Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Keeping It Simple with Sausage Balls

Keep it simple. Ninety percent of the time, that’s a good rule for writing and for cooking.

What! My brilliant four-page extended metaphor about laundry detergent, spiderwebs, and heartbreak is overwrought! But it’s beautiful, isn’t it? Each image twangs like the dawn’s crimson orb glazing the silken threads with freshly powdered Tide flakes.

Yeah, yeah. I know it’s not all like that, but even the most well-meaning writer can let artistry of language or the twistings of side plot overwhelm what most readers are really there for: crisp characters and a sensational story. Sometimes the extras add juicy depth, and sometimes they give so much depth your readers drown in it.

My “cooking disorder” makes the kitchen equivalent of this a big problem for me.

Let’s say I start with a simple plan to serve our guests Belgian waffles. I mix the oatmeal, multigrain batter; put out numerous jellies, syrups, and honey; and set the table. I look at the clock. It’s 7:00 and no one’s awake yet. But instead of reading the paper or going back to bed, I start brainstorming. Strawberries. Everybody likes strawberries. So I thaw some out. Of course they need blueberries to keep them company. What about bananas though? Soon I’m cooking bananas, cinnamon, and sherry on the stovetop and wondering if it would cool quickly enough if I mixed it with butter. (Mmm! Banana butter!)

Before I can stop myself, I’m making scrambled eggs with leftover meatballs, peppers, tomatoes, and cheese; blueberry cream cheese coffee cake; and a strange tater tot hash with onions, not to mention the original waffles. Then, since one person’s still in the shower, I toss some apple slices in a pan and cook those too.

By the time the last dish finishes, everyone’s been waiting for fifteen minutes. I sheepishly summon the herd of three or four to the table, and because I’m very lucky and have patient guests, this ends well. The food is tasty, tummies are full, and we’re ready to pitch in the leftovers if a dozen rhinos show up at our door.

And while this is great, everyone—especially my wife who's on dish duty—would have been equally as happy if I’d kept it simple and just made waffles.

Today’s recipe does exactly that (keeping it simple, not making waffles). This is comfort food that has a billion variations, but it’s easy to make and tastes good hot or cold.

Sausage Balls

1 lb. sausage
2½ c. Bisquick
½ c. water
10 oz. sharp cheddar cheese
¼ tsp. black pepper
½ tsp. tarragon
½ tsp. garlic salt

Picture of all the ingredients I debated adding to this recipe. Toooooo complicated!

Picture of ingredients I actually used. Simple=good.

Cook sausage in pan, mixing in pepper, tarragon and garlic salt when meat is halfway browned. Stir often. Finish lightly browning, then drain.

This utensil deserves its own close-up. Mix 'N Chop! Mix 'N Chop!! Mix 'N Chop!!! Thank you, Pampered Chef, for my #1 favorite kitchen tool!

Grate cheese, and mix together with sausage, Bisquick, and water. Cover and chill for a few hours to make dough easier to handle. (Though you can cook right away if desired.)

Shape into quarter-size balls and put on ungreased cookie sheets. (I made mine too big.)

Bake at 400° for 11 to 13 minutes or until golden brown. Makes 28 to 36 depending on size.

*For lower fat/calorie version, use lean ground beef, Heartsmart Bisquick, and only 8 oz. of cheese.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011


Sorry for the late post, guys. I've been running around ragged trying to get my revisions done before I leave for Dragoncon on Thursday. But, alas, they defeated me. It's not going to happen. But that's okay because I'm giving away STUFF! And that always puts me in a good mood. :)

After putting all of the entries into a random drawing the winners are:

For the handmade/hand-embroidered Wish coffee sleeve


For the signed copy of FOREVER


To claim your prizes, please be so kind as to send me your mailing address to my email:

And if you didn't win, don't fret! Please stay tuned right here for more awesome interviews, recipes, and prizes to come!!!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Robin O'Bryant Makes You Want to Eat Brussel Sprouts

 Hello everyone! Get ready to meet an awesome writer folks. Robin O'Bryant is the mother of three daughters, the wife of one husband, and a syndicated humorist, author and blogger. She (barely) survives the hilarity of motherhood by pretending twitter is her house and by making fun of herself on her blog, Robin's Chicks. There she writes life-changing posts for mothers on the relevant subjects such as: *how to breastfeed behind your back, how to talk to your daughters about man parts, and how to write a proper goldfish obituary.

*Only applies to lactating woman with a DD cup or larger.

