Janet's Jargon

Fun lifestyles, charitable acts, great fiction, author support, Patrick and Grace Mysteries, Keith clan trilogy,

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

The secret to the pie

OK, if you are brave enough to try it, here is the recipe for the famous (or infamous) Shartlesville Pie. Please do not drive after consuming a piece!

2 c Pumpkin; cooked
4 Egg
1 c sugar
1/2 ts cinnamon
1 tb Cornstarch
1 c Whiskey
1/4 c butter
1/3 c Cream

Put 2 cups of the pumpkin in a bowl and whip thoroughly with a fork until all lumps disappear. Add the sugar, yolks of eggs, cinnamon and beat for 5 minutes. Quickly add the cream, the whiskey and the butter, and mix well. Sprinkle the cornstarch over the stiffly beaten whites of eggs and add to the first mixture. Pour into a pan about 2 1/2 inches deep which has been lined with pie pastry, and bake for one hour at 375-F. Allow pie to become cold before using.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Even a missionary gets daring--sometimes!

Shartlesville Pumpkin Pie
It was a long time ago—December, 1965. Ivan and I had just come back from Venezuela long enough to get married, and then we were going back to the mission field. We were at my parents’ home, as I wanted to get married in our old family church.
When I lived at home, I always did a lot of baking. My dad’s favorite dessert was pumpkin pie. He ran a repair shop. His motto was "You break it; we fix it." It was "Howard’s Repair Shop." He had a job to go out on, so I decided to surprise him and bake a pumpkin pie for dinner—which came at noon; supper was the evening meal.
As I looked through the cookbooks I came to one that looked different. Interesting, you might say. I said to Ivan, "I’ll bet you won’t let me make this one." He asked "Why?" so I gave him the cookbook to look at. He sort of grinned and said, "Well, they say the alcohol evaporates in the cooking process, so I guess it won’t hurt anything." I asked my mom if they had any whiskey. I figured the answer would be "No," as they were pretty staunch Baptists. To my surprise, she said, "Look on the top shelf in that cupboard." I pulled the stool over and climbed up to where I could reach the rows of bottles that were up on the top shelf. There must have been at least a dozen bottles! I asked Mother about it, and she said, "A lot of your dad’s customers give them to us for Christmas. We never open them, but you know your dad can’t stand to throw anything out!"
I selected a bottle of 90-proof Bourbon. I unsealed the bottle cap and opened it. At the appropriate place in the recipe, I added it to the pie filling. Yup, I poured that whole cup of the Bourbon in! Now God alone knows how long that bottle had been up there in the cupboard. Mother had no idea! At any rate, it was definitely well aged! And yes, the recipe called for a full 8-oz. cup of the stuff! It also called for separated eggs, and as I added the stiffly beaten egg whites, it was a creation worthy of my old 4-H fair days! It would have won a blue ribbon, for sure.
When it was done, it looked absolutely beautiful. It was big and puffy—and it smelled divine. We waited for my dad to come home, but he was late. He had a hired man who helped him out in the shop. I don’t remember his last name, but his first name was Tony. I don’t have any proof of it, but I had a sneaking idea that Tony had downed his fair share of liquor in his heyday!
When we had finished the main part of the meal, my dad still wasn’t home, so I proudly served each of us with a piece of the pie. Tony took the first bite. I don’t remember for sure, but I think maybe his ears started to smoke. I do remember that his eyes bulged out like a big old green frog! He took that first bite, pushed the plate aside, and very politely said, "I’m real sorry, ma’am, but I don’t think I can even get that one down."
Just about that time my dad pulled into the yard. I grabbed the pie, plates and all, and stashed them—I don’t remember, but I think in the oven.
Well, my dad ate his dinner. I set the gorgeous piece of pie in front of him. Now remember, pumpkin pie was his favorite dessert. He had been known to eat a whole pie at one sitting on more than one occasion. I have never seen my dad eat so much. He finished the main part of the meal, then he got up and got a piece of bread and ate it. Then he went to the cookie jar and had a few cookies. We could tell that he sensed that something was wrong. Nobody else had a shred of their pie—not even their plates—left in front of them.
Finally, he picked up the pie and put his fork into it. It practically melted. He slowly—oh, so slowly—took a bite. His eyes got as big as saucers. He breathed out, and I fully expected to see fire coming out, a la dragon. Instead, he gasped, then let out a cry of "Great balls of fire!" (Remember, they were good Baptists!)
He wanted to feed the rest of the pie to Snoop, the dog. My mother put her foot down. "No way am I going to nurse a drunk dog with a hangover!" she protested.
Ah, yes, such are the things that we will pass down to our children and our grandchildren. Or maybe not!
Stay tuned, and in a couple of days I will give you the recipe. It might work OK if the whiskey wasn’t quite so well aged, or if you used a "shot" of whiskey instead of a whole measuring cup full. Or maybe if you left it out altogether. At any rate, I never made it again.

