Saturday, November 18, 2017

A very flattering insult and some great new reads

Someone took a swipe at my writing and ended up introducing me to a great new author.  The negative comment was that I was a cut-rate Julia Spencer-Flemming I wasn't familiar with the author, which is surprising. I'm not one of those writers who doesn't read her own genre. I love mysteries. Most especially mystery series. 

I'm not sure how I missed the fantastic Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne Mysteries. It's about a female Episcopal priest and army veteran who moves to a small town and meets a fellow vet who serves as the chief of police. Sparks fly, bodies pile up, and an intriguing world of fascinating characters comes to life. I spent a hundred bucks on mysteries in one weekend. This series tackles real-world issues head-on and there are no easy answers. I highly suggest trying out this series starting with the first book, In The Bleak Midwinter (all of the titles come from hymns).

In The Bleak Midwinter

I am very flattered to be considered even a cut-rate Julia Spencer Flemming. It's kind of true since my books do sell for about 1/3 of the price of her series.  

I discovered another great series thanks to a positive review of my book Killer Clowns From Out Of State.

A reader compared it to J.D. Robb. J.D. Robb is a name that Nora Roberts writes a the In Death series under. These books are sexy thrillers with a little bit of a Sci-Fi twist. Again, I'm not sure how I managed to never read any of the 40 plus books the 20-year-old series. I read the first book, Naked In Death.  I thought the sci-fi futuristic angle wasn't handled that well. But I kept reading, mostly because I admire the way Nora/J.D. handles writing banter and fairly explicit sex. I think she walks a great line between romantic and too much information.  I initially said that the series was okay. 

A lot of the sci-fi element consists of saying, I used my future phone to call a future cab. The main characters are a standard tortured tough-cop and a handsome billionaire who can basically make you roll on the floor in ecstasy by unbuttoning your top blouse button. But I absolutely could not stop reading them. It's as if Fifty Shades of Gray had an actual plot. (Don't worry, so spanking involved)  I actually think my Martha Garrett Mysteries have more similarities to this series.

 I didn't spend $450 buying all of them, but I have used my OverDrive app to a lot of them from my library. I'm just a little addicted. I'm also reading them out of order. That's a little confusing. 

The Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne Mysteries are like a first-rate Netflix series that gets tons of Emmy nominations. 
The "Naked" series is like your favorite procedural that's been on for 15 years. There's an expected formula, but you love it anyway. 

Anyway, I'm fine with being a cut-rate Julia Spencer-Flemming. Here are some other things you could call me without hurting my feelings: 

A discount J.D. Robb
A bargain basement Robert B. Parker
A half-price Dorothy L. Sayers
A closeout Emma Jameson
A thrift-store David Handler

If you haven't read these authors, please do. They rock.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Early Work Revealed!

I came across a copy of an old edition of Scioto Images from the 1980s. This was a magazine featuring young writers and artists in Scioto County Ohio back when I was growing up.

I think that when you read my poem, my future path as a mystery writer is clear.

I feel like I'd recently watched "And Then There Were None," but I'm not positive. Nowadays this would have earned me a visit from the SWAT team and a psychiatric hold.

Here's a poem by my former classmate Holly Harold. This one makes a future path pretty clear as well. You can click here to read Holly's IMDB credits. She's worked on some of my favorite shows.

Finally, my friend Suzie's short story.

In this case, it offers zero insight into her future.

Ladies and gentlemen, meet The Singing Sub...

Dream big, kids.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

How Cloud Eggs Saved Breakfast

This is a cloud egg. According to a post that popped up in my Facebook feed, they are the most Instagramable of all eggs. That fact alone isn't going to send me into the kitchen. After all, people Instagram the heck out of all manner of blue food. And you all know how I feel about that. *shudder*

Cloud eggs intrigued me because they solved my only problem with eggs.  I just cannot tolerate the texture of cooked egg white. No deviled eggs or egg salad for me. I like scrambled eggs, omelets, frittatas, runny yellow yolks carefully extricated from the white of a poached egg, and I ADORE meringue. That's why these cloud egg appealed to me. The whites are whipped into a fluffy savory meringue that just firms up while the yolks stay yellow and runny (unless you want them firmer.)

Plus these are super-simple to make.  You need eggs, salt, pepper, and little bit of grated parmesan. That's it.

