Friday, August 31, 2007

A Summer Book Party

This past week my 16th novel came out. Quite a milestone for someone who never planned to be a writer and didn't start writing until after she was forty. (Before you make me Methuselah, bear in mind that I write really, really quickly!) I had a booksigning, but that didn't really seem like a big enough celebration, so I threw myself a "Sweet Sixteen."

I sent out e-vites, telling people that there'd be Books and Booze, and the acceptances came rolling in.

This is our friend Kate and some of the food. It vanished quickly!

Since I'd be at the bookstore until just before the party, I needed to come up with things I could prepare in advance. And prepare, I did! For two days I diced, chopped, combined and cooked. Everything was a hit.

We started off with Pineapple Martinis. In order to make them you need to first make pineapple vodka by coring, skinning and cutting up a whole pineapple. The piece of pineapple go in a large pitcher and you pour an entire bottle of vodka over them, cover it and leave it at room temperature for 24 hours. Strain out the pineapple (don't even taste it, just throw it out. Yuck, right? I knew you'd taste it!). Combine 3 parts pineapple vodka with one part apricot nectar and shake with crushed ice in a shaker. Strain out into a martini glass decorated with a slice of pineapple. Yum!!

I also made baked brie, which is really simple. Just cut the rind off the top of a round brie, cover it with apricot preserves and then cover that with chopped pistachios you've roasted for a while on the top of the store in a little butter. Then bake for 20 minutes at 350. It can't miss.

I did this incredible thing with figs-- cut off the bottoms so that they stand tall, then make an X in the top. Make a mixture of ricotta cheese, toasted chopped pistachio nuts (that you have left over from the brie) and some maple syrup to taste. Top with a honeyed almond and watch them disappear.

I made four different kinds of sandwiches: mini lobster rolls, roast beef and roasted garlic cream cheese on French bread with basil leaves and sundried tomatoes, brie and nectarine sandwiches and "mad hatter" sandwiches, which I found on the net and modified.

Then I made carrot cake cupcakes, zucchini cupcakes (both frosted with cream cheese frosting) chocolate chiffon cupcakes and golden buttermilk cupcakes.

As if that wasn't enough, my dear friend Lynette brought a chocolate fountain and we had fruit and pound cake which everyone enjoyed dipping.

Everyone had a great time, especially me!


Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Summer's here and it's time for

all those great summer picnic specials - Kentucky Fried Chicken and fries, souvlaki and Greek salad, hot dogs with sauerkraut and fried onions, mustard and ketchup. Ice cream from the Basken Robbins with 42 different flavors or soft serve from Dairy Queen. A burger and a strawberry milkshake from Fat Burger. Fish and chips from Lumberman's Arch.

As you can see, all my favorite summer foods are ones you pick up at the takeout place so, although I have recipes for some summer foods, I'm definitely a picnic fan and a picnic is no fun if you have to work too much to get ready.

I picnic on the beach fairly regularly in the spring, summer and fall and, lucky for me, in Vancouver there are dozens of great fast food places within a five minute walk of the beach. That means your food doesn't get cold before you get it down to the blanket.

But I do have one summer recipe you might enjoy - and it's easy.
Kate's Gin and Tonic
Start with ice, plenty of it.
Add the ice to a heavy crystal glass.
Add one slice of lime, lightly squeezed, to the ice.
Take two ounces of Bombay Sapphire Gin - not substitutes allowed - and pour it over the ice and lime.
Add Schweppes tonic as required.
Sip slowly. Think of summer.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Shirley's Orange Juice Special

Food! I don’t like to cook. It wasn’t in my genes when I was conceived. I love to plan and prepare huge meals. I suppose I could have been a chef but for the hours. For holidays, picnics, family reunions, huge gatherings, I’m right in there. But this everyday stuff is boring. (“What is it tonight, beef, chicken, or pork – the choices are so limiting.) And a good meal is time consuming. I’d much rather do something else than prepare food.

