The Pleather Labyrinth

This past Shabbat, a friend at church looked at my purse sitting on the table and said, “You’re quite an organized person, aren’t you?”

I pulled my beloved purse toward me, smiled proudly, and said, “Yes, yes I am.”

Allow me to explain. Two weeks ago I went on a day trip with two close friends. When I stepped away to powder my nose, fashionista friend said to mischievous friend, “Ugh… I really need to give her a new purse.”

I am not into purses the way the majority of women seem to be. I find a purse that meets my size requirements and compartment needs, and I carry that baby until tidbits of pleather flake off the handles exposing the fabric beneath and the lining rips out. I loathe purse shopping. Besides, the stupid things are so freaking expensive for something that’s going to be chucked into the back seat of my car, flung into a shopping cart, and occasionally forgotten at Home Depot or a restaurant.

I actually do have a lovely, leather purse my mother brought me from Italy, but it’s only big enough to accommodate a whispered secret and a tissue. Not practical. I carry it to weddings, funerals, and really fancy lunch dates.

What probably tipped fashionista friend over the edge was my horror story of how I once stapled the broken strap of a favorite purse and went right on carrying it. No doubt this is what prompted her to ask me upon exiting the bathroom, “How do you feel about black and white herringbone?”

A moment of confusion overcame me until mischievous friend spilled the beans on fashionista friend’s disdain for my bedraggled purse.

“Are you embarrassed to be seen with me and my purse in public?” I asked, laughing.

“Yes,” fashionista friend replied emphatically. She descended to the Fashionista Cave where she stores a bin of spare purses. I believe said bin has a keypad lock (with a code known only by her), is wired with explosives, and is guarded by a German Shepherd. Upon her return, she said, “I chose this one for you because I knew you’d like all the compartments.”

“You want me to switch out purses before we leave, don’t you?”

From the look on her face, I’m pretty sure that was understood. I plopped down on her living room floor and began sorting stuff into all the wonderful compartments of my lovely new purse. It was amazing. Everything just fell into place as I separated the most important items from those used less frequently. I even cleaned out a bunch of garbage I’d been hauling around and tossed it into a plastic shopping bag for disposal. Fashionista friend granted me one pardon when she allowed me to cut the handy little license holder from the old purse and slip it into the new one. Then she threw my old purse away, and we left.

Skip ahead to the next day when my husband noticed the new purse. I swear purses are like magnets for men in the weirdest way. They spy your purse, and suddenly they need something out of it. Of course, I couldn’t have hubby rooting around in my new purse like a warthog grubbing for food. Men are notorious for turning purses into disheveled messes as if a bear pawed through it.

For a microsecond, I entertained the thought of explaining to him how the setup of the new purse really wasn’t that different from the old. Inside the main zippered section (always the largest) was a tiny zippered section where cash and credit cards are stored. That was the same as was the open portion where lipstick, Chapstick, cough drops, and tissues were tucked.

The new purse also had a middle section with a place for my cellphone, check book, and sunglasses. So, slight up grade. Actually, super, awesome terrific upgrade because there are two zippers to this compartment that only need to be opened halfway to reveal a particular side. Lovin’ it!

But wait, there’s more. The next level down is yet another zippered section with a metal zipper pull where I store my keys. Husband should be kissing the ground where fashionista friend walks because in the past two weeks, I haven’t misplaced my keys once since I’ve owned this purse all due to the special place in my purse for keys. “Why did she mention the metal zipper pull?” you ask. Well, I’ll tell you. It’s because my metal keys go in the section with the metal zipper pull. See how that works. Easy enough for any husband who needs to put gas in my car to remember in which section he can find my keys.

Oh, but that’s not all. The whole back of the purse is open, so incidentals like brochures from gourmet olive oil shops and the business cards of women trying to sell me Viking refrigerators land there. No zipper or snap ensures that they fall out which is actually my goal.

There’s a tiny pouch with a snap where my business cards live and another with a zipper where gift cards I have yet to use and restaurant rewards cards are tucked. Brilliant, isn’t it? A place for everything and everything in its place. Did I mention that my lovely, new purse has handles and a shoulder strap? What’s not to love?

