Friday, September 30, 2011

Meet Jaleta Clegg & try her tasty CN soup recipe

Hi! This is Jaleta Clegg, mom of eight, writer of science fiction adventure and silly horror stories. I teach astronomy and physical science to grade school children, collect cool rocks, and dabble in lots of crafty hobbies although I stink at all but cooking and sewing. Nexus Point: The Fall of the Altairan Empire Book 1 is available online in print and ebook formats. Book 2, Priestess of the Eggstone, is in final edits. I've got lots of short stories either out in anthologies and magazines or coming soon. My website,, has links to everything. Some of them are even free.

This is one of my favorite recipes. Fast and easy, tasty and delicious, easily adaptable if needed, and great for sick kids, this is my version of Chicken Noodle Soup
1 lb chicken, boneless skinless breasts preferred, cut in small chunks
1 onion, chopped
2 T. butter
4 c. carrot slices
2 c. celery slices
2 T. candied ginger, minced fine
1/2 t. black pepper
1 t. dried parsley (or 1 T. fresh, chopped fine)
1/2 t. garlic powder
2 T.. chicken soup base (I like the vegetarian version Blue Chip Baker makes) OR 4 chicken bouillon cubes
8 c. hot water
2 c. egg noodles

Melt butter in large pot. Add chicken and onion. Saute until meat is almost cooked and onion is soft. Add everything else except noodles. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes until carrots are soft. Adjust seasonings, adding salt to taste. Add noodles, cook 3 - 4 minutes longer. Serve immediately.

Chicken with Rice: Substitute 1 c. uncooked rice for the noodles. Add with the carrots. Cover and simmer soup for 45 minutes. Season to taste and serve.

If you were marooned on an island, and Pots & Pens granted your wish for only one book and one food, what would you choose? CHOCOLATE. That part was easy. I can always catch fish or find coconuts or eat grass, but I can't live without chocolate. One book? Are you really going to be that cruel? I'm going for the Compendium of Every Science Fiction/Fantasy Novel/Story Ever Written, with an Appendix of Mystery Novels, Religious Tomes, and a Really Nice Print Version of Wikipedia that also includes Blogs Updated Daily. It would be nice if it existed. I can't choose just one book. I love them all. I need them all.

Share your favorite literary feast or treat. What makes this food and/or writing so memorable?
Any of the Redwall books by Brian Jacques. All of his characters obsess over food, pages and pages of description for their elaborate feasts. I have to read those sections with a drool towel handy. I've even come up with my version of a couple of his feasts. Very tasty food. They're memorable because they sound so different from our normal foods, all of them are vegetarian because they're being cooked and eaten by mice, squirrels, rabbits, moles, etc., and yet so much the same. I love the version of meadowcream I came up with: 1 8 oz block of cream cheese, 1/2 c. of butter (real stuff, not pretend), and 1/2 c. honey. Blend it all together and serve over hot scones or pancakes or waffles or toast or just about anything.
The Redwall books are also lots of fun - adventure, excitement, fights, good and evil, magic, everything I want in a good book. Plus a teensy pinch of romance in some of them.
Tell about a time when food inspired your writing or a book inspired your cooking. Can this one be an "and" instead of "or"? I wrote a short story (coming out soon in Monsters & Mormons anthology) about what happens when too many of those hideous, nasty green gelatin-with-carrots salads get in the same place at the same time. Attack of the giant gelatinous green blob! I still giggle every time I read that one. As far as cooking being inspired by books, those cookbook mysteries had me going for a long time. I can't remember titles or authors, but I remember finding the recipes printed inside and trying them out. Most of them weren't very good. I set out to improve on them and came up with a lot of my own versions that are really tasty. Chocolate cherry chunk brownies are one that my kids still ask for occasionally.
Too much salt can ruin an exquisite meal, and the perfect dessert tempers earlier mistakes. What ingredients can destroy a book through overuse or salvage a book despite its flaws? Too much profanity ruins even the best story for me. Same goes for gratuitous sex and/or violence scenes. If they don't really have anything to do with the plot, why are they there? To make it feel more real? *eye roll* If that's what it takes to make it real for the author, I'll find another book to read.
Great characters and ideas can salvage even poorly written books. I can overlook a lot of flaws if I care about the characters and the story has me asking what happens next. If the author loves their characters and their story, it shows. If you give a character morals, they're more interesting. I want to fall in love with them, take them home for dinner, introduce them to all my friends. I want to look up to them, too. Give me good guys who are good, not just morally conflicted. And vice versa, give me villains who are bad but not just for the sake of being bad. Well, sometimes that works.
Let’s say a couple of your characters are raiding your fridge right now, what are they most likely to eat? Are they disappointed or excited about what they find? Good thing I've been shopping recently. It was pretty bare in there a few days ago.
Dace would eat anything in my fridge. She's not picky. She's gone hungry too much in her life. She'd probably most enjoy the Asian pears and the chicken. She likes tasty food and is willing to try just about everything.
Jasyn would eat salad and hummus. She's a bit more health conscious. She'd devour my key lime pie yogurt.
Leon would eat hummus and goat cheese wrapped in bologna. He's weird.
Thanks for letting me stop by your blog. It was fun. Food and stories always go together. What's a role-playing game without a big table of snacks? Telling stories for me is like role-playing, only all the players are in my head. It gets noisy in there some days.

