Category Archives: friday feedbag

Friday Feedbag: Party Food

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As some of you may recall, we had a fabulous 50th anniversary party for my parents last weekend. And it was fabulous! We kept things as simple as possible, in part by ordering food trays from Publix for the bulk of the food, as well as a cake from a local bakery. My aunt made brownies, Mom made punch, and a cousin made pimiento cheese spread. We ended up with a LOT of leftovers from the food trays (especially cheese and veggies), but since I still came in around the total cost I had in mind, it didn’t matter. (We gave one veggie tray to a friend and a cheese tray and some other leftovers to the local soup kitchen.)

Here are a few pics of the feast! My aunt and I did the table decorations. 🙂

The couple topper is the original from Mom and Dad's wedding. The 50 topper is from my grandparents' 50th anniversary party!

The couple topper is the original from Mom and Dad’s wedding. The 50 topper is from my grandparents’ 50th anniversary party!

Food table, part 1

Food table, part 1 …

... and food table, part 2!

… and food table, part 2! The silver punch bowl at the far end was originally bought for my grandparents’ 25th anniversary, the year I was born.

Party Mode: ON

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I am deep into planning for my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary party later this summer. Ten years ago, I gave my parents a 40th anniversary dinner. We had 20 people in a nice restaurant, and it was awesome and not terribly expensive. But I wanted them to have something bigger for their 50th, with as much family there as possible, without it being super-fancy.

So we’re having an afternoon reception in the social hall at their church. The space and time are reserved, I have invitations and a guest list, and I have a long, LONG list of things yet to do.

My mom has always been the big party planner in the family. “Mom’s in Party Mode again” has been a running joke for as long as I can remember. She’s 70 now and doesn’t have the energy to do big things anymore, but she still loves the process. Naturally, that means she’s driving me a little bit nuts.

“Mom,” I keep reassuring her. “I grew up learning about parting planning from you. I know what you like and what you don’t, and I can do this without breaking the bank. Redirect all that energy toward stressing over what you’re going to wear.”

(That last part she’s already doing with no prompting from me anyway.)

It’s kind of amazing how much work is involved even with a simple party. The guest list has been a bear, mainly tracking down current addresses for everyone who needs a mailed invitation. I made a decision early on to buy party trays and a premade cake, but someone has to be dispatched to pick those up. I love figuring out table decorations, and I think I’ve figured out how to do that without spending huge amounts. We aren’t going crazy with flowers, but Mom loves ferns, and a local florist will rent them with stands, so I need to call and set that up. We have some gorgeous silver pieces, including a big punchbowl and five-branch candelabra—all of which will have to be polished. And I’m setting up a memorabilia table with pictures and such.

I’m sure I’m forgetting something important. Like stressing out over what I’m going to wear.

Anyway, one of the few things I’m allowing Mom to do is making the base for the punch. She has a recipe she loves that can be made and frozen way ahead of time, and they have plenty of freezer space. I asked if she’d be willing to share the Secret Recipe, and she grudgingly agreed.

(I kid. She loves sharing recipes!)

So wish me luck getting the party together, and if anyone wants to show up for kitchen labor, just let me know. 😉

Party Punch

One 6-oz. package strawberry gelatin mix (or any flavor you like)
Four cups boiling water
Four 12-oz. cans frozen lemonade
Two 46-oz. cans pineapple juice
Six 2-liter bottles ginger ale

Dissolve gelatin in boiling water. Add lemonade and stir until dissolved. Add pineapple juice and stir well. Punch base can be frozen at this point and thawed before serving.

To serve, mix equal parts punch base and ginger ale in punch bowl. Float frozen strawberries and pineapple chunks, ice cubes with lemon slices, and/or a fruit ice ring in the punch. Makes about 50 servings.

If It’s Free It’s For Me

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(Title quote stolen lo, these many years ago, from Atlanta Braves announcer and former major league pitcher Don Sutton.)

Late last month, my sister had some testing done and, as a result, was put on a food elimination diet for a month. She has some digestive issues, apparently, so to test things out, she was told to eliminate gluten/wheat, dairy, soy, and peanuts from her diet.

Welp. There went half her diet. And, because we eat the same meals most of the time, that meant I needed to do my best to accommodate her dietary restrictions. I figured, what the heck, can’t hurt. It’s only for a month, right?

The problem is that we are a bread-, pasta-, and cheese-intensive household. Less so on the soy and peanuts, though soy in particular is an ingredient in many things. Many, MANY things, as I discovered when I started sorting through our pantry. We took a box of pantry rejects to our parents and another to the food bank, and since we had a weekend before the new rules kicked in (sister was working a convention), we used up what we could.

