Thursday, October 17, 2013

Halloween Disguises and an eBook Freebie!

The October issues of Real Simple magazine has a piece about a mom who has Halloween anxiety: she wasn’t afraid of witches or goblins or other evil spirits, but she was apparently very concerned that she wasn’t creating enough fun for her kids!
Aw, c’mon. The ancient Celts, now, had reason to be scared...they believed that on the eve of Samhain, our modern Halloween, spirits walked the earth, so they dressed in disguise to make sure any evil ones wouldn't recognize them.

Besides, dressing up, slathering oodles of your mom’s make-up on your face, and getting free bagfuls of candy is most children’s favorite fantasy! Of course, costumes have changed since I was a kid—then, you mostly scavenged around in your mom or dad’s closet for ratty stuff to borrow. When I was in 6th grade, I found an old scarf and skirt of my mom’s, and put on tons of her blue eye shadow and red lipstick, and voila, I was a gypsy! If you were really lucky, they’d get you a super-cheapo store-bought rig:
In 2nd grade, I was one of the fairies in Sleeping Beauty, wearing a silky blue garment that was so flimsy the seams ripped while you were taking it out of the package.
These days, costumes are a serious business. I just got a look at the Museum Replicas Limited catalog, and there you can order all kinds of wild outfits, from Renaissance-era to Hobbit-themed to steampunk! You'll need to spend about $300 just for the basics. My 6-year-old grandson is going to be the Incredible Hulk, with the must-have accessory, a giant pair of padded green hands. It’ll be a challenge for him to hang on to his candy sack, is all I can say.
In my Halloween story for kids, Morgan Carey and The Curse of the Corpse Bride, my 10-year-old heroine gets more than she bargained for when she dons her disguise for Halloween. To celebrate this coming Halloween and Day of the Dead, Morgan Carey is coming out in print…and the ebook will be free on October 31, November 1 and November 2!
I'd love to hear about your Halloween the meantime, Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Irish Chef Darina Allen Jam recipe a winner!

John and I had raised oodles of berries for years, but I’d never made jam. For one thing, I didn’t really eat jam—I put so much sugar in my morning tea I figured jam on my toast would be overkill. Second, faced with a huge bowl of our favorite cane berry varieties—raspberries, loganberries, boysenberries, and marionberries—I’d always made a gigantic berry crisp, and that would take care of any berries we hadn’t eaten fresh. But this berry season, I had more berries than I knew what to do with. Maybe it was time I took the big leap into “putting up” all the lovely fruit I was picking.

I pulled out my favorite cookbook, “Forgotten Skills of Cooking: The Time-Honored Ways are the Best,” and dove into Darina's “Preserving” section. In her Raspberry, Boysenberry or Loganberry Jam recipe, Darina writes, “If you’ve never made jam before, this is a good place to start.” Okay, I’d come to the right place. She goes on, “Raspberry jam is the easiest and quickest of all jams to make, and one of the most delicious.” I was sold.

I wasn’t ready to do any actual canning—in Ireland, they call it “bottling,” but I figured I could freeze half the recipe. 

Raspberry, Boysenberry or Loganberry Jam recipe:
2lbs fresh or frozen berries
4 cups sugar, warmed (I use organic)

Being a bit of a rebel when it comes to cooking, I’m always up for modifying a recipe. And 4 cups of sugar just seemed like so much sugar! So I used 2 ½ pounds of fruit: for a quick measure, that’s 2 quart yogurt containers filled to the brim.

I followed the directions to put the berries into a large saucepan, mash them a little, then cook for 3-4 minutes over medium heat until the juice begins to run. Then add the warmed sugar and stir over low heat until the sugar is fully dissolved. Increase the heat, bring to a boil, and cook steadily for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently.

Within moments, the berry mix started to splatter. I turned down the heat, but I was still getting dark red juice all over the stove. Plus risking burning my stirring hand. OK, time to swap out the saucepan for my big soup kettle. I got the berries back to a boil, and gave them six minutes—on account of the interrupted cooking process—then with more than a little trepidation, pulled the kettle off the heat.

I couldn’t help thinking of one of my favorite passages in the book “Little Women,” when Meg tries to make jelly as a new bride and the stuff just won’t jell! What if I cooked all these beautiful fresh berries and expensive sugar and all I got was runny berry sauce? 

But Darina was spot-on! The berries did indeed set—I had actually made jam! And if I may say so, it was sublime. I put half the jam into two small jars, and the other half into a glass freezer container.
And I do eat jam now—I still have peanut butter sandwiches as just PB, not PBJ, but a couple of spoonfuls of homemade jam on cooked cereal is delicious. And I like to think the vitamins in the ground flaxseeds in my cereal will sort of cancel out all the sweetening!