Instead of wracking my brain to think of yet another Christmas gift for my 90 year old mom and 91 year old dad who don’t need anything, I was inspired to cook up a bunch of homemade meals. The chicken in sherry and mushroom sauce is my mom’s recipe. I’m thinking they can have that for Christmas Eve. Or maybe the stuffed Cornish hens. The soups will be perfect on those cold winter evenings when the ground outside is icy. Ozark winters can be br-r-r-r cold.
It’s a win-win-win kind of gift. My dad will be happy eating. My mom will be free from cooking. I had a lot of fun in my kitchen, listening to Gregorian chants and filling the house with delicious aromas.
What’s in the box?
– Chicken in sherry mushroom sauce with wild rice (enough for at least 2 meals for 2 people).
– Italian meatloaf (2 meals for 2)
– Mexican meatloaf (2 meals for 2)
– Bolognese spaghetti sauce (2 meals for 2 – probably 3-4)
– Cornish hens stuffed with cornbread, scallions, celery, sage, mushroom, raisins, walnut & water chestnut dressing. (2 hens) Sides of sweet potato delight with garnish of cranberry chutney.
– Turkey soup (1 liter)
– Minestrone with beans and ham (3 liters)
– Split Pea soup with smoked bacon (2 liters)
I put 10 lbs of dry ice to keep the already frozen meals icy cold for the 2 day UPS air trip from Coastal California to the Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri.
There are few things I enjoy more than decorating for the holidays. Any holiday, actually. But there’s something about Christmas that truly sets me free to be as extravagant and outrageous as I desire.
The heart and soul of Christmas is my mantel. I never know what will evolve. Last year I craved purity and focused on white. This year I went “Borgia” with over-the-top opulence. The mood is quite changed from day to night, yet always lush.
Antinous must be adorned as all gods demand of us. He’s sporting a gold necklace of stars this year to go with his Dionysus hair wreath.
We gave up on big trees and now recycle a lovely little fake tree that I picked up at Marshalls. I change the lights, use different ornaments – or none at all – and wrap the base in leopard or silver or gold. For the first time in ever so long, I strung garland. I’d forgotten how hard it is to hang just right.
Wishing you all a wonderful holiday season filled with warmth, joy, peace and love. “Gods bless us everyone.”
It’s been more than 24 hours since the Central Coast Writer’s Conference 2015. I’m hoping that enough time has elapsed that I can succinctly convey the experience and all that I took away.
First let me say, it was my first writer’s conference and my first book fair. When I look at the photo of my little booth, I confess I cringe. Yet I share the pic with you because Chantelle Aimée Osman said in a workshop on writing Mystery, “Don’t hide your work.” I do that. I do just that. And I intend to change.
I fell quite by accident into the opportunity of judging the Golden Quills writing contest in three categories: Poetry, Flash Fiction and Short Fiction. My tit for tat for that labor of love was free entry to the conference, a place on two panel discussions, an invitation to the marvelous oceanfront, rooftop party for staff and presenters only, and a gratis table at the book fair. I’d say that I came out way ahead. Especially when it turned out that one of my fellow judges was English historical detective fiction author Anne Perry. I’m told I can use her name in my resumé. I’m not sure how that works, but then I freely admit, I’m new to this game.
My first panel discussion was at the boot camp for beginning writers. Christy Halsell, LeeAnne Krusemark and I were slated to talk about New Writing Technologies (Blogging and Twitter) from 1:30-2:00. Pulled together at 12:55, we were told, “You’re up now. Until 2.” With a precision teamwork that might have been orchestrated but which was utterly ad lib, we pulled it off with admirable aplomb. The key was to talk straight, keep it simple and then open up to questions. With a room of a hundred or so new writers, there were plenty of those.
The second panel discussion took place on the rooftop terrace where we’d partied the night before. The blue Pacific stretched without a ripple to a cloudless horizon. The sun blazed; the air was still and hot. Four women writers answered a few questions about “Finding Inspiration.” Verbose as we are, we managed to fill the hour. No questions from the audience, which I would have enjoyed. I quite adore speaking off the cuff.