So Robin, 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?

I write non-fiction humor about my family, so my husband would be stoked to find leftover Beef and Broccoli using The Pioneer Woman's recipe for Beef and Snow Peas. It's so good I've eaten it for breakfast before.
Aubrey, my 7-year-old, is my pickiest eater so she would be most impressed by the over-processed chicken nuggets in the freezer and the gallon of ketchup I just bought. Emma, my 5-year-old and Sadie, my 2-year-old, love to eat and eat well. They would be stoked to find leftover barbeque chicken, homemade scalloped potatoes smothered in cheddar cheese and green beans I *snapped myself.
(*While cussing. It took FOREVER and a day.)

My oldest boy would love those potatoes as well. Oh, and the ketchup is a must at our house too. What are three must-have foods/seasonings in your kitchen?
Salt, pepper, & fresh garlic.
When we moved to Mississippi my best friend, a.k.a. Sister Wife, helped me unpack my kitchen and she openly mocked me for the hundred jars of spices I own. A few weeks later we were in a cooking class at theViking Cooking School here in my new hometown of *Greenwood, MS and the instructor said, “You can always tell someone is a good cook by the number of spices they own. A good cook knows how to properly season food.” Which I used as an opportunity to maturely turn to Sister Wife and say, “BOOM! In your face!”
(*Fun fact: The Help was filmed here last summer and tons of my friends and their kids are in the movie as extras.)

Speaking of something fun, can you share a bit about your next project?
I've written two books, the first is a completed collection of non-fiction humor. My work in progress is a collection of essays about how my relationship with God has changed and deepened as a result of reaching rockbottom becoming a mother. But there is still PLENTY of funny. (Trust me on this.) I am in the editing, revising & rewriting stage which is about as fun as cooking collards. (See below.) Hopefully this book will be completed by the end of the year and ready for her to sell! If you want more info about my book/writing sitch, you can check out this post I wrote for my agent's blog.

You have talked about food on your blog many times can you tell us about your edible specialty, and rate your skill in the kitchen: novice, not bad, or nominate me for a Michelin star.
My specialty is definitely Southern soul food. My chicken fried steak is legendary- the meat is tender but the edges are crispy and golden brown. My meatloaf is mixed with sautéed garlic, bell pepper and onions and topped with a homemade balsamic barbecue sauce that will make you want to slap yo Momma. I've had grown folks lick their plates to get to the rest of my garlic mashed potatoes. (It was me, but that still counts, right?) I'd say go ahead and give me a Michelin star. I started out cooking like I'd seen my Momma & my Grandmother cook, but things quickly escalated to full-on foodie DEFCON-1 when I got my own kitchen.

Fill in the blanks:
Writing and editing books is like cooking collard greens from scratch. You have to clean all the dirt of them by wash them dozens of times, chop them up and stuff them bit by bit into a stock pot. The pile of collard greens you start with looks too enormous for the largest pot in your kitchen. You look at them and think, “This will never work.” But leaf by leaf, you add them to the pot. You cook them slowly and eventually, the pile of greens is no longer on the counter but stewing in the pot. The process is painstakingly slow and makes your entire house smells like a fart. You know it's worth it when you get taste the final product. Spicy and savory, with a depth of flavor you can't get out of a can and the satisfaction of knowing, “I made this.”
If you were marooned on an island, and Pots 'N Pens granted your wish for only one book and one food, what would you choose?
Pizza--magical gluten-free pizza that tastes just like the real deal, with pepperoni and sliced banana peppers.
As clichéd as it may sound, I'd say the Bible. If I'm going to be stuck on an island with one book, I'd want to read something that would give me strength and it's the only book I've read on a regular basis my entire life. Unless Bear Grylls has written a book entitled, “How To Get The Hell Off That Island You're Marooned Upon,” then I would definitely want that instead.

HA! The second choice would be beneficial.

What favorite recipe do you have for us today?
The Best Brussel Sprouts in The History of The World
(If you think you don't like brussel sprouts then you haven't tried mine.)

You need:
1 lb of brussel sprouts, rinsed
3 cloves of garlic
salt and pepper to taste
4 strips of bacon
1/4 cup of beer, white wine or chicken stock (Do what you want, but I say BEER ME!)
Chop the tough stem off the bottom of each sprout, then cut them into quarters. The brown outer leaves will naturally fall off, discard only the yuck ones. (That is a technical cooking term.)

Chop 'em up.

