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32 posts from November 2010

November 30, 2010

The Twilight Zone of the Holiday Kitchen

The Twilight Zone of the Holiday Kitchen

By Kathy Reschini Sweeney, who believes

Let's start by setting forth some simple truths:  I don't cook.  Sure, I prepare food, I order food, I serve food and heaven knows I truly enjoy food.  I even watch Food Network.  But I don't like to cook. I make a significant exception - at the holidays, I spend a lot of time creating edible things.  I shop (I am very picky), I prep, I sift, slice, mince, zest, simmer, boil, and bake.  I have a special affinity for all things cranberry as well as sweet or savory breads - zucchini, ginger, pumpkin, corn.  I have kitchen tools made especially to complete these recipes.  I don't like other people to touch them.  I also don't like when people don't put the knives in the correct knife block.  But that is a set of neuroses for another day.

To me, one cannot claim to be a real cook unless one combines several ingredients and uses an electronic device other than a grill, microwave, or open fire (see, s'mores).

So much for the preamble.  Every year, I take over the kitchen for Thanksgiving.  I have a very ambitious schedule because I have three different Thanksgivings which call for my participation. Deviations from the schedule are not welcome, and usually involve some kind of liquid fortification.

Merrily, I rolled along on Tuesday and Wednesday, making the cranberry sauce and the cranberry butter.  I baked the pumpkin bread and ginger bread - some with a new twist of dried cranberries (I would like to say this was driven by some health-related epiphany, but the truth is when you buy dried cranberries at Costco, you get about forty pounds and no one should eat that many of anything.)

The second batch of pumpkin bread was baking quietly, when suddenly, it was a holiday mash-up.  The 4th of July was taking place in my oven.  No kidding - it started out as something that looked like a sparkler, then morphed into a multi-colored display of shooting sparks.  Lovely, but not what one expects.  I turned off the oven, opened it (hey - I had to save the bread) - performed a standing high jump of Olympic caliber in order to avoid burning my face off - and then whisked the bread out and slammed the thing shut.

Did I care what happened to the appliance?  I did not.  I called my bf Robin to see if she had a free oven, packed up the partially-baked bread and hustled over to her house to finish baking it. (That worked, by the way - but I wouldn't try it with yeast breads just saying).

When I returned with fragrant loaves in hand, I took a look in the oven.  For some reason, a piece of the protective coating had fallen off the heating element (that is that wiry thing at the bottom of the oven that glows red when the oven is hot) and the fibrous part of the element was exposed.  One need not be an electrical engineer to determine in very short order that there would be no baking until it was repaired.  Now, I know people - lots of people - but no way in hell was I calling anyone at 10 pm on Thanksgiving eve to repair a stove.  Honestly, I feared the stove had a reaction to me touching it - a rare thing indeed unless there are cookies involved.

Then Ty and I started to finish the cranberry butter, which involves putting the cooked mixture in a blender.  Not 60 seconds later, we picked up a smell that did not belong in the room.  The blender was smoking.  Not weed- that's illegal- just regular smoke.  We only had a couple more minutes to go, so we skated on that thin ice and just kept going.  We laugh in the face of danger here, do we not?

We were able to finish liquifying the cranberries, but the blender, she didn't make it.  I'm not an arc welder, but I don't think there is a way to straighten out metal gear-like parts once they are melted into a blob.  

And because things come in threes - I am not making this up - the microwave, haven for the hungry who have neither skill nor patience - stopped making the beeps.  It worked, but did so in silence, as if in tribute to its fallen comrades.  

There is a happy ending, thankfully.  We found George from Same Day Repair, and he fixed the oven on Friday morning.  We were grating the zucchini before he was even out of the driveway.  Ty and I were a virtual ballet of baking - four hours later, we had six loaves done.  Hallelujah!

As a post script, in between the zucchini breads, I was melting butter for another recipe, and - brace yourself - the microwave suddenly recovered its voice - beeping jauntily when the butter was done.

Cue the music from the Twilight Zone.

Is it just me - or do any of you have kitchen disaster stories?





November 28, 2010

Let the Caroling Begin


by Heather

I'm one of those people who do not like the fact that Christmas goes on sale the minute Halloween Animated-3d-dancing-skeletons   is over--and I do mean before it's over. We were in New Orleans this year on October 21st since the Slushpile Band played at the Memnoch the Devil ball. It was wonderful because the city takes the holiday very seriously--Halloween is a week long affair. But, before the day was over, the chain drug stores were stripping the shelves--grinning skeletons replaced by grinning Santas. Santa-claus-parade1

But Thanksgiving is such a great holiday! First, there's the food. Then there's the fact that we know it's going to be on a Thursday and that there's a major four day holiday in there. That gives families a chance to get together.

I love Christmas. I really, really love Christmas. But I refuse to forget Thanksgiving--that day to be grateful to those close to us without having to give gifts.

Christmas-shopping-300x300 I understand our dire economic situation, and so, I understand that commercially, we have to start Christmas as soon as possible. Or should I say, the Holiday Season that Brings in Money. But, for me, Christmas really begins as soon as we've celebrated Thanksgiving.

