Posts tagged with: Feeding the Writer

Feeding the Creative Mind

by Caren Crane

I’ve noticed I blog about food a lot. I hope you will bear with me as I trip down this well-won path again, since we’re supposed to write about what we know. *g* I love to cook, which is a tremendously creative occupation. I know I’m not alone, either. Among the Banditas and Bandita Buddies there is a powerful store of culinary talent.

It struck me recently that my husband, while enthusiastic at times, is…well…not very creative in the kitchen. He has invented a couple of great recipes. As in, two. One is his Chicken a la Ronnie. It features soy sauce, seasoned salt and lots of ginger and it is absolutely DIVINE.

His other culinary masterpiece is a mashed sweet potato concoction that is wonderful as well (though he tends to get carried away with the cinnamon). When faced with the contents of the kitchen cabinets and refrigerator and 30 minutes until the teenagers begin to self-digest, he tends either tell them to eat cereal or call Papa John’s.

I, on the other hand, can whip up something tasty with only a few minutes of planning and aome creative thinking. I explained to my husband that to me, the contents of the cabinets and fridge sort of float in a cloud over my head and I mentally sift through them until a semblance of a meal begins to emerge. Once I make some important connection (like, leftover turkey + chicken broth + half and half + spices = curried turkey), I am off and running. I can improvise around things I don’t have and brainstorm side dishes from leftovers, canned goods and vegetable drawer rejects. He gave me and my cloud idea an odd look.

Then I realized it is the same way with my writing. I usually get an idea for a character or a scene first, then I let it marinate a while. I start to get a sense for who the main character is and the kinds of problems she has. Then I think about what kind of family she comes from, what kind of work she does, what her ambitions are. If I have an idea for a scene, I may play with different ways she got into the scene and what could happen afterward.

All those possibilities hover in a cloud in my head and I wait, patiently, until something connects and things start to make sense to me. I have no idea how those connections are made or where they come from. They simply emerge from the mist and I try to grab them and get them on screen or paper or a scrap of a napkin or my hand before they evaporate.

Fiction is challenging because there are an endless number of things that could happen. Choosing the best ones, narrowing all those choices down to one great one, is the hard work of writing.

Maybe cooking is like that for my husband. Maybe he gets overwhelmed with the endless possibilities of all those ingredients staring at him from the shelves. Perhaps the cavalcade of dinner options leaves him stymied and unable to launch into action. Sort of a cook’s block, rather like writer’s block.

Then again, maybe he just lacks imagination. Except there IS that delectable Chicken a la Ronnie…

What about you? Does your kitchen seem like an endless sea of variety and wonder? Does the potential in a box of beads or a basket of yarn send your creative wheels spinning? What gets your creative juices flowing and feeds your creative mind?

Food for Thought

by Susan Seyfarth

I’ve got food on the brain. Couple reasons there. First, I gave up sweets for Lent. All sweets. Which means no chocolate. No ice cream. No doughnuts. (Somebody please revive Kirsten. I’m sure she’s passed out cold at the idea of a doughnut-free existence.) In case anybody’s wondering, life without refined white sugar is indeed a barren, empty place. Not recommended. But boy, it makes Easter really pop for me. Nobody’s chocolate bunny is safe. 🙂

Second, I’m brain storming a new book, & my heroine is a wedding cake baker. So, while I’m not eating any sweets, I’m devouring books devoted to the glossy photography of enormous, glorious cakes. Big ol’ shrines to butter, eggs & yes, refined white sugar.

All this deprivation got me thinking about one of my favorite questions to ask people when I need to get a spirited conversation started:

If you could eat only three foods for the REST OF YOUR LIFE, what would they be?

Some people (mostly men for some reason) are baffled by this question. They’ve honestly never considered it. But most of us know our three without even thinking. I know I do. You ready?


#1) Ice cream. Any flavor but chocolate. Don’t misunderstand now. I like chocolate IN my ice cream. The more the better. But I don’t like chocolate flavored ice cream. Is that weird? I can’t explain it but feel very strongly about it. Ice cream is hands-down my favorite food in the universe, but if somebody presented me with a bowl of chocolate ice cream on Easter morning & said, “Vanilla will be available at noon,” even after the six dark weeks of Lent, I’d hold out for the vanilla.

#2) Pizza–whole grain, deep dish crust. Marinara sauce. Mozzarella, parmesan, & goat cheese on top. If pressed, I’d allow some fresh basil & a few kalamata olives. Perfection.