Cook the bacon in your great-grandmother's black skillet until crisp.
If you don't have one, I'm sorry. You're great-grandmother probably loves you just as much as the cousin she left her skillet to after she died. Do the best you can. Then get one. (Seriously, check estate sales and antique shops. Don't buy one new.) Take the bacon out of the grease. Chop it up and set it aside.

Then dump your quartered brussel sprouts into the bacon grease. Did I stutter? Brussel sprouts. IN THE GREASE. Do it.
You're going to want to stir them but don't. Let the sprouts cook without stirring for 4-5 minutes on medium high heat. NOW you may stir them. Cook for another 2-3 minutes then add your minced garlic, salt and pepper. Cook for about 3 more minutes, add your liquid of choice. (That sounded nasty, didn't it?) Then cook until the liquid is absorbed/evaporated, about 2-3 minutes. NOW you may dump your chopped bacon on top and toss in the browned, yummy, garlicky goodness!
Thank you so much! To have more laughs with Robin O'Bryant click on over to

Friday, August 26, 2011

Friday Only Contest! Win this Handcrafted Coffee Sleeve

Because today is Friday, I'm having a spontaneous contest for this handcrafted (by me!) coffee sleeve. It has the word "Wish" as well as a wand hand embroidered on the front.

What is a coffee sleeve, you ask? Its a green alternative to the little cardboard sleeves the coffee places put on your cup so you don't burn your hand. I keep mine in my purse so I have it whenever I stop for some joe. It's washable and reusable! So yay for reducing your carbon footprint in such a cute and stylish way!

All you have to do to win is leave a comment on THIS post (you have until midnight on Monday) saying that you would like to be entered in the random drawing. Then, check back on Tuesday when I'll announce the winner of the coffee sleeve as well as the signed copy of FOREVER. (There's still time to enter that contest by the way.) If I announce you as the winner, just email me at the email address I'll provide in the post.

Happy Friday!!!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Interview with Leland McCaslin and his secret recipe for Pasta Lee!

I am so excited to introduce you all to Leland C McCaslin. Lee has been a good friend of mine way back in my querying days. We met about four years ago on one of my favorite websites, Query Tracker. And a nicer guy you couldn't hope to meet. Here's his bio:

 Leland graduated from Mississippi State University in 1969 where he majored in communications, studied Military Science (and received some airborne training) and obtained his Army commission as a Second Lieutenant in the Intelligence Corps. On active duty in 1969, he attended the combat arms tanker's Armored Officers' Basic Course; the Counterintelligence Special Agent's Course and served at various locations in the US. Upon leaving active duty, he joined the US Civil Service and began working for the military in various intelligence jobs, starting as a GS-9 in 1973.

He served at our nation's Military Headquarters, The Pentagon from 1973 to 1976. In 1979, he arrived in Heidelberg, Germany, and served 16 years at US Army Europe where he actively participated in the Cold War. To thwart espionage, he appeared on several live and recorded segments of the European Armed Forces Network TV and Radio to discuss counterespionage strategies, both past and present.
He then retired as a GM-14 in 1995. At that time, he was the most senior Security Specialist in Europe. While overseas, he acquired a M. Ed. from Boston University.

After he retired from civil service, he taught speech at several local colleges. With his background in Security and Intelligence, he worked as a contract investigator for ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) with 9/11 related duties.

He is now fully retired and resides with his wife, Charlotte, and rescued greyhound, Keener, in Alabama.

Lee wrote a fantastic nonfiction book about the cold war called, SECRETS OF THE COLD WAR: US Army Europe's Intelligence and Counterintelligence Activities Against the Soviets During the Cold War.

Secrets of the Cold War: US Army Europe's Intelligence and Counterintelligence Activities Against the Soviets During the Cold War

You can pick up your very own copy at Amazon.   
Not only has Lee agreed to sit down with us and answer a few questions, but he's also agreed to share his super secret recipe for PASTA LEE.
PNP: What was the military food like when you served as a security specialist for the US Army?

Lee: Regular American food like we have but very tasty and LOTS OF IT! Served steak frequently! Loved the SOS for breakfast!!

PNP: Was there a particular food or meal that you missed while overseas?

Lee: Fried Okra!

PNP: While you served our country with the military, you visited many countries and sampled many cuisines. Is there one meal that stands out in your memory above the rest?

Lee: I'll have to give you two: Coquilles St. Jacques and Steak au Poivre, both French! 