Since then, sister has been following her restrictions carefully. I’m being less cautious—still eating some cheese and bread, mainly—but I’m probably about 85% on board. I’m cooking meals that are mostly veggies and meats and eating fruit for snacks and desserts. We’ve tried out some “junk” food made without the verboten ingredients, and some are pretty decent. (Some not so much.) And we’re spending more at the grocery store, though part of that is because we’re trying out different types of products: coconut vs. almond milk, for example.

The verdict? Well, without doing anything else, I lost 12 pounds in 4 weeks. I’m less tired during the day. One day I forgot to take breakfast with me to work and ate a cheese Danish from the vending machine (which I’ve done before without noticing any issues), and 2 hours later I was faceplanting into my keyboard.

The weight loss isn’t a surprise. I’m eating fast food way less because it’s mostly sandwiches and basically no baked goods. I’m eating more fruits and vegetables, and I’m probably eating less overall, too. And eating healthier also generally means more energy.

Mostly, though, I’ve been thinking about the wheat restriction. I know “gluten-free” is as much a buzzword now as “low-carb” was a few years ago. It’s trendy, though of course that doesn’t mean it’s not a real problem for people who have gluten/wheat allergies or serious sensitivities. But even if you set that aside, just think about HOW MUCH wheat is in the average American diet. We eat sandwiches morning, noon, and night, pizza and pasta like it’s going out of style, cereal AND toast for breakfast, rolls at every meal. And most of it is made with enriched white flours, which have no real nutrition except the vitamins that are added by law.

Seriously. Sensitivity or not, there’s no way that’s healthy.

On Tuesday, my sister had her follow-up appointment. Blood testing confirmed her sensitivity to gluten, particularly rye (which she doesn’t like anyway), as well as a possible egg sensitivity. So we have dairy back, but we’re planning to keep up the gluten-free life for the most part, with an occasional splurge, and we’ll start working on the egg problem soon. We’ve been doing fine without having some form of bread at every meal, and I don’t see any reason to change that.

Especially if the numbers on my scale continue the downward slide!

Eatin’ Nawlins Style

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I’m (more than) a little jealous watching all the people enjoying the RT convention in New Orleans this week. There’s the convention itself, of course, which I’ve never been to but have heard from numerous friends is awesome. There’s the friends who are gathering to have fun together while I’m sitting here working the EDJ. And there’s New Orleans, a city I love, with its depth of history highlighted by more than hint of wildness around the edges.

But if you know anything at all about me, you know when it comes to New Orleans, what I’m missing most is THE FOOD.

Even with my personal food restrictions—I can’t stand anything very spicy, so I have to be careful with the Cajun and Creole labels—I’ve had some of the best food of my life in New Orleans. Jumbo prawns in cream sauce over pasta. Gator po’ boy. Grilled gorgonzola and ham on French bread. Beignets and café au lait. And, of course, hurricanes of the frozen and non-frozen variety.

I saw a mention a couple of days ago of a group of convention attendees eating in a kitschy chain restaurant, and I have to say, it made me wince. Really? All the amazing food the city has to offer, and you choose the mass-produced kind? Sacrilege! I can’t imagine eating in any chain restaurant in New Orleans—not counting, of course, local establishments that have multiple locations.

cafedumondeSo go on, enjoy Nawlins, all you RT people. Eat, drink, and be merry. Don’t mind me, sitting alone at home on my sofa, sobbing into my Café du Monde mug.

*sniffles*

The Foodie Traveler, or How Not to Get Sick on the Road

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As you’re reading this, I’m in Tampa at RainbowCon, getting my author geek on and spending my downtime doing some writing but otherwise being as lazy as possible. After the convention ends, I’ll spend a few days visiting with cousins who live here, during which time I hope to be by the pool or on the beach, for the most part. And then I fly to Portland (by way of Detroit) for the Dreamspinner author workshop. I’ll be back home a week from Sunday.

 

I started doing regular travel for work of one sort or another 15 years ago, and one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that I can’t stomach it unless I’m very, very careful. Oh, I’m mostly fine with flying, which was something I didn’t learn until I was in my 30s, because we never had the money to fly anywhere when I was younger. My problem is a tendency toward occasional motion sickness, which can happen any time and with any kind of motion but has certain triggers. Riding in the back seat of a car, for example, is usually a bad idea. And eating heavy or greasy meals before travel is right out.

 

When I’m on the road, I do my best to follow the usual travel guidelines. I get plenty of rest, drink a lot of water (most of it bottled), and try to eat healthy meals. That last part is tough when you’re eating out most of the time, but I pay particular attention to what I eat on days when I’m traveling. I’m lucky that I don’t have any serious food restrictions, but light meals on travel days are a must, and I also carry something snacky with me. A bout of low blood sugar is never fun but ten times worse when you’re sitting in an airport. I also stock various medications for various digestive-related ailments in the mini pharmacy that always goes into my travel bag.