#3) This third slot is always harder. Over the years, I’ve gone back & forth. For a long time it was stir fry in brown sauce over brown rice. Heavy on the broccoli & fresh red peppers. Throw in some deep fried tofus cubes, the kind that only Asian restaurants can produce & I’m a happy girl. But then I became a mom & began to resent stir fries for all the time consuming chopping & mincing. I embraced the zen perfection of a bowl of cereal with milk. And I do love me a good bowl of cereal, any time of the day or night. But I already have cold & sweet covered with the ice cream choice. The pizza gives me all the gooey, fat-ladened carbs I could want. So really, I needed something that would satisfy the primal desire for something crunchy, veggie-based & filling that comes over me after a steady diet of pizza & ice cream. So I’m back to the stir fry. For now.
How about you? Are there any foods you could eat forever & never get sick of? Any odd-ball appetites you want to fess up to? You’re among friends–share!

Holiday Gift to You!

by Suzanne Welsh

This year the Bandits are celebrating our first holiday season as a blog group. We talked in private how we could celebrate with you, our guests and readers. We decided to share some of our favorite traditions or foods with you. So starting today and ending with Boxing Day, December 26th, we’ll have some of those favorite recipes for you to try, some great memories and stories to share with you, as well as some fabulous guests.

Every year after Thanksgiving I begin baking for the Christmas season. It’s a tradition with my family that Mom is baking a new cookie or treat almost daily. Last year I’d injured my shoulder moving a patient and my husband realized that the stirring motion needed to make cookie dough was now impeded. So he bought me a new Kitchen Aid stand mixer…”so the kids can have their Christmas Cookies.” Yeah right. Anyway, he saved the holiday season.

Here’s the list that fluctuates depending on my mood and schedule:
Chocolate Mint Cookies
Buckeye Candy
Chocolate Covered Pretzels
Coconut Jam Thumbprints
Mexican Wedding Cakes (for hubby)
M and M Cookies made with green and red M and Ms
Peanut Butter Blossoms with Hershey Kisses
White Chocolate and Cranberry cookies
Raspberry Filled Pastries
Oatmeal Scotchies
and Cookie Cutter Sugar cookies my daughter ices with butter cream frosting.

The following recipe is one I actually make twice over the holidays. It’s my kids’ favorite, as well as several of their friends. The first batch always disappears quickly. My gift to all of you!

CHOCOLATE MINT COOKIES

I received this recipe while working at THE Ohio State University’s L&D unit. It became an instant hit with my family and a staple of every Christmas celebration from that time on.

Ingredients:
¾ cup butter
1 ½ cups firmly packed Dark Brown Sugar
2 TBS. Water
1 package semi sweet chocolate chips
2 large eggs
2 ½ cups all purpose flour
1 ¼ tsp. Baking soda
½ tsp. Salt
Green chocolate mint wafers, (Andes). About 1 pound.

Directions:

Heat butter, sugar and water in a large heavy saucepan over low heat until butter is melted. Add chocolate chips, stirring until partially melted. Remove from heat and continue stirring until chocolate is completely melted. Pour into a large mixer bowl and let stand about 10 minutes until slightly cool.

With mixer at medium speed, beat eggs in one at a time. Reduce speed to low and add dry ingredients, beating just until blended. Refrigerate at least one hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 cookie sheets with foil. Roll tsp of dough into balls, place about 2 inches apart on cookie sheets. Bake 12-13 minutes. Cookies will appear soft. DO NOT COOK ANY LONGER.

Remove from oven and immediately place mint on each hot cookie. Let soften, then swirl mint over cookies to frost. (You can use the tip of a spoon or a toothpick.) Transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS TO ALL OF YOU!
So is there a favorite food you have to have for the holidays or your celebration won’t be the same?

Fair Food Fun!

by Caren Crane

Kirsten started a fun food conversation yesterday, so just for fun here are some foods I will be looking for when the North Carolina State Fair kicks off in mid-October!

Cotton Candy and Candied Apples – classic!

Fried Twinkies – not sure about those

Fried Snickers – disgusting, yet compelling

Fried Coke?! It has strawberries, strawberry syrup and is served with Coke syrup. I can’t even conceive what that must taste like.

