Brownies: Maybe I’ll have to share

Brownie poster

Sometimes, life throws you a rose. Or, in my case, a brownie.

Let me explain.

Recently I received an e-mail

Hello, Anne!

I was looking at our records and noticed that you have been a Fairytale Brownies customer since 1995. Thank you for loving our brownies!

Our co-founders, Eileen Spitalny and David Kravetz, will be giving special VIP tours of the Fairytale Brownies bakery before our annual Open House next Tuesday and we would love for you to be a part of it. Are you available for a 2:30 p.m. tour? We would love for you and a guest to join them. Please let me know if you can make it. Spaces for the tour are reserved.

Thanks!

How cool is that!

Of course, I jumped right on the opportunity to see the fairies bake the brownies I’ve been sending friends for years. I’ve spread those chocolaty delights worldwide. So, I called my youngest son – who has dabbled with the idea of becoming a pastry chef – and made the date.

Upon entering the massive kitchen in Phoenix, a fabulous aroma makes visitors swoon.

It might be all that butter and those big bricks of chocolate shipped in from Belgium.

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It might be giant racks of brownies, with lovely names like Toffee Crunch, Chocolate Chip Blondie, Espresso Nib, Mint Chocolate, and Raspberry Swirl.

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Whatever it is, my son and I agreed it was magical.

Troy at the brownie factory

As we toured the facility, I was on the look out for the brownie fairies, but they were often shy and elusive. We caught this one hiding behind a massive pile of sugar.

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Others were tasked with sorting scads of swirly, cream cheese brownies.

Cutting Brownies

Then there was the freezer. A good 50 yards of frozen treats, packed high to the rafters on both sides. Though I’m a desert dweller and quite averse to the cold, I contemplated remaining in that fridge, setting up a tent and one of those high-altitude sleeping bags, a warm cap over my head, a matching scarf perhaps, and some mittens. In the advent of a zombie apocalypse it might be the perfect place to stay.

Me in the Brownie Freezer

Unless, of course, zombies like brownies.

Gosh. Maybe I’ll have to share.

 

A Light in the Desert-cov (6)

Mystery/Suspense

Blank Slate Press/Amphorae Publishing Group

298 Pages

Price: $16.95 Paperback, $9.99 eBook

http://www.midpointtrade.com/book_detail.php?book_id=261955

As a Vietnam veteran and former Special Forces sniper descends into the throes of mental illness, he latches onto a lonely pregnant teenager and a group of Pentecostal zealots – the Children of Light – who have been waiting over thirty years in the Arizona desert for Armageddon. When the Amtrak Sunset Limited, a passenger train en route to Los Angeles, is derailed in their midst in a deadly act of sabotage, their lives are thrown into turmoil. As the search for the saboteurs heats up, the authorities uncover more questions than answers. And then the girl vanishes. As the sniper struggles to maintain his sanity, a child is about to be born in the wilderness.

My love affair with … spiders

Spider 1

This little guy lives by the dog’s water bowl, which doesn’t bother me or the dog a bit

I faced the webs on my porch. You see, it’s fall in the desert, time to clean our yards and outside living areas. To those who’ve grown up understanding the concept of spring cleaning, note that we perform that chore in the fall. It makes sense, since we spend the summers couped up with our air conditioning – hiding from blast-furnace temperatures – and the winters basking blissfully outdoors.

I gently moved the broom across the ceiling and into the corners, careful not to harm any of the arachnids who’ve made camp by my door. I admonish the tiny ones to run, since I don’t want to injure them.

And, now, you might think me strange, because I could never hurt a spider. Why this is the case, I’m not quite sure. Perhaps it was growing up with Charlotte’s Web. Or maybe it was watching my parents deposit spiders who had found their way inside outside, instead of crushing them into little blobs of spidery goo.

I never thought this behavior odd, until faced with folks who felt differently. There was the tough US Marine who hailed from Trinidad who was my housemate for a while. I had explained about Matilida, the black widow who resided in a low corner of the kicthen who only came out at night.

“Just don’t walk barefoot by the sink after dark,” I explained.

