16 December, 2011

The Perfect Christmas Gift

What could be a better gift than a book? Think about it.  A book provides hours of entertainment, it's practical, potentially educational, and it's something everyone can enjoy in one form or another – audible if necessary.

Amazon loves me.  And I love Amazon (since all the indies around here have closed).  I spent hours perusing options for each giftee, reading reviews, matching books to personalities.  Should I get my  sister-in-law a mystery or a cookbook?  Would my brother prefer the new Grisham or a historical best seller?  It's not easy to decide; in fact, I usually end up buying more than one for each.  And, to be perfectly honest, I know that eventually the books will be sent on for me to read – we have our own family lending library.

Picture Christmas morning at my house: breakfast eaten, presents opened, roast beef in the oven, and every one - from youngest to oldest - curled up with a mug of coffee/tea/cocoa and a new book.  Except Clue - she's chewing on a new rawhide bone. Peace and silence reign.

Here's this year's shopping list (recipient's name deleted to preserve the surprise):

  • The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
  • All Cry Chaos by Leonard Rosen
  • Murder, She Wrote: The Fine Art of Murder by Donald Bain
  • Bitter Harvest by Sheila Connolly
  • Naughty in Nice by Rhys Bowen
  • Treason at Lisson Grove by Anne Perry
  • Provenance: How a Con Man and a Forger Rewrote the History of Modern Art by Salisbury & Sujo
  • Ghost Hero by S.J. Rozan
  • Pot Pies: Forty Savory Suppers by Beatrice A. Ojakangas
  • Killer Listing by Vicki Doudera
  • The Litigators by John  Grisham
  • The Angel Esmeralda: Nine Stories by Don DeLillo
  • The Magician King by  Lev Grossman
  • The Telling by Ursula K. LeGuin
  • Team of Rivals: The Political Genius Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin
Can't wait to see what Santa brings me!   What books are on your list this year?

20 November, 2011

Give Thanks with a Swig of Bourbon

It may have something to do with being Irish, but my family firms believes that a glug or two of Bourbon improves the flavour of almost anything. And it ain't bad straight, either. Jim Beam, Jack Daniels, or even Southern Comfort all fit the bill.

I've made Honey-Bourbon Salmon, Blackberry Bourbon Iced Tea, Bourbon and Chocolate Pecan Pie, and even Bourbon and Brown Sugar BBQ Sauce.  My piece de resistance however is now a family favourite  any day of the year (every day if my brothers had their way): Bourbon Mashed Sweet Potatoes.

And for those who absolutely can't serve Thanksgiving dinner without mini marshmallows, I've included a recipe as well.

 Bourbon Mashed Sweet Potatoes

1 3/4 to 2 lbs sweet potatoes  
1 tsp olive oil  
1/2 cup heavy cream  
1/4 cup bourbon whiskey  
4 Tbsp packed light brown sugar  
2 Tbsp molasses  
1/8 tsp salt  
  
1.  Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
2.  Lightly rub the sweet potatoes with the olive oil. Place on a foil-lined baking sheet and bake until tender, about 45 minutes to 1 hour, depending upon their size. Remove from the oven and let sit until cool enough to handle.
3.  Peel the sweet potatoes and transfer the flesh to a large bowl. Add the cream, bourbon, brown sugar, molasses, and salt, and beat on high speed with a hand-held mixer until smooth. Cover to keep warm until ready to serve.

Yields about 4 cups

Sweet Potato Balls
These puff up into delicious, crispy on the outside, soft on the inside morsels.

2 large cans yams
1 Tbsp melted butter
1/4 cup mini marshmallows
1/3 cup honey
1 cup chopped pecans
Salt & Pepper

Mash yams well. Add the salt, pepper marshmallows, and melted butter.

Form into small balls, about the size of a ping pong ball. Lay in concentric circle(s) in a Pyrex pie plate.  Refrigerate, covered, until needed.
3. One-half hour before serving, spoon honey over yams and sprinkle with chopped pecans.
4. Bake 15-20 minutes at 350 degrees until heated.