PNP: When you were working on your book, SECRETS OF THE COLD WAR, did you have a favorite writing/editing snack? 

Lee: Crystal Light Lemonade and LAY'S® Kettle Cooked Jalapeno Flavored Potato Chips.

PNP: You’re sharing with us your world famous recipe, PASTA LEE. How did you develop such a delicious pasta?

Lee: I made it up. Really! Before I was married to my wonderful wife Charlotte, I needed a nice meal I could make for my dates in Germany!! :) Now she fixes it!! I can't count a time when we weren't asked for 2nds (or 3rds).


Chopped onions, garlic, mushrooms, red bell peppers, salt, pepper, garlic powder, brown chili powder, 2 Jars of Prego or whatever, EVO, 1 pound hamburger, sliced Italian hot sausage, some red dry wine, 3 packages of fresh tortellini and sugar.

Get a big, deep skillet or pot, put in the EVO, med-high heat, sauté all the vegetables, scoot them over when almost done and add the chopped up hamburger, as it cooks add salt-pepper-chili powder-garlic powder.
When pretty much done, mix vegetables and meat back in together, add 2 jars of Prego (and clean out jars with a little red wine in bottom of jar to pour in mixture (put cap back on and shake jar mixture) and cut up sausage (previously cooked separately) and add fresh tortellini and let cook in mixture (not water). Add a pinch of sugar now.  Turn down heat and let cook down and simmer.
Later, transfer to a pasta serving dish, add whatever shredded cheese you like over top and nuke or bake on low, low heat, until cheese melts. Drink lots of red wine as you cook!!  Lee

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Contest: Win a Signed Copy of Maggie Stiefvater's FOREVER

It's Monday! Why not turn those frowns upside down with a contest? And today I will be giving away a signed copy of FOREVER signed by Maggie Stiefvater.
Here are the deets:

The winner of the signed book will be chosen by a random drawing. I'll have a random number generator assign each person entered a random number - because who wants to comment first and be number 1? 1 never wins. And then I'll have the random number generator randomly pick a number from the random number assigned. Simple, right? Hee.

Anyway, you have the opportunity to earn two entries. For the first entry, you must be a follower of Pots 'n Pens and leave a comment on THIS post. It could be something as simple as "Yo!" I don't care, it's up to you. But remember, compliments and flattery may not help you win, but they will definitely endear you to my heart. Second, you can earn another entry by retweeting this blog post. Just let me know that you did in the comments of THIS post.

DISCLAIMER: There is one stipulation. The contest ends NEXT Monday and the winner will be chosen and announced in a blog post on Tuesday, August 30th. If you are the winner, contact me through the email I'll provide on the winning post with your name and address so I can send you the book. I'm only doing this because last time I held a contest it took me FOREVER (Ha! Pun intended!) to track down the winner's contact info.
Good luck and stay tuned to this blog for more contesty goodness!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Interview with Arlaina Tibensky

I am really excited to interview my friend and debut novelist, Arlaina Tibensky. Her amazing YA debut, AND THEN THINGS FALL APART (Simon Pulse) tells how “Sylvia Plath and an old typewriter usher a reluctant virgin through the worst summer of her freaking life.” I LOVED this book! Keek, the MC, is so real and I did not want to leave her when I closed the book. Arlaina also curates the Pen Parentis Literary Salon at the Libertine Library in NYC. After her interview, I know you'll want to find out even more about Arlaina, so be sure to visit her blog: and follow her quirky thoughts on Twitter. Look for @ArlainaT.

Let's begin!

If you were serving one of your characters his or her ideal meal, what would it be and why?

There is actually a lot of food in AND THEN THINGS FALL APART. Keek’s boyfriend Matt roasts a chicken, they make a potato curry together, and eat flourless chocolate cake at the Art Institute. And of course, there is the cavalcade of recipes from The Bell Jar including steak tartare, avocado with a grape jelly sauce, and artfully broiled SPAM on tomato halves. Egg salad sandwiches, mayonnaise from the jar, cold lasagna. Keek’s parents own a restaurant so there’s tons of talk about Chicago hot dogs, pizza, and rainbow Italian ice.

Throughout the book, Keek really would like to be a vegetarian. She is also adventurous and well read and I assume she would want something a little exotic along the lines of Spanish Pumpkin and Bean soup (without the ham) with a huge loaf of French bread and a side of mayonnaise. That or maybe a spicy Thai green curry with coconut milk and a large iced Thai coffee (the bright orange kind) at that little place off Clark Street with the swinging lanterns in the outdoor garden downtown with her best friend Nic.