It's tradition that we go to Disney, our favorite hotel, the Dolphin. I have all five children, daughter-in-law, nephew, niece-in-law, grand nephews, and my sister-in-law-in-law's family. (That's not a typo; my sister has passed away, and so has my brother-in-law, and we share DJ). My son Jason's girlfriend, Kathy, has little ones too. Dennis and I majored in theater Mickey-mouse-computer-wallpaper at the University of South Florida eons ago, and theater majors were often at Disney for projects, works, or classes--so we have known the Mouse a very long time.

Then, what is Thanksgiving without Kimono's--sushi and karaoke.

And yes, at midnight--Christmas songs began. I was proud of Dolphin because their beautiful tree didn't go up in the lobby until AFTER midnight on Thanksgiving.

I was in seventh heaven. I had my family. And a wonderful day, little ones crawling everywhere, room service to pick up everything, and a new game instigated by Bianca, Kathy's daughter. We came here for Easter, too, and played the egg game, and she loved the egg game. It's really hard to find plastic eggs at Thanksgiving, but I don't like to disappoint a young girl.

2283022_500 There was one flaw this weekend. I was heading into Animal Kingdom with my daughter to meet up with the others. After waiting in a ten-minute line to get in, my pass wouldn't work. I was sent to a twenty-minute line to get a new pass, and then had to get back in the ten-minute line. I had my phone with me, because I kept trying to explain via my cell phone what was taking me so long and . . . . 

No, Mickey did not mug me for my phone. But in all those lines Horror-Eyes--35021                                  --and trying to be patient, polite, and still smiling--I set the phone down somewhere. In five minutes, it totally disappeared. Argh! I am phoneless.

But, that's okay, because I hear some really beautiful Christmas music in the air! Indeed, it's time to head home and start on Christmas.

Favorite carol, anyone?



Missing Rita

By Elaine Viets

Large rita 

"I wish mosquitos sucked fat instead of blood."

"I never gave guys a random phone number. I always gave the number of the police department!"

"Inside every old person is a younger person wondering what the fuck happened."

These are some of my favorite quotes from Rita Heeney Scott. My friend died of a heart attack last week. I wanted to write a tribute to the hilarious, courageous woman I’ve known for more than twenty years.

This should be a sad blog. Well, it is sad: Rita is gone. I’ll miss her wisecracks.

But I can’t be sad when I read Rita’s snarky wit. She posted this definition of calories on Facebook: "Calories are the little fuckers that get into your wardrobe at night and sew your clothes tighter. (My closet is infested with the little shits!)"

Rita said her political views were "independent."

"I can’t decide which is scarier this year. The screaming, bloody commercials for the Halloween Haunted houses, or all the ads for the politicians!" she wrote.

She also said, "It is estimated that politicians will have spent 3 BILLION DOLLARS for ads during this election!!! I wonder if their collective charitable donations come anywhere close to that."

After the election, she wrote: "OMG the Christmas commercials are replacing the political ads! Pampers, Hallmark & Branson, Mo. today. BAH HUMBUG!!"

Rita hated sappy sentimentality. After too many requests to pass on Facebook friendship hugs, she wrote, "ACHOO!!! . . . Copy & paste this to your status if you’re allergic to bull crap, drama, head games, liars & fake people. Keep this sneeze going . . ."

Rita’s life could be a country song of hard times and hard luck, but she never whined, not even after her husband and soulmate Dwain Petty died in 2005. After Dwain’s death, she lost her home.

Rita described herself as "widowed several years now & have turned into ‘the crazy lady.’ "

She was the premier pusher for my cats. Her organic catnip treats were the Maui Wowee of the feline world. Rita mailed a box of them to our home. I left it unopened on the dining room table. Our cats wrestled it down and chased it all over the condo. When I finally opened the box, the furry feline freaks turned backflips, then raced around until they passed out in a drug stupor. Rita’s catnip business was aptly named "catshigh.us."

She made quilts to protect pet lovers’ furniture. They were too pretty to be covered with cat hair.

Rita was a favorite commentator on The Lipstick Chronicles. She probably created the Tarts’ slogan: IOCHFTS – I Only Come Here For The Sex.

Her comments are funny, irreverent and downright racy.

Our most mysterious Tart – Me, Margie – wrote about "words that sound dirty but aren’t" and Rita replied,

"The chief of a neighborhood police dept. was named Glasscock. If that wasn’t bad enough, all the cops called him Crystal Dick, not to his face, of course. Don’t forget the mechanics who tell you that you need a head job. And they already have a Save Our Seamen Club. It’s called a sperm bank."

When Congress turned down a Social Security cost of living raise, Rita wrote, "Guess I’d better get some fishnets & stilettos and earn my money the old-fashioned way."

She would have been 60 this December. Rita was so alive I was stunned when her friend Danyelle Warden broke the news on Rita’s Facebook page: " . . . Rita had a heart attack a couple of days ago and she passed away this afternoon with complications. Her heart simply stopped beating and they could not revive her. Here’s hoping that Rita finds the joy and peace she’s been looking for now."

Rita leaves two grown children, Jennifer and Tim, and too many friends to list. The world will be a duller, colder place without her.

NOTE: Rita wants to be cremated. Plans for her memorial service are being finalized. Check the Rita Heeney Scott Facebook page for updates.

Meanwhile, she needs homes for her four cats. They are mature felines, past the kittenish clawing-the-curtains stage. Danyelle says, "Tipsy, a black tuxedo neutered male, is a sweetheart. Kiki is a charcoal-gray spayed female with white markings. She may be 8 or 9. Missy is a loveable tortoise shell calico spayed female."  Snorkie is a fat orange spayed female of unknown age and will play "stick 'em up" with you. 