So, what is your favorite fair food? Onion rings, corn dogs, kettle corn? Apple dumplings with ice cream and frozen cheesecake on a stick? What is the most exotic fair food you have tried? Banditas love to talk about food!

On Men and Muffins

by Caren Crane

Recently, a very dear friend (who happens to be a great writer) had me read something for her. It was in first person point of view (POV), which I use a lot, and she had both the female and male protagonists “speaking”. I never do that, so I looked forward to it. And it was great! Until…we got to the first chapter in the hero’s POV.

See, the hero was feeling a little off-kilter (because of the heroine, of course) and was thinking of luring the heroine to a coffee house. And he thinks (because we’re in his POV) that coffee and a muffin will fix him right up. STOP!!

As a dear friend (and reader), I had to point out that very few men – especially heterosexual ones – would ever think that a muffin would “fix him right up”. While it is true that most men need more fiber in their diets how many (under 50) actively think about this? A rather low percentage, I imagine, unless they have a medical condition that has forced them to be aware of it.


Now, I happen to be in possession of one of these under-50 men who desperately needs more fiber in his diet. But I have to be tricksy about slipping it to him. So here, for all the people in your life (maybe even you) who need some fiber, is my Banana Bran Muffin recipe. Please note (Joan), my youngest daughter took home a ribbon from the NC State Fair with this recipe. The judges comment said, “So moist!” *g*

Caren’s “Fiber Up Your Man” Banana Bran Muffins

1 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
2-1/2 cups bran flakes cereal
1 1/4 cups milk
1 egg
3 tbsp canola oil
2 very ripe bananas (so ripe you’d never eat them)
1 tbsp dried cranberries
2 tbsp raisins (any type)

Stir together flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon and baking powder in medium bowl; set aside.

In large mixing bowl, combine bran flakes, milk, dried cranberries and raisins. Let sit for at least 5 minutes (don’t skimp on this part, let it sit a while). Add slightly beaten egg and oil; mix well (by hand). Mash bananas into bran mixture with a fork and stir to mix.

Add flour mixture, stirring only until combined. Portion batter evenly into 12 cooking spray-coated 2 1/2-inch muffin pan cups (no liners).

Bake in 400 F oven about 20 minutes or until lightly browned. Serve warm or cold (they probably won’t last until they’re cold!).

Back to my friend’s story. She went back to male POV chapter and took out much of the reflection for her guy altogether and used a different style for him going forward. It felt so much truer to his character and turned out to be a really great book!

So, do the men in your life actively worry about fiber in their diets? In your experience, do men really think about things like their health at all if they’re not actively experiencing a heart attack? I’m fascinated by this!

Queen of the Kitchen (or how I lost my crown)

I love to cook and bake. In fact, there was a time (not so long ago) when I was Queen of the Kitchen. Not exactly a title worthy of pomp and circumstance (although a tiara wouldn’t have been too much to ask for) but a title I took seriously nonetheless. There were always cookies in the cookie jar — cookies which I made (along with various cakes and brownies) from scratch. I also baked fresh bread and rolls and made my own pizza dough and pasta (yum!). Heck, for a while there, I even made ice cream and my family was treated to a homecooked meal at least five nights a week.

Those days are long gone.

Now that I’m writing full time, my family’s lucky they get fed period. Gone are the days of planned meals and tasty, homemade treats. I no longer take the time to slowly peruse the grocery store for the best ingredients. Instead, I rush through my local Wal-Mart as if my hair’s on fire, using my cart (filled with convenience and frozen foods) as a battering ram and trying not to make eye contact with the other customers.

Fortunately, my family has adjusted to this new lifestyle quite well. They know how important my writing is to me and how hard I’m working to turn this into a successful career. And I’ve also let (forced) them take over the kitchen once a week to cook dinner. So far those dinners consist of chicken quesadillas (my son’s speciality) grilled cheese with tomato soup, and hot dogs with homemade mac and cheese, but at least I won’t have to worry about them (or me!) starving while I’m working on my latest story *g*

Still, I sometimes miss those times in the kitchen, especially those times cooking up something delicious with my children. Which is why today I’m going to set aside the time to make Joan’s chocolate chip cookies (reference Joan’s nanny nanny poo poo post) with my daughters. Because time with my children is precious. Because my kids are growing up way too fast.

And because I’m craving some chocolate 🙂

Just in case I’m not alone in my chocolate craving, I’m including one of my favorite, simple dessert recipes. This is a combination of cake and pudding so use a spoon when serving.