Then, one day I heard him howling in the kitchen. “You need to come in here! Now!”

I complied and was delighted by goosmer silk threads floating in the air, each speckled with dozens of tiny golden babies holding on like wee surfers. I grabbed some newspapers and corralled the infants and released them outside.

The big brave Marine recolied.

Then there was the evening stroll in the Costa Rican rain forest. My sweetie pie and I joined a small group searching for night creatures with a woman entomologist.

“Oh! Look at what we have here!” She reached into the leaf litter and produced a large long-legged spider. Eyes wide, she grinned like a grandma with a newborn babe. “These are the ones they use in horror movies. Who would like to hold it?”

No one moved. She frowned, disappointed in our little group, so I stepped up and held out my hand. Her eyes sparkled, one of those perhaps-she’s-not-quite-sane looks that made me reconsider our decision to follow her into the jungle in the dark. She placed the beast in my palm.

“So cute. Just like a kitten,” she cooed.

OK, I admit I had a sudden urge to flee, an impulse that had nothing to do with the spider. In fact, the little guy was rather sweet. I silently said goodbye as he scampered off into the undergrowth.

Then there was the football spider.

Late in the first half of a high school game, Phil, my line judge, ran toward me, blowing his whistle, and waving his arms overhead, killing the clock.

“Tarantula!” He stared wide-eyed and pointed downfield.

My first thought was that the home team had a spider mascot, but that idea was quickly dispelled when I saw a fuzzy creature moving in a strangely robotic motion near the 20-yard-line.

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It was a tarantula’s appearance at a football game that would cement my love affair with spiders.

The barrel-chested coach, who’d been on me the whole game, grinned and crossed thick arms. “What are you going to do about it?” he yelled.

As we crouched over the beast, I envisioning some hapless kid with a fist-size spider wriggling from his facemask. I bit my lip and glanced at the players who eyed me from midfield.

Phil and I stared at one another. He raised both palms up.

“What are we going to do?” I asked.

“What are you going to do?” he mimicked the coach.

I took a deep breath and watched the hairy beast inch forward, moving all eight legs in a silent ballet.  Did I hear the coach laughing?

I shot my arm into the tarantula’s path. And, without pause, the spider crawled onto the back of my hand and up my wrist, fuzzy feet tickling my skin.

Phil stood and backed away.

“Please don’t bite me,” I silently pleaded over and over, as visions of old horror movies played in my head. While the tarantula traveled up my arm, I walked slowly toward the end of the field. When I reached the outer edge of the track, I bent over and gently dropped the creature near a patch of rocky desert. The tarantula landed upright and marched on.

I swallowed several times, then turned and ran back up field past the coach. I herded the players to the line of scrimmage and took my position behind the quarterback. I blew my whistle, putting the ball into play.

But no one moved.

Then Phil’s whistle sounded and he signaled time-out. He doubled over and I thought he might be ill, but then I saw he was laughing.

“What?” I stared as he ran toward me.

Phil leaned in, then looked around to make sure no players were nearby. “The coach said, “‘She has a pair hangin’ and they ain’t tits.’”

I eyed at the coach. He nodded toward me, deferential, all remnants of his previously condescending attitude having disappeared with the spider.

For the rest of the game, no matter the situation – whether a flag went for or against his team, whether he agreed or disagreed with a ruling – the coach only addressed me with two words.

“Yes, ma’am,” was all he said.

Perhaps now you can understand my love affair with spiders.

 

A Light in the Desert-cov (6)

Mystery/Suspense

Blank Slate Press/Amphorae Publishing Group

298 Pages

Price: $16.95 Paperback, $9.99 eBook

http://www.midpointtrade.com/book_detail.php?book_id=261955

As a Vietnam veteran and former Special Forces sniper descends into the throes of mental illness, he latches onto a lonely pregnant teenager and a group of Pentecostal zealots – the Children of Light – who have been waiting over thirty years in the Arizona desert for Armageddon. When the Amtrak Sunset Limited, a passenger train en route to Los Angeles, is derailed in their midst in a deadly act of sabotage, their lives are thrown into turmoil. As the search for the saboteurs heats up, the authorities uncover more questions than answers. And then the girl vanishes. As the sniper struggles to maintain his sanity, a child is about to be born in the wilderness.

