Monday, September 24, 2012

Dragons, Witches and Bill Allen

 When I look back at former posts, at least 90 percent of them feature the fair sex. So, in an effort to balance out my estrogen-drenched blog, allow me to introduce you to the goofy humor of Bill Allen. I use the word "goofy" with the utmost respect. Why? Because I'm a bit goofy myself. Bill is the author of How to Slay a Dragon, How to Save a Kingdom and How to Stop a Witch, books one through three of the Journals of Myrth, a humorous adventure series for kids age 9 to 90 by Bell Bridge Books. Although he has slayed relatively few dragons himself, Bill says he did spend what seemed like a lifetime in the 7th grade. He draws upon those awkward experiences for his new series, The Bumpy Daze of Orson Buggy. Find out more at

 The Idiocracy of Writing for Children

As a writer, I spend a great many hours observing the world around me. (Btw, if this is my boss reading this, I'm talking about my free time, of course.)  During all of that time observing, I am often reminded of the 2006 movie, “Idiocracy.” Not familiar with the film? It involves a dim-witted man (played by Luke Wilson) who wakes up after 500 years of suspended animation, only to find that society has been so dumbed down over time that he is now the smartest man on Earth.

Far-fetched? Maybe. But then why does the box for my frozen pizza tell me to remove the plastic wrapper before heating it in the oven? And why does the booklet for my electric hairdryer say not to operate it in the shower? Call me crazy, but when the housing on my lawnmower tells me not to reach underneath while the blade is spinning, how much more of a stretch is it to believe that one day plants will stop growing because we've been feeding them energy drinks instead of water?

My point? (Surprising how often I'm asked that question, but this once I actually do have one.) It's hard to keep young readers reading, especially boys. Enter what I call “gross boy humor.” Somewhere along the line, authors admitted that nothing amuses a ten-year-old boy more than a good belch or a silent-but-deadly gas attack. Now, it's been a while since I laughed hysterically over a bout of projectile vomiting, but I have to admit I have read some great “gross boy books” that do accomplish the seemingly impossible. They make kids laugh and keep them reading. And if the authors can slip in a good lesson while the kids are distracted, all the more power to them. The question I wonder is this: Are we fueling the idiocracy of society?

Normally my answer to these type of questions is a rousing “No!” but remember, I started off by saying I spend a lot of time observing the world around me, and one thing I have observed lately is the number of twenty-something men who still find gross bodily functions hysterical. Has it always been that way? Admittedly I'm a bit past the twenty-something stage in life. Ah, hell, those years are barely visible from here, but as I recall, my appreciation of a good fart had pretty much faded by the end of my teens. So, could there be another way to keep boys reading? After all, the Harry Potter series remained nearly free of bodily functions for seven books, and J. K. Rowling didn't seem to have trouble reaching readers.

So how can we keep them reading? When I started my Journals of Myrth series, I was going for that “Bob Newhart” feel. Please tell me you remember the “Bob Newhart Show,” or at least “Newhart.” These two hysterical sitcoms had one thing in common: Bob was the only sane person in a world of zany madness. Likewise, in How to Slay a Dragon, when his name is mentioned in a prophecy about slaying dragons, twelve-year-old Greg Hart finds himself the only sane person in a foreign land called Myrth. Obviously there's been a mistake--Greg couldn't expect to win a fight against one of the smallest girls at school--but that doesn’t keep everyone on Myrth from believing he will succeed. After all, no prophecy has ever been wrong before.

Along with the absurd situation and characters, I threw in a bunch of word play, puns and (hopefully) witty dialog that I thought both kids and adults would enjoy. Did it work? Well, the kids who have written me seem to share a common thought: “I loved this book! I've NEVER READ ANYTHING LIKE IT!” Okay, that last part could be good or bad, but I'm taking it as their plea for more sophisticated humor.

So, now I'm on to a new series with another twelve-year-old character, Orson Buggy. He's not a hero, nor does anyone expect him to be. He's just a normal kid trying to survive the seventh grade while everything that can go wrong around him does. Again, with this series I try to keep kids laughing with absurd situations and the humorous inner dialog buzzing around inside Orson's head. Am I saying Orson will never have an inappropriately timed gas attack? No. I'm not hiding from reality, after all. But if he ever does, you can bet it will be crucial to the story. And regardless of the style of humor, just like with the authors of those “gross boy humor” books boys love, my main goal is to make kids laugh and keep them reading. Oh, and if I can slip in a good lesson while they're distracted, all the better for me and them.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Yummy Recipes from Chef Jean

It’s been way to long since we’ve featured my longtime friend and cookbook author, Chef Jean Denham on Book Blather. Strangely, she was in my thoughts today when my email pinged and there she was! Guess our ESP was working. Just in time for the weekend, Jean came through with some fabulous recipes. Welcome back, Chef Jean.

