An Ode to Food, and Back to Routine

Happy New Year!  I don’t know about other people, but I’m ready for a fresh start and a new year.  2016 was a full, busy year with more “events” than usual.  Our grandson Tyler graduated from IU in May, then he traveled for a while before starting a new job in Indianapolis in June.  Our Friday night friends moved to Carolina in June, and now I picture them playing in sunshine.  I broke my leg on June 17th and that pretty much blew my plans for the summer.  My life revolved around physical therapy and lots and lots of TLC from friends–I’m one lucky person. Then our grandson Nate joined the marines, stayed with us to do Thursday night training sessions in town, and then shipped out for boot camp in early December.  He couldn’t wait to go.  I wasn’t quite so gung-ho to lose him right before Christmas, but he was ready to prove himself.  I get that.  And inbetween all of it, I wrote.  That’s what I love about writing.  It’s “my” space, my place to go when routines crash and fall around me.  Writing can be flexible, so I met all of my deadlines.   It was nice to end 2016 on high notes, but I’m still ready for 2017!

The high notes?  My daughter and grandson came to stay with us from Friday, December 23, to late afternoon on Tuesday, December 26, and all I concentrated on was lots of good food and lots of time to visit.  No work.  No “office hours.”  With my cane and the butcher block in the center of our small kitchen, I can cook like a crazy woman, as long as I remember to stop and ice my leg in the middle of the day.  And I love cooking, especially with my daughters (except Robyn and Scott couldn’t make it this year)!

Now, my romances mention lots of food, because cooking is such a passion of mine.  And for me, the holidays revolve around food, so this next part of my blog is a blatant tribute to wonderful recipes.  Holly and Tyler both love Thai food, so I made my version of Nigella Lawson’s Thai yellow pumpkin and seafood curry to put over rice for their first supper at home.  My hubs has always insisted on a “fancy” supper, with all of us together, on Christmas Eve, so Holly and I made desserts for Christmas dinner early on Saturday to get them done ahead of time, and then I made The Pioneer Woman’s Steak Oscar for supper.  (Holly loves to try new recipes as much as I do.  Steak Oscar was a HUGE hit, and if you want to impress, this does it!)  For Christmas, I made “the big-ass ham” (20 pounds) that John won at the Legion, and I glazed it with The Pioneer Woman’s red raspberry/dijon mustard glaze.  I took an extra mason jar of the glaze to my sisters’ house, and they wouldn’t let me bring it home, so I know it was a hit.  And I highly recommend Marcela’s slab apple pie (from foodtv’s The Kitchen):

Aside from food, we watched a movie every night Holly and Ty were here–something unusual for us, but boy, did we enjoy it.  We were all in the mood for low-key this year.  I picked first: The Magnificent Seven.  I mean, it’s a Western, and it has Chris Pratt in it. How bad can that be?  Holly picked The Secret Life of Pets–just silly fun.  And Ty picked the new Jason Bourne movie with lots of action.  Then it was time for Holly and Ty to drive back to Indy and jobs and the real world.  I finished reading The Help, and John and I rented that movie and loved it.

I got a smidgeon of work done until New Year’s Eve, but nothing to brag about.  And tomorrow, it’s time for me to hit the real world again, too.  Time to get up and write again.  And I’m ready.  It’s fun to play, but it’s great to get back to routine again.  I’m ready to hit 2017 running…Okay, limping, but with purpose.  Hope your holidays were wonderful, and have a great, new, fresh year!


Food for thought

Food creeps into my stories.  Enough so, that people comment on it.  But for me, most good things in life revolve around food.  I love restaurants.  I love to cook, and I love to eat.  If there are people together for any length of time, there should be a group meal.  So if I have characters hanging out together for a day, I want to know what to feed them.  Which character would be the one who cooks?  What would he make?  Is he gourmet or does he open a can?  Which character would just order pizza?  A person’s relationship with food tells me a lot about him.

