Merry Christmas!

I’m wishing you peace, love and joy this holiday season. I’ll be taking a few weeks to celebrate with family and friends, and I hope you’ll be relaxing and celebrating too. The blog will resume in January.

Before signing off, I’ll leave you with a quick, homemade goodie recipe. If you love butter tarts but you’re pressed for time, whip up a batch of butter tart squares in the microwave.  These freeze well too. Simply cool, cut into squares and pop them into the freezer until you need them. They’ll thaw while you brew the coffee!

Microwave Butter Tart Squares

Butter a 9 by 9 microwave safe pan and set aside.

For the base:

½ cup butter

2 tablespoons icing sugar

1 cup white all-purpose flour

Combine flour and icing sugar. Melt butter and mix into dry ingredients. Press into your greased pan. Microwave 3 mins at power level 8 for a high wattage microwave; 4 – 6 minutes at power level 8 for lower wattage machines. The base will be firm but not cracked when it’s done. Remove and set aside.

For the top:

¼ cup butter, melted

1 ½ cups brown sugar

2 – 3 large eggs (I use 3)

1 tablespoon white vinegar

1 teaspoon vanilla

½ cup raisins or walnuts (optional)

In a medium-sized bowl, combine butter, sugar, eggs, vinegar and vanilla. Beat with a hand mixer for 2 – 3 minutes, or until well combined. Fold in nuts or raisins if desired. Pour over base. Microwave 3 – 4 minutes at power level eight for a high wattage microwave; 4 – 6 minutes at power level eight for lower wattage machines. The filling should be set but have a slight jiggle when you shake the pan. It will also look a little frothy. You can chill and eat the squares at this point but they look more appealing if you slide the pan under a hot broiler for 1 – 2 minutes in order to brown. Watch closely; they turn brown very quickly!   

Sunshine in the Rain

They say this past January was the fourth wettest on record. I guess I wasn’t around for the first three because last month was the wettest January I can remember. We were hit with a series of back-to-back rainstorms and clouds so dark and persistently low that many days it was hard to believe it was day, and not night.

However, the sun was shining in my office. My next YA, Something About Julian, is set at the beach, and the action unfolds over the month of August. Heat, sunshine and ice cream all figure prominently. My next Laura Tobias title, Blushed With Fame, is set in Spain and also takes place in summer, and I’ve been working on that too.

While I was mentally in summer mode, I accepted an assignment to write an article on Greek food and develop a couple of recipes to go with it. Right away I thought of grilled souvlaki and juicy Greek salad, taramosalata dip with warm pita, all foods I yearn for in summer.

My muse knows no season.

However, given the pouring rain, barbecuing was out of the question; who wanted to go outside? I wanted something warming, something comforting. Luckily my research turned up fasolada, the humble and delicious bean soup, which happens to be Greek’s national dish. The editor gave me the green light.

So after chopping a few vegetables . . .

 

 

 

 

 

 

And frying them up in a big pot . . .

 

 

 

 

 

 

I added my cooked beans, a jar of pasada and got things simmering. A few hours later, I was rewarded with a bowl of deliciousness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The rain has stopped  and the clouds are starting  to lift . . . but even if the weather deteriorates again, I have soup in my fridge. And sunshine in my office.

A Matter of Taste

The first crop of spring asparagus has arrived. Field asparagus, I mean. There’s such a thing as sea asparagus too, and that’ll show up at the market in June, right around my wedding anniversary. Sea asparagus is delicious. The tiny stalks are thinner than a straw and their taste is subtle but unique: a little ocean and a little lettuce. There’s nothing fishy about sea asparagus, nothing even remotely close in taste to its earth-grown cousin.

I first had it at a fancy restaurant where we Dined – capital D dined – to mark a milestone anniversary. It was a magical night. So every year when I spot sea asparagus at the market I immediately think of my love, a delicious dinner with sablefish or maybe scallops, a crisp glass of Prosecco,  a table overlooking the ocean, and candlelight.

Taste can conjure memories and stir emotions as much as the sight of a child’s first photo with Santa . . . the smell of steak barbecuing on a summer night . . . the sound of rain on the roof while you’re in bed . . . or the touch of a puppy licking your hand.

My job as a writer is to mine the senses, including the sense of taste. But it can be easy to slip into taste clichés: soothing hot chocolate on a cold night; refreshing ice cream at the lake; salty corn dogs at the fair. Those tastes are relatable because most of us have had hot chocolate on a cold night or a corn dog at the fair. But taste, like so many other things, is subjective.

Take corn dogs, for instance. I had a corn dog just once and once was enough. I was nine; it was my birthday; the corn dog made reappearance during a ride on the Tilt-A-Whirl. I haven’t had a corn dog since and the very sight of them is enough to make my stomach flip.

Grilled cheese sandwiches, a comfort food for some, remind me of a friend who died. So does cherry pound cake and licorice candy. Depending on my frame of mind, any one of those foods can make me feel nostalgic.

Other tastes have more positive connotations for me.

Braised short ribs take me right back to the comfort of Sunday dinner when I was a kid.

Coconut-covered marshmallows remind me of my grandfather and make me happy.

The taste of chives takes me back to my first garden and the sense of accomplishment I felt at planting it.

A sesame ball with red bean paste is guaranteed to make me feel sixteen again . . . thinking about friends . . . travel . . . and new horizons.

Earthy and old-fashioned date squares inspire gratitude because I’m reminded of a woman who gave me a place to live when I was a teen.

One sip of a margarita mentally transports me to a Mexican beach no matter where I happen to be.

And the taste of cherry cheesecake reminds me of the exhaustion, confusion and joy of being a new mother . . . and reminds me too of the friend who showed up with it and an offer to hold my infant so I could take a shower.

Taste can be a memory that lives again. Do you have any taste memories?