Fictionista, Foodie, Feline-lover

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Now you know--Candy Corn Facts

My friend Roz loves food history and today she sent this from howstuffworks:
Candy corn has been around for more than a century. George Renninger of the Wunderlee Candy Company invented it in the 1880s. It was originally very popular among farmers and its look was revolutionary for the candy industry. The Goelitz Candy Company started making candy corn in 1900 and still makes it today, although the name has changed to the Jelly Belly Candy Company.

Although the recipe for candy corn hasn't changed much since the late 1800s, the way it's made has changed quite a bit. In the early days, workers mixed the main ingredients -- sugar, water and corn syrup -- in large kettles. Then they added fondant (a sweet, creamy icing made from sugar, corn syrup and water) and marshmallow for smoothness. Finally, they poured the entire mixture by hand into molds, one color at a time. Because the work was so tedious, candy corn was only available from March to November.

Today, machines do most of the work. Manufacturers use the "corn starch molding process" to create the signature design. A machine fills a tray of little kernel-shaped holes with cornstarch, which holds the candy corn in shape. Each hole fills partway with sweet white syrup colored with artificial food coloring. Next comes the orange syrup, and finally, the yellow syrup. Then the mold cools and the mixture sits for about 24 hours until it hardens. A machine empties the trays, and the kernels fall into chutes. Any excess cornstarch shakes loose in a big sifter. Then the candy corn gets a glaze to make it shine, and workers package it for shipment to stores.

For more information, go here to howstuffworks.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Barefoot Contessa's Chocolate Cake Recipe

I was the site's "Chocolate editor" for more than a year. Somehow, I never ran across Ina Garten's chocolate cake recipe until a friend made it for a dinner party. I watched him make it--pouring coffee into the batter and turned up my nose. I don't like coffee. Not at all.  And I was skeptical of the texture of the batter, which was remarkably soupy.
And then it came out of the oven, a deep, dark, luscious cake with no hint of coffee flavor.
And then there was icing.
The Barefoot Contessa's Chocolate Cake recipe is pretty much the best chocolate cake recipe ever.
I'm thinking about it because it's a good friend's birthday today and he really loves chocolate. And because I love him, I see a chocolate cake in his future.
If you're too old for trick or treat but want a treat anyway, check out the recipe. Ina has thoughtfully provided it online here.
If you want a nice little extra touch--instead of flouring the cake pans, use sugar. 

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Halloween Cat

Photograph by Tomer Kori
When I was 15, my father retired from the army and the family moved to Richmond, Virginia. It was a bit of a culture shock after living in Germany and France, and entering a high school where everyone had known each other since the first grade was a bit daunting.  Still, I'd been "the new girl" at nine other schools by that time, so after the usual period of adjustment, I settled into a routine.
 Living on an army post is a lot like living in a small town. (Both my grandmothers lived in REALLY small towns, so I know what I'm talking about.) And while Richmond is not a small town, it still had a small-town sensibility in those days, which was both good and bad. The first October 31st we lived there was crisp and cold and there was a full moon with scudding clouds that crossed it every once in awhile. Perfect Halloween weather. (Here in Los Angeles, October is often hot. In fact, a couple of years ago, we had triple digit weather the whole month. THE WHOLE MONTH.)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Chocolate Chess Pie for the Soul

It’s almost Halloween, which means the candy holiday season is beginning and chocolate cravings are waking. Instead of mainlining Three Musketeers bars this year, why not get your choclate fix from a dense, dark, and deeply delicious piece of chocolate chess pie?

If you’re not from the south, you may not have heard of “chess” pies, which are single-crust pies with translucent fillings.  (Think of a pecan pie without the pecans and you’ll have an idea of the consistency of a chess pie.)  They’re rather plain-looking pies but the fillings are so rich and satisfying that just a small wedge will satiate even the most ravenous sweet tooth. 

Leftover chess pie is also quite good served cold for breakfast.

Chocolate Chess Pie

1 ½ cups granulated sugar
1 heaping tbsp. flour
1 ½ blocks of unsweetened baking chocolate
Pinch salt
½ cup milk (skim is fine)
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp. vanilla extract
½ stick butter

1 unbaked 10-inch pie shell.

Mix the sugar, flour and salt.
Melt butter and chocolate.
Add the eggs and milk to the dry ingredients.
Add the chocolate/butter mixture and mix well.
Add the vanilla extract.

Note:  If you like, you can substitute 2 heaping tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder for the melted chocolate.  If you do that, simply mix the cocoa powder in with the other dry ingredients.

Pour into the unbaked pie shell.
Bake at 375 for 40 to 45 minutes. 