But just try explaining why things are where they are to a man, and the whole system breaks down. A woman would look at my purse and know in seconds where to begin searching for whatever she needed. Not that a woman would rummage through my purse without asking. Oh, no—that’s the sort of criminal behavior only men would commit.

Now I know there are many jokes about how scary the inside of a woman’s purse is. There’s even a stupid song about it. I am here to tell you that’s no accident. If we could fit a Minotaur in our purses to keep men out—or at least deter, possibly maim them for tossing it like inexperienced burglars—we would. And don’t bother suggesting that we draw them a map or label the compartments. Our husbands would ask us to store the map in our purses, and it’s not as if we’re going to number the compartments with a black Sharpie.

So now you understand how the friend at church pegged me as an organized person. I like to think she was a little bit envious of my purse. I’m going to carry this one forever, and when I say forever what I mean is until tidbits of pleather flake off the handles exposing the fabric beneath and the lining rips out.

Don’t Get Crabby With Me

dont-get-crabby-with-meI’m very excited to present today’s post for Edible Fiction in regards to my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles. Although I won’t be making this recipe because the main ingredient has yet to come in season, I couldn’t resist sharing. My research on blue crabs yielded a wealth of knowledge and an enthusiasm for the dish, so I decided to post for two reasons: 1) You’ll want to be prepared for the blue crab season, and 2) Depending on where you live and/or your finances, you may want to turn this into a vacation.

In June of 1925, John Welles and his Aunt Prudence were planning his high school graduation party. They did so over a dinner of blue crab. When I initially wrote this scene, I assumed because they were on the coast, Maryland specifically, they would have eaten crab legs, and I stated as much. Please forgive my inlander ignorance. I corrected my mistake because I am a stickler for details in writing (Who Is In Your Details?). Research on this subject prompted a quick edit from crab legs to blue crabs and a visit to my local fish market, Klein’s Seafood.

I visited Klein’s to see what a semi-landlocked gal like myself could do.  I say semi because my state borders one of the Great Lakes, but alas, there are no blue crabs coming from this water source.  Fear not, fellow Ohioans, Klein’s receives blue crabs from the coast.  Seafood shops can have the crabs shipped live, but as one shop employee explained, many die during the trip and no one wants to buy the dead crabs.  So, Klein’s orders their blue crabs already cooked and ready to go.  Since I couldn’t purchase blue crabs to prepare for you, I decided to offer the next best thing.  I also dined on a white perch sandwich with lettuce and tartar sauce and six of the tastiest hushpuppies I’ve ever had, but I digress.

I could write an essay on blue crabs and the preparation thereof based on the articles I researched, but it would be easier and more thorough to direct you there. Don’t think me lazy; I simply don’t want to miss a single important detail regarding blue crabs. Once you read the articles, you’ll see why I suggested a vacation to Maryland. Not only is Maryland a wonderful place to visit for the historical aspect, the seafood restaurants featuring blue crabs and other produce from the ocean are worthy of a visit, too.

dont-get-crabby-with-me-2The first article, Maryland Crabs: A Guide to the East Coast’s Essential Summer Feast by Eater DC contributor Jamie Liu from June 5, 2015, provides an in-depth explanation on blue crabs from the how to the where of the blue crab season. I found this one to be easily understood and good for a blue crab novice such as myself. The restaurants mentioned were a combination of old and new establishments and ownership, but all had history with the Maryland crabbing industry.

And because I’m a conscientious writer against the overharvesting of natural resources as well as someone who loves the science behind anything we eat, Brenda and Glenn Davis’s article on the Life History & Management of Blue Crabs is most beneficial.

Also from Eater is this post, Eight Maryland Crab Houses Worth the Drive, by Tim Ebner from August 19, 2016. Complete with restaurant names including a brief description and address, directions, and a map, you can’t go wrong with this tidbit of information for planning your tour of crab houses whether you’re a novice or expert in the knowledge and eating of blue crabs.

Perhaps you’re thinking this is overkill just for one mention of blue crabs in a novel. Maybe, but I’d rather be accurate with my information than make a glaring error. Besides, if it sends people to Maryland for a visit, or even more to my liking, encourages them to buy my novel, so much the better.

Enjoy!