Thank you for joining us today, Jaleta!

Check out my stories at
And my recipes at The Far Edge of Normal
Mmm, dinner is smelling delicious. I think it's time to try my Moroccan pumpkin and lentil soup now...

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Elevating the Moment: Feasts of Food and Fiction

While I love convoluted storylines—I’m a big Lost fan after all—there’s nothing quite so near and dear to my heart as a simple scene told with beautiful words and elegant emotions.

The author’s ability to elevate the moment is the difference between the novel you enjoy privately and the novel you passionately espouse to others. It’s about giving depth to a scene or emotion that could have easily passed by as a mere plot point. Authors who elevate the moment take something simple and transmute it into something profound. When emotion is not allowed to sit solely on the surface, happiness becomes fulfillment, sadness becomes heartbreak, and anger erupts into fury. Simply put, depth + emotion = magic.

Personally, when it comes to food in fiction, no one elevates the moment more than fantasy author Stephen Lawhead. Almost every one of his books contains a glorious encounter when a meal—whether elaborate or simple—is heightened into a feast of warmth and bonding so exquisite that I would give nearly anything to be there myself. And while his descriptions of food are succulent, the feelings and atmosphere he evokes are even stronger, as in this quote from The Paradise War, book 1 in his Song of Albion trilogy:

We ate and talked and drank and ate and talked, filling the vast dark sanctuary of the warehouse with our ebullience and fellowship. Our meal was made more jovial, more exuberant, more cheerful and carefree, by the simple lack of plates or utensils. We ate from the platters with our hands, licking our digits like naughty schoolboys. Professor Nettleton showed me which hand to use, the proper way to hold my fingers, and I became, if only for the space of an evening, a sultan and potentate of exotic mien. ([Lion Publishing, 1991] p. 104)

Gifted novelists push their characters to experience life in a way that is anything but mundane. The very best ones compel their readers to partake just as fully.

Isn’t that what we strive for in the kitchen as well? For me, hosting people for a meal means wrapping them in a fellowship of friends and a parade of tastes so wonderful and welcoming that leaving the table seems a more difficult task than the hours of labor that came before. Eventually the magic will fade, but while the laughter rises and the flavors linger in your mouth, you wonder how something so simple could be exactly what you’ve needed from the very start.

As a cook and an author, that’s what every meal, every scene, and every choice before me is all about.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Daniel Coleman Can Write, Cook, and Fight Fires In One Days Work.

Daniel Coleman spends his time back and forth between two worlds - the fantastic world of Writing where happy endings are common, and the very real-life world of Firefighting where the outcomes are as varied as the emergencies.

His most recent book is Hatter, which takes a peek inside the head of literature’s most lovable lunatic. Throw in the Cheshire Cat, Queen of Hearts and other familiar characters as they emerge to fill their eminent roles. Hatter is available for only $2.99 in all ebook formats.
Visit his blog at to see a few pics of him doing his best to embarrass his poor children.

Hi Daniel! Welcome to Pots 'n Pens. Thanks for stopping by and chatting with us for a minute. I understand juggling writing and anything else takes a lot of time, let alone being a fireman too.  Yes, everyone I said he's a REAL FIREMAN.

My wife chuckled when I told her I was doing an interview with a cooking and writing blog. I don’t cook much at home because she says my meals are too elaborate and the mess is too big. The guys at the firehouse don’t buy that excuse, so I get plenty of chances to cook there, and expectations are usually high.

Hey, at least we know we are safe if anything catches fire here. We will have you to take care of it....*crickets*.... What? Nobody?
Anyway, let's get started. What’s your favorite kitchen accessory or appliance? How about a favorite writing accessory or reference?