The filling may crack a little in the middle, that’s normal and will just tell people it’s home-made.

Chess pies come in buttermilk and lemon as well as chocolate but it goes without saying that the chocolate version is the best!

Free Download--Here Be Monsters

Just in time for Halloween, Here Be Monsters, eight tales of vampires, werewolves, demons, zombies and other horrors. The anthology includes the story "Figs" by Jeremy C. Shipp and you can find all the details on his blog.

Still bloodthirsty? Check out John Donald Carlucci's collection 11 Drops of Blood, eleven stories for 99 cents. That's nine cents a story--a bargain in any currency.

Patti Abbott has a new collection of fiction out from Snubnose Press called Monkey Justice. (The title story was originally printed in Dark Valentine with an illustration by Mark Satchwill.) You can find the book (only $2.99)  here.

And of course (shameless self-promotion), you can get my first collection, Just Another Day in Paradise free right now on Kindle and Smashwords.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Patti Abbott's Flash Fiction Challenge

Patti Abbott hosts some terrific flash fiction challenges and this one was irresistible. Choose any work by American artist Reginald Marsh and write a 1000-word story inspired by it.  II spent an excellent hour clicking through decades of Marsh's work. All of it was extremely evocative and lively. (See Sandra Seamans' blog about choosing her picture for the challenge.)  Here's a link to some of his work to give you an idea.  (The painting across the top of the page  reminds me a bit of my friend Joanne Renaud's work.)
The painting I finally chose, "Red Buttons," was painted in 1936 in egg tempera on board.  Coincidentally, it's now in the Huntington Library's collection, so one day soon, I can visit the original.

My story is called "A Friend in Need" and it's 992 words long.  If you go to Patti's site, you'll find links to the other stories participating in the challenge.


Nancy met Bea at Child’s Cafeteria when they both reached for the last piece of lemon meringue pie. “Let’s share it,” Bea suggested, and simple as that they were sitting at a table, talking like old friends.
Bea told Nancy she worked for an insurance company as a comptometer operator, making $28 a week, which sounded like a fortune to Nancy.
Nancy’s father ran a general store back in Ohio and delivered mail as a rural route carrier too. Gas was only ten cents a gallon but there were times when scraping together enough to fill the tank was hard because he let so many people run tabs at his store.
Nancy knew her parents were worried about her living in New York City, even though she was sharing a place with her cousin and her husband.
Nancy’s parents were one generation away from farm folk and had a deep suspicion of the big city.
Still, they knew the only work available to her in Ohio was back-breaking farm labor and they didn’t want that for their only child. Nancy had skills. She could type-write and she knew Gregg shorthand.
They were sure she’d be able to find employment in New York, so they sent her off with their blessing and $48 they’d saved up.
Her father had also sent her off with the admonition to stay away from Harlem—“No good can come of associating with colored people,” he’d told her—and her mother had added her own, vague warnings to avoid “mashers” and “men who only want one thing.”
Bea had laughed when Nancy imitated her mother’s warning about men, and taken another bite of the pie.
“How fast can you type?” Bea asked.
“Seventy words a minute,” Nancy replied proudly. She could actually type a lot faster but if she did, the keys started jamming.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Turn the Page

Volume I of NoHo Noir comes to an end.

Illustration by Mark Satchwill
A year ago, late on a Sunday night, I answered a Craig's List ad posted by Craig Clough, the newly hired editor of the North Hollywood/Toluca Lake micro-news site
The site, owned by AOL, was one of several hundred hyper-local sites springing up across the country.  (I think there were 300 when we launched and in the last year more of them have appeared.  I live in Valley Village, which is right between North Hollywood and Studio City, which has its own site.)
Craig had a vision--to publish fiction that featured the area--and I was lucky enough to see the ad before anyone else did. (This was, I think, at one in the morning.)  He hired me on Monday and my first story was due Thursday. And I was off.
We started so fast that there wasn't really a chance to plan ahead and I was writing to deadline pretty much the whole year. I had so many characters that weeks would sometimes go by before I got back to them.  (And there were at least two times when I spelled a character's name wrong and a couple of "continuity" errors on backstory. There was also one storyline where I painted myself into a corner and resorted to a soap opera gimmick to extricate myself.
Generally speaking, though, I'm pretty proud of what Mark Satchwill and I did on Volume I. We're hoping to publish the stories as a novel sometime soon, with the illustrations. Working with Craig is delightful and collaborating with Mark has been a dream. Going forward, he's going to experiment with a more comic book style, and I can't wait to see how that turns out.
The new stories will have a more focused cast of characters--at least initially--and as I mentioned in an earlier post, they'll be more crime centric. (The column is not called "NoHo Nice.")  I want to get more deeply into social issues because frankly, the City of the Angels is falling apart.  The center is not holding. One of the most-read stories on the North Hollywood patch site right now is about a man who used to own a flower shop and is now homeless. (Read the story here.)
But there will be love and there will be hope and there will be some fun too.
Hope to see you there. Would love to know what you think about the new direction and the new characters.
The illustration here is from Sunday's story, which won't be posted until later. But here's the link to the site. By breakfast time "Elephant Walk" should be available.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Food For Thought