If you want to adopt, please email danyelle@danyellewarden.com.


November 27, 2010

Some days Are Diamonds and Some Days Are Rust


 Margaret here:  I'm truly delighted to introduce my friend and fellow Tar Heel to any who may not yet have met her. (And if you're in the mystery world, don't worry:  sooner or later, you will, I promise you!)  Kaye Barley, along with her husband Donald, and their corgi, Harley Doodle Barley, lives in the beautiful North Carolina mountains.  Kaye writes the Meanderings and Muses blog, where, along with her own ramblings, she hosts a multitude of guests from the mystery community.


You know how some days are diamonds and some days are rust?





(Y’all –is that the MOST gorgeous video ever?  I love it.  ‘Course I love Joan Baez and I love the song, but this video is one of my favorites, ever.)

Days of diamonds and rust.

We all have some of each, and after a few rusty days, a precious day of diamonds is most welcome.

I experienced a sparkly little diamond day when an email popped into my mailbox from Margaret M. with the subject line “Wanna Be a Tart?”

The first thing I thought was, “ruh roh, what’s she up to now?”  The second thing I thought was, “The hell’s she talking about?  I AM a tart, she knows that.”  But when I opened her email I realized she was inviting me to be a “Guest Tart.”   Here!   At The Lipstick Chronicles!  Wow.  This is kinda like being  Queen for a Day!  Well, actually - loads better.  Does this woman have any idea what's getting ready to happen to her head here??  Looks deadly serious). 


(Remember this old TV show??  I guess “Reality TV” has been around longer than I realized!)


Margaret and Nancy suggested I chat a little about what it’s like living in a small town, one that is somewhat isolated, and yet still able to be a part of the mystery community

My introduction to the people I’ve gotten to know in the mystery community started many years ago and has grown gradually.  I’ve always been an avid reader, but didn’t really pay particular attention to any singular genre.  I started reading quite young, discovered our public library at an early age and would read most anything I’d happen across that struck my fancy.  As I got older I discovered book stores (and shoe stores!  But that’s a story for another day).   As I’ve gotten still older I’ve discovered on-line bookstores.  A lovely thing  for those of us who live in small towns which are somewhat “resource limited.”  

But when I first discovered the on-line mystery discussion group DorothyL, my interest in mysteries increased because there were so many knowledgeable people sharing and recommending so many “new to me” mystery writers. 

One of those I was introduced to was Margaret Maron.

After discovering  Ms.  Maron’s books and taking a few trips across North Carolina (albeit vicariously) with Judge Deborah Knott, I worked up the nerve to send her an email.  It was important to me to let Ms. Maron know how much I enjoyed her work, and (on a selfish note) I wanted to know when Deborah would be visiting the High Country.

Margaret wrote about it in a blog entitled “Serendipity” at Meanderings and Muses .

Getting to know Margaret has been one of the loveliest experiences ever.  She truly is, just as you hear people say, one of the most gracious women out there.


What I’ve learned over the years, is that most of the people in the mystery community possess much the  same generosity of spirit and graciousness.  I’m not going to try to kid anyone and pretend I’m bosom buddies with a whole lot of big name mystery authors; I’m not.  It does tickle me pink, however, to be recognized and called by name by some, and has me grinning from ear to ear that there’s a picture of me giving the dishy Lee Child a kiss on his head in his webpage scrapbook .  (who is, by the way, just an all ‘round very nice man.  In addition to be dishy).


My place in the mystery community is teeny, but it’s an important, treasured part of my life.  Its allowed me to meet people I never would have met; and I’m not speaking of just the writers.  The fans are just as fun, just as wonderful, just as gracious.   Meld them all together and what we end up with is a “tribe.” And one which has brought me a huge amount of joy.  And just by hanging around for so long I’ve been lucky enough to end up as a minor character in a few books, and I’ve been blessed with an acknowledgment in one of Margaret’s.  Appropriately enough – High Country Fall.

The biggest mystery community “lovefest” is Bouchercon.  If you haven’t been yet, I encourage you to do so.  Yes, it’s huge and yes it can be intimidating, but it can also be, for a fan of mysteries and the wonderful people who write them, better than Disneyworld.

But, if you’re unable to get to Bouchercon or any of the other cons, the community is also right at our fingertips.  We can get to know our favorite authors, along with fellow fans, through blogs just like this one.  Where there’s a common bond, and a sense of friendship.  For the many of us who also happen to be a bit introverted, it’s a perfect way to feel included.  So what if you’re in a small town with the closest airport a couple hours away.  Someplace where it’s quite rare for writers to visit, well – pafooey – these days we can just log onto our computers and from the comfort of home, say “hey!”   (I just adore Facebook).

Now, here’s the thing.  I won’t be the only person you’ll hear describe this community as a “tribe.”  That’s exactly what it is, and as with every tribe, there are some who are going to be more welcoming and more nurturing, and there are going to be some who are perhaps not quite so warm as others.  But.  It’s still a tribe.  It’s still a special group of people with its own mystique, and its own foibles.  And as with any tribe – there’s always room for one more member.   If you don’t already consider yourself a member of the family, perhaps it’s time for you to send one of your favorite authors a note telling them how much you enjoy their work – time is shorter than any of us realize.  The opportunity to say “thank you” to someone who has touched your life could disappear in a moment.  And that gesture to could lead to a friendship greatly cherished by the both of you.