16 November, 2011

The Great Debate

Yes, folks, it is that time of the year again, when traditionalists face off against the avant-garde.  Nowhere is this more apparent than around the Thanksgiving table.  On one side we have the hardliners who haven't deviated from their annual menu since Great-aunt Minnie served the first green bean casserole. On the other side sit the trailblazers, the provocateurs who dare to offer a yam gratin in lieu of sweet potatoes with mini marshmallows and pumpkin soufflĂ© rather than pie.

But perhaps nowhere is the divide more apparent than on the subject of cranberry sauce: jellied or chunky, sweet or spicy, canned or homemade.


Bowing my head, not in shame but to hide my grin, I admit to being a non-traditionalist.  This year I'll be serving a roast capon with a shiitake mushroom and Armagnac sauce.  My stuffing will be a savory spinach and artichoke bread pudding and nary a green bean will be seen.  Instead my family will be eating an herbed zucchini gratin.  Dessert? A pear tart with homemade cinnamon ice cream.

Will there be cranberry sauce? No, there will not. I will however, be making cranberry ketchup for those sandwiches we'll be eating on Friday.  I don't remember where I found this recipe, but it is a wonderful switch from regular ketchup.  It's also the perfect hostess gift if someone else is doing the cooking this year.

 Cranberry Ketchup

1 12-ounce bag whole cranberries, picked over (3 1/3 cups)  
2 large onions, finely chopped (2 1/2 cups)  
1 cup white wine vinegar  
2 medium garlic cloves, minced  
1 Tbsp ground allspice  
1 tsp salt  
2/3 cup sugar  

1 In a medium nonreactive saucepan, combine 2/3 cup water with the cranberries, onions, vinegar, garlic, allspice and salt. Bring to a simmer over moderately low heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until thick and pulpy, about 20 minutes. Stir in the sugar, return to a simmer and cook, stirring frequently, for 15 minutes longer. Let cook for 30 minutes.

2 Transfer the mixture to a blender and puree, then strain into a glass measure. Pour the ketchup into glass bottles or jars and refrigerate. The ketchup will keep, refrigerated, for up to 2 months
 
Yields 1 1/2 pints.

15 November, 2011

Requiem


My aunt passed away yesterday.  She wasn't famous, she wasn't well known, but to many she was inspirational.

She reached the venerable age of 101, having spent more than 40 years working in Baltimore City Public Schools as a teacher, counselor, and principal. At a time when most women married, stayed home and raised a family, she put herself through college and dedicated herself to guiding more than one generation through the capricious, erratic maze of grammar, middle and high school. 

Her life centered around family, church and community, and her dedication to all three was unquestionable.  In 2008 she was honored at the Johns Hopkins University Leadership conference for her contributions to education.

For the last several years, she had been confined to a wheelchair and suffered from a neurological problem which affected her ability to speak - both of which frustrated her immensely.  Her mind remained sharp, but her body failed her time and time again.

She was, and is, an unsung hero like so many others who pass through our lives, unnoticed, unrecognized, yet leaving their mark and blessing on all those they meet.

RIP, Aunt Rosealba

In teaching you cannot see the fruit of a day’s work. 
It is invisible and remains so, maybe for twenty years.
– Jacques Barzun

08 November, 2011

The Library - More than just Books

If you live in the NorthEast, you know all about the recent "freak" snowstorm. And the prolonged power outages we suffered here in CT.  At my house, the outage  lasted six days, and we won't discuss the clean up that remains.

Most of us have wells; loose translation: no power, no water, ergo no toilets.  You can image just how happy a power outage makes us.  Some people have generators, but most do not.  Some have fireplaces, some do not.

