Thursday, April 26, 2012

Writer, Reviewer & Editor Leona Wisoker Shares Easy Flatbread Recipe

Leona Wisoker's work is fueled equally by coffee and conviction; her debut series, "Children of the Desert," is set in a world which is still struggling through a number of basic moral and developmental issues. The final result leaves room not only for serious questions but moments of laughter, and inevitably involves coffee.

Her short stories have appeared in Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, Futures: Fire to Fly Magazine,, and She is a reviewer for Green Man Review and the Sleeping Hedgehog; an editor for Damnation Books; and regularly blogs about writing and creativity.

A thief chooses the wrong victim.
A desert lord abandons his lands.
A young woman accepts a stewardship.
They all find their destiny on the sands.

Idisio cuts the wrong purse and finds himself bound to serve a desert lord who just gave up his wealth, his lands, and his name to wander....Lady Alyea accepts the king's mission to assume stewardship of the desert lord's abandoned fortress. But the southern desert of a harsh world of violence, suspicion, and politically tangled family clans who worship the old gods....Out on the sands, the harsh glare of the sun reveals more
about the world--and themselves--than they ever wanted to know.

If you were marooned on an island, and Pots & Pens granted your wish for only one book and one food, what would you choose? Well, my first thought would be that if Pots & Pens can grant me wishes, they can bloody well get me off this island...failing that, I'd ask for a book on how to survive being marooned on a (presumably deserted) island. But that wasn't the point of the, lashing myself down to the real intent, I'd have to humbly say: Moominpappa at Sea, by Tove Jansson, would be the book of choice. I love Jansson's work, and that book was one of her best efforts; even though it's technically a children's book, I still read it at least twice a year. The indomitable spirit of the Moomin family, and the way they each face off against the "spirit" of the island and, at the end, face themselves, never fails to get me moving again when I'm feeling like I'm laboring under too heavy of a weight.

The food of choice would be cheese--a nice, rich cheese--because I am forever going to remember reading the first of S. M. Stirling's post-apocalyptic "The Change" series, in which the characters are desperate for something fatty. I went straight to the store after reading that book--no lie!--and bought a pack of the fattiest bacon I could find. And rich cheese. And chocolate. And ate it all up within two days. His descriptions affected me that strongly. So if I had to be deprived of my normal diet, I now know that something fatty is absolutely essential to my sanity.

It makes me hungry for cheese just hearing you talk about it! What are three must-have foods/seasonings in your kitchen: Well, cheese, obviously. Preferably a good New York sharp white cheddar, as it's very versatile; but when I'm feeling self-indulgent (or in need of a fattier version) I spring for brie, havarti, or camembert.

Black peppercorns (with a grinder, of course)--if I couldn't have any other seasoning, I'd definitely keep my black pepper. It's a stimulant and an insect repellent, so it's actually very practical as well as tasty.

For the third and final item, I'm going to have to go with coffee beans (with grinder, of course). I'm a total coffee addict. Without that first cup in hand, I'd wake up and rip that entire island right out of the sea, and then I'd be left pathetically floating on an overturned tree, hoping for the sea currents to take me to the nearest Starbucks (or even better, the indie equivalent). Hmmm...maybe I should leave coffee off that list, come to think of it...nah. That would result in entirely too much ecological destruction. Moving right along...

What is your go-to meal when you need to serve something quick and easy? Depending on who the guests are going to be. If it's just myself and my husband, I generally throw together a dinner frittata; if it's for company, I tend to reach for grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup. (One box Trader Joe's regular tomato soup, one box TJ's low-sodium tomato soup, makes for the perfect balance and feeds about six people easily.) On really good days, I can rifle the contents of the freezer and pull out stuff like homemade eggplant Parmesan, lasagna, chicken soup, and banana bread. On really bad days, I just reach for the phone and order pizzas.