Thanksgiving is still more than a month away, but I've already got deadlines related to the holiday so feasting is on my mind. Over the years I've refined my Thanksgiving dinner menu--simplifying it from the Southern extravaganza it was in my mother and grandmother's day.  (Ham AND turkey, mashed potatoes and candied yams AND sweet potato pudding AND corn pudding...I could go on.) but what I put on the table still costs a pretty penny, even with coupons. (I could go without the gingered yam souffle, especially since I'm the only one in the house who eats it but since I'm the one masterminding the meal, it stays in.)
Photo by as012a2569/StockXchange
I was doing research on fluctuating food prices when I came across this site. It's a breakdown of what food cost in 1961 and an ad for a three-course restaurant Thanksgiving dinner.  Yes, I realize wages weren't that great back in the Mad Man era but still--cranberry sauce was 25 cents for TWO 16-ounce cans? A 20-pound turkey was ... 29 cents a pound.  Is there anything in a grocery store you can even buy for 25 cents now?  Even the candy bars cost a dollar.

Book Giveaway

 Too Much of a Good Thing is Never a Bad Thing.

Photo by Julia Freeman-Woolpert
I live in an apartment with a lot of books. The bookcase that came from my grfandfather's law office is in the living room, along with another bookcase I bought from an ex-roommate.  Both are crammed full and double-shelved. My office has four bookcases, two are birdseye maple, and come from a client who gave them me when he moved (the wood is beautiful), one from Ikea and one salvaged from the trash room when a neighbor moved out.  (Yes, I am not too proud to take advantage of freebies.  Alas, not everyone in my household shares  my gypsy gene.)
The point (and I do have a point in here somewhere) is that I have a lot of books. And more coming in every day. so I've decided to give a bunch of my books away.  I took bags full over to my library yesterday but I've put together some packages of books I'd  like to give away.  Yes, two different batches of books free for the asking.  And all I ask is that you follow the blog.  If you're already a follower, all I ask is that you comment. Because really, I want these books to have a good home.  (A lot of them are brand new because people sent them to me after I'd read them in galleys or ARCS.)  Just let me know which package suits you (you can pick both if you like) and next Saturday (October 22), I'll pick winners at random. 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Halloween Silliness

I was researching cheap Halloween costumes for this year's NoHo Noir Halloween story (Volume II begins next week) and ran across this collection of ideas from CBS/Los Angeles blogger Suzanne Marques.  Ranging from the clever (Royal Couple) to the questionable (Amy Winehouse), they have a distinctly LA bent.

I also found this website where you can order all kinds of Halloween props to complete your decorating schemes.  My neighborhood looks like the Halloween blimp exploded overheard and rained down tacky decor. It's fun but frightening in a way that has nothing to do with ghouls and ghosts.

All the stores are full of big bags of Halloween candy.  It's a minefield. I'd get some but it would only mean I was getting it for myself. In the six years we've lived in this apartment building, we've never had a single trick or treater.  I miss trick or treaters.  My all-time favorite was a little kid who came dressed as Ozzy with his mom dressed as Sharon.

I am so never going to do this but just in case you want to make your own candy corn, Elizabeth LaBau ('s Candy editor) has a recipe here.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

NoHo Noir gets a facelift

Photo by Thomas Hawk
"NoHo Noir," the illustrated serial novel that Mark Satchwill and I created, will be a year old next week. We're closing out volume one with two more stories, then introducing a whole new cast of characters for volume two. Mark has created a new (and I think creepier) version of our logo which will debut with our first story. We also hope to use it on the cover of the collected stories when AOL gives us the go-ahead to go forth and publish.
The clown logo for the series is a version of the real-life Circus Liquor clown sign, a North Hollywood landmark for years.  The real clown (see photo on the left) is pretty creepy. It looms over the street right across from a bus stop.  Mark put the logo together overnight because we were hired the same week the first story posted.
We found a lot of people loved the clown (shudder), so Mark put the logo up in his online shop. Yes, you can get NoHo Noir swag here. I am very fond of his original logo. (See right)
Now, though, as we move into the second year of stories, Mark has come up with a more surreal version, a Bozo-gone-bad image that suits the darker tone the new stories will take. There will be a more crime-centric vibe for the new stories, and the volume will start off with the murder of a homeless man that may or may not have been at the hands of a couple of junior high kids.  (That's right, NoHo is not fooling around this year.)
The new logo is below.  What do you think?

