Another Simple Recipe for the Tired, Distracted, or Deadline-Beset

For years I didn’t have a crockpot, because all my previous encounters with the technology had been in the early days, before the invention of the removable stoneware crock, and doing cleanup on a piece of kitchen gear that couldn’t be fully immersed in water pretty much negated all of the time and labor saved on the prep and cooking end.

Then one day I looked around in the kitchen department of the local hardware store and saw that things had changed since I was an impecunious grad student, and I was, as they say, enlightened.

This particular recipe is about as mindless as they come, which is a blessing on those occasions when you’ve got a cold, or a deadline, or just a bad case of too much of the daily grind:

Chicken with Onions


  • 4 large onions, sliced thin
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or more if you like)
  • 4 to 6 split chicken breasts, either bone-in or boneless
  • hot cooked rice (or orzo pasta, or whatever starchy substrate you prefer)


  • Put the sliced onions in the bottom of the crockpot.
  • Lay the chicken breasts on top of the onions.
  • Add the garlic, lemon juice, and cayenne.
  • Cook 4 to 6 hours on low.
  • Serve over rice or orzo or whatever you prefer


Because It’s Been a While

Here – have a recipe.

Monkey Bread


  • 3 cans of buttermilk biscuits
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 2 sticks butter
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Open up all three cans of biscuits and cut each biscuit into quarters.

Next, combine the white sugar and the cinnamon in a 1 gallon zip-lock bag and shake it to mix them up evenly.

Drop all of the biscuit quarters into the bag of cinnamon-sugar mix. Seal the bag and shake it until the biscuit quarters are evenly covered.

Fill up a bundt pan or similar baking pan (we use a panettone mold around here.)

Melt the two sticks of butter and the half cup of brown sugar together in the microwave, or in a saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Once the brown sugar/melted butter mix has become one color, pour it over the pan full of biscuit pieces.

Bake for about 30-40 minutes until the crust is a deep dark brown on top. Then remove it from the oven and allow it to cool on a wire rack for about 15-30 minutes.

Turn it out onto a plate; pull it apart with two forks to serve.

This is the quick and easy version.  You could get fancier, I suppose, by making up a batch of sweet yeast dough, either by hand or in a bread machine, cutting or tearing the risen dough into approximately 36 pieces, and forming the pieces into balls which you then coat in cinnamon sugar as above.  Then put them into the baking pan and allow them to rise a second time before going on to the melted butter and brown sugar step and proceeding with the recipe from there.

But in all honesty, the biscuit version tastes just fine, and is a whole lot faster and easier.

(Also:  I have no idea why it’s called “monkey bread.”  One theory is that the bread takes its name from a fancied resemblance between the pattern of the stacked lumps of dough and the pattern of the bark on the trunk of a monkey-puzzle tree . . . but I think that may be stretching it.)

Nostalgia Lane, in Need of Repaving

The Fairlee Drive-In movie theatre in Fairlee, Vermont,  is holding a Kickstarter to raise the funds necessary to upgrade from 35mm to digital – a vital move if they hope to continue in business, given that the movie industry is rapidly going all-digital.  (Paramount has already made the switch.)

This is a drive-in movie theatre that’s been in almost continuous operation since it opened in 1950, and is one of only two drive-ins left in the USA with its own attached motel.  Furthermore, their snack stand features hamburgers made from Black Angus cattle raised on the family farm of the theatre owners, as well as other locally-sourced items.

They’ve got some really great rewards for their backers, too: a $200 donation gets a room for two on a Friday night at the drive-in’s motel, plus 2 movie admissions and free burgers and fries and popcorn from the concession stand.  For the “go big or stay home” crowd, a $5K donation lets you own the drive in for a night, along with as many of your guests as can fit on their 400-car field, and a $10K or more donation gets the drive-in’s original carbon-arc projector and related equipment, as purchased in 1950 and used at the theatre until 2003.

I have fond memories of going with my parents to the drive-in when I was a kid in Florida, back when vast herds of them covered the plains like the buffalo, and I’d hate to see another one vanish.