So I go for the easy to do. In summer, when it’s too hot to cook, I like a refreshing drink, something that’s filling and delicious. If it’s also healthy, that’s just coincidence.

Years ago I went to visit a friend in Austin, Texas. Being from Buffalo, NY and living in the District of Columbia where they know humidity, I’d never felt anything like the heat in Texas. I decided to go for a walk the first day I was there and nearly died of the heat. I got to a small strip mall and ordered something called an Orange Julius. I’d never heard of it before and I’d never tasted anything so good.

They wouldn’t tell me how it was made so I experimented with my blender until I got something that tasted just as good. I don’t know if it’s the same. This is my personal recipe. One morning some of my sons’ diving team friends were here for breakfast. As athletes should have healthy meals, I made them Shirley’s Orange Juice Special instead of straight orange juice. Even the guys who didn’t like orange juice liked this. I hope you do too.

Shirley’s Orange Juice Special

2 cups orange juice
1 large egg
½ cup sugar

Directions: Put the juice, sugar and egg in a blender. Fill with ice. Blend ingredients until they are smooth. Serve in tall glasses with straws.

Note – if you want add a banana for additional fiber and flavor.


I went down to the farm stand yesterday, and found some great stuff. Cantaloupes, fresh corn, peppers. And of course, tomatoes. Hundreds of them. Maybe thousands. Stacked on carts, piled in tubs, crated in rows.

A tomato glut.

If you grow your own tomato plants you might have it, too. But don't fear, you can be a tomato glut-ton! Here are a couple of my favorite summer tomato recipes.

Fresh summer spaghetti sauce:
Take six ripe tomatoes, core them and cut them in half. Place them cut side up in a roasting pan or dutch oven. Top with minced garlic and drizzle generously with olive oil. Sprinkle with dried basil. Roast in a 375 degree F oven for 45 minutes or until soft when poked with a fork. Allow tomatoes to cool. Remove skins and place pulp in a large sauce pan. Squish with your hands until pulp is broken up. Cook over medium low heat for half an hour (no lid, but use a screen to cut down on splatter) to reduce liquid. You can also add a little bit of sugar if you like your sauce sweet.

Tomato and cucumber salad:
Slice two cucumbers lenthwise, remove seeds and cut into 1-inch chunks. Cut two tomatoes into 1-inch chunks. Slice 1/2 a medium sweet onion into ribbons. Put all ingredients into large bowl and sprinkle with dill. In measuring cup, mix 1/3 cup vegetable oil and 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar. Pour over vegetables and stir. Allow to sit in fridge for an hour or two or overnight before serving, to allow flavors to mix. (You can also add two stalks of sliced celery if desired.)

Finely dice two fresh tomatoes. Run half an onion, one jalepeno pepper (no seeds!), and half a sweet green pepper through the food processor. Add chopped fresh cilantro and salt to taste.

There they are! Hope they help you ride out that tomato glut.


Friday, August 24, 2007

Dessert First!

Like most of the country, Tennessee is having a heat wave. Yesterday the high here was 103—thank goodness the humidity has stayed low—with the same predicted for today. The lawn is yellow in spots, and crunchy. So, in this temporarily quasi-desert environment, who feels like cooking?

Not me. I’ve been eating out a lot the past few weeks, especially while my air conditioner waited for the way-too-busy repairman to come fix it. When I do eat at home these days, I’m definitely thinking Cool. Easy. No Cooking.

And why not start with dessert? This one is scrumptious, refreshing, and so simple anyone can make it in a slowed-down summer heartbeat. Best of all, your family or dinner guests fix their own. Just take some…

Luscious, ripe red strawberries (washed, of course)
Sour Cream (you can use low-fat if you like, but the real stuff tastes better)
Brown Sugar
Dip a strawberry in the sour cream. Then drag it through the brown sugar.
Take a bite. And enjoy. As Rachel Ray would say, “Yum-o.”