What is your A+, number one writing/editing snack? Flatbread and cheese. I love to keep flatbread dough in the fridge these days. On days when I know I'll be in front of the computer all day, I'll get up in the morning and fry up a big stack of flatbreads. Then, any time I need a break, I can get up, wrap a flatbread around a chunk of cheese (and maybe a handful of black beans dressed with olive oil and black pepper), and munch away while staring out the window at the birds hopping through my garden. By the time I'm done with that, I'm usually feeling much more charitable toward the world and less critical of my own and
other people's literary efforts.

Speaking of literary efforts, what's cooking? Can you share a bit about your next project? Yes, indeed I can! Every burner is filled and then some, at the moment. I have a longish short story, "Dragon Child,"coming out next month in an anthology called "Galactic Creatures"--that anthology is launching
Memorial Day weekend, at BaltiCon on Sunday night. I have another short story, "Silver and Iron", coming out this summer in "Sha'Daa: Pawns," the latest installment of Michael Hanson's Sha'Daa series. I'm currently working on a series of short stories and another book set in the world of the Children of the Desert series. Books three and four of that series, by the way, are both due out next year (due to an unfortunate string of events that has pushed publication dates farther out than anticipated).

I'm teaching classes through The Muse Writers Center of Norfolk, VA, editing for three different entities at any given time, and scheduling various small presentations and workshops throughout the Hampton Roads area. I've set myself to learn about podcasting, with an eye to starting that up by the end of July. Oh, and I'll be at the Chesapeake Public Library for FantaSci in July! Lots and lots to plan for and organize, lots of late night work-sessions...which is how I like it!

Recipe Row: What favorite recipe do you have for us today? Flatbread, of course--the ultimate versatile food! I don't even bother with yeast, so it's super simple:

3 & 1/3 cups flour  (and an extra half cup set aside for kneading)
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1 & 1/4 cups milk (almond milk or water also works just fine!)
extra virgin olive oil, to cook

Combine dry ingredients (including any dried herbs you want to rub into the mix). Add milk/water and stir until it forms a sticky dough.  
Turn out onto a well floured surface and knead, adding as little of the extra flour as possible, until you can at least handle the dough without getting your hands stuck together. Place dough in a large oiled bowl and let it rest in the refrigerator for an hour. (Don't get rid of that floured board yet! You'll need to roll the dough out yet.)

Heat a generous amount of olive oil in a pan. While that's heating up, tear off pieces of dough about the size of a golf ball, and use a rolling pin to stretch the dough out to about a 5 inch disc. Again, add as little extra flour as possible. Fry each flatbread over moderate heat, turning once,  until goldish-brown and bubbly on each side. It should only take about 2 minutes per side.
Drain on paper towels and serve with chunks of a good sharp cheese, slices of in season vegetables or fruit, and black beans.

Cleanup takes rather longer, unfortunately, than cooking...and is much less fun. But it's worth the hassle! You can always reward yourself with a flatbread smeared with Nutella...

Addendum for recipe: As with all bread baking, the flour amount is a guideline, not a mandate. Go with the amount that gets you a soft dough.

Second addendum: Cleanup tip: use the morning's spent coffee grounds to scrub your hands and the mixing bowl. The acid and the oil of the coffee takes all the goop right off. Just one more reason to drink coffee...

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Putting Things Off and Egg Casserole

We are all bound by time, constrained by details, demands, and necessities to put off those dreams we most yearn to embrace. We make other choices.

Indeed, we may have no choice about how 95 percent of our time is spent. But life happens no matter how we live it, so between the craziness, the exuberance, and the tragedies of life, there are gaps. There are moments. 10 minutes. 30 minutes. An hour. There are moments that we do control, even if we’re not aware of them.

That time making the perfect meal, those minutes crafting a transcendent sentence, these things are not a waste. They’re an investment, an infusion of joy. And when they fill the gaps well enough, they enliven all the other moments in between.

I was going to be funny here, but, instead, in utter (okay, mostly utter) seriousness, here are my top five legitimate reasons for putting off your writing and the top five for putting off real cooking. Note: these only apply to those who are truly passionate about these pursuits, and, of course, there are exceptions.