When asked with whom we share our ideas, a fellow panelist confessed that she shares with no one out of fear of her ideas being stolen. I was so stunned by this concept that I probably went a little too far by saying that my books are so complex and so utterly me that I didn’t think anyone else could pull them off. Oh well, I am known for speaking my mind.
The book fair bombed. Foot traffic was sparse. The day was too hot. Anyone with any sense was at the beach. I did share my umbrella shade with a lively author named Corey Lynn Fayman whose good cheer and company made the time pass with laughs. Potential readers cruised by my voluminous books to finger his two thin novels. I heard him say over and over in just one little sentence, “These are mystery detective.” I saw him sell the thinnest.
Oh, how I envied that he said everything about his books in just those few words. Right then and there, I decided that no matter that I have ideas for three more books in my Red Mirror Series, the next book I write will be to a genre and skinny.
I have to give Jonathan Maberry special mention. He is the nicest successful author one could ever hope to meet. A teddy bear with huge heart. I ended up in his workshop “Horror Horror,” not because I have any talent for that genre, but because he was so engaging at the grand panel discussion that I simply wanted to be in the same room with him. The gods smiled on me, and I met him again at the rooftop party – a gathering tantamount to Mount Olympus for a novice like me. Elevated. Yes, I definitely felt elevated.
Three cheers for the Central Coast Writer’s Conference. Thank you to Teri Bayus for her leadership and spunk. Yes, there were some hiccups and blemishes, but those are best mentioned in the evaluation form. I prefer to focus on the good, of which there was plenty to experience at the Central Coast Writer’s Conference 2015. Twitter #CCWC2015.
Central Coast Writer’s Conference
Teri Bayus Website
Jonathan Maberry Website
Corey Lynn Fayman Website
Chantelle Aimee Osman Website
LeeAnne Krusemark Facebook
Christy Halsell Website
Anne Perry Website
Rendang Chicken Curry – (Indonesian Dry Curry)
For those who don’t know, a dry curry is simmered down until the sauce is very thick and coats the meat. Intense flavors of a bevy of spices, fish sauce and coconut milk give this recipe great depth and complexity. You’ll see by the list of ingredients what I mean. The big plump black raisins swell when cooking. I like to sprinkle fresh toasted coconut on just before serving. As my friend Suzanne would say, a real tongue erection!
While the curry can be made with beef or whole chicken cut into pieces, for ease of serving large groups, I prefer chunks of chicken thighs -or if serving a pot luck – drumettes. Serves 24 for potluck with approximately 1 drumette each.
Heavy Le Creuset-type (dutch oven etc) pot
Optional oven-proof flat dish
Optional Aluminum foil
Optional Food processor, either large or mini
Chicken parts equivalent to a whole chicken.
My preference: boneless chicken thighs cut into chunks OR
best for pot luck: wing drumettes (approx 24)
1 can coconut milk
1 large onion
4 gloves garlic
2 Tbsp brown sugar
3-4 tsp powdered ginger – or thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger
¾ tsp dry chili flakes or 1-3 deseeded red chilies (depends on how “hot” you like it)
1 tsp turmeric
1 heaping Tbsp ground coriander
1 Tbsp ground cumin
1 Tbsp curry powder
2 tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp ground cloves
1 tsp powdered star anise
4 tsp dark soy sauce (you can add more later to adjust taste)
4 Tbsp fish sauce – or equivalent fish base from jar
1 tsp shrimp paste – or 1 Tbsp seafood base – or 1 Tbsp additional fish sauce
Handful of big seedless raisins (Autumn Royal or Flame Seedless)
¾ Tbsp tamarind paste
2 Tbsp finely chopped lemongrass
Dry, shredded coconut (packaged, sweetened coconut from grocery store is fine)
Note: For making the sauce, a food processor is best. I use a mini-one for the onions and garlic. If you have a big processor, you can put all the SAUCE ingredients EXCEPT raisins in that. If you don’t have a processor, dice the onions, garlic, fresh ginger and optional lemongrass as small as possible. Would recommend powdered ginger.
Use a sturdy pot on top of stove.
Put coconut milk in pan.