Cantaloupe & Avocado Salad
A Cuisine at Home recipe - Makes 5 cups

1/4 cup lime juice
3 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and black pepper to taste
1/2 cantaloupe, peeled and seeded
2 avocados, halved, pitted and peeled
1/4 cup thinly sliced shallots

Whisk together lime juice, honey and oil for the dressing; season with salt and pepper. Cut cantaloupe half into 9 slices, then halve crosswise to make 18 wedges. Slice each avocado half into 3 wedges.
Assemble salads, dividing cantaloupe and avocado among 6 salad plates. Sprinkle shallots on each salad, then drizzle salads with dressing. Or, place cantaloupe and avocado on a platter, sprinkle with the shallots and drizzle all with the dressing.

Pork & Mushroom Stew

Almost time for lip-smacking wintry soup dinners and this is a scrumptious one to start the fall days with.

1 T. olive oil
1 T. unsalted butter
3/4 to 1 lb. pork tenderloin, trimmed, cut into 2-inch pieces, dried with paper towels, seasoned with salt & pepper
4 oz. crimini mushrooms, quartered
1/2 cup sliced leeks or shallots
1/2 cup diced carrot (1 carrot)
2 T. all-purpose flour
1/4 cup dry sherry or white wine
3/4 cup apple cider or juice
3/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 T. minced fresh thyme
Salt and pepper to taste
Fresh thyme sprigs for garnish

Heat oil and butter in a sauté pan over med-high heat. Add pork and sauté until brown on both sides, about 2 minutes per side. Remove pork to a plate; set aside.

Sweat mushrooms, leeks, and carrot in same pan over medium heat until softened, 3 to 4 min. Stir in flour and cook 1 minute.

Deglaze the pan with sherry, scraping up any bits on bottom of pan, and reduce until evaporated. Stir in cider and broth; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to med-low. Add pork with residual juices and 1 T. thyme. Simmer stew until thickened, 5 minutes; season with salt and pepper.

Serve over mashed potatoes, noodles or rice.

Toasted Quinoa with Chiles and Corn

Quinoa makes a wonderful side dish with any fish or meat – below it is served with tilapia

1 cup uncooked quinoa
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa
1 can fat-free -- (14-ounce) reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 cup canned no salt-added whole-kernel corn – drained (I grilled one ear of corn for this)
1/3 cup jalapeño peppers -- chopped
1/4 cup thinly sliced scallions
2 tablespoons lime juice

Add the quinoa to a 2-quart saucepan and place the pan over high heat. Swirl the quinoa in the pan to toast it evenly.

When the grains are fragrant and crackle (5 to 6 minutes), remove from heat. Add cumin, salt, and cocoa, then slowly add the broth (be careful; it might boil up). Put the pan over high heat, and then bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, and cook, covered with a tight fitting lid, for 15 minutes or until liquid is absorbed.

Stir in the corn and jalapeño peppers; cover and cook for 2 more minutes. Stir in scallions and lime juice. Serve warm.

Zucchini Fritters

2 medium zucchini, shredded
3 green onions, chopped
2 large eggs
salt and pepper
1/3 cup flour
1/2 tsp dried oregano
3 Tbs fresh basil, finely minced
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

Mix together the grated zucchini, onion, eggs, salt, pepper, oregano, basil, cheese, and baking powder into a bowl. Stir to mix well. Add 6 tablespoons of flour and mix. Add the additional tablespoon of flour if mixture is still very wet.

Heat a large frying pan sprayed with olive oil spray over medium heat. Once hot, drop heaping tablespoons of the batter into the pan flattening each slightly wit the back of the spoon. Cook about 2 minutes on each side or until golden. Remove to a heated platter and continue to cook the remaining pancakes in the same manner.

Serve warm with yogurt sauce, or sauce of choice.

Yogurt Sauce:
6 ounce Container Fat Free Greek Yogurt
Salt & Pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme

Mix the yogurt with the salt, pepper, and herbs and let sit in the refrigerator 30 minutes before using.

Servings: 10

Shrimp and Potato Hash

2 teaspoons olive oil                
1 cup sliced onions                 
1 clove garlic, minced    
2 cups leftover cooked cubed potato
1/4 cup water
Pinch dried basil and oregano
Pinch red pepper flakes
1 cup cubed zucchini
6 oz. medium shrimp, cleaned & coarsely chop
Lemon wedge

Heat the oil in a medium skillet and sauté the onions and garlic 5 minutes over medium heat. Add the potato, water, seasoning and sauté another 6 minutes. Add the zucchini and shrimp and continue cooking another 4 minutes or until the shrimp are done and the zucchini are crisp tender. Squeeze lemon over each serving. Makes 2 servings.

Game Day Miniature Sandwiches

This sandwich recipe has been passed around to so many folks for a game day treat, the origins have been lost, but I do have on my dog-eared copy that someone's boyfriend's mother made these. So, I surely thank the boyfriend's mother!!