Which leads me to what I really wanted to say.

When Donald had his heart attack in May, I learned first hand exactly how extraordinary the mystery world is.  The outpouring of concern, good wishes and love carried me through one of the toughest times of my life.   I am forever indebted, happily so.  And so is my Donald.


November 26, 2010

Food and Folks

by Diane Chamberlain

Eggplant face

I’m in the produce section of the grocery store and I reach for a big, dusky brown russet potato when I hear Nina’s voice in my head.  “Two should be sufficient, don’t you think?”

I haven’t seen Nina in decades--only once since high school-- but I can’t hold a russet potato in my hand without thinking of her. When I was a teenager, I often made my favorite easy to make meal—potatoes, onions and eggs. I was sort of known for this simple recipe, primarily because it was the only thing I knew how to cook. So one day I suggested to Nina that we make potatoes, onions and eggs for dinner. She reached into her mom’s pantry, pulled out two potatoes, and said the sentence above,  linking 
Potatos potatoes to Nina forever in my mind. I love that. I love that I think of her and our teenaged friendship everytime I feel the weight of a russet in my hand.

                Back then, I made that potato dish with lots of oil and fried the heck out of the potatoes.  I still make it now, but I’ve lightened it up by nuking the potatoes first.

Diane’s Easy Potatoes Onions and Eggs for Two

  • Nuke two russet potatoes (two are sufficient!) until just tender.
  • Quarter them lengthwise, then slice them into pieces about a quarter inch thick.
  • Heat a little olive oil in a skillet and add the potatoes and one coarsely chopped onion.
  • Cook until the potatoes are brown and the onions tender.
  • Beat a couple of eggs and pour them over the potatoes and onions. Heat until the eggs are done.
  • Serve with catsup or salsa.

                Then there’s the peanut butter. When I dip a knife into a jar of peanut butter, I hear my grandmother’s voice.  “Just a smear,” she’d say.  My family lived with my feisty red-headed grandmother, who was disabled. Every evening, I’d make her a cup of Sanka and a piece of toast with peanut butter, and every evening she’d say “Just a smear.”  Makes me smile every time I spread a piece of bread with peanut butter. But just a smear for me?  Hardly.

                Zan McCrone was my best friend until her death at age twenty-nine and she's connected in my mind to at least fifty foods. Burger  Hamburgers, for example. She and I were teenagers sitting in a restaurant in Greenwich Village pretending we were genuine Bohemians when a few feral cats wandered through the room. Zan became convinced our hamburgers  were made of cat meat and refused to finish hers. Whatever suspicions she had about the meat and the cat passed me by, thank goodness, but it was the last meat Zan ever ate. As she Feral cat began cooking only vegetarian meals, she taught me how to make eggplant parmagiana, which is still one of my favorite meals. When I make it myself these days, I lighten it up, baking the eggplant  instead of frying it. I admit it…it doesn’t taste as decadent as Zan’s, but it’s still delicious.

Zan’s Lightened Up Eggplant Parmagiana (and Eggplant Sex discussion)

  • One large male eggplant (okay, I know there is controversy about eggplant gender, but Zan taught me to always look for the boy eggplant. The boys have a round "belly button" on the bottom, while the girls have an elongated belly button. Girls have more seeds and are bitter. Males are just plain yummy, as most of us know. Some people say this male/female thing is an old wive's tale, but I've had excellent luck choosing eggplants by the boy/girl method. Forget salting them and all that other silliness. Just pick a boy).
  • Italian seasoned Panko
  • One egg
  • Fresh mozzarella, sliced
  • Your favorite jarred marinara sauce
  • Fresh basil, chopped if desired

Heat oven to 350

Pour some marinara sauce in the bottom of a glass baking pan

Peel the eggplant (why most chefs leave that annoying peel on is beyond me!) and slice a quarter inch thick

Dip slices in egg, then Panko and lay in a single layer on a greased baking sheet. Bake until fork tender.

Layer the eggplant slices with mozzarella, basil leaves and remaining sauce. Bake for 30 minutes. Serve with pasta and more sauce. And think of Zan with every bite.

         I am neurotic about food safety. I admit it. I use three sets of tongs when I grill meat, for example. One for the raw meat, the second pair to turn the half cooked meat, the third to remove the fully cooked meat from the grill.  Totally neurotic. I also use paper plates on top of my chopping board so whatever I’m chopping doesn’t come into contact with whatever invisible germs might be on my perfectly clean chopping board. Tossing paper plates may not be great for the environment, but it makes me happy. You will not get food poisoning in my house! My parents house, though? That was another matter.

  Bean soup                I was staying with my Dad one time when my Mom was in the hospital, and he proudly made his favorite soup, “Bunion Soup.” I can’t see onion soup on a menu without thinking about my father’s invention. And what went into it.

Dad’s Bunion Soup (make at your own risk)

  • One package Lipton Onion Soup mix
  • Add a can of beans of your choice (pinto, black, kidney, whatever)
  • Add that pot of unidentifiable liquid you found in the rear of the bottom shelf of the refrigerator that’s probably been there since you moved into the house.
  • Cook and serve to your unsuspecting daughter.