Mmm...sounds great! And since you're so in tune with your characters, I'm sure you wouldn't mind having them over for dinner. So 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?

Oh my fridge. Right now it is full of food and delights from Trader Joe’s. Its contents would make everyone happy. Keek’s wrestler boyfriend Matt and his pal Earl the Squirrel would surely stand there with the doors wide open, letting all the cold air out, drinking whole milk straight from the gallon and eating fingers of string cheeses by the fistful. Keek would appreciate the organic frozen quinoa with squash and soybean succotash. Keek’s mom would no doubt enjoy the white wine in the back on the top shelf and her dad could make himself a quick turkey sandwich.

Your fridge and my fridge would be great friends! I LOVE Trader Joe's. Let's see if our spices are a match too. What are three must-have foods/seasonings in your kitchen?

    1. Garlic

    2. Cumin

    3. Hot sauce (preferably Melinda’s or Cholula- the one with the wooden top)

Nice! Garlic, FTW! I'm sure those spices come in handy when you need to serve something quick and easy too. What's your go-to-meal when you're short on time?

This is going to sound a little gross but it is really good. Ready? Brown an onion in some butter with a little garlic. Add a teaspoon of curry powder, a little Garam Masala, a pinch of cinnamon and a teaspoon of ginger and cook it a little in the butter and onions. Then take 2/3 of a jar of a really good marinara sauce and dump it in along with two cans of drained chickpeas and a handful of fresh or a couple cubes of frozen cilantro. Toss in a couple handfuls of frozen peas and a ¼ cup of water and let it all simmer for about 10 minutes and serve it over rice with a lime wedge and hot sauce on the side…

We love it! And it seriously takes 15 minutes even with the rice if you use Jasmine (not brown. Brown takes 45 minutes and is quite a commitment.).

Oooh, I'll have to try that! Let's switch gears a little now and focus on your book again. Your book as food, that is. If your book were a menu item, describe the restaurant that would serve it.

I think my book would be best served by that really great Taco Truck by that cool little park in Sunnyside Queens. Keek is always on the go, in her brain, and she is not pretentious and appreciates authenticity and truth and integrity above all. And what is more authentic, true, unpretentious and integrity-filled than the best taco truck in the world? And you can put as many and kinds of sauces on as you want! Keek is a sucker for choice.

Speaking of Keek, I think she'll be a great fit for the next question. As writers, we're always looking for inspiration. Can you tell us about a time when food inspired your writing or a book inspired your cooking.

I once took a writing workshop with Lorrie Moore when I was at the University of Wisconsin and for the last class she asked everyone to bring in something to eat that was in one of our stories. It was hilarious! There was pizza and nuts and cheese but everyone had something. Food is elemental. Even zombie books are full of brains! Food is a great way to build empathy for a character and evoke all the senses for a scene. In And Then Things Fall Apart, Keek is obsessed with The Bell Jar-- which is full of food! There’s the ptomaine poisoned crabmeat salad, caviar, avocados, elaborate lunches with quivering domes of aspic. There’s a huge scene at the asylum cafeteria featuring institutional food like green beans and Salisbury steak. I found the food in the Bell Jar so… weird. So 1950’s stunted and odd. It really grounded the book, more than anything for me, in a very specific time and place and inspired me to compare a modern day teen’s life with a 1950’s teen and then…I worked all that in to And Then Things Fall Apart.

The food in AND THEN THINGS FALL APARTS really grounded the book for me too. I loved how it played into Keek's daily life, and I had wanted to try the recipes too.

I'm bummed this interview is rapping up. But maybe it's for the best because I'm thinking of raiding my fridge right now and it's late. So to put everything together—the book and the food—here is your last 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?

One book? How cruel! I want to be a smartass and make it like, a collected works of something or other but I have only read one book my whole life twice and it was Katherine Dunn’s Geek Love. I feel like there are too many books in the world and not enough time to read them all so reading a book more than once is a real extravagance- for me anyway. There are always these people who read like, The Great Gatsby once a year or like, Ulysses every Bloomsday but I’m not really one of those people. What I’m trying to say is, it would probably be Geek Love.

For food all I need is chips and salsa. And really great and authentic, and I mean from Mexico, tortilla chips and salsa. This is what I eat. It is my favorite food. When I am happy, sad, nervous, in love, depressed and/or buzzed on wine, this is all I crave.