Peel onions and cut into chunks.
IF using fresh ginger, peel and cut into pieces.
Put onion, garlic, ginger and optional lemongrass in mini-processor and mush.
Stir sauce ingredients together in a small bowl. EXCEPT raisins.
Add mixture to coconut milk.
Taste test and adjust. If need more salt, add more fish sauce or seafood base. If not spicy enough, add more chili.
Bring to a boil over medium heat.
Add the chicken, stirring well.
When curry comes to boil again, reduce to simmer for approximately one hour, stirring frequently so not to burn or stick. (see 2 techniques below)
If it seems to go “dry” (thicken) too fast, add more coconut milk or a little water.
Note: Best made as many hours before serving as possible. This allows the spices to meld.
If using chicken chunks, simmer, uncovered, stirring frequently.
You will want the sauce to reduce.
Add the raisins after 45 minutes.
Continue cooking until sauce is consistency of ketchup.
Turn onto serving dish and sprinkle with toasted coconut.
Serve bowl of remaining coconut on the side.
If using drumettes, cover the first 45 minutes, stirring frequently.
Add the raisins.
Simmer uncovered for 15 minutes.
Remove drumettes to an oven-proof dish large enough to spread them out.
Cover with foil and put in 300 degree oven while reducing the sauce. (Further tenderizes the drumettes without drying them out.)
Boil the sauce hard, uncovered until consistency of ketchup.
Remove chicken from oven and spoon sauce over.
Serve in the oven proof dish.
Sprinkle toasted coconut on top.
Serve bowl of remaining coconut on the side.
This is so easy, it’s embarrassing to accept the praise it always elicits.
Best made close to serving.
½ – 1 package shredded coconut
1 heavy skillet or hand wok
Heat pan on high fire.
Put coconut in hot pan.
Stir constantly, turning and turning.
Remove or lift from fire occasionally so doesn’t get too hot.
Coconut will gradually begin to brown.
When it’s all over golden, remove from heat and dump immediately onto a plate or flat pan to cool.
DO NOT leave in hot skillet as cooking continues.
Sandra adds “Although this reads like a complicated recipe, it really isn’t when you get down to it. Once you line up all ingredients, everything goes into a pot and cooks. I take the extra oven step with the drumettes, as I want them to be tender but not falling off the bone. You can easily skip the oven part.
The Secret: It’s all in the spices. I use Penzey’s for freshness and punch. It’s also very important to let the spices “cure,” which means giving them plenty of time to meld together. Make in the morning for an evening party. Can easily be prepared the day before.
I took this photo many many years ago when living in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire (the Ivory Coast), West Africa. We were upcountry in the “bush” when a halo formed around the sun. Such a mystical experience. I’ve only seen it once in my life.
From under one of those giant, tropical Africa trees that reach for the sky, I captured the shot using a red filter on my Nikon and Kodak slide film. Much later, I took a photography course in New Jersey to learn to print paper positives from color slides. This photo is the result. I love it still.
Here you have two photos from an adventure I treasure. The first time I went to Egypt, my husband and I stayed at the historic Mena House, a converted Pasha’s hunting lodge at the feet of the Pyramids. Can you imagine the thrill when we arrived late at night and were ushered into our room? The bell boy threw open the shuttered doors to this heart-stopping vista of the lighted Great Pyramid. I don’t ever remember a thrill greater than that moment. Better than anything I’d ever dreamed.
The following dawn, the growls of camels and shouts of their drivers awoke us. “Yellah! Yellah!” the turbaned men urged with sharp cries.
With no strength or will to tear myself away from the terrace, we ordered a room service feast with hot crusty rolls, thick apricot jam, plump fresh figs, and syrupy black coffee. While Jesper gazes in wonder, the early morning mists melt in the warming sun. Magic. Just plain magic.
I hadn’t started my trilogy yet. The Red Mirror was still years in the future, waiting for me to stumble over it in a Las Vegas antique mall. Isis hadn’t spoken to me; she hadn’t shared her story. But the seed was most certainly planted that dawn, on that very terrace, at the old Mena House in the shadow of the eternal Pyramids.