He didn’t tell me about the pot of liquid until I was finished eating. He was so proud of his creation but when he mentioned, with such a happy, guiless look on his face, finding that pot of whatever in the back of the fridge,  I wondered if I should make myself throw up. I passed on that idea. I survived and Dad left me one more goofy Dad memory. Every one of them is precious.

So tell me about you. Is there a mushroom in your fridge you can’t look at without thinking of your Great Aunt Sadie?

November 25, 2010

Getting the Bird on Thanksgiving

By  Elaine Viets                Large roast turkey

Only the head of the family could carve the Thanksgiving turkey.

The reigning woman got the honor of cooking dinner for a dozen or more people.

We kids got to eat the food if we followed strict instructions: No talking with our mouths full, no elbows on the table, and no white meat until all the grownups were served.

We kids loved turkey breast, but my family had a strict hierarchy for turkey eating:

Dad got a whole turkey leg, and didn’t have to share.

Grandma got the turkey tail, known in our Catholic family as the Pope’s nose.

The other adults got the white meat.

We kids ate the dark meat, thighs and wings until the adults were served. Then we could have the remaining white meat – usually small slivers. This was before factory farms produced birds so breast-heavy they could hardly stand.

While he carved, Grandpa tried to remedy this inequity. He would cut a thick slice of breast meat, place it on the table and say, "Oops, I dropped it!" He made sure he dropped enough turkey breast for all seven grandchildren, unless Mom caught him and made him stop.

Butterball But one glorious Thanksgiving, Grandma popped for a Butterball turkey, the last word in white meat. We all admired this Dolly Parton of poultry. It was big-breasted, just like the ads said.

"Now everyone can have white meat," Grandma said.

By three p.m., the turkey was roasted to a golden brown. Grandma set it on the kitchen table to cool, while Grandpa sharpened the carving knife.

Grandma whipped the mashed potatoes, beating in thick dollops of butter and cream.Mashed potatoes

The dining room table had been set with a lace tablecloth. Grandma’s good crystal, silver and china made their annual appearance. A folding table was set up for the grandkids. We ate off everyday china, but had a real tablecloth.

Grandpa started carving in the kitchen. He cut through the crisp brown skin and turkey juice oozed out. My mouth watered. He cut off a generous slice of white meat and said, "Oops! I dropped it!"

A small hand snaked out and snabbed the white meat. We ate in order, littlest first, oldest last.

Cranberry sauce Meanwhile, my mother and aunt set out the green bean casserole topped with French’s dried onion rings, lima beans embedded in cheese sauce, creamed cauliflower, sage dressing and jellied cranberry sauce. I thought the lines from the can showed where to cut it.

Grandpa was still carving the turkey. "Oops, I dropped it," he said, and another slice reached a hungry young mouth.

My aunt set out real butter in a crystal dish and more butter for the kids’ table. Normally, we had to eat margarine. Butter was reserved for the refined adult palate.

"Oops, I dropped it," Grandpa said again. And again. I’d had two slices so far and was waiting for a third.

Mom found the bottle of Mogen David in the back of the fridge, where it had chilled since last Thanksgiving. That was the only wine Grandma served. A new bottle of Durkee’s was waiting for sandwiches later.

Grandpa was still "dropping" turkey slices for the grandkids while Mom and my aunt filled jillions of cut-glass dishes with green tomato relish, bread-and-butter pickles, cha-cha, grape jam, strawberry jelly and homemade apple butter. Grandma had spent her summers helping out at her uncle’s farm in Tennessee. She still cooked like her guests had just plowed the back forty.

My father and uncle were busy arguing about politics (my uncle had left the family religion and voted Republican).

"Oops! I dropped one," my grandfather said. By this time, I’d had four slices and was waiting for a fifth round

Gravy The gravy was poured into the boat. The mountain of mashed potatoes had a butter river flowing down its sides. The table sparkled with crystal, china and cut glass. Serving spoons were at the ready. Pies were cooling on racks.

"Dinner is served," Grandma said. "Bring in the turkey."

Grandpa carried in the huge platter. On it were two turkey legs, two wings, two thighs, the turkey tail and a pathetic mound of white meat.

"I don’t know what happened to the white meat," he said.

The disgruntled adults picked at the remaining white meat. We kids were truly thankful.

Happy Thanksgiving!


November 24, 2010

The Incredible Edible Egg

Margaret Maron


DownloadedFile I like eggs.  Scrambled, over-easy, poached on buttered toast, fancied up into Eggs Benedict or complicted omelets.

Gathering eggs was one of my favorite childhood chores, even when it involved climbing up into the rafters to the nest of a hen with Alpine tendencies, or reaching under a broody hen who wanted to keep her eggs for future chicks and was ready DownloadedFile_2 to peck me for my insolence, or even after finding a black snake who had slithered into a nest for his own tasty snack.  (We never killed black snakes because we didn’t begrudge an occasional egg if he kept down the mice and rats.) A warm brown egg fresh from the hen’s body seemed like something of a miracle.

Over the years, eggs have gone in and out of favor with health food gurus.  First they were considered a perfect source of protein.  Then they were banned for high cholesterol.  Now they seem to be back in favor again.  I myself never stopped eating them.  Not every day, but certainly two or three times a week.  But I am fussy about them. I want them just so—white firm, yolk runny if fried. Soft and moist Images_3 if scrambled..  Over the years, I’ve learned that an egg is probably the one food that people are outspokenly particular about.  I’ve quit trying to do anything but a communal soft scramble for houseguests.  Those who want theirs fried are welcome to my skillet and spatula.