Then I’ll Write it Myself, Said the Little Red Hen

There are all sorts of different reasons for writing, some of them more refined and elevated than others.  Sometimes the impetus comes in the form of a book laid aside (perhaps vigorously) in disgust, as the writer says, “Dammit, I  could write a better book than than one!” and then goes and does just that.

At other times, the book begins with a hunger for something – a plot twist, a story element, a certain flavor to the prose, a particular slantwise way of looking at the subject matter – that none of the books in the reader’s chosen genre has been able to provide.  Lots of readers experience this hunger; a few of them go on to address it by telling their own stories to satisfy the desire.  “I wrote the book I wanted to read that nobody else was writing” is a sentiment often found in authorial memoirs and interviews.

Which reminds me of the time when I decided I wanted a pork pie like the one that sometimes showed up as a lunchtime special down at Howard’s Restaurant.  This was a pork pie of the French Canadian, not the English, variety, because the small New Hampshire town I live in is about fifteen minutes south of Quebec and the local foodways reflect this sometimes.  Because this is the twenty-first century, I turned to the internet for help – and discovered (to nobody’s surprise, I’m sure) not just one, but dozens of recipes, all slightly different.  I ended up conflating several different recipes, and tweaking the result – much as a writer tweaks story elements and plot lines – until I got the dish and the flavor I wanted.

French-Canadian Pork Pie


  • Pie crust sufficient for a two-crust pie (I used pre-made, but if you’ve got a light hand for pastry and the patience to go with it, you could make your own.  Sources I’ve read say that for the ultra-traditional, a lard-based pastry is the way to go; I’ve never bothered.)
  • 2 large yellow onions, chopped fine (I ran mine through the food processor)
  • 1.5 pounds ground pork
  • 3 medium-to-large white potatoes, cooked (you could boil them; I steamed them) and coarsely mashed
  • 1 cup beef stock (I used stock base from a jar and made it up double strength)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon thyme
  • dash of nutmeg
  • dash of cinnamon
  • two or three grindings of black pepper (the stock was sufficiently salty that I didn’t bother with adding more salt.)


Cook the ground pork and the chopped onions together in a frying pan until the pork isn’t pink any longer.  Drain off the fat.

Add the pork and onion mixture to the mashed cooked potatoes and mix them up.

Then add the beef stock, the beaten egg, and the spices, and mix them up some more.

Have your pie pan ready with the bottom crust in place.  Put in the filling.  If you’ve got a pie bird, this is a good time to get it into place.  Put on the top crust, and crimp it down.  Cut slits in the top to facilitate the escape of steam.  (At this point, I suppose one could do one or another of the various things one does with egg or milk to put a glaze onto the crust; again, I didn’t bother.)

Bake in a 375 degree oven for 20 minutes, then turn the heat down to 350 and bake 45 minutes more.  (It’s probably a good idea to put a foil-lined baking sheet on the rack below, in case of spillover.)

When it’s done, remove from the oven, let cool for 10-15 minutes, then serve.

Given that Howard’s Restaurant is now closed, and also is in danger of collapsing into the river, it’s a good thing I worked out the recipe for myself.

Unexpected Ingredients

When you’re constructing a piece of fiction, sometimes what you need to make an old standby memorable again is an unexpected ingredient, a theme or a place or a character that the reader isn’t expecting to find in combination with the other, more familiar elements in the story.  Time was, something as simple as switching in a female character for a male one in a particular role was enough to add the requisite element of strange; these days (and if we’re not all grateful for it, then we damned well should be), the entry into the narrative of a person of the female-presenting kind is not remarkable enough by itself to push the story off of center.

(Actually, these days it’s inadvisable to rely on the mere presence of any character type to provide your story with a hint of strange.  Well-drawn characters are going to have better things to do with their personal narratives than spending them being decoration for other characters’ plots – and if you aren’t going to create well-drawn characters, what are you doing in this game?)

But doing something unexpected like, say, using the story of a zombie apocalypse in order to examine philosophical issues such as the relationship of the individual to the larger group, and how to live a moral life in an imperfect world . . . that’ll provide you with more than enough strange to keep you going.