Can't go wrong with chips and salsa. Especially if the salsa is spicy! Arlaina, thanks again for joining us. Before you leave, can you share a favorite recipe?

I am a soup person. I love soup, I love making soup and once the leaves go even a little brownish I’m making chili and soup and bisques and etc. THIS soup by Willams- Sonoma is amazing and a little complicated and I love that there is pumpkin in it! It’s great and Spanish and I love it.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Chicken Soup for the (Sickly) Writer's Soul

I had this whole post all planned out, and in my mind - it would've been great. I was gonna talk about The Hunger Games and how much I loved the books and how exciting it to see all the pictures of the actors dressed up in character now that the movie is shooting. Like this pic of Peeta with the bread!!

Then I was gonna say how I had always been team Peeta all the way, to the point where I didn't even understand how anyone could ever even be team Gale. I mean let's compare.

Gale: Manly hunter blah blah blah.

Peeta: Works in a bakery.

Okay, so maybe my preference has more to do with my love of carbs, which is why I was going to include a recipe for bread.

But then I got sick, and I didn't feel like mixing and waiting for dough to rise and all the other stuff that goes into making bread. My head was pounding, my nose was stuffy, and my throat was raw. I needed chicken soup. So that's what I made and what I'm blogging about today. Sorry Peeta.

This chicken noodle soup is less recipe and more method. Feel free to tinker with it, depending on your own soup preferences.

First start with a brand new 6.5 quarts red enameled cast-iron dutch oven. Admire how pretty it is. Congratulate yourself on getting such a fine pot at Walmart for only $40 (if you know how much those crazy Le Creuset people charge, then you know that's a steal.).Next find some chicken. We'd had some chicken breasts defrosting in the fridge for a few days with the intention of grilling them, I commandeered them for my soup instead. While you pat the chicken dry, put some olive oil in the pot and get it hot.

Then salt and pepper your chicken and stick it in the pot. Sear until it gets that pretty golden brown color on both sides.

Take the chicken out and set it aside. Admire the fond left in the pot that will (in theory) make our soup more delicious.

Next roughly chop celery, carrots, and onion and throw them in the pot. Cook until your husband (or significant other) says, "Oooh, that smells good."

Next put the chicken back in and then cover everything with water and bring to a boil.

Once boiling, lower the heat and let it simmer for about the length of one episode of Bubble Guppies. Then fish out the chicken and set it aside. Fish out the vegetables (or pour the whole thing through a strainer, I do the fishing method cause I try to avoid lifting heavy pots full of scalding hot liquid.) and toss them out.

Now comes the secret ingredient.

Okay, so maybe not so secret. You could use bouillon cubes or chicken stock in a box, but I like this stuff. I added a big scoop of it, tasted, and then added another even bigger scoop. I tasted again and it was a bit too salty, but once I added the chicken back in and the noodles it all balanced out. You can also just add more water if you need to dilute it a bit more.

Then I chopped chicken, more carrots and celery, some parsley and thyme.

Into the pot they went. Then bring the soup back up to a boil and add some egg noodles.

Cook until they are no longer crunchy.

And serve with a slice of bread (from the grocery store).


Monday, August 15, 2011

I'm guest posting

We here at Pots n' Pens know there's at least one great rule to follow.

Variety is the spice of life.

Because of this, you'll be seeing some guest posts coming up soon from members of Curiosity Quills, and their faithful readers will be hearing from us. So I'm over at Curiosity Quills with a post about Neil Gaiman's AMERICAN GODS as well as a great recipe for the pasties mentioned in that particular book. Look forward to seeing posts from their team on Pots n' Pens soon!

Interview with Author/Illustrator Brian Biggs

Besides being an amazing illustrator and now children's book author, Brian Biggs is also an agency-mate (Writers House represent!) and my neighbor in the Northwest section of Philly. I first met Brian at our friend Sara Goddard's annual soup competition party, and he and his fiancee Sacha blew everyone out of the water with their winning pumpkin-peanut soup. So good that I remember it, years later. So he seemed like a natural for a Pots 'N Pens interview.

About Brian
I was born in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1968. When I was eleven my family moved to the Houston area where I lived until I went to college. I lived in New York City and Paris during the college years attending Parsons School of Design, thinking I’d be a fine graphic designer. In 1993, I moved to San Francisco where I worked in Silicon Valley. I was writing and drawing graphic novels at this time and when it came to balancing “real life” as a designer with a paycheck and health benefits and being an “artist” with none of the above, the latter won out. In 1995, I quit my last real job and decided to make my way in life drawing pictures. I work out of an old garage in Roxborough with a barbecue restaurant directly behind me, which forces me to keep the windows closed if I want to get anything done.