The last time we were in England, we ate in a college dining room with the rest of the faculty and students.  The sides were delicious.  The scrambled eggs were as dry and rubbery as an innertube.  After a long weekend, we 599906 moved on to a four-bedroom coaching inn in a small town near Colchester.  The manager and his wife, the cook, had quit the day before and a new manager had been specialed in. We were the only guests. Dennis was nice and pleasant, but no cook and that first morning, his eggs were just like the ones in Cambridge, even though I made a special point of saying “Soft scramble, please.”

Next morning, we were still the only guests in residence and I told my husband I was going to ask to make our eggs myself.  Horrified, he told me I certainly couldn’t.

Nevertheless, when Dennis poured our coffee and asked how we’d like our eggs, to my husband’s embarrassment, I said, “Do you mind if I cook them myself?”

“Certainly, madam.  This way.”

Images_2 As I followed him through the swinging doors to the kitchen, I heard my husband call, “I'll have two over-easy!”

Out in the kitchen, Dennis wanted to give me an electric mixer to beat the eggs to death.  I declined.  (I just stir them gently in a well-buttered pan.  No milk.)  After a bit of back and forth, when I didn’t see the utensil I needed for my Images_7 husband’s eggs, we agreed that a spatula was also a “lifter” and one was produced from a nearby drawer.

With the tomatoes and English bacon and hot buttered toast, that breakfast was the best we’d had since arriving in England.

Images_4 Next morning, another couple were there at breakfast and I was worried that Dennis wouldn’t want me in the kitchen.  Happily, he poured coffee and asked if I again wanted to cook my own and just as happily, I headed for the swinging doors.  But not before I saw the eyebrow that proper English lady raised to her mate, who was rolling his own eyes in disapproval of the eccentric American.

“They said they liked my eggs,” Dennis told me.  (Well, they would, wouldn’t they?)

What about you?  Which foods are you fussy about?


November 23, 2010

My Sucky Teen Romance

By Sarah

Excuse me for living!

Remember that one? It was one of the favorite nonsensical lines I used to scream at my mother on the rare occasions when I managed to entangle her in one of my adolescent cat fights. Mostly, being 40 years older than I, she reserved her cross words for puzzles, not bickering. Wise idea. 

Bellaand edward These days - or so I hear - teenagers are besties with their parents and I must admit that, aside from a rough patch two years ago when my daughter was testing the limits as a high school senior, our household has been relatively peaceful. Knock on wood. I still have a teenage son and that brings a whole host of problems. Problems known as lethal dangers.

But enough about those stupid kids. Let's talk about us when we were teenagers, a period that seems both long, long ago and just yesterday. Now that I'm writing a young adult novel about "smart girls" and with a deadline fast approaching, my thoughts have turned from the sobering adult matters of KINDRED SPIRITS - cancer, death, female friendship, martinis, renewal - to the heady rush of the teenage experience.

I love it. It's refreshing. Zippy. And, best of all, I am in my own sick perverted way fulfilling my own fantasies by rewriting my own experience as a smart girl. And why the heck not. Because as far as a teenage love life is concerned, mine was beyond miserable.

Smart girls deserve better.

My first proper date was in tenth grade with a guy I knew from the Episcopalian church where I taught Sunday school and sang in the choir. He was okay enough, though I couldn't for the life of me figure out why he'd asked me out. He attended Moravian Academy, the private school across town, not my icky public junior high with its cracked tile, smoke-filled, pink-painted cinderblock bathrooms. 

My mother was beyond thrilled when he took me to - wait for it - Ibsen's Hedda Gabler where I discovered that we were surrounded by most of his Moravian Academy teachers. No trip to the rolling rink for moi. No hand holding in matinees. It was being driven by his dad to see a play about depressed alcoholic Norwegians committing suicide over university tenureship.

Sandra Dee at the beach it was not. Sandra

Andy, for that was his name, kissed me at the door while his father waited in the Lincoln. I'm sure it was as awful for him as it was for me because I went inside and promptly threw up. Two days later he called for another date and I told him I couldn't make it because I had to go to a funeral.

"Who goes to a funeral at 6:30 on a Friday night?" asked my mother, who lectured that it was so difficult for boys to summon the courage to ask girls out, I should never turn them down.

Thanks, Mom, for the support.

That night, Andy's mother called and the two of them chatted, my mother apologizing profusely.

Years later, my older brother would tell me that Mom "was worried" - and, yes, folks, it was the 70s, she was worried - that I was a lesbian because I never went out with guys. So, I inferred, she set up the date with Andy. How pathetic is that?

Yet, here's the fallacy: when I did start sleeping around with men in college  - as I did with happy abandon - she got all over my case for being a slut. Can't win for losing.

The second time I kissed a guy was at Phillips Andover where I was at a summer session. I can't remember his name, though I cannot forget the awkwardness of everything - holding hands, sitting next to one another on the bus, figuring out how to spend an entire afternoon in Boston, figuring out how to eat without spitting something onto his shirt. As I feared, it ended with a kiss.

Again, I went upstairs and threw up. But this time - aha! - my nausea fell under the radar of some very sophisticated girls from Los Angeles who thought it hysterical that at age 16 I'd been kissed no more than twice.