I'm lucky enough to live a community where people actually check on their neighbours at times like this, share what resources they have -- I gave away half a cord of wood, others offered drinking water, food, and batteries -- and keep their spirits up as much as possible.  The Y throws open their doors to everyone -- member or not -- offering hot showers and access to outside water sources (to fill up those five-gallon jugs we all keep "just in case."

And the library, bless them, becomes the center of activity for the dispossessed.  Our library extends its normal hours,  puts out extra tables and chairs, provides a warming center, internet access free of charge, and a place to recharge cell phones, flashlights and anything else you need recharged. 

Want to vent to a local official? The selectmen and state representative can be found at the library every day, reassuring townspeople and just listening if that's all you need.  And best of all, you get to see people you haven't seen in years!  Everyone is there, reading, chatting, drinking coffee.  No one said a word when I brought my elderly Golden Retriever in with me; they just petted her.

This is what community is all about.  Many thanks to our library for their community spirit and unfailing positive attitude.  And yes, I will be sending in an extra donation this year.

24 October, 2011

A Rose by Any other Name

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose
  By any other name would smell as sweet."

                                            Shakespeare

What's in a name? Everything, if you're naming your protogonist.  Or antagonist.  Or any other character in your book.

Maybe it's just me, right or wrong, good or bad, I associate certain character traits with names. It may be the result of a relative, schoolmate, or famous person, but I have mental images of characters even before they're described by the author.  Preconceptions, if you will. And, I'll admit, they're not always on the money.

According to various websites I've consulted, my given name -- which shall remain unspoken -- apparently means I have the desire for only the best that money can buy: good clothes and refined surroundings, all the finer things of life; that I always strive to create a good impression; I'm pleasant and diplomatic, and seem to sense how others feel. I have a good business sense, but tend to procrastinate and get involved with people who could interfere with carrying my endeavours to a proper close.

And if you believe that, have I got a bridge for you!

But seriously, how long did it take you to choose a name for your protagonist?  What influenced your choice.  And how many times did you change it before the final draft?

My protag's name is, and always has been, Kensing. Kensing Delaney. It's a family name, suitable for a male or female (in this case a female) and denotes her Irish heritage. She could have been Sheila, Maeve or Siobhan, but she has three older brothers and her parents expected another boy until the day she was born. Make sense? 

A name is going to influence the way your character thinks, acts, and, most importantly, is perceived by readers.  What it I'd named her Magdalena Rosario?  Different image, right?

Kensing has a side kick.  She started out as Amanda Cummings, morphed into Annabelle Smith, and currently reads as Abby Bjornsson.  Guess what color her hair is?

What about the "bad" guy?  Does his/her name matter?  Which sound more menacing: Mortimer or Hannibal?  Lionel or Gunner? Lily or Bertha?

As I struggle through the final revisions of my mystery, I find myself once again debating the merits of all the names, tweaking some, keeping others.


So, be honest. Did you change your protag's name?  Do you wish you had?

19 September, 2011

Have you hugged your dog today?

National Dog Week starts today. Woof! Time to give your pooch some extra love, belly rubs, butt scrubs or whatever your hairy companion prefers

As I sit at my desk, Clue, my Golden Retriever, is dozing on the floor next to me, dreaming of her next meal or hug, whichever comes first.  She is now 12 years old, grey-faced, deaf and severely arthritic.  But that doesn't stop her from enjoying life.  Every morning she wakes up, tail beating a joyous tattoo on her bed, waiting for our morning ritual of belly rubs and wriggling.

Clue is the perfect name for a mystery writer's dog,right? But it's actually short for "Hasn't got a Clue."  You see, Clue is a rescue dog.  When she was just a couple of months old, her  owners dumped her on a back road to fend for herself.  Fortunately someone found her and took her to the local shelter. After keeping her the required 30 days, the shelter listed her on Petfinder where I fell in love with her at first sight.