 

Night on the Town

night-on-the-town-2The Alexander cocktail features in my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles, during the winter of 1927 when John and his two best friends, Claude and Sam, sneak away for a night on the town. Prohibition limits their choice of establishments where they might procure a decent drink, but the young men are looking for a little wild entertainment. Where they end up provides more than they bargained for in quite a few ways. I’ll leave you with that little teaser (I have to save something for the publication of my novel), and provide you with the recipes I found and my experience with the drink.

I don’t keep ingredients on hand for cocktails, so I ventured out with my best friend, Emily, to find a bartender who could make the drink for us. It took us three tries at different restaurants before we found one that had the ingredients to make an Alexander. The drink is old-fashioned, and only one bartender knew what we were talking about.

When you mention an Alexander, the drink that most often comes to mind is the brandy version with white crème de cacao.   Even if you don’t order a Brandy Alexander, this is probably what you will receive.

Brandy Alexander

¾ oz. brandy

¾ oz. white crème de cacao

¾ oz. heavy cream

Add all the ingredients to a cocktail shaker and fill with ice. Shake, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with freshly grated nutmeg.

But let’s tiptoe back a little farther in history to 1910 and Jacob Abraham Grohusko’s book, Jack’s Manual on The Vintage & Production, Care & Handling of Wines, Liquors, etc., which is supposedly the oldest reference to a drink called The Alexander. It sounds lovely and like it might have a bit of kick with the rye whisky.

Alexander Cocktail

75% rye whisky

25% Benedictine

1 piece of ice

Twist of orange peel. Stir and serve.

And let us not forget the 1916 mention in Hugo Ensslin’s book, Recipes for Mixed Drinks, which provides this version of The Alexander.

Alexander Cocktail

⅓ El Bart gin

⅓ white crème de cacao

⅓ sweet cream

Shake well in a mixing glass with cracked ice, strain, and serve.

So which drink would John, Claude, and Sam have imbibed during their night on the town? For recipes, I’m following the lead of Gary Regan in his 2011 article, Behind the Drink: The Brandy Alexander, but I’m putting the gin back in the drink as it was originally created.

The Alexander

The lovely Gretchen

The lovely Gretchen

2 oz. gin

1 oz. dark crème de cacao

1 oz. heavy cream

Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker and fill with ice. Shake, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with freshly grated nutmeg.

Emily and I requested Tanqueray gin, and the lovely bartender, Gretchen, was kind enough to procure heavy cream from the kitchen to make our drink. The restaurant where we dined makes a Brandy Alexander with gelato, but we were striving for authenticity. In our opinion, the drink was delicious. Not too cloying, the flavor of each ingredient blended well, but they also remained well defined. The gin made for a light, crisp drink despite the cream. For the sake of research, we tried the brandy version.

Brandy Alexander

2 oz. Cognac or other fine aged brandy

1 oz. dark crème de cacao

1 oz. heavy cream

Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker and fill with ice. Shake, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with freshly grated nutmeg.

The Brandy Alexander was also a delicious cocktail but with a titch more warmth to it. The flavor was richer which we attributed to the brandy. Again, the three ingredients complimented each other without losing their identity and becoming something else entirely.

Traditionally, the drink was served in a cocktail glass, sometimes called a champagne glass, and if you aren’t familiar with it, it’s the saucer style glass on a stem. Today, if you find a restaurant or bar that can make a Brandy Alexander, or the gin version, you’ll receive the cocktail in a martini glass.

For an interesting tidbit, Barry Popik, historian, states the cocktail was invented at Rector’s in New York. According to Mr. Popik, Troy Alexander, the bartender, created the white drink to celebrate Phoebe Snow, the fictional character used in advertising for Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad. The snowy beverage was used to emphasize the fact that the railroad powered its locomotives with anthracite, a clean-burning variety of coal, and was backed up by images of Phoebe Snow in a snow-white dress. The Brandy Alexander was originally known as Alexander #2.

Cheers!

Suits Me to a Tea

suits-me-to-a-teaI remember the first time someone asked me if I wanted regular tea or sweet tea. I was a teenager on vacation with my parents in North Carolina. I thought the best thing that would happen to me that week was endless basking in the sun and swimming in the ocean. Who knew that a counter person working the register at McDonald’s could bring such happiness to a Northerner from Ohio? Even better, the delicious beverage was served at every restaurant we visited during that trip. My family had discovered sweet tea and drank it by the gallons that week. We even purchased large cups of sweet tea to drink on the way home. The restaurant wasn’t out of sight before it was consumed.