And as an extra, a recipe, also with an unexpected ingredient:

Beef Short Ribs Braised in Coca-Cola


  • At least 2 pounds boneless beef short ribs (if what you’ve got is bone-in ribs, make that at least 3 pounds)
  • 1 large or 2 medium onions, finely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced (I also throw in some dried minced garlic partway through the cooking time, because we like our garlic around here)
  • 3 scallions, chopped
  • 1 can of Coca-Cola
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • fresh-ground black pepper, to taste (we also like our pepper around here, so I’m generous with it)



  • Put your short ribs into your crockpot.
  • Season with the salt and pepper.
  • Add the onions, garlic, and scallions.
  • Pour in the Coca-Cola.
  • Cook for 5-6 hours on high or 7-8 hours on low.
  • Serve over egg noodles.  (Actually, over whatever starch you prefer, but we like our short ribs with egg noodles around here.)

The amazing thing, once you’re done, is that this dish tastes nothing whatsoever like Coca-Cola.  But it doesn’t taste like short ribs braised in the usual red wine or beer or beef stock, either.


Where I’ve Been

Working, mostly, and dealing with the usual late-winter hassles.

February is almost always a thin month around the household, budget-wise:  the winter electric bill (this being far northern New Hampshire) is enough to make strong women weep, the registration and auto inspection (and the associated necessary repairs) come due at this time, and no matter how careful I am to line up sources of income for midwinter, something always comes around to knock my plans into a cocked hat.  If the plans themselves don’t fizzle out like damp firecrackers, then some unexpected expense leaps out of the underbrush and shouts “Stand and deliver!” like an 18th-century highwayman.

Also, it’s been cold.

But here – in lieu of a half-formed rant on the decline of the past perfect tense, or another round of homonym peeves – have a recipe.

Spicy Stir-Fried Ground Beef

(My source for this recipe called it “Korean Beef,” but I suspect it’s approximately as Korean as my Great-Aunt Nellie.  What it is, though, is cheap and fast and good, and everybody in the house likes it.)


    1 pound lean ground beef
    1/4 cup brown sugar

    1/4 cup soy sauce
    1 Tablespoon sesame oil
    3 cloves garlic, minced
    1/2 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced
    1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
    salt and pepper
    1 bunch green onions, sliced


Heat a wok or a large skillet (but it works better with a wok) over medium heat. Brown the ground beef in the sesame oil. Add the garlic towards the end of browning and cook for a couple of minutes. Drain the fat.

Add the brown sugar, soy sauce, ginger, salt and pepper and red pepper. Simmer for a few minutes to blend the flavors. Serve over steamed rice and top with green onions.

If you like things really spicy, as we do here, you can throw in some Szechuan chili paste, or Korean hot red bean paste, or sriracha to up the octane.

This feeds three people amply, and four people reasonably.  More than four people, and you probably want to up the amount of ground beef and adjust the other ingredients accordingly.

“Make New Friends, but Keep the Old….”

“One is silver, but the other’s gold.”

Anyone who’s ever been a Girl Scout knows that song.  I remember singing it once in a bar at a science fiction convention, in the company of another couple of writers and an editor, all of us former Girl Scouts.  (Though I suspect that, much as there are no former Marines, there are no former Girl Scouts.  Or very few, anyhow.)

This year the Girl Scouts are test-marketing a gluten-free cookie.
The list of councils where the Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Shortbread cookie is being sold is available

The main reason for buying Girl Scout cookies is, of course, that they are delicious, and I say this as someone who could easily consume a whole box of classic trefoils at one sitting if I didn’t stop myself.  But this year, buying Girl Scout cookies is also a way of frustrating these people, who in my opinion very much deserve frustration.

The Girl Scouts have always been a feminist organization – in some eras they’ve been more overt about it than in others, but what else do you expect from a group that has from its beginning striven to inculcate in young girls the virtues of self-knowledge, self-reliance, and sisterhood?

Obligatory writing reference!

More Thought for Food

After spending most of the morning hunched over my computer like a vulture, feeling out of sorts with the world, I wandered into the kitchen and asked myself, “Self, what do you want for lunch?”

