our special event and giveaway(!!!), so I thought I'd combine the two.

Seven random facts about moi (and Annie... and Karen):

1. I received Karen's last book, Dead of the Day, because my son wanted to find a mystery book to get me for Christmas and it was the only cover he really liked. He picked it out randomly, I'm sorry to say.

2. When I opened it on Christmas morning, I was not enthusiastic, because I misread the back cover and I thought it was a "crime" novel. (I LOVE mysteries - crime novels, not so much).

3. I posted here about various books I'd gotten for Christmas and ones I'd read and loved. (Hadn't even thought to pick up Dead of the Day, but I mentioned it in case C saw my blog - I didn't want him to get his feelings hurt).

4. Karen showed up in my comments section! Yikes! THE author! I figured I'd better give the book a shot. I always love to support authors, and I was completely flabbergasted that she'd stopped by and... seemed so nice.

5. Once I started Dead of the Day, I couldn't put it down. I LOVED it. All the ingredients I adore were in one book: a. a powerful, but flawed, heroine, b. lots of local color (in this case, New Haven), c. humor, d. GOOD romance (nothing soppy) e. social causes (immigration issues were a key component of Dead of the Day). Wow! I immediately got Karen's first two books in the series, Sacred Cows and Second Hand Smoke.

6. I became an Annie fanatic and became a some time correspondent of Karen's. I also discovered several other authors of wonderful series through her group blog, First Offenders. (If you haven't checked it out and you love mysteries - go! Now!)

7. I'm totally jazzed about hosting Karen tomorrow. I'm totally jazzed about reading Shot Girl. And I'm totally jazzed about giving away a copy of Shot Girl so that others will become Annie Seymour fans, too. (And Karen E. Olson fans).

Don't forget to stop by and leave a comment!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

What's Cooking Wednesday on a Thursday: Three Veggies/three meals - variations on a theme

Please go to Shan's place for more What's Cooking Wednesday participants.

So, I'm still using up CSA produce and supplementing it with the last goodies from our Farmers Market, which is shrinking, shrinking, shrinking in terms of merchant participation, especially on Wednesdays.

I still have glorious onions and garlic (I'm not counting the garlic as one of the "three"), and I couldn't resist getting more gorgeous baby eggplants. To supplement all this, I decided to try Tantre Farm's oyster mushrooms, which may be the best mushrooms I've ever eaten. Here's a little pic of my "palette"

And that's the only pic you're going to get, other than one for my third variation - my camera just wasn't in the right place at the right time.

So here goes - Three Veggies/Three Meals - Variations on a Theme

Basic Method:

Very, very simple.

2 sliced garlic cloves (I minced these for the frittata.
1/2 chopped onion
2 baby eggplant, chopped
5 (but these are HUGE) oyster mushrooms, chopped
olive oil

Basically, I heated a little olive oil over medium heat, threw in the garlic for about 30 seconds, added the onion and the eggplant, turned the heat to medium low, cooked for about 2 minutes, added the mushrooms and returned the heat to medium. I cooked this mixture until the veggies were just barely soft.

Meal #1: Cavatappi with Pasta Sauce

You can't get much better than basic, in my book.

To the basic mix I added a little white wine and Trader Joe's pasta sauce starter (basically just tomatoes, onions and garlic), about a TBS of dried basil, a 1/2 TBS of kosher salt and lots of black pepper.

I simmered all this for about 10 minutes, cooked up the cavatappi, and tossed everything together, grating a little fresh parmigiano reggiano on top.

It was completely delicious, and probably our favorite of the three.

Meal #2: Roast Squash-Brown Rice casserole

I guess I was feeling nostalgic for the 70s on some level.

I roasted a delicata squash earlier in the day - just pierced it a few times and baked it at 400.

I seasoned the veggie mix with Montreal steak seasoning (probaby a 1/2 TBS) and lots of chili powder (that didn't have enough UMPH, as it turned out)

When I was ready to put things together, I cut open the delicata, scraped out the seeds, and scraped the flesh into a bowl. I added 1 cup of brown rice, the veggie mix and 1/4 cup of reduced fat shredded sharp cheddar. I mixed this together, put it in a small casserole dish and put another 1/4 cup of the cheddar on top. I baked it with foil for 10 minutes at 375, and without foil for 10 more.

Analysis - this was the loser. However, I think it *could* be a winner with the following changes:

Layer the casserole:

Put the veggie mixture first, then the squash pulp, mashed, and finally a mixture of the rice and cheese.

Skip the chili powder and use 1 tsp cumin and a chopped chipotle pepper in adobo sauce instead.

Use... um... good cheese. Real cheese? Use less, but use something that actually melts and has flavor.

I'm willing to try this again - it had potential.

Day number three was much more successful, and I even have a pic:

Meal #3: Autumn Frittata

Spice the basic veggie mix with lots of Montreal steak seasoning.

Beat 2 eggs and 4 egg whites with a 1/2 TBS kosher salt and LOTS of smoked paprika (maybe 2 tsp?).

Keep the veggies on medium as you finish sauteeing, and add the egg mixture. Stir the center of the frittata until somewhat set. Crumble 4 oz of Feta over the frittata. Bake at 450 for 10 minutes.

This was total yum.

All three meals were frugal, easy and at least two were delicious. Good deal!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Exciting News!

Well, the first bit of news is not that exciting.

What's Cooking Wednesday will be on a Thursday (ie. tomorrow) because I've been using up the last of my farm share stuff, and I want to finish one more recipe (and maybe even have a decent picture) before posting that. So that's not exciting at all. What probably WOULD be exciting is to go over to Shan's place to see the other What's Cooking Wednesday participants.

Okay... now for the exciting news.

I have a very special guest coming on Monday. I even get to be the FIRST stop on a blog tour. And it's for an author I adore and a book I can't wait to read!

Karen E. Olson, author of the Annie Seymour mysteries and the upcoming "Ink" series (based on a Vegas tattoo artist - how much fun is THAT going to be?), is going to come here to talk about her new release, Shot Girl, the final book in the Annie series. (And I'm sniffling here because I love me some Annie!)

In honor of Karen's visit, I'm having my first bloggy giveaway! Yes, you can have your very own copy of Shot Girl just by visiting here on Monday and leaving a comment. And it's worth coming anyway, because Karen's always fun and you'll want to see what she has to say.

So... let the countdown begin!