Flash forward a couple of years to the advent of sweet tea reaching McDonald’s in Ohio and other restaurants as well. We Northerners were elated, but we had a few things to learn: keep your sweet tea refrigerated so it doesn’t grow bacteria and don’t try to pass off that junk in the beverage machines as sweet tea.

All this to say that sweet tea factored in to my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles, the first time John met Sam Feldman and Claude Willoughby at the University of Maryland. John had been invited to visit Sam’s home along with Claude. While he instantly liked amiable worrier, Sam, John’s initial opinion of Claude was reserved at best. Claude sneaked bourbon into the sweet tea without John’s knowledge. When John took a large swallow, he choked on the presence of the strong alcohol much to Claude’s entertainment. The conversation that followed would either make or break their tentative relationship.

There are many recipes out there for sweet tea and the history is quite enjoyable to read. I had no idea that iced green tea was the original favorite. The following recipe is the one I had in mind when I wrote the above-mentioned scene. Of course, you can always put a splash of bourbon in yours; just remember to warn your guests first.

Sweet Tea

¾ c sugar (I use raw)

¾ c water

suits-me-to-a-tea-2Place the sugar and water in a saucepan, stir thoroughly, and bring to a boil over medium heat. Boil the mixture for seven minutes, stirring occasionally. Keep an eye on the heat so the syrup doesn’t scorch. You should attain a gentle, rolling boil. Remove from the heat, and set aside to cool.

10 cups water, divided

6 regular-sized tea black tea bags

1 pinch baking soda

Ice

Lemon slices (optional)

In another saucepan, bring three cups of water to a boil. Remove the pot from the range and place on a trivet. Add tea bags and baking soda, and steep for six minutes. Do not squeeze the tea bags when removing. Add the simple syrup and stir. Allow to cool to room temperature.

When the tea/syrup mixture has cooled, pour into a pitcher and add the remaining seven of cups water. Serve over ice with lemon slices if desired.

Enjoy!

Bea’s Diner-Open For Business

In the summer of 1948, Dr. John Welles is the newest resident in Addison-on-Gauley, West Virginia. He’s still reeling from his brief experience during World War II, the effects of which will haunt him for many years, and seeks refuge in the small town tucked away in the Appalachian Mountains. His role as the new doctor provides the perfect camouflage for the emotional scars he carries and allows him to hide behind his mask of professionalism. Only one person in the town can’t be fooled.

Bea's DinerBea Turner, the voluptuous, cigarette smoking diner owner, takes a fancy to John which he returns in kind. They become close during his initial trip into town, an event that makes John the butt of an unexpected joke, and their relationship grows through many hardships and trials. Their love for each other is recognized in town as something akin to marriage. They alone believe they’ve kept their liaison under the radar.

The sassy restauranteur serves John a bacon sandwich and tomato soup for lunch during his first visit. He doesn’t enjoy the meal surrounded by the more gossipy members of the town, but having Bea in his presence eases the awkwardness. The biggest surprise comes at the end of lunch when somehow John gets stuck with the entire check.

Bacon sandwiches are easy to make and don’t require a recipe. Two slices of your favorite bread toasted to your desired darkness, add as many slices of cooked bacon as you prefer, top with lettuce, tomato, and mayo—Viola! Bacon sandwich. I’m sure there are people who choose other condiments, vegetables, dressing, relishes, and those who leave off everything except the bacon. Really, the humble bacon sandwich is a matter of preference.

As for the tomato soup, while the majority of the items on Bea Turner’s menu are homemade, one place she cuts corners is by using good ole Campbell’s Tomato Soup. She is, after all, the only employee in her own restaurant.

I’ll not enter the debate on the sodium levels in canned soups and how Campbell’s added high fructose corn syrup to their soup to appease the American sweet tooth. I’d like to believe that during the summer of 1948, when John visited Bea’s diner, the soup was wholesome and tasty and the can wasn’t lined with bisphenol-A.

As recently as 2012, Campbell’s Tomato Soup still ranked as one of the top ten selling dry grocery items in U.S. grocery markets. It’s fairly healthy, too, for canned, modern industrial food. No fat, no cholesterol, no fake colors or flavors, laced with minerals, iron and Vitamin C. A two-serving can is only 270 calories before adding a bacon sandwich as a side.