Yesterday Rodney Dangerfield...

and today Neil Armstrong. If you read my blog, you know I rambled about how people don't take fiction writers seriously a lot of the time.
Well, in my calls to bookstores this morning I called one a Barnes & Noble store in Farmington, CT. I gave the mgr. my little pitch about Pampas, then the ISBN. I could hear her typing it into the computer. Then she said, "Oh, this is a print-on-demand book." I said, "Yes. Does that make a difference?" With no hesitation at all, she said, "Yes. It takes about 2 days longer to get it in. I just ordered 2 copies."
Then I called a B&N store in Topeka, KS. The mgr. said "It sounds like a really fun book." Again, I could hear her typing into the computer. She said, "OK, thank you so much for calling and telling us about it." I thanked her for considering putting a couple of copies in their store. She said, "Oh, I'm not considering it. I just ordered 4 copies while we were talking, and the first one in here is MINE!" Yup, I felt like it was one small step for print-on-demand books and a giant step for the publishing industry (and thousands of authors) in general.
Yippee! The other 2 stores I called were small independent ones that people had asked me to contact. Both of them said they have had people asking them if they have it. One said they are ordering it the next time they put an order in and the other one said they already have it on order.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Rodney Dangerfield Syndrome

"I don’t get no respect," he often complained. As a fiction writer, I sometimes feel the same way. When you spend your life spinning tall tales, I suppose it is to be expected that people don’t swallow everything you try to feed them. Still, is that a bad thing? Isn’t that what Jesus did when He so often turned to parables to prove a point? Of course a lot of people back then didn’t believe everything He told them, either. I mean, he did talk in terms that would probably be considered as far-fetched as science-fiction is today! Anyway, when I put a post on about the Bible today on one of my favorite groups, and they began to question its veracity… Well, let’s just say that I felt like Rodney Dangerfield!

But in most fiction, there is a basis of truth. Like my favorite ring. Ivan, my husband, gave it to me for Mothers Day one year. It is a very beautiful, large red sapphire, set in a beautiful gold band with some swirls around the stone. But even beyond that, the red sapphire is very special in the Keith clan history. Ivan is a direct descendant of the Keith clan of Dunnottar Castle of Scotland.

One of the Keith men, Robert, was chosen to accompany Queen Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles I of Great Britain, on her trip to Holland during their Civil War. The purpose of the trip was to trade at least part of the royal jewels for arms, since King Charles had spent all of his available money for the luxuries of life he so desired.

As they crossed the waters of the Atlantic, Queen Henrietta Maria produced an inventory of the jewels. Robert carefully went through them with her. One of the items was crossed off the list, and it was not presented in the cache to the royal Dutch troops. The missing item? A red sapphire. According to—legend, history, fable, who knows which, it was probably given as a gift to young Robert Keith for his part in protecting and escorting the queen.

For generations, that jewel was a part of the verbal history of the Keith tradition, passed from father to son, and so on. By the time it had gotten to Ivan’s generation, it was more speculation than fact that the jewel had ever existed in the Keiths’ belongings. So where, when Ivan presented it to me, obviously in a new setting, had he found this invaluable treasure? I wear it proudly, daily, and when I have a presentation about Dunnottar, Marylebone and Par for the Course, I take no shame at all in displaying the ring, and posing the question: where was it all those years, and how did Ivan get it? I'd love to have you all post a comment on what you think about it.

Stay tuned, and in the next few days I will tell you the story behind the story of the ring. Meanwhile, you can see all about the Keith trilogy by going to http://janet_elaine_smith0.tripod.com/id42.html.

And if you want to scout out some other "Maybe are, maybe aren’t…." mysteries, go to http://www.amazon.com/ and check out the anthology Diane J. Newton edited, called Secrets: Fact or Fiction? It contains nine fun stories that leave you wondering. There is even a contest to see who can get the most right about whether or not they are fact or fiction.

And the next time you question the veracity of a tale that is spun by a fiction writer, feel free to ponder how much of their stories you should swallow. But please, at least give them the respect they deserve!