I’ve been drawing children’s books for the last several years, starting with Shredderman (Wendelin Van Draanen, published by Knopf) in 2004. Now I have my first book, which I both wrote and illustrated coming out September 13. It’s called Everything Goes: On Land and it’s full of cars and trucks and bikes and trains and stuff.

What sort of snacks do you keep around your studio? Have you noticed your diet impacting your work in any way?

I have several bananas there currently. And beer is in the fridge. Is beer a snack? My diet has not impacted my work in any way that I am aware...

Does this the way you eat change when you’re on deadline?

Yes, somewhat. If I’m pressed for time I’ll “forget” to go out and get some lunch, and will often work through dinner as well. Having a couple of kids keeps things relatively routine, however. In the days before parenthood I might go several days without eating real actual food in certain time-crunched periods.

What’s your favorite type of cuisine to cook? Do you have any can’t-live-without ingredients stocked in your fridge?

My first favorite type of food to cook was Chinese. More generally, Asian stir-fry. The first items I bought when I moved to San Francisco at 25 was a real nice wok, some bamboo steamer trays, chopsticks, and some bowls. It was pretty much all I had so even if I was cooking a burrito, it was cooked in a wok. (Yeah, don’t ask; I was 25.)

Now I can’t think of any favorite, really. My fiancée and I like to cook together and it often depends on what’s available through our farm-share or what she stops and picks up at the supermarket. I’ll cook anything, and I enjoy cooking everything. I suppose the best answer is that I like a complicated cuisine where there is a lot going on and she and I and the two kids can all find jobs to do in preparing and cooking. Maybe the daughter batters something while the son creates some kind of sauce while I cut and cook and Sacha makes some kind of rockin’ salad and gins and tonics. Whether it’s Italian or Mexican or Asian or Portuguese doesn’t matter much to me.

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?

I think the closest I can come to saying yes to this is that in 1997 I spent two weeks at a comic book festival in Portugal. The hosts of the event spent a lot of energy showing us around and making sure we got to try the local dishes. I had a lot of trout and bacalao (salt cod) on that trip. When I got back home, I invited a bunch of friends over and spent a couple of days preparing and cooking. I think there were about fifteen dishes involved and a lot of alcohol. It was pretty amazing.

Otherwise, the food in my work is pretty limited to chicken fingers and PBJ lately.

Eating while reading: Yay or nay?

Not so much, unless you mean reading the news while drinking coffee and having breakfast.

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

Where the Wild Things Are, and soup.

About Brian's Recipe:

At this point in a summer I can usually look back and see some theme or particular dish that has recurred. A few summers ago, for instance, I found that I was making a pile of chicken salad every week, trying variations and different ingredients. Other times it’s been smoothies, fishes (not fish smoothies; that’s gross), and so on. This year Sacha and I were getting a lot of potatoes with the farm-share and we came across a recipe for roasted potatoes cooked on the BBQ grill. The basis of this comes from Stephen Raichlen’s The Barbecue! Bible published by Workman, on page 397 and he calls it “Greek Garlic and Lemon Roasted Potatoes.” (The BBQ! Bible is one of the cookbooks that I use regularly to find an idea on which to riff. I have a lot of really great cookbooks but I find that I go back to the ones that lay down a basic idea of something that can then be elaborated upon. If I have some combination of veggies and critters that I want to eat but don’t know how to make it all work together, this book is one of the three or four with an index that I can often scan and find something that might work.)

I’ve made this dish in some form or fashion probably ten times this summer. I like it best with those little Yukon Gold potatoes, a little more olive oil and garlic than the recipe calls for, and two lemons at the end rather than one. I also don’t use hickory chips in my fire the way the recipe calls for. The hickory overwhelmed the potatoes and it made the fire too hot. I use a Le Creuset french-oven style roasting pan for this. We tried using Pyrex once but the pyrex exploded on the grill, which kind of ruined the potatoes…

3 lb. small red potatoes, scrubbed, cut in half. (As I mentioned, I like Yukons though any small potato is awesome.)
1/4 cut extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 bay leaves
1 tsp. dried oregano
kosher or sea salt and ground black pepper to taste (I use plenty of both)
1 lemon, halved (two for me)
2 tbs. butter, optional (not optional—awesome)
2 tbs. fresh dill (sometimes I forget this, but I like it best with)

If you’re gonna use wood chips for that flavor thing, soak them in water for an hour and drain them.

