Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Getting Fresh—Without Getting Slapped!

When it comes to produce, there’s nothing like getting fresh, and it doesn’t get any fresher than your own garden. The benefits of a home garden are obvious. You plant exactly what you want. You choose what does or doesn’t get applied to it. You can pick treats and eat them the very same day.
If you're really swimming in produce, you can use veggies to write your next book!
The hidden downside of a home garden—and I know this is a great problem to haveis when you have a bumper year and get way, way more veggies than you know what to do with. Of course giving some away is always a good option, but at some point, all but the most veggieracious friends will tire of seeing you sneak onto their porch with yet another bag of zucchini or beets. So, unless you can it (I don’t) or freeze it (I sometimes do), you’ve got to figure out quickly how to serve the bushels of produce filling your house. Some, like tomatoes, are easy. Other, like squash, have more limited options, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t new tricks to learn.

There’s nothing original about grilling squash, but for whatever reason, I never got around to trying it until this summer. When the family was in town, my brother cooked up a killer batch of grilled squash that still had us hungering for it weeks later. I’ve followed suit a couple times since, and it has been marvelous—even if I cut mine too thin.
This weekend's squash cropfinally on the decline.
You can cook yours wrapped in foil, straight on the grill, or on a grill tray. However you do it, it’s an excellent way to use the bounty from your garden (or grocery store). So, here’s the recipe, modified slightly from what my wise brother cooked up, but note that I’m presenting this more as general guidelines than an exact formula, since it’s pretty forgiving as long as you don’t burn it.

Grilled Squash
Yellow squash (or zucchini)
A few garlic cloves
Olive oil
Crushed or fresh chopped rosemary
Salt and pepper

Slice squash into ¼- to ½-inch-thick pieces. (If you want to cook directly on the grill, cut lengthwise into large pieces. With foil, smaller rounds are fine.) Mince a few garlic cloves.

For each squash, add a couple tablespoons of olive oil to a small bowl. Brush oil onto both sides of squash, and sprinkle with rosemary and salt and pepper. (I suggest starting light on the salt and pepper, since you can always add more later.) Squash should be put on foil sheet on grill and cooked on medium heat for 5-10 minutes per side, turning at least once.
That’s it! Easy peasy! Like I said, you can make pouches, put these straight on the grill (if you omit the garlic), change the seasonings, or switch out the olive oil for butter—whatever strikes your fancy.
Jonathan Schkade is the author of six books for children, including Icky Sticky, Hairy Scary Bible Stories. He's also a network co-representative for the Southern Illinois region of SCBWI. For more fresh facts about Jonathan, slice and dice your way to his site: www.jonathanschkade.com.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Stealing Recipes

Today I’m going to break a personal rule. When this blog first started, I decided that for my main recipe I would never post a link to someone else’s recipe instead of coming up with one of my own or at least an old family favorite. Today, though, I’m giving in—and I’m trying to do so in style while still connecting it to writing.

But first an explanation for my sloth (and no, I don’t have an arboreal pet):
Just over a week old, our newest wee little gal sucks up free time better than an anteater sucks up ants. Fortunately, she’s much cuter than any anteaters I’ve seen.

Now, back to today’s post and some breaking of rules. I never liked the thought of slapping up a link to a recipe on another site because it seemed so impersonal and lazy. I’m a creative person; shouldn’t I be able to come up with my own recipe every time? Piece of cake, right? Yeah, not so much. And, you know what, while I love posting fresh recipes and experimenting, I think I’m okay with my new standard—at least this once. 

After all, I usually start learning how to cook something by studying a half dozen other recipes for the same dish. Then I adapt, combine, tweak, and make it into something that will make me happy. But did I come up with it all on my own? No way!

THIS IS NOT A SUGGESTION TO PLAGIARIZE, buuuuut . . . most writers practice heavy thievery in even their most original works. The whole standing on the shoulders of giants idea is true. We steal the basis for our writing from those we admire and avoid the flaws of writing we scorn. We see how one author brilliantly strings together flowery sentences, how another writes punchy action scenes, and how another creates characters who reach up off of the page to throttle the reader. We see all that and say, “How I can I steal that? How can I put that little piece of magic into my grimoire of writing spells?”