So, that's my teenage love life in, what, six or seven paragraphs. Kathy Sweeney could have filled six or seven Mark Twain Autobiography volumes by that age. And don't even get me started on the rest of these Tarts.

Was I a freak? Maybe. But maybe you were, too. If so, it's okay. We're not alone.

As Janis Ian wrote (I know, obvious), "Dreams were all they gave for free to ugly duckling girls, like me..."

Though now that Janis has come out as a lesbian, kinda makes you wonder what that song was all about, say?

Back to the deadline....



 P.S. Have you guys seen this SNL parody of the TSA - hysterical!






November 22, 2010

In the Same (Gravy) Boat

by Hank 

Where’s the mystery in Thanksgiving? That’s an easy one. It’s the gravy.

Gravy4  Why is it after so many years of making Thanksgiving dinner for various numbers of family and friends, every year on Thanksgiving morning I wake up with the burning (ouch) question: How do you make gravy?

Is it easy for you? I’ve been a TV reporter for the past 30 years.  I’ve wired myself with hidden cameras, gone undercover into tricky situations, confronted corrupt politicians and chased down criminals.

But the gravy thing? No can do.

First you have to wait til the turkey’s done, right? Then somehow, lift the huge and hot turkey out of the roasting pan without ruining the perfectly brown (if you’re lucky and careful) skin and transfer it to a platter. They never tell you exactly how to do that. I always wind up putting a huge spoon into the stuffing cavity and using a spatula thing to boost the underside. The thing weighs 25 pounds after all—more, because of the stuffing I guess, right? So this is what they don’t say in the instructions...


The turkey is, once again, safely placed on the platter. The fragrance is tantalizing, amazing, irresistible, and people are ready to eat. Happily, there’s the “the turkey has to rest” rule, or else the gravy would never get made.

 Into the oven goes the other container of stuffing, the sweet potato casserole, and the experimental dish I make every year that no one eats. Hoping that because there are three things in the oven trying to cook at 350 degrees at one time doesn’t throw off the temperature somehow. My sister, a real chef, says real chefs just turn the oven to the highest possible temp and cook the food til it’s done. Thanks, Nanc. YOU come over and do this.Gravystir

 Anyway, praying for side dishes, you can no longer ignore the gravy. Balanced on two burners on the stove , that roasting pan sits, taunting. One recipe says “Skim off the fat.” You know how long that takes? And how difficult that is? I’ve purchased ever fat-skimming implement known to Sur La Table and I’m here to tell you, for me, they don’t work. So, for a couple of minutes, I pretend to skim off the fat.

 The turkey juices are beginning to bubble. I must make the oh-so-critical next decisions. Thickener. Flour? Cornstarch? Whatever arrowroot is? Maybe no thickener? Just clear gravy? How did I do this last year?

Then the liquid. Wine? Water? Chicken broth? Did anyone buy chicken broth? (I guess “anyone” would be me.) Back in the recesses of the left-hand cabinet, I find can of chicken broth. Does a little rust around the edges of the can make any difference?

Should I have saved the giblets? And what are those, anyway? But too late now. The turkey juices are bubbling. I whisk the brown stuff (what is that anyway? Do we want to know?) off the sides and bottom of the pan and into the mix.

 Someone asks if there are appetizers, and if so, when we’re having them. Someone is about to get clobbered with a wooden spoon. Cornstarch it is. I dump cornstarch into a Pyrex cup of water—would it be better to put the water into the cornstarch? And make a little paste. I stir it into the pan juices. I think this is right. Whatever. No going back now.

 Someone offers me champagne. Apparently, in the other room, the party is starting. I take a sip of the champagne—and dump the rest into the gravy. Stir stir stir. Add the chicken soup and a can of water. I’ve crossed the gravy Rubicon now. Wishing for more champagne. Stir stir stir.

Stir stir stir.

Stir stir stir.

Gravy_600  Oh. My gosh. Gravy.

I hope I remember this for next year.

 Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

And what hints to you have to make your gravy perfect? Or -hey--any Thanksgiving hints. All are welcome...and, um, needed...


November 21, 2010

Whodunnit? Nope. WhoAteIt!


HANK:   Katherine Hall PageNeed I say more? I can't resist. She's the genuine article, an authentic mystery star, a master of the craft,  a devoted friend and brilliant at everything she does. Honorable, charitable, generous and loving.   Hyperbole? Well, really, I have to say no. It's all true. 

 If you haven't read her books, please do. If you love cooking and eating and food in general, well, you've come to the right place.

A big Lipstick smooch to Katherine Hall Page.  She's here to give us the scoop on her latest achievement...and how she cooked it up.


KATHERINE HALL PAGE:  The first time my husband Alan came to my apartment when we were dating he idly opened the fridge and stood there in total shock. “But you don’t have any food!” he gasped.

“Of course I do,” I replied. There was an almost full container of orange juice and a jar of herring. And I knew there were coffee beans in the freezer—he hadn’t gotten to it—so what more could a girl need?

In a nutshell—I was not very interested in food. I didn’t come from a foodie family. My mother was an artist and aside from recommending white plates so whatever one managed to throw together didn’t clash with a pattern, she did not pass on any culinary tips.Image001 She was also Norwegian American, hence my genetic fondness for anything with scales. The question is: how did I get from that empty larder in the 1970’s to a series of nineteen books featuring a caterer? And the icing on the cake—I even have a cookbook out this fall, Have Faith in Your Kitchen.