I drove 90 minutes north to the shelter to see her -- all 55 pounds of untrained, unfettered energy.  The first thing she did was jump up on my then-80-year-old mother and knock her flat on her derriere.  Not a promising start. Fortunately Mother has a sense of humour and loves dogs. And, if Clue had inexhaustible energy, she also demonstrated boundless love, despite her history.  Thirty minutes later I was loading her into the back of my SUV for the drive home.  She spent the entire trip trying to climb out the window or into the front seat.  "No," "sit," "down," "stay" were simply not part of her vocabulary.  My comment to my mom: "This dog hasn't got a clue how to behave."

I'll admit it took three, yes three, basic obedience classes to get the message through to her, but it was worth every minute.  She's given me 11+ years of undiluted joy, love and companionship. And she sits on command!  So if you're looking for a wonderful pet, ADOPT DON'T SHOP! Rescues make the best pets -- somehow they just know, and they repay a thousand times over.

Here's a recipe for an extra special treat for your beloved canine family member. I use a large (5 1/2-inch) cookie cutter, but you can use any size or shape you like. Clue will be savouring hers as soon as they cool.

 Clue's Secret Treats
   
1 cup    All-Purpose flour  
1/2 cup    Powdered milk  
1/2 cup   Quick-cook Oats  
1 cup    Wheat flour
1 Tbs    Margarine   
1 tsp    Brown sugar  
1    Egg  
2.5 oz jar Gerber's Beef & Beef gravy baby food (or any flavour you like)
4 oz jar Gerber's Vegetable Beef baby food (or any flavour you like)
Approx. 1/2 cup  Low-Sodium Chicken broth   

Combine dry ingredients in a bowl, cut in margarine until mixture resembles corn meal. Stir sugar and baby food into the egg, and add to dry ingredients. Add chicken broth gradually (approx. 1/2 cup) to make a stiff dough. Knead on well-floured surface until dough is smooth. Roll to 1/2" thick and cut into desired shapes. Preheat oven to 325F. Bake for 30 - 40 minutes.

Yield: 12  5 1/2-inch biscuits

15 September, 2011

An Interview with Pat Deuson

Pat's ebook, Superior Longing, debuts  today!

Tiger:       Pat, as an aspiring-to-be-published writer, how does it feel to see your book about to be published? 

Pat: First Tiger, thanks for asking me to visit your blog.
While it’s great to no longer be ‘aspiring’ at least after 9/15/11 when Superior Longing comes out, writing goes on, with all the ups and downs that brings. While I’ve tried to maintain a ‘professional’ attitude toward writing, defined sublimely by Christie: "There was a moment when I changed from an amateur to a professional. I assumed the burden of a profession, which is to write even when you don't want to, don't much like what you're writing, and aren't writing particularly well." I now can add marketing, which carries the same proviso. Note this is an ebook. I was offered a contract for a print book as well but I have seen the future….

Tiger:       When did you decide to write novels? And how did you come up with your mystery idea?

Pat: I wasn’t a stranger to writing. I wrote stories in college and then stopped for years. But as we all know when you’re bitten you stay that way, so one summer I came back from one of the countries in Africa – it may have been Niger – where we lived, on R&R. I spent a month in California during ‘fire season’ and a plot [which turned out to be too big for one book] came to me and I just started writing it down.

Tiger:       Tell me a little bit about the process you went through writing Superior Longing.  Did you work with a critique group or muscle through alone?

Pat: I’ve  moved around too much to form the strong bonds critique groups need, so it’s generally been a battle I’ve fought alone. Once I joined Sisters in Crime and then the sub-group Guppies, I’ve gotten to ‘know’ a lot of writers and found ‘us’ to be great and very supportive. That said, if you can find a group of writers with whom you can develop sympathetic bonds, and the trust to say what must be said, you are very lucky and shouldn’t hesitate.
  
Tiger:      How did you get started with writing? 
A creative writing course in college. But it took a late night call from friends one summer who urged me to submit some of my stories in a contest [which I won] that made me think.