 

(I’m trying to avoid going into much detail here. There’s TMI, and then there’s T. M. I.)

 

One thing I still try to do when I travel is eat locally. I don’t want to go across the country and then eat food I can get around the corner. I avoid chains, unless they’re regional and don’t exist near me (I’ll be visiting Wawa while I’m in Tampa). I’m happy to visit tourist-attraction restaurants (I will have a VooDoo Doughnut in Portland) but like to find the places where locals eat. I’m cautious about foods I’ve never had before, and I stick close to my regular personal guidelines (nothing too spicy, for example), but I firmly believe food is a big part of the travel experience, so I stretch as much as I feel like I can. Not that this plan is foolproof, but then, nothing ever is. 🙂

 

So wish me smooth travels and safe eating, all, and I hope I’ll have foodie stories to share when I get back home!

Friday Feedbag: I Get No Kick From Champagne…

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Okay, that title isn’t totally true. First of all, I’m talking drinks today, not food. And I do like champagne sometimes. In a mimosa or a bellini, for example. On its own, though? Meh. I’d prefer sparkling grape juice.

My tastes in alcohol are a little… strange, I suppose. (Much like me.) I don’t like beer at all. Something in the hops, I think, that I just have never had a taste for. Things made with beer, though? I’m all about that. Beer bread. Guinness stew. Chili with beer. Brats braised in beer. Same with wine. I’d much rather cook with wine than drink it. (That throws a big monkey wrench into the whole “only cook with a wine you’d drink” advice, but I do know better than to waste money on that crap labeled “cooking wine.” *shudders*)

When it comes to mixed drinks, my go-to choice is vodka cranberry with lime, because it’s something you can nearly always get, and it’s not bad even as a well drink. I’m good with margaritas of nearly any flavor (but not tequila shots), and I like most of the fruity-sweet drinks: daiquiris, Hurricanes, appletinis, things like that. But when I can get it, I like Fireball whisky, which is a very strong, sweet cinnamon flavor, or 3AM vodka, which is sweet and loaded with a lot of the same ingredients as energy drinks. Fireball and Coke, 3AM and Sprite. For shots: Jägermeister. No, really.

This post makes me sound like a lush, doesn’t it? (And a snooty one at that!) In truth, I don’t drink often, and I rarely have more than two drinks. That’s why I can afford to be picky. My alcohol budget for the year is maybe a couple hundred bucks, even counting weekends when my place is full of guests.

When I’m writing, my characters nearly always have drinking habits far different from mine. Most of them drink beer, for starters, and many prefer liquors or mixed drinks that I can’t stand. I’ve written two alcoholic characters (one unpublished), and a character in my current project is a complete teetotaler. But like me, and like most real people, most of my characters are social drinkers, even those who do occasionally overindulge.

Drinking habits are the kind of little character details that I love in a story. One of my all-time favorite books is Marie Sexton’s Strawberries for Dessert, in large part because I fell in love with Cole right along with Jonathan. Cole is a lover of good wine who has a weakness for cheap bottles of Arbor Mist, a fact that seems small but that actually tells you a lot about him. It’s a tidbit of perfection.

So I will leave you with some recommendations. If you haven’t tried Fireball or 3AM, do. And if you haven’t read Strawberries for Dessert, GO. NOW. READ. *taps toe impatiently* WHY AREN’T YOU READING YET??

Friday Feedbag: A Very Merry Un-Birthday Cake

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About once a month, our office has some kind of food-related social event, usually a potluck lunch with a theme. This month, we settled on a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, and I signed up to bring an Un-Birthday Cake.

 

unbirthdaycakeAs a general guide, I used the classic Alice in Wonderland cartoon cake design (as in this adorable gif). I wasn’t able to come close to copying it, but I got the color and the general shape right, at least. I used a tube pan and made a 1-2-3-4 cake, which is a little more solid than a typical cake mix cake. I got super lucky and found some hot pink frosting, so I wouldn’t need to deal with food coloring. (It even came with pink sprinkles to make things super glittery!) I also got some cream cheese icing for the trim.

 

I’d never made a tube cake before. I was most concerned about turning the thing over once it was done, since I needed it to be wide-side-up. I made the cake a day ahead, so it would have plenty of time to cool before I took the frosting to it (and also in case it fell apart completely). It came out great! Here’s the cake:

nakedcake

 

And here’s the final frosted version (complete with lettering that looks like it was done by a Mad Hatter):

frostedcake  

Finally, here’s the recipe. This is an easy to make (and easy to remember!) recipe for a basic yellow cake. My grandmother made this for everything when I was growing up, usually with 7-minute icing. Yummy! (This version came out a little dry, so I’m going to play around with things a bit: self-rising White Lily flour, and possibly shortening in place of part of the butter.)