In the kitchen my favorites are my Springform pans. One of my tricks for winning over a new crew is cheesecake. It works for Battalion Chiefs as well. In fact, our most recent Battalion Chief called our station when he got his assignment and told my captain, “You take care of that Coleman kid. He’s a special firefighter. If something happens to him, who’s gonna make me cheesecake?” Needless to say, I baked 2 cheesecakes the day he was transferred to our battalion.

My essential writing accessory is music. It helps me get each voice right, and really infuse my writing with emotion. I have a playlist for each viewpoint character, as well as about 50 other playlists that span a wide variety of emotions. Some of my favorite playlists are: Alone, Unrequited Love, and Thuggery.

MUSIC! That is mine too. I can't write without music in the background and a snack next to my keyboard. What is your A+, number 1 writing snack?

This is a dangerous one because whatever’s close when I get into ‘The Zone’, will be gone. I can easily polish off a pound of beef jerky or a jumbo bag of M&M’s (peanut or peanut butter). Add 32 oz. of something caffeinated and I can write for days straight.

Beef Jerky and a big drink, such a guy. Please share one cheesy “writing is like cooking” thought.

Writing is exactly like cooking, except for all the words and the paper, and the boiling and sautéing. And grammar and coriander and thyme and characterization and clarified eggs. Oh yeah, and those pesky dangling participles.

No, in seriousness, one of my closest friends is a professional artist (painter). We talk all the time about how similar our two arts are. Everything from first strokes to finding an audience. Cooking is no different. A chef might use a dash of cayenne pepper, while a writer uses a dash of racy humor. The same goes for dance and drama and drawing. There’s a reason people talk about the art of writing, performance arts, arts and crafts, visual arts, and the art of cooking. When I say “artist” I could be talking about a singer, a painter, or anyone who hones their creative skill.

I still haven’t answered your question. How about: Writing is like cooking because no matter how much you practice and plan, halfway through it’s an unrecognizable mess, but in the end you’re left with sweet, hard-won fruits you can share with people who will appreciate it.

Tell us about your edible specialty, and rate your skill in the kitchen: novice, not bad, or nominate me for a Michelin star.

I gotta go back to cheesecake. My favorites are Oreo and peppermint. I only make them at the fire station because when I make cheesecake at home it’s way too much for our little family, but we end up eating the whole thing anyway. I’ve never entered any contests, and they don’t always turn out pretty, but judging on taste alone, I’ll rate myself: As Good As the Cheesecake Factory.

Um, the next time you want to make cheescake for your family it will be okay, because I'll come take it off your hands. (Love that stuff way too much). Before I sound too creepy let's move on. Describe the best cook you know and something wonderful he or she has served you.

I’ve known some brilliant firehouse chefs over the years, but none of them tops my wife. She makes a fettuccine alfredo with sausage and peppers that beats anything on Olive Garden’s menu. And it’s even healthy because it has 3 kinds of bell peppers in it! That counts, right? Hold on a second, I’m going to text her and request it for dinner tomorrow….. Ok, I’m back. (And she said ‘Yes’!)

Lucky you! Now if you didn't have your wife and were marooned on an island, and Pots 'N Pens granted your wish for only one book and one food, what would you choose?

If I’m being honest, I’d have to choose my set of scriptures. I am a religious person and even on a remote island I think there’s plenty for me to learn. I especially love Old Testament stories like Samson, Abraham, and Joseph. Their successes and failures in the face of trials still apply to us thousands of years later.

And pizza. If I was stranded on a desert island and had nothing to eat but pizza for 10 years, the first thing I’d have at the banquet after I got rescued would be pizza with a side of pizza. And pizza for desert. (I’m a big pizza fan.)

What favorite recipe do you have for us today?

Sun-Dried Tomato Turkey Bagel Sandwiches

I chose a simple lunch recipe that I prepare at the station as often as I can get away with. It’s quick and easy, which is a big plus on a busy day.

Choose your favorite bagels from the grocery store or bagel shop. I like the cheddar cheese bagels.

Look for Jennie-O sun-dried tomato turkey in the deli case. I don’t even like tomatoes, but this is a winner.

The finishing ingredients are orange bell pepper slices and guacamole. The sweetness and zing from the pepper, guacamole and turkey are a winning combination.

You can add some lettuce, tomato or onion, but honestly you don’t need them. And if you decide against the cheddar bagels, add some Swiss cheese.

I’ve never had a complaint, and that’s saying a lot with some of the crews I’ve worked with!

And as proof, here are some of your crew enjoying the food. Thanks Daniel for hanging out with us today. Everyone be sure to stop by his site and check out his tour. He's an excellent speaker and pick up his books.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Interview with Tess Hilmo and Some Noodley Goodness

UPDATE (10/21/11): And the lucky winner of the signed copy of Tess' book is COLE! Congrats! I'll put you guys in touch!