Preheat your oven. There are two ways to do these. One is to put the oven at 320 degrees and cook for about 7 minutes. This leaves the eggs snowy white, but not stable enough to suit me. I prefer the two step method - cooking the whites 450 for five minutes, then lowering the temp to 320 to cook the yolks.

You can do as many eggs as you please. Here, I did four. Start by separating the eggs. Be very careful not to break the yolks.

Put the whites into a mixing bowl.  Add salt and pepper. (white pepper leave the eggs looking whiter.) Use a mixer or whip by hand (if you have powerful arms)

Whip the eggs until the meringue forms soft peaks. This needs to be stiff enough to make a well for the yolks.

Grate in about a teaspoon of parmesan per egg. Gently fold it in, being careful not to deflate the eggs.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and carefully spoon out the egg whites into equal sized clouds, one per yolk.

Use a spoon to make a well for the yolk.

Bake at 450 for 5 minutes (or less). Don't let it get too brown. You're just setting the meringue. Turn the oven down to 320.

If you don't see well-defined wells for the yolks. Press one out a bit more with a spoon. Now, carefully add the yolks. We don't want to break them.

Put back in the oven for about 5 more minutes until yolks are warmed through. (You can go longer if you like them firm.)

Carefully remove with a spatula. The meringue is pretty flexible and it's easy to break the yolk. Add a sprinkle of salt and pepper to the yolk and serve.

These are so delicious. I will be enjoying these for breakfast frequently.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Stuffed Shells: from Aunt Joyce's Recipe Box

When I asked my cousins which one of my Aunt Joyce's recipes they'd like to see me blog, this was the hands-down winner. Everyone had their own special memory of her stuffed shells.  Well, everyone but me, since I never had the pleasure of eating them. I think she must have started making these regularly after I left home for college, I must not have been home when she happened to be cooking these up. So, this recipe was kind of a challenge. Here's her handwritten recipe.

All the ingredients are there, but it is a little short on details. And since I'd never had the pleasure of eating the recipe, I wasn't sure what it was supposed to look like. Please bear with me while I work my way through the recipe.

Here's what you'll need to make it.

1 lb box of jumbo pasta shells
2 jars of spaghetti sauce (or make homemade. I didn't this time, to stick with the recipe.)
1lb ground beef (I used meatloaf mix. You could also use ground chuck or ground turkey.)
1 small onion (diced)
2 eggs
1 15 ounce tub ricotta
8 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 12 ounce package frozen spinach (thawed with all water squeezed out)
5 Tablespoons of parsley (I used chopped fresh. Joyce would probably have used dried.)
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp sugar
2 tablespoons melted butter

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Start by boiling a large pot of salted water. You'll need a big pot. If you don't have one, you may need to do the shells in two batches.

You make the meat and cheese filling separately.  We'll start by making the meat filling. Make sure the spinach is thawed and every drop of water is squeezed out of it. I would salt and pepper the spinach. Joyce would not. Beat the eggs.

Put a tablespoon of oil in a skillet. When it is shimmering, add the onions and a sprinkle of salt. Cook onions until they soften. Then add garlic powder and cook for 10 seconds more.

Then add the ground meat and parsley. I also like to add a little splash of beef broth to keep the meat tender and to stop it from browning too fast.

Once the meat has browned, let it cool for a few minutes. Then put it in a bowl with 4 ounces of mozzarella, 1/4 cup of parmesan cheese, and one beaten egg. Give it a sprinkle of salt and pepper and mix it together.

Now, let's move on to the cheese filling. Combine the ricotta, 4 ounces of mozzarella, one beaten egg, 2 tablespoons of parmesan, 2 tablespoons of parsley, 1/2 teaspoon of sugar, the melted butter and salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly.

Once the shells are tender, drain them and lay them out on baking sheets lined with paper towels.

Make sure to separate the shells carefully. My package of shells made 34 shells.

Here's where it got interesting. The recipe doesn't say how many pans it makes. It also doesn't say if the meat and the cheese go in the shells together or you stuff them separately. I decided to alternate stuffing them with meat or with cheese. I also went with using two 13" by 9" pans. I might have been able to fit them all into one.

Start by covering the bottom of the pan or pans with spaghetti sauce. (If you're using two 13 by 9 pans, you may want to go with three jars.)

It's time to carefully stuff the shells. You don't want to tear them. Here, I'm stuffing one with just meat.

Here I am adding the cheese.

Place the shells in the pan.