There are organic choices on the market now as well as lower-sodium varieties and those made without high fructose corn syrup. Whichever option you choose, remember to add a tasty bacon sandwich, or the traditional grilled cheese, and enjoy your meal.

Spread the Love

One of my earliest memories of butter includes sitting on the carpet in the kindergarten classroom, all of us in a large circle, passing a massive canning jar from person to person as we shook the sealed jar full of whipping cream as hard as our little arms could manage. We’d been told that this would produce butter. I remember my skepticism, but since I loved butter, I gladly took part and watched the magic unfold.

It’s funny how many of my food memories are attached to my Grandma Smith, but I believe her kitchen is where I developed my love of butter.Butter versus Margarine There was something different about the sunshine yellow block that sat in her cut glass butter dish. It was lighter, sweeter than the golden-colored sticks of ‘butter’ we used at home. As a young child, any yellow, creamy substance that one spread on toast or crackers was referred to as butter. My mother provided the explanation of the difference, and I learned the definition of margarine. It wouldn’t be until decades later that I learned what an evil substance margarine is, but I digress.

Grandma Smith would bring me packets of real butter from restaurants where she had dined. Nothing against my mother, but she used margarine for years until I finally convinced her to switch. Glory be–my taste buds rejoiced and food became so much tastier.

Where is all this leading you ask? To my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles, of course. I’ve already established that as an author, I love to feed my fictional characters. Twice I reference butter specifically, once in conjunction with biscuits and again with cornbread, but what I want my readers to understand without mentioning it every time is that butter is my fictional characters’ ingredient of choice when it comes to cooking and baking.

As I wrote the scenes involving food and envisioned the preparation, butter was always in the picture, sitting in a crock or dish, just within reach of the experienced hands that would lovingly incorporate it into the recipe. I’ll spare you the debate on the health benefits of butter versus margarine and simply say don’t fear butter and all things in moderation.

To sum up this post, I made butter with my son because I wanted him to experience how easy and fun it is. The added step of washing the butter is new for me based on research for this post. The instructions for this activity follow. I highly recommend doing this with your kids because the memories you’ll make are priceless.

Enjoy!

Homemade Butter

2 c whipping cream (Raw cream from grass-fed cows is recommended, but store bought organic will work as well. This quantity will yield approximately ½ c of butter.)

sea salt

I used a stand mixer with a wire attachment for this process and chilled the bowl and wire attachment prior to using.

Pour the cream into your mixing bowl, filling the bowl halfway so it does not overflow as air is whipped into the cream. Mix on a medium-low speed to prevent splashing. As the cream thickens, you can turn it up to medium.

This process should take about 15 minutes but can vary depending on how much cream you are using and what type if mixer you have. Whipped cream will develop first. When the whipped cream begins to deflate, watch closely as your mixture can rapidly change to butter. To prevent splashing, cover the bowl with a lightly dampened tea towel.

When the butter begins to clump and stick to the whisk, it is done mixing. Pour the mixture through a fine strainer to separate the solids, butter, from the liquids, buttermilk. If you want it to last for more than a few days, you need to wash the butter. This will remove as much buttermilk as possible to keep the butter from going rancid. Put the butter back in your mixing bowl and cover with clean, cold water.

Use a large spoon to press the butter into the sides of the bowl. The water will become cloudy as the buttermilk is removed from the butter. Pour off the cloudy water and add more fresh. You can repeat this process until the water stays clear. Stir in a large pinch of amount of sea salt for every ½ c of butter.

Store in refrigerator or at room temperature if you will use it within a week or two.

Italian Cooking

Dana Dances

Dana Dances

The picture of the little girl dancing on the couch caught my eye as I was playing on Pinterest one day.  A short story flooded my head, and I simply had to open a Word document to get it all down.  What followed has been revised and researched several times until I was completely happy with the story.  Of course, I’m a writer, so even after I post this I’ll probably find something I would have changed.  We all know if I did that, nothing would ever be posted.  So, grab a glass of chianti and a plate of your favorite pasta, tuck your napkin into your collar (don’t splash the screen), and enjoy some “Italian Cooking.”

Italian Cooking

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