Enjoy!

Chocolate Pudding Cake

1 cup flour
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup baking cocoa
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. ginger
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 cups boiling water

Combine flour, 3/4 cup sugar, 1/4 cup cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and ginger in medium bowl. Stir in milk, vegetable oil and vanilla to form a thick batter. Spread into a greased 9″ round or 5 1/2 qt. oval baking dish.

Combine remaining sugar and cocoa with the brown sugar and sprinkle over batter. Pour boiling water over top of all. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 min. (cake will be gooey underneath — like pudding) Serve warm with whipped cream or ice cream.

Cookies and Contests

by Joan Kayse

By nature I am not a particularly competitive person. Sure, I’ve been competing in various contests with my manuscripts THE PATRICIAN’S FORTUNE and THE PATRICIAN’S DESIRE, my GH finaling manuscript. Both have placed in a handful of contests and while pleased with such, felt no particular rancor to those who placed higher than me. I just added it to my repertoire of experience and plowed onward. But I am driven in one area of my life: competitive baking at the Kentucky State Fair.

When the Fair rolls around, I roll up my sleeves, fire up my oven, turn my new, bright blue KitchenAid mixer on high and grease my pans.

It started innocently enough. I had been taking cake decorating classes and heard about how to enter that category. I labored long and hard on the perfect “Cabbage Patch Babies” sheet cake and won a green honorable mention ribbon.

I was hooked.

The next year I thought “Hm, how hard could it be to make a cake from scratch?” I entered a chocolate cake and won a BLUE ribbon. Stars shone in my eyes and a gnawing thirst for the grand prize…the cake sweepstakes began to bloom inside me.

Over the next decade I would bake and enter a cake in every category; coconut, pumpkin, devil’s food, carrot…you name it and I baked it. I got to know the “inner circle”. Oh, yes. There is definitely an inner circle to the state fair competition. You begin by recognizing names, you surreptitiously survey them at the display cases. You find yourself analyzing (critiquing, if you will) their icing techniques. You pretend to be eating a corn dog when in truth you’re eavesdropping on their boasting about the type of butter they use. Grudgingly, you admit the 80 year old lady whose farmer husband dutifully drove her all the way from central Kentucky just to bring her mama’s caramel cake in probably deserved to win.

But I still wanted that sweepstakes!

One year I had a wake up call as to how far I was falling into the dark world of powdered sugar and heavy cream the year we had a specialty contest for cookies.

These special contests are as nerve racking as sitting in the audience of the GH ceremony with Nora Roberts only three feet away. You bring your entries and sit and WATCH the judges eating your entry. You chew your nails, you whisper with your baking friends (yes, you do have some of those…Loretta and Juanita 🙂 and wait to see if you win.

The year I sank to my lowest low, I was having strained conversation with “The Queen” of cakes. Her ten year old granddaughter repeatedly interrupted us to tell me about her having won the junior division and having an article in the paper about it.

The girl was happy, giddy, ecstatic. I was doing my best to ignore it. I was the adult here, I kept reminding myself. She’s a child, ignore it. But on the fifteenth time of hearing “I was in the paper” I snapped. Leveling her with a stern glare I said “Well, Nanny nanny poo poo.”

I know. I’m horrible.

The girl, thankfully did not seem to understand the level I had fallen to. She gleefully skipped over to another section to fill them in on the news of her luck and I sank lower into my chair. To say it brought me to my senses is an understatement. It taught me a valuable lesson about keeping things in perspective. Thank goodness for Donna MacMeans, the Bandita who won my GH category. She may not remember, but at the end of the ceremony I offered her congratulations. If not for this turning point I might have nanny nanny pooed her LOL.

I did win the sweepstakes in 2003 and my chocolate chip cookies (renowned among my friends-recipe follows) have won a few ribbons. But the best prize I came away with is learning to take it as it comes. Keep it real, Joan. Keep it real.

Joan’s Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 sticks butter, melted
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
2 tsp. cream of tartar
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
2 2/3 cup all purpose floor
12 oz. bag mini chocolate chips

Beat sugars with butter. Add eggs. Add remaining ingredients. Stir in chocolate chips. Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls 1 inch apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 8-10 minutes or until lightly brown. Cool slightly before removing to racks to finish cooling. Makes 3 dozen.

Enjoy