 

 

 

 

 

Date Night Dinners: Beef Stroganoff

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I am not the cook in the house. Though I did spend twelve years married to a chef, I am not passionate about culinary adventures, unless there’s chocolate involved. I’ll admit here, none too humbly, that I’m a damn good baker. But since the Date Night Dinners cookbook had no dessert section, and I had agreed to review one of the recipes, I drafted my sweetie pie to play test kitchen master chef.

Ryan read the recipe in the produce aisle of the grocery story. “It says we need parsley, but maybe cilantro would be better.”

I rolled my eyes. “You have to follow the directions.”

Then we walked over to the meat counter. Terry, our butcher friend, came over and gave me a hug. “Beef Stroganoff is my favorite,” he said. Which precipitated a personal-shopper tour where he and Ryan haggled over the best tomato paste, egg versus egg yoke-less noodles, and preferences regarding beef stock and beef broth.

I wandered into the baking aisle.

Once we made it home, I sat in my usual kitchen chair, sipping our favorite rum. “Liquid sunshine,” I said, swirling the ice.

I watched Ryan drop pieces of sirloin into a hot skillet. A delicious odor permeated the room.

“Hey! Where’s the recipe? You’re supposed to follow the recipe.”

Ry stared at me over the rainbow-colored readers he’d perched in front of his glasses.

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Ry’s the cook in our house, so he got to test the Beef Stroganoff recipe. But he needed my over-the-counter specs to see what he was doing.

I smiled. “You know, these are Meals to Make Together for a Romantic Evening. It says so right on the cover.” I reached for the rum again.

“I’m having romance right now,” he said. “I’m cooking the trimmings down for the dogs. I love the dogs.”

After tossing some tidbits to our furry friends, Ry reached for a teaspoon to measure one of the ingredients.

“No! You have to use the real measuring spoons.”

“They’re the same,” he said.

“No, they’re not,” I countered.

And then, for some inexplicable reason, Ryan launched into his Saturday Night Live impression of Julia Childs and drew a big sharp knife across his wrist. I think that was my sweetie pie’s way of telling me to butt out.

And so, I reached for the rum, and sat back to observe.

Stroganoff 1

The Stroganoff was rich and creamy, still next time we’ll add a bit of spice.

Turns out the recipe was easy to follow and took only about an hour to prepare from start to finish. I’m guessing Ryan would say it would have been quicker had I found something else to do, but where’s the romance in that? The beef was perfectly cooked, the sauce creamy, and the noodles just the right consistency. I had not eaten Beef Stroganoff previously, but it’s easy to see how in a cold climate it would be a perfect comfort food. The only complaint we had was not the fault of the recipe, but rather one of geography. We have lived in the Sonoran Desert for over 25 years. Here in our part to the world few meals are missing peppers of some kind. So, the next time we make Beef Stroganoff, I’m guessing it will be a spicier version. Maybe then, it won’t be only the dogs getting some romance.

Just sayin’.

 Date Night Dinners

Sloane Taylor

BEEF STROGANOFF

ГОВЯДИНА БЕФСТРОГАНОВ

4 oz. (125g) sour cream, reduced fat works well

2 tbsp. (30ml) tomato paste 1 tsp. (5ml)

Worcestershire sauce ¼ cup (30g) flour

Freshly ground pepper to taste 1 lb. (500g) good steak like porterhouse, T-bone, or sirloin