It’s Friday, guys! I think a little high-kick and hooray goes without saying, right? And not just because it’s Friday, but I’ve got a fabulous interview to share with you with the ever-lovely Tess Hilmo. Tess’ debut middle grade historical novel WITH A NAME LIKE LOVE (Farrar Straus Giroux, Margaret Ferguson Books) is coming out on September 27! That’s next Tuesday, guys – Mark  your calendars!

Tess is an author, friend, family girl, maker of salsa and lover of curry. 

So firstly, thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us during this super-busy pre-release time! We’re just days from WITH A NAME LIKE LOVE hitting the shelves, how exciting! The book takes place in the south, where food is a big part of life, can you tell us a little more about the book and what foods we’ll be getting a taste of?
WITH A NAME LIKE LOVE is a middle grade mystery full of heart and soul, set in 1957 Arkansas. The family is a traveling preacher’s family, so meals aren’t fance but there is a chicken noodle soup with homemade noodles, chocolate cake, shoefly pie and lots of plum jam.
Mmmm, you had me at chicken noodle soup and chocolate cake J

Now being a writer means inspiration can strike at any moment, so sometimes meals aren’t so gourmet. What’s a favorite go-to for you to get the family fed?
We have a joke in our home. The kids will see me writing and ask, “Is it fix-your-owni again tonight?” (It rhymes with macaroni). I wish I could say I have premade meals at the ready but, honestly, there are many nights when they end up making me dinner. That’s the blessing of having kiddos just a bit older.
Duly noted: writers – train your children to cook early so they can make YOU dinner ;)

That’s great the kids cook for you sometimes! That being said, who has been the BEST cook you’ve ever known and what’s one of your favorite dishes they’ve served you?
My husband’s grandmother, hands down. She passed away a few years back, but when she was with us she always cooked classic American fare steeped in love. My favorite was her Sunday potroast. Perfectly tender with lots of her famous chili sauce!

What writerly snack food / drink do you keep on-hand at all times?
Chocolate covered cinnamon bears get me through tough writing days. They are the bomb!

On the other hand, are you a snacky reader? If so, what are some of your faves?
I don’t snack much when I’m reading but I do love an ice cold diet coke to sip on.

Okay, so if you were marooned on an island and Pots & Pens granted you a wish for only one book and one food, what would you choose?
My favorite read is THE WITCH OF BLACKBIRD POND by Elizabeth George Speare. That and some curry chicken or tikka masala would make my island stay paradise.

And of course, the recipe!
The secret to out of this world chicken soup is to make your own noodles. It’s easy and fast. Big impact, minimal work – that’s what I like. My main character’s mother makes these noodles for her soup in the novel and it is the perfect balm.

Thanks for sharing the recipe for the noodles, Tess! I can't wait to try it with my own chicken soup recipe!

Homemade Noodles for any chicken soup
1 cup flour
1 egg
1 tbs water

Quick Chicken Soup
1 already cooked rotisserie chicken from the grocery store
1 onion
2-3 carrots
2-3 stalks of celery
2 quarts of chicken stock
1 quart of water
1 tbls dry Thyme
salt and pepper to taste
olive oil

Starting with the chicken soup base (and really, Tess told me you can use any basic chicken soup recipe you've got to go with these noodles. This is just my quick semi-homemade recipe, so feel free to use your own!) the water and chicken stock go into a pot over medium heat. 

While that starts to simmer, take the rotisserie chicken and basically separate the meat and skin from the bones. Put the bones into the simmering stock for added flavor along with the Thyme. You can also include the skin in this stage if you don't want it in the finished soup. My kids like the skin in their soup so I save it with the meat. Shred up the meat and set aside.

Chop the carrots, onions and celery. In a separate pan, heat a bit of olive oil and saute the vegetables for about 10-12 minutes or until they begin to soften.

Strain out the chicken bones (and skin if you included) and discard.

Once the vegetables are done, add it to the simmering chicken broth.

While this was simmering, I turned to Tess' instructions for the noodles.

Put the flour in a bowl, drop in the egg, then stir in water. 

Dough should be fairly dry and not too sticky . . . adjust as needed with sprinkles of flour. Roll out to ¼ inch thick on floured board and cut into wide strips – I like about 1 inch wide and 2 inches long. 

At this stage, I added the chicken and chicken skin into the boiling broth, a few minutes before I tossed in the noodles :)

Dump the noodles into your boiling soup and cook for 1-2 minutes; the noodles are finished when they float to the top.