Here’s another that requires slightly more preparation but not much:

Take one store-bought pound cake (Sara Lee is my favorite because it has a good, firm texture)
Whip one container of cream (the real, heavy-duty stuff)
Add a little vanilla if you wish, some sugar and powdered coffee/mocha mix to taste (the International Coffee brand works great)
Split the pound cake horizontally into three or four layers (your choice)
Slather the mocha whipped cream between the layers then reassemble the cake
Cover the whole loaf with more of the whipped cream concoction
Stick it in the freezer for a while (not too long, just enough to let the whipped cream set a little)
Slice and serve

That’s it! For dinner (before or after dessert), I love the cool mint and garlic flavors in Tabouli, and again it’s a simple dish: spices, bulgur wheat (plumped with water and a bit of olive oil), lemon juice, and fresh tomatoes. I prefer the Fantastic brand (I don’t like most others), and the directions are on the box. Takes five minutes to make. Cool it in the fridge for about an hour then serve. This goes with anything and would be a different side dish for that upcoming Labor Day picnic.

Happy holiday weekend! I’m off to my son’s wedding in Connecticut where I hope it will be cooler. Can you believe this (hot) summer is nearly over? Already?

Friday, August 17, 2007

Alternate endings - oh, yeah

I usually give our bloggers some topics for the month and I've definitely fallen down on my job this month - but I love this topic so thanks for picking up the slack, Donna and Shirley. I've got topics for the end of the month and for next month and, I promise, I won't fall behind again!!!

I make up alternate endings for books and movies (and people's lives) when I don't like what happens. I want a happy ending so I just make it up. I spend hours and hours (usually walking on the beach) recreating the end of a story so it has the perfect - for me! - ending.

Casablanca? Absolutely. Yes, it's a great tragic romance, but I want Sam and Ilsa to get together so her husband dies a hero, Sam fights for the resistance all the rest of the way through the war, and the two of them end up - five years later, in the same bar in Paris. Ta da!

Gone with the Wind. Funny, I don't give Scarlett a happy ending but only Rhett. She doesn't deserve him. I know, I know, that's blasphemy - but... Rhett finally, after many years, meets a wonderful woman, they fall in love and travel the country for the rest of their lives.

Every book every written by Nicholas Sparks. Puh-lease. Can't just one of them have a happy ending? You know what's going to happen before you even open the book. I understand that sometimes a happy ending is impossible - but still. Book after book after book?

I haven't yet figured out a happy ending (except a paranormal one) for The Titanic? Do any of you have any ideas that don't involve vampires or ghosts or alternate universes?

Anyway, that's my short form take on alternate endings.


Sunday, August 12, 2007

My Own Alternate Endings

I’m glad someone put up a topic. Alternate endings is a good one. I've only seen one alternate ending on a DVD. That was Training Day and I agree the one that was played in the theaters was the better ending. But I kind of like seeing what another version would have looked like.

I think the marketing departments of the movie houses add the extras to entice people to buy the DVD. It’s the "more" you get when you buy a movie you’ve already seen. I never thought about whether I liked the choices or not. I definitely did not like the alternate ending of Training Day. But I have been guilty of giving my own alternate endings to movies and books.

Long ago in a time far, far away, I watched a movie called This Could Be the Night. It’s an old black and white with Anthony Franciosa and Jean Simmons. I didn’t like the ending. It was okay, but I wanted a more Happily Ever After-commitment ending. So in my mind I re-wrote it. And not only the ending, I re-wrote some of the scenes, even added some that weren’t in the movie. For years and years I thought about the movie, but never saw it again. I didn’t even know the name of it so I couldn’t look it up anywhere. And as time will do, it passed and I could no longer remember the actors either. But I never forgot the story or the ending.

My ending.

After DVD’s came out and Turner Classic Movies began releasing the old movies on videotape and DVD’s, I saw the movie again on television and immediately recognized it. I sat down and watched it to the end. But I was confused. It ended too quickly. Where were the other scenes? Surely they wouldn’t cut it. After all TCM shows movies in their entirety. It’s part of their advertising. So why did they cut this one? And the ending? What happened to the ending? This is not the same movie, I thought. But there couldn’t be two. I remembered some of the characters. Then I started to laugh out loud. I remembered. I’d re-written the ending. I’d added scenes that weren’t there. They were only in my head.