1 tbsp. (15ml) olive oil

½ cup (60g) onion, thinly sliced

1 cup (250ml) beef stock, maybe a bit more to achieve the consistency you prefer

1 cup (100g) mushrooms, sliced but not too thin

Fresh parsley, chopped

¼ pkg. egg noodles

Combine sour cream, tomato paste, and Worcestershire sauce in a small bowl. Set aside while you prepare the remainder of the recipe. Trim off fat and cut steak into narrow strips. Combine flour and pepper in a paper or plastic bag. Add steak pieces, a few at a time, and gently shake to coat the meat. Set pieces on a plate as you coat them. Melt butter and oil in a large frying pan. Add onions and sauté for 3 – 5 minutes. You want the onions soft but not browned. Add beef, turn up heat to medium-high. Sauté meat until browned, turn often so it doesn’t burn, 5 – 7 minutes. Slowly pour in stock, scraping pan to combine browned bits into the mixture. Reduce heat to medium. Stir in mushrooms, cover, and cook until meat is tender, 3 – 5 minutes. Reduce heat to low. Stir in sour cream mixture by heaping spoonfuls. If the sauce looks too thick, slowly add a bit more beef stock until you achieve the consistency you prefer. Cook uncovered 1 – 3 minutes or until hot. Do NOT let pan come to a boil.

 Egg Noodles Follow the package directions to cook. If the noodles are done before the Stroganoff, drain them in a colander and set the pot or lid on top of the noodles to keep them warm. REMEMBER: all noodles/pasta can easily be re-warmed by pouring hot water over them before serving. To serve, scoop egg noodles into soup/salad bowls. Spoon hearty portions of Stroganoff over the noodles and then scatter on parsley. Leftovers are excellent. Refrigerate noodles and meat in separate containers. To reheat the Stroganoff pour it into a saucepan, add a little beef stock to thin it, and warm through. The noodles are easy as well to reheat. Bring a small pan of water to a boil. Add the noodles for a few seconds then drain.

 

 

The high we get from crime fiction

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 My upcoming novel, A Light in the Desert, revolves around the deadly cold-case sabotage of an Amtrak train in the Arizona desert in 1995, a crime that, 23-years later, still baffles both local and federal authorities.

Books about crime are ubiquitous. And it’s hard to watch TV without being assaulted by countless shows depicting criminals and their misdeeds. Movies, as well, dwell in the darkness of the criminal mind.

So, why do we delight in these stories?

“The public is drawn to true crime because it triggers the most basic and powerful emotion in all of us—fear,” Dr. Scott Bonn, a professor of criminology, wrote in “Why We Are Drawn to True Crime Shows,” an article published in Time Magazine. “As a source of popular culture entertainment, it allow(s) us to experience fear and horror in a controlled environment where the threat is exciting but not real.”

Most of us will never be personally touched by violent crime. That’s good, of course. But we do enjoy the vicarious thrill of observing fictional folks submersed in brutal situations.

“People also receive a jolt of adrenaline as a reward for witnessing terrible deeds,” Bonn said. “Adrenaline is a hormone that produces a powerful, stimulating and even addictive effect on the human brain. The euphoric effect of true crime on human emotions is similar to that of roller coasters or natural disasters.”

I admit that, as an author, it’s exciting to write about powerful situations where my characters are facing danger, especially when it’s from the comfort and safety of my office chair. I’m not sure exactly what that says about me. Perhaps Dr. Bonn’s adrenaline rush applies here, as well.

I suppose the good news is I’m not alone in my love of crime fiction. In 2017, the crime/mystery genre produced $728 million in book sales. (I can hear my romance author friends twittering. Yes, I know that romance novels generated $1.44 billion last year, something I’m trying to wrap my head around and definitely a story for another time.)

So, while there are scads of readers out there seeking passion between the pages, there are also many millions of us looking for that adenaline high.

A Light in the Desert-cov (6)

Mystery/Suspense

Blank Slate Press/Amphorae Publishing Group

298 Pages

Price: $16.95 Paperback, $9.99 eBook

http://www.midpointtrade.com/book_detail.php?book_id=261955

As a Vietnam veteran and former Special Forces sniper descends into the throes of mental illness, he latches onto a lonely pregnant teenager and a group of Pentecostal zealots – the Children of Light – who have been waiting over thirty years in the Arizona desert for Armageddon. When the Amtrak Sunset Limited, a passenger train en route to Los Angeles, is derailed in their midst in a deadly act of sabotage, their lives are thrown into turmoil. As the search for the saboteurs heats up, the authorities uncover more questions than answers. And then the girl vanishes. As the sniper struggles to maintain his sanity, a child is about to be born in the wilderness.