And if we’re really lucky, we make a successful steal. We copy the skill without copying the content. We acquire the ability without anyone giving us any less credit for the achievement. This is only right because copying something that a master did well is never as easy as it looks. I can only hope someday to become such a sly thief of words that no one ever realizes just how many treasure houses I have raided along the way for supplies.

ON TO THE RECIPES! These links go to some baked goods recipes I have used multiple times to get great results in the kitchen. Take them, use them, then make them your own—I certainly have. Full credit goes to their originators, whose contributions to my tummy are much appreciated. Of special note, I give a gold star to the biscuit recipe, since it took a long time to find one I loved and could replicate easily.

Jonathan Schkade is the author of six books for children, including Icky Sticky, Hairy Scary Bible Stories. He's also a network co-representative for the Southern Illinois region of SCBWI. To learn more about Jonathan, you can steal away to his site: www.jonathanschkade.com.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Writing With Hungery Kids

Summer is in full swing with the kids. This means my writing has taken a backseat to the grueling demands of four children. On the days I can write I found a system that works. I do have to admit it was hard getting used to the realization I no longer had the two plus hour time slot for writing that I now notably took for granted during the school year. I’m lucky if I get a few twenty minute jolts to punch out a chapter in between very loud children, messy diapers and hungry cries. ( This blog post has taken me an hour. Seriously.)

Feeding my children is what seems to interrupt my writing the most, next to them pestering each other. They eat all the time lately and it’s a never ending abyss of, “Mom, someone ate my snack.” or, “What’s for dinner?” And, that question is asked through out the day, even when it is well before noon. If they don’t know that I have an idea of what I will prepare, they think they won’t eat. EVER. Kids….. (Okay, here is a confession. If I don’t plan ahead we will end up getting drive thru  or a bowl of cold cereal.)

Here is a little system I’ve found works so the whole snapping me out of a writing zone for food cuts back a bit. I make a scheduled menu. Our town does this free lunch program and gave out menus so we knew what was being served. The kids knew this is was it and that was that. Light bulb! I made one for my family. Every Sunday afternoon I sit down and plan it out on paper then hung it on the fridge door for the family to see. Breakfast, lunch, snacks, and dinner. It really helped with the grocery list as well.

On the days that I have to crunch and meet a deadline, I get real organized. The night before I pack lunches for each child in their own containers, then put it in the fridge where they can reach it. Snacks too. It works! It’s just when I'm done with a writing session and come out to find the kids have turned the house upside down and that solution is for another post.



Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Mystery author Jacqueline Seewald offers "Chicken to Die for Made Easy" recipe

Multiple-award winning author Jacqueline Seewald has taught creative, expository and technical writing at the university level as well as high school and middle school English. She also worked as an academic librarian and an educational media specialist/school librarian. Thirteen of her books of fiction have been published. Her short stories, poems, essays, reviews and articles have appeared in hundreds of publications and anthologies. Her mystery novels in the Kim Reynolds librarian sleuth series, published in hardcover, large print, paperback and e-book formats, include THE INFERNO COLLECTION, THE DROWNING POOL, and THE TRUTH SLEUTH.

The Inferno Collection and The Truth Sleuth are now available from Harlequin Worldwide Mystery in paperback editions.

The Inferno Collection and The Drowning Pool are available in all ebook formats from L&L Dreamspell.

I eat most of my meals at home. This is because I have high cholesterol and am trying to control the problem with a healthy diet and exercise. The cholesterol is a family thing. My two female first cousins are slender and also watch their weight because they have the same problem.

Our dinners often consist of fish as a main course with either a salad or vegetables. We also eat a lot of chicken. Here’s a typical dinner at our house which I will call Chicken to Die for Made Easy.

Chicken to Die for Made Easy

Start with a one pound package of thin sliced chicken breasts

Shake ground ginger lightly over chicken

Do the same with ground cilantro

Bake in an open pan for approximately 20 minutes

Turn chicken over, draining any fat

Shake a little more ginger and cilantro over the chicken

(optional) cut up some mushrooms and arrange in baking pan

Bake in oven for 20 more minutes

For more flavorful taste, after ten minutes, pour some cranberry and/or orange juice over the chicken and then allow to bake for the remaining ten minutes.