 

1-2-3-4 Cake

 

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature

2 cups granulated sugar

3 cups sifted cake flour*

4 eggs

1 cup milk

3 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons vanilla

 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour three 8-inch round cake pans, one 13 by 9 rectangular pan, or one tube or Bundt pan.

 

Cream butter and sugar together until smooth. Add eggs one at a time, mixing each one in completely. Add flour alternately with milk, blending each addition completely. Add vanilla and mix just until smooth. Do not overbeat.

 

Pour batter into pan(s), spreading with spatula as needed to even out. Bake 20 to 25 minutes for round/rectangular pans, 40 to 45 minutes for tube/Bundt pan, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pan(s) for 10 minutes, then remove from pan(s) and set on rack/plate to cool completely before frosting.

 

*Sift the flour before measuring. You can also substitute self-rising flour and omit the baking powder and salt.

Friday Feedbag: Bo to Ged

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I’ve seen a dozen versions of this around the internet for well over a decade, so I have no idea of the original source. This is the one I saw first, though, and the final line has become a family saying. Yes, I have a weird family, but you knew that already.

Best Ever Rum Cake
Time 40 minutes
Serves 1

Ingredients
1 tsp sugar
1 cup of dried fruit
1 tsp of baking soda
2 eggs, large
lemon juice
1 or 2 quarts of rum
brown sugar
1 cup of butter
baking powder
nuts

Before starting, sample the rum to check the quality. Good, isn’t it?

Now proceed. Select large mixing bowl, measuring cup, etc.

Check rum again. It must be just right.

To be sure rum is of proper quality, pour one level cup of rum into a glass and drink it as fast as you can.

With electric mixer, beat one cup of butter ina a large fluffly bowl. Add one teaspoon of thugar and beat again.

Meanwhile, make sure rum is alright. Try another cup. Open second quart if necessary.

Add eggs, 2 cups fried druit and cheat til high. If druit gets stuck in beaters, pry loose with drewscriber.

Sample rum again, checking for tonscistitcity.

Nest, sift 3 cups of pepper or salt. (really doesn’t matter.) Sample rum.

Sift 1/2 pint lemon juice. Fold in chopped butter and strained nuts.

Add 1 bablespoon of brown thugar or whatever color you can find.

Wix mel.

Grease oven, turn the cake 360 degrees, pour mess in oven and bake.

Check rum again and bo to ged.

Friday Feedbag: Mixing Things Up

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The holidays are always heavy with tradition, but ever now and then, something shiny and new comes along and joins the fold. I ran across this cookie recipe about a decade ago, and they’ve become an annual treat. The original recipe called for twice as much white sugar and brandy instead of vanilla, so feel free to switch it up if you like.

(And yes, I am fully aware that white chocolate is not actually chocolate!)

White Chocolate Cranberry Cookies  

½ cup butter, softened
½ cup packed brown sugar
¼ cup white sugar
1 egg
½ tablespoon vanilla
1½ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
¾ cup white chocolate chips
1 cup sweetened dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, cream together the butter, brown sugar, and white sugar until smooth. Beat in the egg and vanilla. Combine the flour and baking soda; stir into the sugar mixture. Mix in the white chocolate chips and cranberries. Drop by heaping spoonfuls onto prepared cookie sheets.

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes. For best results, take out while still slightly doughy. Allow cookies to cool for 1 minute on cookie sheets before transferring to wire racks to cool completely. Makes about 2 dozen cookies.

Friday Feedbag: Oh Fuuuuudddgggeeee

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I am not a fan of fudge. I know, I know; as a BIG fan of chocolate, I should be all about the fudgey goodness. But there’s something about the texture I just don’t like. So, I found a substitute. I can’t begin to tell you where I found this recipe, but I’ve had it in my files for a decade or more, and I make it every year. I mix it up with different add-ins (like mini marshmallows and peanuts for rocky road fudge), and I usually use walnuts, because they’re my favorites. Give it a try! 🙂

Extra Easy Fudge

2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
2 cans prepared milk chocolate frosting
1 cup chopped nuts

Line one 8 by 8 inch square pan with foil. Lightly grease the foil.

In a small saucepan, melt the chocolate chips over low heat, stirring occasionally. Remove the melted chocolate from the heat and stir in the frosting and the nuts until the chocolate is smooth. Spread into prepared pan and refrigerate until firm. Cut into small squares.