Pat:       Tell me a little bit about Superior Longing, without giving away too much.
I though you’d never ask! This is my ‘best’ blurb:

Life is what happens when you're looking elsewhere. SUPERIOR LONGING, a mystery, is set during the frigid spring on the beautiful and harsh southern shore of Lake Superior. When Neva Moore's uncle drowns and the details of his death twist and turn, her pursuit of the truth weaves through small town politics, smuggling, and superstition, to end where it all began, back in the family and another death in an icy lake.

Tiger:       Now that the ebook is about to come out, what do you hope for? 

Pat: To keep writing and, with luck. selling.  I’m in a second draft of the next Neva Moore mystery and have about ¾ of the one after written in second draft as well. I can’t say this is the best way to write but it turned out that way.

Tiger:      Which novelist most influenced your own work? And which writer, past or present, would you like to spend some time with?

Pat: Without question Raymond Chandler. Crystalline prose. The writer that I would like to spend time with is the late Robert Fagles. His translation of the Iliad is an inspiration. However, if I’m allowed a second, it would be G. R. R. Martin, whose Song of Ice and Fire quintet [so far, 2 more are coming] is a lesson in how to write, that goes on for 4.5K pages and was far more compelling to me than any craft book I’ve read.

Tiger:       It's obvious from this blog that I'm dedicated foodie. Any good food in your mystery? Recipes?  What do you eat while you're writing?  Any "brain" foods?

Pat: Here’s an unexpected answer: no. It is a cooking school, but the focus is on crime. Food is discussed, time is spent in the kitchen, but it’s all about murder and justice for the dead for me - a strong Chandler influence. However, Neva, the series main character, does like to cook and has a blog where she will [I started to set it up yesterday]  talk about food, but in a slightly different way – although she does have an outstanding chili recipe – her first post will probably be about olive oil.  And I did a guest blog about tabouleh, and, come to think of it, Neva ghosted one for me on daube, because that was a class she was giving and frankly the girl doesn’t know her place. I try not to eat while writing, it’s hell on the keyboard. I think a good night’s sleep is the best brain food, although this is closely followed by Pepperidge Farm cookies.

Tiger:  What advice would you give someone in my position - finished manuscript, no agent, no publisher?

Pat: First I’d ask what ‘finished’ means. Is it a first draft? Has anyone else looked at it? Do you think it’s the best you can do? Or are you just a little ‘brain fried’ with that manuscript and need a rest? If you, and your posse, if you have one, really think it’s great and in your heart you’re satisfied, then you need  a great synopsis [ONE page or LESS] and a sterling query letter which you can send around to agents and small press alike – or even the big boys. I should mention that I do 8-10 drafts. Not look it over change a word or two, but back to the beginning as if I was writing it first time. And really a manuscript is never done, in my opinion.

If I may here are some links that will help the curious find Superior Longing information: http://superiorlonging.blogspot.com/  http://goo.gl/AfIVM   The ebook,  published by Echelon Press, will be available September 15, 2011 on Kindle, Nook, Smashwords,Omnilit.com and other places I don’t know about.

Tiger: Pat, thanks so much for stopping by with your great news.  All the best on this and future books.

You can find Superior Longing at http://tinyurl.com/pd-sl-Omni  and http://tinyurl.com/pd-sl-Smash


15 August, 2011

Chicken or Egg, Book or Movie?

Do you read the book or watch the move first?  Come on, you know it's an either-or question.

I figure there are two types of people in the world. Actually there are three, but I don't count those who never pick up a book and actually read it.  Of the remaining, some read a book and, if they like it, go to see the movie when it comes out...maybe.  Others rush to the local MulitPlex and only read the book if a) the movie was really good or b) the movie was really bad and they're curious to find out if the book is any better.

I fall securely in the first camp.  I'm a writer ergo I read.  I rarely go to the movies. I don't want my sense of time, place and character influenced by a casting manager, set designer or film director.  I hate seeing a movie where the characters look and sound nothing like what I'd imagined while reading the novel. I'm still trying to process the myriad of Miss Marples's I've seen paraded across the screen: fat, skinny, tall, short.