8 individual white dinner rolls, such as King's  Hawaiian
12 oz. sliced Swiss cheese                  
9 oz. thinly sliced honey ham            
4 oz. (1 cube) butter melted
2 tablespoons prepared mustard, spicy brown or Dijon
2 tablespoons poppy seeds
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

Slice the rolls in half using a serrated knife, and arrange bottom halves of rolls in a large casserole dish or pan. Arrange a layer of cheese on top, followed by a layer of ham. Cover with the tops of the rolls.

In a small bowl, whisk together melted butter, mustard, poppy seeds, and Worcestershire sauce until well combined. Drizzle the sauce evenly over the tops of the sandwiches, cover the pan with aluminum foil and allow to sit for at least 30 minutes, or overnight.

Bake in a 350° oven for 20-25 minutes, until the cheese is melted and the sandwiches are warmed through. Slice between the rolls, and serve warm or at room temperature.

Grilled Skirt Steak Crostini

My friend, Rhonda Martinez, worked at a winery in Washington State and developed some wonderful recipes for tastings with the wines. She generously shares this with us.

1 lb. Skirt steak
Truffle oil, as needed
1 cup mayonnaise
1 to 2 roasted red peppers, depending on how large they are
Salt and pepper to taste
Baguette sliced in shy 1/2-inch slices
Olive oil
Chopped chives for garnish

Season the steak with salt and pepper and then grill it to the doneness you prefer. When the steak is done, allow it to rest for 5 minutes then slice at a diagonal across the grain. Place the pieces in a bowl and toss with truffle oil just enough to lightly coat the pieces – be sparing with the oil, a little goes a long way.

In a food processor, combine the mayonnaise, peppers and a little salt & pepper and process until smooth; taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.

Brush slices of bread with olive oil, place on a baking sheet and bake in a 350° F oven for 8 to 10 minutes, until golden brown. To serve, arrange toasted bread rounds on a serving platter, top with pepper mayonnaise and lay pieces of steak over. Garnish with chopped chives.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Charmaine Gordon

Our guest today is the multi-published romance writer Charmaine Gordon. Her latest release is Sins of Omission. Welcome to Book Blather, Charmaine.

“On a hillside in Wisconsin an hour north of Fairview, Illinois, the man called Walter lay well hidden in a grove of trees. Scratched and bleeding from his narrow escape, he still smiled at how clever he’d been. The backpack with clothes and supplies in the attached shed proved easy to retrieve just in case. He snarled thinking of what spoiled his plans. Tomato soup on the floor. Spilled by Peter, the strange child. At least he didn’t talk all the time like the others. Next time no kids. Just a woman. A luscious one. Someone like voluptuous Lila without children. Ah Lila. He nearly tamed her. Number one on his great experiment. Find, convince, tame.
Like the Eagle Scout his father demanded him to be, his bag packed with all essentials for safe camping, he removed a mirror to examine his wounds, cleansed them with bottled water and applied a healing lotion. Superficial scratches. Insects buzzed around. Dirty clothes came off, he used baby wipes to cleanse himself, sprayed bug repellent on his skin and changed clothes. Fresh. He’d start fresh. New name. A. Allan, Albert, Alex. Alex. Perfect. Alex Walters. Alex Walters flexed his muscles. How he loved cleanliness. Next he needed a car to find Lila Olsen and her brats to clean up loose ends.”
This excerpt comes from Sin of Omission, my latest release. I ask you, dear readers, do I know such a person? Uh, no. He comes from my imagination. When an author writes about murder, he doesn’t have to commit a murder. Erotic scenes also come from dreaming, great dreams maybe but that doesn’t mean the author is running wild. Only in his/her fictional world does that happen. Well. Speak for yourself, Charmaine.
In my previous career as an actor, I had the privilege of learning other writer’s words and following their script. I appreciate the turn of a phrase, the use of all senses more easily portrayed on stage than in a book. Once I began to write, I learned to what’s called spill on camera but now on the page where you allow your emotions to flow; open a vein and don’t be afraid to let the reader see what’s inside. So when you read my books, know I’ve given freely of myself to you.
Survive and Thrive is a theme running through each story. Do I know about survive & thrive? Yes, I do. To go from day to day is often a game of survival. Not in the sense of war or poverty but getting along with your mate, children, relatives, friends. And these are the easy pieces of this puzzle called life. They don’t always fit together but often bend to accommodate.

Within the covers of a Romance/Suspense book is a fictional struggle ending with the happy ever. . .The lover of Romance will be bitterly disappointed if heroine and hero don’t work things out toward a rosy future.
Speaking of Rosy Future, does anyone born in the forties remember her first lipstick called by that glorious name with so much promise?
Love to all in the waning days of summer. Soon autumn leaves will turn and fall but not today.\