I loved the movie Julie and Julia.  The story was fun.  The acting was great.  The food made me drool.  By the time my husband and I left the theater, I couldn’t wait to get home to fry slices of French bread to make bruschetta.  Then I went out and bought Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  Not that it’s my most used cookbook.  Even flipping through its pages is sort of intimidating.  But it looks solid and serious sitting beside my grimy, well-used cookbooks.  It’s sort of like seeing my Complete PELICAN SHAKESPEARE jostled alongside my favorite mysteries and urban fantasies.  It lends a heaviness and substance to my reading material.  It adds more purpose to my writing endeavors.

Just as social gatherings of any kind involve food, for me, my protagonists often feel the same way.   A somber scene in a novel should involve serious food–like coq au vin or Sunday roasts.  A jazzy scene might serve etouffee or po’ boys.  A nonchalant evening would veer to chicken wings or spaghetti.  Food conveys mood and mindset.

I was enjoying comments on GoodReads a few days ago, and one of the reviewers was talking about a book she absolutely loved, then she said she couldn’t wait for supper because she was going to have toad in a hole.  Guess which I looked up first?  The review or a recipe.  What can I say?  My protagonists are usually hungry.


Writing and Food

I love to write.  I really do.  I need to sit at my computer and hit keys every day.

I also love to read.  I think most writers do.  There’s little better than entering an unknown world and living in it for a while until you turn the last page.

I also really, really love food.  My friends tease me that I’m hooked on the foodnetwork.  All those luscious ingredients, those picture perfect meals.  I can easily lose myself flipping through cookbooks and cooking magazines.  I can live in glossy pages filled with recipes as easily as I spend an evening with Mercy Thompson or Thomas Lynley.  I love Diane Mott Davidson’s culinary mysteries and Shirley Jump’s The Bachelor Preferred Pastry.  I can get hooked on a list of ingredients as quickly as I get hooked on a cliffhanger.

Bookshelves line two walls of my writing room.  Most shelves are filled with novels.  Four are crammed with cookbooks.  Just as when I meet someone who loves the same author I do, I get giddy when someone likes the same cookbooks.  I went to a chocolate party at Shirley Jump’s house once, and my heart beat faster when she raved about The Barefoot Contessa’s cake recipe.   My friend, Paula, not only shares my obsession with mysteries written by Elizabeth George, but she shares my passion for recipes by Pam Anderson.  Whereas I’m a sucker for French and Italian, my friend Joyce excels at flavors from Spain.  When we get together, there’s always a recipe exchange.

My husband and I remember vacations by the places we ate and the food that we tried.  My trip to New Orleans with Dawn will always be highlighted by a trip to Mother’s for its shrimp po’ boys.  Trips to Hilton Head will conjure images of buying steamed shrimp at a Piggly Wiggly to share with Joyce and Abe.  San Francisco is Crab Louis, a lunch with my brother-in-law by a window overlooking the bay.  Food, for me, is an impression of a city.

I enjoy cooking as much as eating.  I’m no fly by the seat of your pants type person.  Just as with my writing, I tend to like structure.  When I start a novel, I don’t just wade in and see where it takes me.  I need character wheels.  I need plot points.  To cook, I need recipes.  I follow directions.  I might tweak here and there, but I want a solid foundation.  I like cooking in mass.  I like filling a huge skillet, putting a meal on the table, and watching the food disappear.  I like soup pots and crockpots.  I like casual, informal, a table scattered with side dishes and a big salad.  Sometimes, plates match.  Sometimes silverware doesn’t.

When my grandson was little, we watched the cartoon Little Bear every day.  In one episode, the family has a feast for the winter solstice, and Tyler thought that a table, laden from one end to the other with all sorts of food was the most wonderful thing he’d ever seen.  I wanted that for him, so my daughter and I worked together and invited people over and filled our table with Tyler and Nathan’s favorite foods.  Nate–Ty’s younger brother–was really little then, but he still enjoyed the feeling of abundance.  I like that feeling to a lesser extent.  But I know, someday, my table won’t be as crowded as it is now, most nights.  Eventually, it will be just John and I who share a meal.  And I’ll have to adjust.  And I’ll learn to like that, too.

One rule I hope to keep permanent, though.  I don’t cook on Friday nights.  That’s for enjoying other peoples’ talents.  And donuts from the bakery on Saturday mornings while I watch new segments on the Cooking Channel is nothing to sneeze at either.