Friday, October 7, 2011

Baby Boomer Nostalgia Gone Wild

Yes, the movie/TV reboots and remakes and re-imaginings continue. I can't really make fun of some of the sillier projects coming down the pike because the studios responsible pay my bills but seriously. Mr. Ed?  Seriously? Here's the skinny from
For every one of these recycled/retro/resurrected projects there are a dozen that were commissioned and paid for that died a horrible death. (And trust me on this--they deserved it.)   So every time someone goes off on how "young people" are in charge of the movie-making process, I think, "Please God let it be true."  Because you know, it's not the 20- or 30-somethings who are green-lighting big screen versions of television shows from the 60s.
Mr. Ed?  Really?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Soup for the Soul

It is raining in L.A., the kind of sideways, wind-driven rain we usually don't get until January. I'm recovering from a week-long cold and just do not feel like doing any of the work that's sitting on my desk. Days like this, what I really want to do is curl up with oatmeal cookies and hot chocolate but I'm a big girl now, so what I'm going to do instead is make soup.
We're big soup makers here at Casa Tomlinson and the last pot (curried chicken quinoa) has one bowl of its earthy, chickeny goodness left.
I've been craving a different range of flavors though and have pulled out a recipe I normally only make in the spring. (Spring and Fall in Los Angeles are pretty much the same season though, even the Japanese magnolia trees seem to bloom twice a year.)


4 cans low sodium chicken broth
1 large carrot, peeled and cut into thin "coins"
3 green onions, diced
2 Tbsp. reduced sodium soy sauce
2 tsp ginger (or 1-inch piece of ginger root, peeled and grated if you have the patience)
20 smallish spinach leaves
Small square firm tofu
1 Tbsp. dark sesame oil
Dash crushed red pepper flakes
Open cans of broth and put in soup pot.  If you can’t find low-sodium broth, just use two cans of broth and dilute with two soup cans of water.  Add ginger and soy sauce. 
Add carrot coins and green onions.
When soup is boiling, add spinach leaves, which will wilt.
Cut the tofu into little chunks and add to the liquid. 
Stir in sesame oil and red pepper flakes at this point. 
This is a light soup, more of a broth.
I don't like mushrooms, but a handful of enoki mushrooms works well in this soup. I usually also add snow pea pods.

The Return of David Boyer

Two years ago I'd never heard of this scofflaw. Then he sent a story to Dark Valentine called "Bugs." It was a very good story--creepy, atmospheric, dark. I accepted it.  One minute after the issue dropped I knew more about David Boyer than I ever wanted to know. My colleagues and I were horrified by the thought that we'd unknowingly published a plagiarized story.  We sent emails to Mr. Boyer who was shocked, SHOCKED that we would even bring up the P word, which actually we didn't in those first communications. As we got more information, our feelings of betrayal grew.  And so did the number of questions.  Would someone really go to all this trouble to rip off a story for $10?  Really? 
We were never able to prove the story didn't belong to Boyer. We reached out to as many blogs as we could, directing readers to the story in hopes of finding out the true author. We copyscaped the story and didn't find a single sentence match. In the absence of proof, we felt we could not simply remove the story, so we left it in. To this date no one else has come forward to claim the piece. So, apparently  he got away with this one.  But a couple of writers he's victimized are not going to let him get away with it. Read Brian Keene's blog today to find out about the legal action they want to take against him. The wheels of justice grind slowly ... but they grind exceeding fine.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Movie Night

Maybe I'm overthinking this, but I am troubled by the trailer for War Horse.  I  know it's more a boy-and-his-horse movie than it is a war movie and therefore a "triumph of the human spirit" kind of a film, but it looks like grim scenes of the trenches are juxtaposed against moments of staggering beauty and a sort of magical realism/mythic undertone. (The ads describe it as an epic adventure.)
There's something about this trailer I find troublesome.
War should not be beautiful.  That's part of the package that's been sold to young men (and now women) for years, part of what Stephen Crane scathingly portrayed in The Red Badge of Courage. Journalist/screenwriter/combat veteran  William Broyles, Jr. wrote an essay for Esquire's November 1984 issue called "Why Men Love War" that covers the subject pretty well. But I once did an enormous reading project involving hundreds of memoirs written by Vietnam vets (and if you haven't read Michael Herr's Dispatches, do so) and almost every single one described combat as being ... like in the movies. It's disingenuous to pretend there's not a connection.
What do you think?