I loved the Harry Potter books, and I'm amazed at the films' casting.  Everyone looks just as they should, in my mind at least.  And the movies are true to J.K. Rowling's' writing.  But whole chunks were left out.  What happened to the house elves and their revolt, for example? You miss a lot if you don't read the books.


Cinematographers take "artistic" license, some to the extent that the original novel is unrecognizable.  Filmmakers invent or amplify characters to appeal to a segment of their audience, such as the part of Meryl Streep in Ironweed.  Can't fault them for making a good movie, but can't love them for butchering an author's work, either.  Would have recognized Robinson Crusoe when watching Tom Hanks in Cast Away? Ok, maybe that's not the best analogy, but you get my point.

Brian De Palma 's adaptation of Wolfe's social satire The Bonfire Of The Vanities totally missed the book's tone.  Where are Wolfe's from-the-inside-out descriptions of stockbrokers, social activists, tabloid reporters, and civil servants?

Bicentennial Man and The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen are other adaptations which widely missed the mark - or the novel.

The Scarlet Letter is textbook Hollywood-style revisionism. The film was labeld as a "free adaptation" of Hawthorne's book, which apparently meant including a softcore coupling scene between Prynne and Rev. Dimmesdale that would have had Hawthorne running screaming from the theatre. Not to mention all that PC dribble about Prynne's long-lost husband going native with the local Algonquin tribe, the voyeuristic interlude featuring a horny slave girl, and Prynne furtively pleasuring herself in a bath. And, last but not least, the "happy ending" that never entered Hawthorne's literary mind.

It poured all weekend here – 8 inches (with 2 more predicted for today). It was the perfect weekend for a movie and I really wanted to see The Help.  But I bought the book on Thursday and haven't even had time to read the first chapter. So, no movie theater and pop corn for me.  Instead, I watched five BBC productions of Jane Austen novels on DVD, with a glass of wine and a plate of assorted cheeses for nourishment.

So which are you: reader first or viewer first? Note: non-readers need not reply.

31 July, 2011

In Defense of Good Penmanship


July 3, 2011
Archaic Method? Cursive writing no longer has to be taught

TERRE HAUTE — Starting this fall, the Indiana Department of Education will no longer require Indiana’s public schools to teach cursive writing.

State officials sent school leaders a memo April 25 telling them that instead of cursive writing, students will be expected to become proficient in keyboard use

Just reading the above set my blood boiling.  Are they telling us that cursive writing is obsolete?  Will our next president print his name on documents, or worse, just pen a big X? How are we going to determine if a check signature is a forgery if there is no signature? Will our grand kids even be able to read cursive, I mean little things like the Declaration of Independence?

At the risk of slotting myself in with the dinosaurs, I'll admit that I learned cursive script back in the 50's, actually using an inkwell and a nib pen (no, not quill). The nuns were very fussy about our writing, both its form and neatness.  No dribbles, no ink blotches, no unfinished loops.  And certainly no I's dotted with little hearts.

Of course this was all before the Internet and email took over the world, before brides considered it good form to send out email wedding invitations and, horrors of all horrors, to send email thank you notes.

What happened to sitting down with nice notepaper and actually composing and penning a heartfelt thank you note to the person who spent not only money, but precious time, picking out that gift?

As a boarding school graduate, I can vividly remember the excitement of checking my mail cubby every day, and exhilaration of finding an envelope from home or  a postcard from a friend "incarcerated" at a distant school.

I'm not denying the usefulness of keyboarding -- I keyboard my manuscripts -- but this shouldn't be an either or situation. One should not be required to make a choice; both should be taught. Not every kid can afford a computer, not every situation is keyboard viable.
  
The nation's founding documents were written in cursive.

Colour me old fashioned, but writing is a beautiful art of expression. Which you would rather read?

How do I love you, let me count the ways

or

hw do i lov u? let me count d wAz