This Could Be the Night is the only movie or book I did this to and didn’t remember my own creation. I have changed other endings too. Yes, Gone With the Wind has an alternate ending in my mind. And not just an ending, there are additional scenes with Scarlett and Rhett away from Tara or Atlanta. In fact, they are in Charleston.

Casablanca is my all time favorite romantic movie and the hero and heroine don’t live happily ever after. Even so, I have never changed the ending of this movie. I can’t see any other ending. Even though I wanted Rick and Ilsa to end up together, I could see the bigger stake was world democracy and I was unwilling to fiddle with that even in a movie. At this writing I’m thinking I could fast forward to after the war, when democracy wasn’t an issue, and bring them back together at that point. Of course, I’d have to account for what happened to Victor (Ilsa’s husband), but that wouldn’t be difficult.

I like books that give me an alternate version of the world. I suppose that’s why 1984 was so popular long before the actual year arrived. And why it still works today. 1984 posed an alternate world for the future. Star Trek did the same thing for television and look at the survival of both of these forms of entertainment.

I read Clive Cussler novels. He write male adventure novels and his hero is a former Navy Seal named Dirk Pitt. All the Dirk Pitt novels pose an alternate to something we "know" to be true. For example, in Raise the Titantic, they raise the old ship and find a document that cedes Canada to the United States. In another Abraham Lincoln didn’t die at Ford’s Theater, but was captured by the confederates and spirited away on one of the iron clad ships of the day.

Even Cinderella got my personal ending treatment in relation to the wicked stepsisters. I’m far less forgiving than the fictional character, so I changed the ending to give the girls and their mother their due. Then Ever After with Drew Barrymore was released. Not only does Cinderella have a valid motivation for staying at the house and accepting her plight, but in the end she wins out over the life she was forced into. Bravo!

There are endings I can’t change. I loved American history. At English and French history, I’m pretty good at remembering the details, but when it comes to Russian history, I was never able to follow all the last name changes and the different families that ruled or their titles. So when I saw Nicolas and Alexandra and watched their love story unfold, I didn’t like what happened to them in the end. As I voiced this opinion to my history-major friend, she informed me that I could not change history. So I let that one stand, but I didn’t like it.

Dr. Zivago is a different story, however. That ending I did change. Laura looks back and sees Yuri on the bus. She never lost their daughter. The couple reunite and live happily ever after.

As you can see, I provide my own alternate endings on a regular basis. I wonder how Hollywood would have done it if they could go back and reshoot the endings to some of those classic movies. Would they satisfy my need? I don’t know, but if it didn’t, I can always change it in my mind.

Happy reading and movie watching. Let me know if you too change endings to suit yourself.


Saturday, August 11, 2007

Alternate endings

Okay, what's the deal with "alternate endings"? All the DVDs being released these days advertise alternate endings. Do we really want that?

Personally, I want to know how the story ends. Just tell me! If there are three different endings, how do I know which one is real? I remember when the movie Clue came out in 1985, and theaters were playing three different endings across the country. I felt cheated. How would I know if I got the "right" ending?!

That's the point of suspended disbelief, right? We, the readers (or viewers) are swept into an alternate reality for a brief period of time, where the characters are "real" and the events are "really happening."

Imagine if Margaret Mitchell gave an alternate ending for Gone with the Wind (Scarlett finds another guy?)? What if, in one version, the Great Gatsby turned out to just another rich guy? What if Thelma and Louise stopped at the edge of the cliff?

They may be fictional characters, but if a writer has gone to all the trouble to make them real to us, shouldn't their happy endings (or their demise) be "real" as well?

Call me old fashioned, but I want a beginning, a middle, and an end. Just one, thanks.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007


are Bettye Griffin and dceetee. Congratulations to both of you.

Please email me ( with your mailing addresses so I can have your prizes sent to you.