Cover with sauce. Then cover with foil and place in the oven. Or do like me. Put it in the oven, take a picture, then remember you forgot to put the foil on. Then take it back out and put the foil on. :)  Hey, I'm keeping it real here.

Bake for 45 minutes at 325 degrees.

Serve with garlic bread, because that's what Joyce would have done.  These were absolutely delicious, but a lot of work. I'll make them again, but next time with homemade spaghetti sauce with a lot of basil.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

5 Fearless Female Sleuths You Don't Want To Mess With

I like to think that I've created some pretty bad-ass female sleuths in my mysteries, but there are some pretty tough cookies in other great books that I would not want to cross. I've come up with a selection of some of my personal favorites. Each is formidable in her own way.

Hester Latterly Monk from Anne Perry's William Monk series

When we first meet Hester, she's just returned home from serving as a battlefield nurse with Florence Nightingale during the Crimean War, so we already know she's made of stern stuff. Even those who like Hester find her infuriatingly stubborn. But it turns out that fierce determination and fearlessness come in handy when solving crimes on the mean streets of 1850s London.


She meets her match in permanently cranky amnesiac detective William Monk. Readers will figure out that these two frenemies need to get a room several books before they do, but it's perfectly clear that Monk admires her toughness, loyalty, stubbornness, and her determination to right society's wrongs all along. It just takes him some time to figure out that those qualities are not only admirable but kinda hot.

Hester won't take you out with a right hook or a pistol shot, but she can stealthily gather info to bring about your downfall if you're doing the wrong thing.  And she never gives up. 

Nora Charles from  Dashiell Hammett's The Thin Man

Despite being a character in several movies, Nora actually only makes one appearance in print. Nora is young, wealthy, and living the booze-fueled high-life with her older husband, Nick Charles. But she's no spoiled princess. 



When a mobster breaks into her bedroom at night and holds her at gunpoint, she barely bats an eye. Not even when her husband socks her in the jaw to knock her out and get her out of the line of fire. Nora's just mad that she didn't get to see Nick take the guy out.  Nora matches former Pinkerton man Nick quip for quip and drink for drink until they get to the bottom of what really happened to the thin man. (who is not Nick Charles, but a missing inventor)  

If you think the 1930s was somehow a more innocent time, you'll want to check out this 1934 book by Dashiell Hammett.

Lady Juliet Linton  from Emma Jameson's Marriage Can Be Murder

Lady Juliet is as stubborn as Hester and born into wealth and privilege like Nora, but she's still struggling to find herself in a small English village at the start of WWII. An exceptionally tall, strong woman, she feels more like a clumsy horse than a fierce Amazon. It doesn't help that she seems to have been cursed with the world's worst fashion sense and a knack for always saying exactly the wrong thing at the wrong time.



But she's also blessed with a sharp mind, good heart, thirst for adventure, and the natural ability to take charge. Juliet is interesting because unlike the rest of the ladies on this list, she's not fully aware of just how strong and beautiful she really is yet.  But we're only a few books into the series, and she's starting to wake up.  Now that she has some mystery solving under the belt of those trousers she insists upon wearing, Juliet is even more of a force to be reckoned with.


Precious Ramotswe from  Alexander McCall Smith's  #1 Ladies Detective Agency

 Unlike the previous three fearless sleuths we've talked about, Precious isn't investigating murders, kidnappings, or other dastardly crimes.  This traditionally-built resident of Botswana focuses more on solving personal crises. Armed with only red bush tea and a keen understanding of human nature, Precious is able to see what others might miss.


 Her only weapons are compassion, confidence, and unbridled optimism. Still, she's just as formidable an adversary as the other ladies on this list. More so, because she's likely to turn you from an adversary to an ally without your realizing it's even happening. The first book in the series was also made into a charming HBO series.


Rae Spellman from Lisa Lutz's The Spellman Files

 Teenage Rae grew up in a family of private detectives, so it's no wonder she's able to conduct surveillance like a pro before she's even old enough to drive. This precocious private eye  is an expert at gathering evidence to use in what she likes to call "negotiations."  (You might call it blackmail.)


The true master of the art of the deal, Rae has a way of inserting herself into potentially dangerous situations, yet somehow managing to come out completely unscathed.

 Now, I happen to think that Police Chief Andrea Taylor from Killer ClownsFrom Out Of State fits nicely into this category. But if you aren't convinced of that yet, wait until you see what I have planned for Chief Taylor in the sequel, "Vegas Vexation."  In fact, it was procrastinating working on that book that led me to write this article. Shame on me!  Enjoy my slacking and let me know who your favorite women sleuths are in the comments. 