Legitimate Reasons Not to Write
    1. You are suffering from serious illness or sleep deprivation.
    2. Flying monkeys have stolen your computer, burned down your house, and are dive-bombing to prevent you from using smoke signals from the fire to write your manuscript.
    3. Your family needs you more (always a valid reason, but remember to differentiate between “need” and “want”).
    4. You truly don’t believe you have anything worth saying—and don’t want to find out if you’re wrong.
    5. The thought of failing scares you more than the thought of never trying.

Legitimate Reasons Not to Cook
    1. You’re married to a fabulous cook who will make anything you want.
    2. The insurance company still hasn’t ponied up for the last time you burned down the kitchen. (Notice the fire theme in these excuses.)
    3. You believe that a box with sixty unpronounceable ingredients will provide your family with a healthier or tastier meal than you, a pan, and six things from your Fridge. Come to think of it, perhaps that should be a feature on Pots ‘n Pens: Six Things from Your Fridge. ;)
    4. You’re eating out somewhere that doesn’t have a mascot, a jingle, or a “Value Menu.”
    5. You’re working on your novel.

Bonus Reason for Either
    6. I need to _________________ instead today. But tomorrow, I will definitely take time to _______________ my heart out.

Okay, since I’ve stalled long enough myself, here is today’s recipe for Egg Casserole. There are countless versions of this, but what I like best about this variation is the perfectly dense yet fluffy consistency.

1 lb. ground sausage
2 c. diced potatoes
1 c. diced onion
½ c. chopped green onion
1 finely chopped bell pepper
1 tsp. sage
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
8 eggs
4 oz. (½ c.) milk
12 oz. (1½ c.) evaporated milk
2 tsp. dry mustard
4 slices white bread, cubed
1 c. shredded cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 350˚. Stirring often, cook sausage and potatoes in a skillet on medium high heat until sausage is starting to brown. Add onions, greens onions, and bell pepper, and cook a few more minutes until sausage is browned. Mix in sage, salt, and pepper, and let cook for one more minute. Drain.

In a large bowl, beat eggs. Stir in milk, evaporated milk, and mustard. Then add sausage mix, bread, and cheese. Once thoroughly mixed, pour into greased pan. (I used a 9x13 glass pan.) Cook at 350˚ for 40-50 minutes, until egg is firm.

Get going. Don’t put it off!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Lists; One Ingredient Can Change Everything

I’m one of those crazy people that when they start a project, whether it be a story or let’s say a backyard barbecue, a list is made. My husband use to make quirky remarks about my jumbled notes scratched out on paper. He learned real quickly how important the lists are when he took off camping without me and didn’t have a spatula to flip his burgers.

Once I’ve decided who the main character is going to be, I give them their age. For me this sets the backbone for the whole story. Like when making the punch for your barbecue, are you going to make one the teenagers can drink or is it going to be for adults only? Sometimes you can add a little bit of fizz (you know, like that certain kind of tension teen’s like between characters that leaves them wanting more) for the young adults by mixing in a carbonated drink. But, if you’re entertaining for the more mature crowd that added adult kick might be just what you need. Simply changing one ingredient can alter the whole recipe.

After the choice of age, my lists have lists. What are the steps to get the outcome? The experience with relationships, if it’s a first love then everything is new. Then what happened to make the person who they are. That is cataloged for me to know how to develop the character and 90% of it never makes it in the story.

These lists are what help you make sure everything is ready to begin, stay on track, and provide an ending result that is pleasing to your audience.

With all this talk of beverages, I am sharing a punch that is family friendly but can be easily adapted for over 21.

Photo courtesy of Shannon Swainston

1 can frozen lemonade concentrate, thawed
1 can frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed
½ cup grenadine syrup, chilled (optional)
1 bottle (32oz) ginger ale (or Sprite/7up) chilled

Prepare concentrates as directed on cans. Mix lemonade orange juice and syrup in large punch bowl; stir in ginger ale.

*If you’re going for the adult version, exchange the ginger ale with champagne.