And if sharing her homemade noodle recipe wasn't enough, Tess is kindly donating a PERSONALIZED SIGNED copy of WITH A NAME LIKE LOVE to a random commenter on this blog post! That's right, you don't have to do anything but make a comment! The contest is going to run from now through midnight, Mountain Time on Tuesday, September 27 -- The big release day!

Thank you so much, Tess!

So spread the word. Come for some noodley goodness and you could be getting WITH A NAME LIKE LOVE in your mailbox, signed just for you!!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Feeding the Senses

They say you eat first with your eyes before you ever take a bite. Food forces you to use all your senses. You see the apple pie baking in the oven and look for the browning of the crust to see if it's done. The sound of bacon sizzling in the skillet lets you know if your pan is hot enough. Did you know that between seventy and seventy-five percent of taste actually comes from your sense of smell? (True fact.) Smell can also save your food (and perhaps your life) if you're suddenly aware of smoke wafting from your oven. Yep, that's happened to me a few times--particularly when I lived in my old house where we named the built-in oven Prometheus. It was forty-five years old and brought many a fire. Obviously, you taste the sweet and salt of honey-roasted peanuts, and you feel your food with your fingers when you pick up a perfectly crisp piece of fried chicken or anticipate the gooey melt of a warm chocolate chip cookie.

Sensory imagery is important to writing as well. Feeling grounded via description and sensory image will help your reader to feel as though he or she is inside your story. For example, if your characters are outside on a windy day, describing the air temperature as "balmy" creates a completely different image than "arctic."

But, just as too much salt can ruin the flavor of a soup, too many descriptors will make your story taste "off" as well. They slow down the pace. They weigh down the story so much that readers won't want to continue. Finding the balance between giving the right amount of sensory imagery and overloading the reader isn't as tricky as it seems. Simply try reading your work aloud. If you find yourself slowing down because of the number of adjectives, you know you need to trim some fat. Feeding the senses with your writing doesn't have to mean gorging on them. Unlike the soup that's been ruined with too much salt, your writing can be saved.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Interview with Jacqueline West

Happy Monday, everyone! Ok, ok. Mondays are rarely causes for chirpiness. But today is an exception because you get to read my interview with the super talented Jacqueline West. Jacqueline is the author of the NYT Bestselling THE BOOKS OF ELSEWHERE series, and a great cook to boot. So, sit back, grab a coffee, and ease your Monday blahs with Jacqueline's interview below.

Hi, Jacqueline. Thanks so much for joining us today. Let's begin by waking up everyone's taste buds. Can you please share your favorite literary feast or treat. What makes this food and/or writing so memorable?

I have a weakness for Michael Lee West (no relation, unfortunately, or I’d be at her house all the time). She writes witty, food-infused Southern stories, and her voice is so distinct that it’s like a flavor, or a whole slew of flavors: cornbread, chess pie, red beans and rice. After reading her books, I tend to head straight to the kitchen. My favorite may be her memoir/cookbook, Consuming Passions: A Food-Obsessed Life, which is about food and family and the American South and is bowl-you-over charming.

Another of my favorite literary treats—and perhaps a more influential one—is the work that Ray Bradbury did in Dandelion Wine. The sensory experiences Bradbury describes—running in brand new tennis shoes, the waft of cool air rising up from the mysterious ravine, and the whole chapter he devotes to dandelion wine itself—stick in my head with the permanence of my own memories. I don’t think I’ve read any other book that captures summer and childhood so distinctly.

Those both sound delectable. I truly enjoy writing that is like a feast for my brain. That was cheesy. I'm sorry. But, I know you'll forgive me because you often make your own "writing is like cooking" comparisons. Can you please share your cheesiest one?

Ooh, I’ve actually used this exact comparison before!

Writing is like cooking in that many of us use the same ingredients, but the techniques with which we use them—the amounts, the varieties, the whispers and pinches and dashes of additional seasonings—make our concoctions totally distinct.

To me, it reveals a limited imagination, or at least a limited reading background, when someone complains about multiple writers using the same basic concept. “A school for wizards? (Snort.) That’s already been done.” “Another haunted house? Yawn.” “A human who falls in love with a vampire? I think I’ve heard that one before.” It’s like complaining about two chefs both using tomatoes in their sauces. Yes, it’s all been done before. But it can also be done differently, over and over and over again. And we may each prefer a different result.

I really love your explanation. And it definitely puts things in a new perspective for me as well. Let's switch gears for a bit and visit your kitchen. We all have can't-live-without items in our cabinets. Please share your three must-have foods/seasonings in your kitchen?