Light up your grill. If it’s big enough, get only half of it going off to one side. It’s best to be able to have the roasting pan in the grill but not necessarily directly over the fire for the duration.

Put potatoes in the roasting pan. Toss with oil, garlic, bay leaves, oregano, salt, pepper. Squeeze lemon all over this pile, and toss the rind halves on top. (I sometimes wait til the last fifteen minutes of cook time for the lemons.)

Toss the wood chips onto the fire, if you’re using them. Set the roasting pan on the grill uncovered and cook for 1 to 1.25 hours. What I do here is cook indirectly for fifteen minutes or so until the potatoes are softer. Then I stir it all around and cook directly over the fire or another 20-30 minutes, stirring after fifteen. This gets most of the potatoes nice and crispy on their bottoms. If you don’t like crispy crunchy potatoes (what’s wrong with you?), keep the pan indirectly over the fire.

The potatoes should be browned and awesome after about an hour. In the last ten minutes, stir in the butter. (This is where I add the lemons as well.)

Remove and toss out the lemons and bay leaves. Add salt and pepper if desired and serve. Fantastic with kababs or pretty much anything else.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Interview with Author Savenaz Tash

What a fabulous day! Today we are blessed with the wonderful Sarvenaz Tash. Sarvenaz is a multi-talented wonder versed in the art of screenwriting, copywriting, and the world of children’s literature. The Mapmaker and the Ghost, her middle grade novel with Walker Books for Young Readers, premiers April 24th, 2012.

This is on my buy list.
You can learn more by stopping by her blog and website:

(Our characters in this cooking plot.)
Now to the interview:

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?
Besides being a mapmaker, my main character, Goldenrod, is also an excellent sandwich-maker. She spends a lot of time trying to find different and unusual combos. That being said, I think she would be very disappointed in my fridge right now because, besides condiments, there isn't much there she could work with. Sorry to let you down, G! (This writing thing has not done wonders for my kitchen skills/cooking time). 

Share your favorite literary feast or treat. What makes this food and/or writing so memorable?
A few months ago I discovered this recipe for Butterbeer cupcakes: They are obviously inspired by the world of Harry Potter and, more specifically, by the Butterbeer drinks created for The Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme park in Orlando. As someone who spent years wondering what Butterbeer tasted like, and finally got a very satisfying answer in Orlando, I can tell you these cupcakes are HP-nerd-approved. (They are really SO good).

Describe the best cook you know and something wonderful he or she has served you.
My mom is the best cook I know and there are so many dishes to choose from! But one of my favorites involves a stew made of plums and spinach served over steamed basmati rice. I grew up eating Persian food almost exclusively and I am just starting to learn how to make it myself with the help of my mom of course. I'm trying to collect as many recipes from her as I can since most of them are also my grandma's and they've been verbally handed down. Judging from the state of my fridge (see above), I would say I'm not exactly banging out the recipes like I'm banging out first drafts, though. Hmmm....

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?
I think heartfelt, three-dimensional characters can save almost any story. Whenever I'm stuck, I always go back to thinking "what would this character truly do?" Or, even better, "what could this character do that would be surprising but not, ultimately, out of character?"
Clichéd plotting is what I think most easily destroys a book for me, although, again, I think strong character work can overpower and redeem even that!

If you were marooned on an island and Pots & Pens granted your wish for only one book and one food, what would you choose?
The food part is easy: I'd say bread. The book part is painful. If I had a gun to my head and had to choose, I'd say PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. But how could I ever really only choose one book?!

Goldenrod's Peanut Butter and Strawberry Sandwich with Cheerios (for Extra Crunch)
- 2 pieces of toast
- 2 tablespoons Peanut Butter
- 2 chopped up strawberries
- A handful of Cheerios

Toast bread, and chop strawberries.

Smear bread with peanut butter.

Add chopped strawberries and Cheerios.
Note: picture is tipsy. Sorry about that.

Top sandwich with other slice of bread.

If you are looking to put your parents in a good mood so that they'll finally let you properly explore your neighborhood, add fancy toothpicks.

Thank you so much Savenaz.

Writing prompt: The quirky recipe combo inspired me. Write a character description with traits that would embody this quirky combination.

Happy Writing!