Sunday, July 10, 2005

The value of research

Someone recently asked me how I do my research and how important it is to a book. I think the best way to explain "good" research is by giving an example of "bad" research.
I am sure this author did not do this intentionally, and I have no idea any more who the author was, but the book was "The Irishman." It was a historical romance. It was set on the Minnesota/Wisconsin border. The author said the states were divided by the Red River.

I happen to live in North Dakota, right across the border from Minnesota. What separates the two states? The Red River! It really should not have been that hard to figure out which river separates MN from WI. It is a pretty well-known river. It is--the mighty Missippi!

What difference did that make? I was so disappointed in the seeming lack of research that I almost didn't read the book. And it was a really good book. It had, above all, one completely redeeming quality: she used a line in it that I had never heard anybody say except my father. The line? "I ain't had this much fun since the pigs et my little brother." We would always tell him, "But you don't have any little brother." He would grin and say, "Of course not. The pigs et him."

Why does that come to mind now? I recently taped a radio interview with Connie Gotsch, for her Write On! program. It won't air until Feb. 15th and 17th on NWPR, but after it is on the air, you will be able to hear it on the Internet.
We got to talking about research. I told her about the pigs and my not-so-real uncle. She laughed and said they used to say that, but it was a cat that ate the baby brother. Well, I guess wherever she grew up, it wasn't quite as agricultural an area as it was where my dad grew up. It took a pig to eat what her little kitty cat got away with.

And as for research, I was thrilled beyond words when the curator of Dunnottar Castle, after reading Dunnottar, asked me where the painting of the little girl, Judith Hastings, was. He said he had been to every museum and art gallery he could find in Scotland, and hadn't been able to locate it. I had to weigh my answer carefully. Should I tell him the truth, or leave him wondering.

If you really want to know, add a comment and include your email address and I'll send you the answer. I'd love to get your guess! Make it a great day.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Independence Day? Yeah, right!

I love America. I really do. I have lived in foreign countries, so I know that our freedom comes with a price. It is not just taxes; it is our men and women who are fighting in Iraq to keep us free from terrorists. I don't like the war, but I stand 150% behind our forces there. But this is not meant to be a political statement. Not exactly.
Still, I cringe when I see the inroads our government is making into our private lives. If a family is hungry and goes to apply for foodstamps, they have to first have a Social Security number for each member of the family, including little Baby Jane, who just put in an appearance. If we send our kids to school, they have to have that same Social Security number, as well as the required vaccines. Then, all of a sudden we hear on the news, "Oops! Remember that shot you got for your kids? Researchers have discovered that it might be causing..." Thanks to computerization, every single government agency can tap into the information all the other government agencies have on each and every one of us. There might be one exception to that rule; I hear that the FBI computers are so out-moded they can't even tell what they are doing, let alone what we are up to. That suits me just fine. Modernization and technology aren't always all they are cracked up to be. I recite that like a mantra every time my computer locks up!
But to me, the biggest invasion of our privacy--or that of the whole nation--came when the government decided that certain holidays should occur on Mondays, just so all the government workers get a 3-day holiday.
My mother and dad were married on Memorial Day. That was always May 30. Then somebody decided that should be changed. How is a good, duty-bound daughter supposed to remember to send them a card when the calendar doesn't have their anniversary marked in red any more. They have passed on now, but for many years it was a real problem. After all, the reason they got married on a holiday was so my dad wouldn't have to miss a day of work. Cancel that notion!

The next hit came with Washington's and Lincoln's birthdays. Who do they think they are? Now we celebrate "President's Day" instead. Since when can you change the day a person was born? Well, it is apparently possible. I don't know if Congress got into the picture on that one, or how it came about, but if you asked kids today when Washington and Lincoln were born, I'm willing to bet that mighty few of them would know the correct answers are "Feb. 22 and Feb. 12."

My dad's birthday was Sept. 4. A lot of years it fell on Labor Day. I think that was the first legan holiday that was held on a Monday. And it's kind of ironic that the one that started it all was proclaimed a holiday, and it is to celebrate work, but people don't have to work that day! Go figure!

I think Thanksgiving is safe. After all, it falls on Thursday, and government workers get Friday off, too. Even they are smart enough to figure out that if they move it to a Monday, they will only get a three-day weekend instead of a four-day weekend.

And now, as I sit and look at the calendar, I see that they have finally done it. Yup, if you look closely, you will see that they have managed to put the Fourth of July on a Monday. One can only wonder if this trend will continue. Will the Fourth of July next year fall on the fifth--or the third?

Ah, the mysteries of life! I hope you all have a safe and happy Fourth of July. Enjoy your freedom. It might be short-lived, but it's still the best one the world has to offer!