1. Garlic. There is always garlic. Many of my favorite recipes start with ‘Sauté some garlic in olive oil…’ The smell of sautéing garlic is like the line, “Once upon a time…” You know something good is going to follow.

2. Sourdough bread from the local bakery, although we do occasionally run out. On mornings when we are out of sourdough to turn into toast, my husband and I make sad faces at each other, asking, “But what will we eat? and both knowing that there is no satisfactory answer.

3. Coffee. A kitchen without coffee is not really a kitchen.

Amen to number three. I think I'll put that on a plaque and hang it above my stove. You mentioned you love sourdough and are bummed when you're out. Are there other go-to meals when you need to serve something quick and easy?

When I’m feeling especially brain-dead (or lazy), I’ll stoop to frozen pizza. If you top it with artichoke hearts, sliced tomato, and Kalamata olives, bake it on a much-loved pizza stone, and have a glass of Big House Red on the side, you can pretend it’s a gourmet meal.

Love your ideas! Adding those ingredients is also a terrific way to boost up the good-for-you factor and add a touch of elegance. Staying with the food analogies (I'm full of them!), what ingredients can destroy a book through overuse or salvage a book despite its flaws?

There are certain genres that I’m less likely to read: hard science fiction, romance novels, especially gory or realistic thrillers. I suppose it’s just like certain foods: I don’t eat meat, I’m not fond of mushrooms, I love corn on the cob, but corn off the cob is a whole other story. This is simply a matter of personal preference, not a blanket statement about these literary genres. (Or these foods, for that matter. I won’t judge your steak in mushroom sauce if you won’t judge my black pepper tofu.)

However, there are times when something is prepared so perfectly, or so unexpectedly, that it sort of transcends itself. This summer, I read Sharp Objects and Dark Places, two novels by Gillian Flynn. These are “thrillers” (or at least that’s what it says inside their covers), and they have extremely gory patches, but they are both so exquisitely written that I absolutely devoured them. Dark Places in particular is written in such a fresh, appealing, sharp, unique voice, that I read it straight through and then immediately read it again. I felt the same way the first time I read Fahrenheit 451 and Cat’s Cradle, both of which generally end up on the science fiction shelves at bookstores. And I’ve had mushrooms at Japanese restaurants that were so fresh and so perfectly seasoned and cooked that they lost all of their mushroom-ness. So I guess, for me, it’s not so much about the inclusion or exclusion of one ingredient as it is about masterful skill in the preparation.

Well said. I hate to end this interview. It has been so fun! But, unfortunately, we're on the last stretch, and it's time for our signature question. If you were marooned on an island and Pots & Pens granted your wish for only one book and one food, what would you choose?

I am going to assume that this island has fruit on it (preferably pineapples, white peaches, and various not-too-thorny berries), so I will choose bread. Sourdough bread. Crusty on the outside and squishy in the middle. It’s one food I never get sick of.

Book-wise, I know it would be prudent to choose something long and multi-faceted and wondrous, like the collected works of Shakespeare…but I think in a deserted island situation, Kurt Vonnegut would probably be the best hope for saving my sanity. I’ll go with The Sirens of Titan, one of my very favorites.

Thank you so much for joining us today. Before you go, can you please tell us about the favorite recipe you shared? And, readers, to find out more about Jacqueline West, please visit her website,

This is one of my very favorite recipes; I found it in the Guardian, which features lots of great vegetarian stuff, and I modified it to use ingredients that are found more easily in this country (or at least in my kitchen). It’s a little fussy, but totally worth it. It tastes like one of those things you shouldn’t be able to make for yourself. But you can! And you should! And it’s cheap!

Here we go:

Black Pepper Tofu


Two 12 to 15 oz. packages of firm or extra firm tofu, drained, with liquid squeezed out

Vegetable oil, for frying

Cornstarch, for dusting

½ stick (4 tbs.) butter, or a butter substitute

1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped

2 jalapenos, seeded and minced

12 garlic cloves, crushed

3 tbs. finely chopped fresh ginger

10 tbs. low sodium soy sauce

2 tbs. granulated sugar

1 tbs. ground black pepper

16 small spring onions, white parts removed, cut into segments about 1 inch long

Pour enough oil into a large frying pan that it comes a few millimeters up the sides of the pan, and heat to medium.

Meanwhile, cut the tofu into cubes or rectangles (1-inch square or larger) and roll them in cornstarch until coated. Add the tofu to the hot oil in batches, turning the pieces now and then, until each one has a thin, golden brown crust. As pieces finish browning, remove them from oil and drain on paper towels.