Serve with baked potatoes and steamed vegetables and/or salad. My preference is for small, red potatoes or Idahoes.

Note: I use nonfat yogurt on the baked potatoes since it’s healthier than sour cream or butter. I don’t use salt but my husband adds pepper for himself.

I realize this may seem like a bland meal for some people, but it works well for us. And there’s never any heartburn.

For dessert, I serve grapefruit, grapes, pineapple, watermelon—whatever healthy fruits are in season.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Jo Hiestand: Everything's Going Swimmingly & Recipe for Halibut in Honey

Today I asked a friend--mystery author Jo Hiestand--to share a recent bit of pre-marketing mayhem that shows Murphy's Law is alive and well. Learn more about her work at McLarenCases.com 

Everything's Going Swimmingly
By Jo Hiestand
I write a British mystery series called the McLaren Cases.  The book features Michael McLaren, an ex-police detective who quit his job over a great injustice.  He repairs dry stone walls for a living, and investigates cold cases for victims and their families.
Sometimes these victims’ voices call out to me.  Not for justice (I leave that to McLaren), but in music. 
Like the murdered singer in my third book, TORCH SONG.  She was so real, I could hear her singing the song for which she was famous.  I thought readers needed to hear her, so I asked a university music student (already renowned locally for her blues/torch/jazz vocals) if she’d write an original tune to the lyrics that were part of the story.  She did, and “Never Leave My Side” was created and recorded on CDs.
That collaboration was so enjoyable I continued the original-song-featured-in-a-McLaren-novel for the next book, HIT SONG.
I contacted a folk duo, also at the same university, with the song proposal.  They said it sounded like fun and we set a time and date for them to come to my house to talk about the project.
Super!  I had my folk singers, I’d written the lyrics, I knew the traditional tune I wanted them to use…everything was going swimmingly!
Well, on the day we were supposed to meet, the ole adage came true.  Around 6:45 a.m. the float arm broke off the toilet!  There was nothing to lift to make the water stop running.  Within seconds the water overflowed the tank and cascaded onto the floor.  There’s no shut off valve on the water line going into the toilet, of course.  And in the utility room, behind the hot water heater, there were six valves, some for the radiant floor heating system that no longer worked. I couldn't figure out which valve to turn and some I couldn't even get to due to the water heater being in the way.  Panic!  
By now the water covered the bathroom floor and was about a half inch deep.  I got old towels and scatter rugs and placed them on the floor to sop up the water.  I got a saucepan and scooped water out of the tank and poured it down the sink.  As soon as I removed one saucepan of water, the tank immediately filled.  I frantically scooped out more water and got it below the stack’s top.  I assumed I'd bought myself a few seconds to leave the room.  I raced into the kitchen and phoned the emergency service number of the first plumber I could find listed in the phone book.  Sure, they could help.  They'd send someone out between 8 and 10 a.m., but until then I should phone the non-emergency number of the fire department and they'd send out a guy to turn off the water.
I did that.  The fire department non-emergency office wasn't "open for business" at this early hour.
Well, when all else fails, you phone your city police.
I explained the problem.  The dispatcher said she'd send an officer and contact the fire department for me.  I hung up and dashed back into the bathroom to bail some more.  The floor was sopping, the towels and scatter rugs were sopping.  Water still poured out of the tank.   I had no more dry towels or rugs to lay down.  Do I next put down quilts and clothes?
I was saved searching for my thick, fuzzy knee socks, for a minute later the rescuing, protective police officer arrived.  He sauntered into my house, a model of Calm in a Sea of Untranquility, and hunted in the utility room for the water shut off valve.
While he was doing that, one glorious yellow fire truck and three handsome, knowledgeable firefighters arrived, resplendent in protective coats, helmets and boots.  The five of us crammed into the bathroom and stared at the commode and the tank, watching the water deepen on the floor.  They eventually headed for the utility room, the sodden scatter rugs squishing beneath their heavy rubber boots.
In the kitchen, one firefighter turned on the sink faucet and the others twiddled with knobs crowding the utility room, and finally the water flow from the faucet stopped.  Which meant the water flow from the toilet tank stopped.  Their job done, all four left.
One hour later the plumber arrived.  He looked at the toilet and the water line and mused, “They don’t make them like this anymore,” which wasn’t a yearning for the good ole days.  Simply stating all new toilet water lines now have a shut off valve -- required by law.  But of course I buy the house that was made before code compliance…  He replaced the float and arm, and installed a shut off valve in the water line running to the toilet.  All to the tune of $339.  But that was actually music to my ears.   Nothing against the police officer and firefighters, but I'd rather meet them in a more social setting.
And all this going on prior to Hannah and Nick arriving at 10:00 a.m. to discuss the song “Your Parting Glass.”  Funny, but that morning while I was playing with the saucepan, I figured Hannah’s and Nick’s recording should more aptly be “Wade in the Water.”