And Self replied, upon consideration, “You know, what I would really like right now is some tomato soup.”

Normally, under such circumstances, I would inform myself, sternly, that we have no canned or otherwise packaged soup in the house, so that idea was right out. This time, however, Self was quick to add that we had canned diced tomatoes, an immersion blender, and a microwave right there, and the rest should follow easily from that point.

“Self,” I said, “you’ve got something.”

So I took a can of diced tomatoes, and a can of light coconut milk, and some dried minced garlic and some cumin and some Tabasco and a bit of salt and pepper, and I whirled them together with the blender until they were smooth. And then I added some tomato paste from the tube in the refrigerator, to make the end product a bit less pink and add a bit more tomato kick without having to add another whole can of tomatoes, and whirled it again.

Then I microwaved the final product until it was hot, and it was good.

Back Again

Returning from the land of holiday distraction….

I have a new pair of L. L. Bean fleece-lined slippers.  My feet are warm.

The various and assorted Christmas gifts for the various and assorted family members were all properly appreciated (which is always a relief — all it takes is having a gift-choice turn out wrong once to make you twitchy forever afterward.)

The Christmas dinner crown roast of pork turned out well, as did the five different pies, of which we still have about two slices each of apple and cherry left, and maybe four slices of blueberry.  The maple cream and the pumpkin are both gone, gone, gone.

And I need to get back to work.

A word to the wise: If you’ve got a pair of young twins, and they both, separately, tell you that they want a particular thing for Christmas . . . do not decide that it would be a good idea to get one of it for them to share. Just don’t.

A Recipe — and Some Thoughts on Theme and Incident

First, the recipe, which is a variation on your basic Alfredo sauce.

Hot and Spicy Alfredo Sauce

  • 1/2 cup of butter
  • 1 cup heavy cream (light cream is fine as well)
  • 1 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tablespoon of crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon Tabasco
  • 1 clove of garlic, crushed
  • 1/4 tablespoon of salt
  • Pepper
  • A dash of cayenne pepper


Cook the butter, the pepper flakes and the garlic in a frying pan over low heat until the butter melts. Wait until the garlic turns transparent. Now add the cream and stir well, add 1 cup of the Parmesan cheese and blend. Remove from heat, add Tabasco, cayenne, salt and pepper and stir well.

Toss it over your pasta and add the remaining Parmesan cheese.

As you can see, this begins as a standard Alfredo sauce, but it has hot red pepper added to it in three different forms.  In much the same way, a standard plot may be made more complex and interesting by the addition of exciting ingredients — pirates, maybe, or political shenanigans, or the sudden discovery that one of the parties involved in a relationship is not necessarily what they seem to be.  What things should be added will depend on the base story, of course; a realistic narrative of suburban angst and adultery, for example, is unlikely to have a plausible reason for the inclusion of pirates (though if such a trick could be carried off, it would be awesome.)

Then we come to the next stage of the recipe, in which we make the hot and spicy pasta Alfredo into a more substantial entrée:

Hot and Spicy Chicken Alfredo

Take about a pound of chicken tenders, or a boneless chicken breast.  (I suppose you could use boneless thighs, if you like dark meat, but I tend to save the thighs for more slow-cooked dishes.)  Cut the meat up into 1-inch chunks.  Put a bit of oil in the pan you’re going to be using for the sauce, and saute the chicken chunks until they’re white clear through.  Remove them from the pan, and proceed with the recipe as above.  Add the cooked chicken chunks at the end, just before tossing the sauce with the pasta.

By adding the chicken, you’ve made your pasta dish heartier, and more full of protein.  (You’ve also stretched one pound or less of chicken to feed several people, if that’s your primary concern.)  In the same way, you can make your spiced-up standard plot more substantial by working in some meaty thematic material — the issues the story is thinking and talking about that aren’t the basic plot or the exciting details.  And like the cooked chicken, the thematic material needs to be there and waiting before you start messing around with the basic plot (aka the standard sauce) and the exciting details (aka the spices.)