Once the tofu is done, pour the oil and any bits of grit out of the pan, and turn the heat down to medium-low. Add the butter to the pan. When the butter has melted, add the onion, jalapenos, garlic, and ginger, and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the ingredients are completely soft and shiny. Add the soy sauce and sugar, stir, and then add the black pepper.

Add the tofu to the sauce, and stir gently to coat. Let it heat through—about 1 minute—before stirring in the green onions. Let heat for 1 minute more, then serve hot, with steamed rice.

Note: This stuff is spicy. If you like your Chinese food fairly mild, you may want to use one jalapeno and a bit less pepper. If you like food that makes your sinuses sizzle and your eyes water, add a bit more of one or both, and good luck to you.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Interview with Ingrid Sundberg and her recipe for Chocolate Guinness Cupcakes!

I am very excited to share this interview with Ingrid Sundberg! Ingrid and I met in film school, and from the beginning I was impressed by her insane writing skills. When I was still writing screenplays instead of novels we were in a crit group together, and I gained so much from her feedback. And I am still learning from her, whether I'm reading her information packed writing blog or drooling over her deliciously detailed baking blog.

So keep reading to learn more about Ingrid - and to get the recipe for the amazing cupcakes pictured at the top of this post!

Bio: INGRID SUNDBERG writes young adult novels and picture books and is currently attending the Vermont College of Fine Arts’ MFA program in writing for children. She bakes and decorates cakes as a hobby and blogs about both writing and baking. Learn about writing craft at: Ingrids Notes ( and see her fantastic confectionary creations at: Ingrid’s Cakes ( 

Q: Is there a link for you between the creative processes of cooking and writing/drawing? Has a meal ever inspired a specific story or image or vice versa?

A: Absolutely! My love of baking finds its way into my writing all the time. I have two picture book manuscripts inspired by my baking hobby. One is about an adorable cupcake shop and the other is the adventures of a zombie squirrel who wants to be a chef. I even have a whole young adult book idea percolating because of my love of cake decorating. I think whatever is happening in my life finds a way to inspire my writing, be it a metaphor about frosting or an entire novel of a dare-devil teen chef.

Q: Share your favorite literary feast or treat. What makes this food and/or writing so memorable?

A: One of my favorite writers is Jeanette Winterson. She doesn’t write about food, but the way she uses language is like eating a chocolate desert. It’s rich, whimsical, dense, and delectably fills your imagination with texture and sorrow. I’ve skimmed through a couple of her books to find a particularly tasty bit to share:

“At the end of a row of jars coloured like dreams was an opaque jar with a heart drawn on it and a dagger through the heart. I put up my hand to touch it, and in that second my hand was grabbed from behind. It was my father. He put his face close to mine, and I could smell the sulphur on him. “Never touch that jar. Never. If that ever gets loose we’re finished.” “What is it?” “Love,” said my father. “There’s love in that jar.” And so I discovered that love is a hazardous liquid.” – Jeanette Winterson (The Powerbook, Page 165).

**Interviewer's note. OOOH! That is a great excerpt - totally gave me tingles. Must find and devour some of this author's books ASAP.

Q: Let's say a couple of your characters are raiding your fridge right now, what are they most likely to eat? Are they disappointed or excited about what they find?

A: They’d be disappointed to find there aren’t any baked goods in my fridge right now. But they might be curious about the crate of eggs that takes up my whole bottom shelf (a baker is always prepared!). Zombie Squirrel might mistake those eggs for brains and start whipping up some fluffy brain meringue, Yum!

Q: If you were marooned on an island and Pots & Pens granted your wish for only one book and one food, what would you choose?

A: For food I’d have to request one of Willy Wonka’s Everlasting Gobstoppers, because it will last forever and I’m a sugar nut! I’ll pair that with the complete works of William Shakespeare, because after I get my sugar high I’ll want to do a one-woman show of all of Shakespeare’s plays for the seagulls and hermit crabs. I am marooned on an island after all, so I’ll have to entertain myself somehow!

For a recipe I thought I’d share my favorite crowd pleaser (and number 1 requested cupcake) the Chocolate Guinness Cupcake!

Chocolate Guinness Cupcakes
Makes approximately 20-24 cupcakes

Cupcake Ingredients:
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light or dark brown sugar
4 oz (1/2 cup) unsalted softened butter
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
1/2 cup sour cream
1 bottle (12 fl. oz) Guinness Stout (1 1/2 cups)

Cupcake Directions:
1) Preheat oven at 350 degrees.
2) Line cupcake tins with paper liners
3) In a large bowl whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt.
4) In a bowl or stand mixer with a paddle attachment, beat the granulated sugar, brown sugar, and butter until light and fluffy.
5) Add eggs and sour cream and beat in.
6) With the mixer running slowly, pour in the Guinness.
7) Sift the dry ingredients into the batter and slowly stir until it is evenly mixed. Be sure to scrape down the sides so everything is mixed in.
8) Divide the batter up into cupcake liners.
9) Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cupcake comes out clean.