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Pig Lickin' Cake - from Aunt Joyce's recipe box.

I've embarked on a quest to work my way through my Aunt Joyce's recipe box. Losing her is still fresh, but the connection I feel to her through her food is strong and makes me feel as if she's right next to me.  I polled the relatives as to which recipe they'd like to see first. Right up there at the top of the list was her Pig Lickin' Cake. (No clue where the name comes from. Alas, no bacon is involved.) What it does have is oranges and pineapple and an incredible frosting. The food snob in me wants to replace the Cool Whip with real whipped cream and the cake mix with homemade yellow cake. But I've promised my self not to alter her recipes. And after tasting this, this thing needs to alteration. As Shakespeare said, "Love does not alter where it alteration finds." And I love this cake.

The ingredients are simple. A box of cake mix, (The recipe called for Duncan Hines. I bought Betty Crocker - thereby breaking my rule about not changing up the brands the first time you try a recipe) a box of instant vanilla pudding, eggs, oil, Cool Whip, canned Mandarin oranges and crushed pineapple.

Here's the handwritten recipe card.

It bakes at a lower temperature than a typical cake.   Preheat the oven to 325.  The recipe calls for three 8" round pans, which is what I used here. But it also says you can do two larger rounds or make it as a sheet cake. The baking time will vary depending on the size of the pan. You could probably even do cupcakes.  Grease and flour the pans. Consider using baking parchment paper. I had a little trouble getting the cakes out of the pan and really wished I had lined them with parchment first.

The ingredients:

4 large eggs
1/2 cup canola oil
1 package Duncan Hines yellow cake mix
1 11 ounce can of Mandarin oranges with juice
1 20 ounce can Dole crushed pineapple in juice
1 16 ounce tub Cool Whip
1 3.4 ounce package of instant vanilla pudding mix

Put the cake mix, eggs, oil, and entire can of Mandarin oranges with juice in a bowl. Most cake mix boxes call for 3 eggs, but you'll need 4 for this one.

Mix by hand or in a mixer. I went with the mixer, since Joyce loved her Kitchen Aid.  It only takes a few seconds to blend together by mixer and about two minutes by hand.

Divide evenly between the pans.

Bake for around 30 minutes at 325. Then put cakes on a rack and allow to cool completely.

While the cake cools, let me tell you about Walt and Joyce. They dated for nearly 20 years before getting married. For 15 of those years, Aunt Joyce was serving as a caregiver to my Mammaw. Every night, Walt would come down to the house and sit around with Aunt Joyce and Mammaw in the living room watching TV. Walt still lived at home with his mother and two of his adult siblings.  After Mammaw passed away, Joyce assumed a marriage proposal would be forthcoming. She waited about 5 years and no ring materialized.

So one day, Joyce came up to my house to bake an orange chiffon cake and have a discussion with Mom. I was politely told to bug off so they could talk, but fortunately the walls were thin. Especially if you listened hard. 

Mom suggested that Joyce should just break it off. If Walt wanted her, he'd have to pony up a ring. Joyce must have listened, because she called Mom one night the next week and they had a long talk. A few minutes after that, Walt called the house. Walt NEVER called the house. He was not much of a talker.

I only heard Mom's end of the conversation, but the part that stayed with me was, "I don't know what's going on Walt. Maybe it's time to s#%! or get off the pot."

Then Mom called Joyce and they made exciting plans to head out to the Ramada Inn for dinner.  Walt apparently called later and asked if he could see her the next day. She told him that she had plans with Mom.

It seems the next day, Walt showed up with a ring in hand. Smart move. They tied the knot that summer and were happily married for 23 years until Walt passed away.

Now, on to that amazing frosting. It sounds like a hot mess, but it is unbelievably good. Dump the package of pudding in a bowl.

Dump in the can of crushed pineapple and juice and mix it all together with a spoon until thoroughly combined.

The fold in the Cool Whip.

Do your best not to eat the whole bowl of frosting. It won't be easy.  Put filling on each layer. Don't over-fill the middle or it will squeeze out the side when the next layer goes on.

Frosting the sides was tricky. Next time I might go the sheet cake route, though this looks spectacular. By the way, the cake is sitting on my Mammaw's milk glass cake plate.

Put it in the fridge to chill for a bit before serving.