I don’t have a great recipe for Sponge Cake or Watercress Sandwiches, which seems to be called for here.  But in keeping with the watery theme I’ll give you this recipe just for the halibut.

Halibut in Honey
¼ cup honey
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp sesame oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp powdered ginger
½ tsp dry mustard
½ tsp red pepper flakes
¼ tsp black pepper
6  8-oz halibut steaks

Prepare the marinade in a gallon-sized sealable plastic bag: combine honey, soy sauce, lemon juice, oil, garlic, ginger, mustard pepper flakes and black pepper.  Add the halibut.  Squeeze the air from the bag, seal, and turn the fish several times to coat with the marinade.  Refrigerate one hour, turning the bag occasionally.  Preheat oven broiler.  Drain the marinade into a small saucepan.  Bring to a boil and simmer 10 minutes.  Remove from heat.  Broil the fish 8-10 minutes, turning once and brushing with the marinade.  Broil until the fish flakes when tested with a fork.
(Recipe from my cookbook Cider, Swords and Straw, published by L&L Dreamspell, 2012)

Monday, April 15, 2013

Getting the Feeling with Mini Pot Pies

Getting the right feeling in your writing is essential to the story. The reader needs to feel as though they are in the story and not watching from a distance. Getting this right isn’t easy sometimes. For me, I have to imagine myself as the person whom I’m writing. I have to tune out the world and place myself in the scene, imagine the sun on my skin, the sound of the leaves crunching under my feet. If it’s a scene where the reader will need to understand their feeling, I have to picture myself being chased, dodging bullets, hiding from a monster. That panic, heart pounding fear that would go along with it. My husband hates when I have to write a fight scene between a couple because I may take it out on him and give him a stink eye for a day or two, forgetting that it‘s not him I‘m mad at but a character in my story. When I do this, I have to make nice with the hubs, so I make him one of his favorite dishes to say sorry, it’s not him. It’s my crazy writers mind. (I’m sure I’m the only one who is this odd)


Mini Chicken Pot Pies

  • 2 cups COOKED chicken breasts diced  (I use 2 larger cans of chicken, like the ones you get by the tuna in the store)
  • 1 can cream chicken soup
  • 1cup FROZEN veggies
  • 1cup shredded cheese
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon garlic salt
  • 1 can Pillsbury (any brand really) biscuits


1.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit

2.  In a large bowl, combine the chicken, soup, frozen veggies, cheeses, and seasonings.

3.  Lightly grease a 12-cup muffin tin and place the biscuit dough into each cup, pressing into the bottom and up the sides.

4.  Evenly spoon the soup mixture into each biscuit cup. Place filled tins in oven and bake for 15 minutes, Check at 12 minute mark.


Thursday, April 4, 2013

Deborah Terra Weltman: "Veggie" in a Carnivore World & pumpernickel rye bread recipe

I met Deb at my Dec. 21, 2012, End of the World Age party promoting my novel ZERO TIME. Since then, I've learned about her amazing trek of Spain's 500-mile Camino de Santiago (her book is in the works!), and how she's trying to help others reach their "Big Dreams." In fact, her next class starts this Saturday, April 6 (scroll down this link to see Guided Class). I've also come to appreciate her spirited advocacy for healthier food, even taking on a favorite Midwestern burger joint like Steak 'n Shake.