It’s a tale of true love and taste buds, not unlike Julia Child’s experience (on both counts). Alan and I met in the spring and by summer we were betrothed. He wooed me with exotic (authentic) meals in Chinatown—clams in black bean sauce, crispy spiced quail, whole fish steamed with ginger and scallions, dumplings in bamboo containers.

Alan also introduced me to Italian food that didn’t have ‘Boyardee” on a label in Boston’s North End and barbeque that wasn’t a hamburger on a backyard grill at Bob the Chef’s in the South End.

  Yet it was the meals Alan cooked at his well-equipped Cambridge apartment that sent me head over heels (also the fact that he was funny, kind, smart, and totally hot). Alan shopped at nearby Savenor’s Market where his friend Jack Savenor would pick up the phone to ask his friend Julia for a recipe when in doubt.  Could there be more to life than herring, even herring in sour cream sauce I began to wonder?

A confirmed Anglophile and having worked there, I wanted to go to England for our honeymoon. Alan gave it perhaps three seconds of thought before shaking his head. “Nothing to eat. We’re going to France.” Not wanting to disagree, especially so early in the days that have stretched out to roughly 13,140 and also wanting to keep him happy and cooking, I agreed.

How well I remember that first meal in Paris. We had only a brief interval before boarding a train for Southern France and ducked into a bistro near the Gare de Lyon. Only mildly peckish after the flight, I ordered an omelette with frites and a salad. One bite, and then two, and then three. How could eggs, potatoes, and lettuce taste so divine? Truly an epiphany.

Our destination was Lyon and three weeks later after time there, in Provence, and more in Paris, I was in a kind of food dream. A very sensual one. Yes, the honeymoon provided that too and a perfect pairing it was, but I was truly in a kind of flavor delirium. And like Julia, when I returned to Boston, I realized if you wanted to eat that way, you had to cook the food yourself.

And I’ve never looked back.

Now, the cookbook.

KHPageBookCoverfullFew writers can say they met their publishers at camp, but that is where I met Roger Lathbury of Orchises Press when we were both teenagers. Discovering a common love of virtually any sort of written word, we became fast friends, but after college lost track of each other. Several years ago I learned that Roger was in Alexandria, Virginia, a professor at George Mason with his own publishing house. While in town for Malice, we got together for coffee and croissants, picking up where we had left off so many years earlier. I told him about the cookbook. Harper was going back and forth. “I’ll do it,” he said. And so he has. The cookbook’s epigraph is “Le mauvais gout mène au crime”—“ Bad taste leads to crime.” (Baron Adolphe De Mareste (1784-1867). This also serves as a motto for the entire Faith Fairchild series.

Have Faith in Your Kitchen had been a work in progress since I first started putting recipes at the end of the books, starting with The Body in the Cast (1993). I liked to read mysteries with food in them even before Alan opened my eyes—Rex Stout, Dorothy Sayers, Virginia Rich, Nan and Ivan Lyons.

  All right, my protagonist could be a caterer. And it’s been a good choice offering venues for plot, but also a fully developed individual. Faith Fairchild is definitely a whoateit series as well as a whodunit.  All the recipes are original, either created by me or the individual credited.

The dishes are straightforward-anyone can make them-and require no expensive or hard to find ingredients. In some cases, I’ve also suggested ways they can be modified to make them more heart-wise.

Thus began the most enjoyable publishing experience of my life—a year of discussion of fonts, paper quality, and yes, illustrations, from a variety of sources: nineteenth century cookbooks, pen-and-ink drawings done by a friend.  On one visit after lunch with Roger’s delightful family, I chose a burgundy Roxite Grade B cloth for the cover with a maroon headband (that little bit at the top of a sewn binding).

We were doing two editions, a sewn paperback that could get messy in the kitchen and 100 signed, with a fountain pen to be precise, numbered casebound copies, both editions for “Those devoted to the cooking of mystery and the mysteries of cooking.” Roger showed me what J. D. Salinger had selected for “Hapworth 16, 1924” and, as it was after Salinger’s death, Roger felt free to relate the whole publishing adventure that sadly went awry (see Lathbury’s very moving article on it in the April 4, 2010 issue of New York Magazine). Jean Fogelberg took the author photo and did the marvelous cover design.

Receiving author copies is always thrilling and a bit mystifying—“How did I do this?”

This time it was less complicated, a huge thrill accompanied by the knowledge that it had all come about because of my friend Roger.


Here’s a fun, extremely simple recipe from the book in the spirit of the season:

Pumpkin Pie Soup

 4 cups pumpkin puree (your own from a sugar pumpkin or canned)

4 cups chicken stock, preferably salt-free

3 tablespoons brown sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups half and half or light cream 

 Sour cream for garnish

Mix the first seven ingredients together in a large saucepan and bring to a simmer. Simmer for about 10 minutes. Turn the heat off and add the half and half. Let sit for 5 minutes and reheat gently. Serve with a dollop of sour cream to cut the sweetness.

Children love this nutritious dish. For all ages, it’s fun to use a mug, piping a rosette of sour cream on top.


The next book in Katherine’s Agatha Award winning series, The Body in the Gazebo, will be published in April by Wm Morrow. The Body in the Sleigh (Morrow, 2009) is now out in paperback from Avon.  Her husband, Alan, stopped cooking many years ago. Visit her web site .