Bailey's Cream Cheese Frosting
(It takes aprox. 1 and 1/2 batches of the following recipe to cover 24 cupcakes generously.)

Frosting Ingredients:
1 8 oz. bar of cream cheese, softened
1 4 oz. stick of unsalted butter, softened
2 cups confectioner's sugar
4-6 tablespoons of Bailey's Irish Cream

Frosting Directions:
1) Using a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, put cream cheese, butter, and sugar into the bowl and beat until fully. Slowly drizzle in the Bailey's. More Bailey's will add more flavor but will also make the frosting more watery. Beat until the Bailey's is completely incorporated into the frosting.

Thank you so much Ingrid!  

Monday, September 12, 2011

Revisions of the Edible Kind

What’s the best part about writing? For me, it’s revision. Specifically when that one unexpected, tiny detail—an added comment in an exchange of dialogue or a freshly described physical gesture—just emerges in the process. It's so easy and obvious that it seems like it should have been there all along, and yet it instantly makes everything else on the page work. I’ll admit it: I love this moment because it’s nothing short of a straight-up narcotic rush. (Never mind that the rest of the ms. needs some serious overhauling, or that my sudden conviction that I’m a GENIUS is pure delusion.)

It's the same with cooking. Taking an existing recipe and adding a new flourish or twist to it can make you feel like a magician. A few summers ago, I came across this no-cook soup in a NY Times article by Melissa Clark. It basically involves salting tomatoes until they break down into a broth. Simple, and brilliant, right? Then she adds a scoop of ricotta cheese and some capers for added texture, color and interest.

The other day I had a bunch of tomatoes left over from my farm share, so I decided to make this soup. My revision was to add some basil oil instead of the capers, using the herbs from my yard that have exploded in the past couple of weeks. Small difference, but it changed the soup, making it more aromatic and brighter-tasting where the capers made it earthy and tart. Now I won’t say it was GENIUS, but it was pretty good.

Instant Tomato Soup
Serves 4

½ cup fresh basil leaves (packed)
1/4 cup olive oil
1 pound ripe tomatoes, cored and cubed
A large pinch of coarse sea salt
½ cup top-quality ricotta, lightly broken into clumps

1. Make the basil oil: Bring a small pot of water to a boil. Add basil and blanch for 10 seconds. Rinse under cold water and pat dry. Transfer to blender, and oil. Puree until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
2. Make soup: In a medium bowl, combine tomatoes and salt. Let sit 5 minutes. Gently scatter ricotta on top. (Do not stir in.) Drizzle with basil oil and serve.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Autumn Apples and Waldorf Salad

Apple picking is one of my family's favorite events in the fall. The rows of trees, short enough for even my youngest to reach, create a natural sanctuary for the four of us to savor the fruit of the season.  A number of my favorite dessert recipes center around apples: apple pie, apple dumplings, apple crisp, but I'll save those recipes for another, cooler day.  Today, I'm going to share with you an often forgotten apple salad that is elegant enough to serve in fine restaurants but can easily be made and enjoyed at home.   
The Waldorf Salad.

Waldorf Salad
4 Red Delicious Apples cut in  1/2" cubes, keep the skin on, it looks gorgeous in this salad
2 stalks of celery also cut in 1/2" cube
1/2 cup of Craisins
1/2 cup pecans broken, I like to roast them lightly in a pan before adding to the salad
lemon juice from half a lemon, this keeps the apples from browning
1/2 cup of Hellman's Mayonnaise
3 Tablespoons of sugar

We want to mix up the dressing for the salad first, to allow the sugar to dissolve, if you rush this you'll have a gritty salad.  Mix the mayonnaise with the sugar and stir every 5 minutes while preparing the remaining salad.
Core and chop the apples, celery and add to a large bowl.  Sprinkle with the lemon juice to keep from browning.  Roast your pecans in a dry skillet and break them up ( you can add them now or wait until  you serve the salad).  Add the Craisins.  Check the mayo mixture, taste it, is the sugar dissolved?  Yes?  Okay, now add it to the salad and coat everything well.  It should be a light amount of dressing. Just enough to make the salad creamy.
That's all there is to it.  A beautiful fall salad fit for kings. 
And if you get the chance to go apple picking, please do, it's a wonderful experience.  And nothing is better than a super fresh apple right off the tree. Enjoy Autumn.