Guest post by Deborah Terra Weltman

This column is dedicated to providing vegetarians with decent alternatives at “normal” restaurants, and to supplying restaurateurs with feed-back from the “veggie” perspective.

Imagine the plight of the poor vegetarian who lives among carnivorous folk and is inclined to be social, to dine out, with meat eaters. There are often lunches and dinners to be eaten out at establishments where veggie alternatives have not been considered by the restaurateurs (or by the restaurant chain): where options are not plentiful, are boring at best, at worst, are laden with heavy cheeses, sugars, or (Eeek!) iceberg lettuce.

Case story:

Quickie dinner out with my parents, my sister and my son at Steak n Shake….
Because we live in different parts of town (South county and Creve Coeur), we decide to meet at the Steak and Shake on Kirkwood Road, a good mid-way point. We’ve all eaten at a Steak n Shake at some point in our lives, so we all are clear what’s on their menu. While Mom, Dad, and sister, Sallie, ordered Steakburgers, fries, chili, and shakes, my son, J.T., and I (the vegetarians) were looking for creative alternatives. In the past, my son had been under the impression that the chili three-way could be created without meat. He had ordered this on quite a few occasions on the advice of a friend who had previously worked there. After further research we found out that his friend had simply served him from the top of the chili pot…with the meat having sunk to the bottom. So…we were looking to find real vegetarian options. Note to Steak n Shake: the seasonings in your chili are wonderful! How about creating a vegetarian version? Besides us vegetarians, you would also draw the Kosher and Halal crowds, not to mention the health conscious!
On to the “alternatives:" Of course there are salads on the menu: green or taco (minus the beef) to name a few, but they are made with iceberg lettuce…hardly healthy or interesting enough to bother with. There are no burger alternatives and, given that cooking “veggie burgers” on a grill with beef burgers would render them “beef grilled veggie burgers” not a practical plan. So, we settled: J.T. had a BLT without the B. He subbed cheese for the bacon. I went for the “sides”: baked beans and coleslaw. They were good. I didn’t ask, but kept hoping NOT to find a hunk of meat in the bean pot. The coleslaw was fresh and crisp, but excessively creamy for my taste. Another note to Steak n Shake: more cabbage and other veggies, less mayo…a “half-creamy” slaw…another more healthful option?! My son, who can handle the calories, had a shake…as usual…delicious. I made a wimpy attempt to watch my calories and had a yogurt shake… with real raspberries. It was exquisite and I don’t plan to research the calorie count!
Vegetarians and appropriate others: what about a write-in (or e-mail-in) campaign to the Steak n Shake headquarters suggesting they add to their menu. I’m all over the idea of a “veggie chili” alternative. Wouldn’t that be awesome?! Meanwhile, if you happen to be dining out at Steak n Shake, know the limits (it is limited) and try those yummy yogurt shakes!

NOTE: You can contact Deb at terraartframe@sbcglobal.net or check out her blog: Queen of the World

Deb’s Healthy Grain Spring Pumpernickel Rye Bread
How about a bread-maker recipe? This would be a great bread to serve with a green salad and an egg dish….scrambled eggs, egg-salad, or a crust-less quiche.

Following your bread maker’s directions, here are the ingredients:
½ cup + 2 tbls. warm water
1 ½  tbls. molasses
1 ½ cups whole wheat pastry flour
2/3 cup rye flour
1 tbls. unsweetened cocoa powder
1tsp. salt
2 tbls. butter
1 ½ tsp. active dry yeast
1 tsp. caraway seed
1/3 cup sunflower seeds
1/3 cup dark raisins.
Put all ingredients except sunflower seeds and raisins in the bread-maker pan following the manufacturer’s directions.
Set the bread-maker on the whole-wheat cycle.
Add in the seeds and raisins about ½ way through the kneading cycle.
Makes a dense 1 pound loaf. It smells so good! Best to schedule your meal for about 15 minutes after the end of the baking period or it may be gone…
Happy emergence of new life! This is my favorite time of year. I love to see the green sprigs coming up out of the ground! Enjoy!