Category Archives: Food

Easy as Cooking Stew


Writers create a host of rules to improve their writing, and often impose these same rules on other writers. This can lead to wars. Mention the topics of passive sentences, adverbs, word length, filter words or a host of other subjects and you’ll find passionate supporters and deniers. It’s very wearing, even when all you do is follow the conflict.

I believe the writing is often very much like cooking a stew. You begin with a meat, add some vegetables, and finish it off with spices. Properly done, the result satisfies the appetite. Make a mistake and it was a waste of time.

Stay with me for a moment longer. No matter what I tell you about making a stew, I’m certain that you could find an exception. Let me give you an example.

Start by cutting up some meat.

WAIT! What about a fish stew?


What about an egg stew?

Egg Stew? Is there one?


There are stews with and without cream. There are stews with and without vegetables. Some stews have almost no spices aside from a bit of salt. Curry has a multitude.

It’s the same with writing. Some stores start in the third person; others in the first person; still others in the second person, although they are rare.

Some stories have large gobs of description. Others have almost none. Some stories contain sentence fragments. Others are spiced up with adjectives and adverbs.

In the end, balance is the thing. The key factor to applying rules is the same one you use in cooking the stew. Try to put everything in balance, and season to taste. You can use pepper, but don’t drown the stew in it.

Try new recipes and discover what works for you. Try the writing rules and discover what works for you.

It’s as easy as pie. But that’s another story.

The Tale of the Scale


Since January I’ve been dieting, trying to trim back to a more modest size. To date I’ve lost twenty pounds. No, I don’t want to know where they have gone. No, don’t try to send your extra pounds to me either.

When asked how I did it, I repeat Jack Lalane’s advice. “If you put something in your mouth and it tastes good, spit it out.” Actually, it’s not that bad.

Recently, I’ve plateaued and became a bit paranoid. I began to think that my scales were part of an industrial complex conspiracy, led by Weight Watchers. How could I be certain that I really knew my weight?

Simple solution. I belong to a gym. They had one of those old fashioned scales with the weights and the arm, where you zip the weight back and forth. You know the type I mean. Doctors’ offices have them. I decided to weigh myself at the gym and then at home with the same outfit to see how close they were.

At the gym I stepped on the scales and it told me I was ten pounds heavier that I weighed at home. Now I was dressed and it was afternoon, so I did expect a bit of a difference, about five pounds to be honest.

As I left the gym, I remarked to the person at the desk how much I hated the scale. She suggested I try the one in the intake room.

This scale was a miracle of modern technology. I had to tell it my height and my age. In return it told me my weight, my percent of body fat, my BMI, and some other things I am not prepared to share. Then I came home, and weighed myself once more, in the same clothes.

The difference in my weight between the two scales was half a pound. The scale at the gym determined that I was heavier than the scale at home.

Now I am sitting and wondering. Which scale is correct?


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Murder by Medication/food Interaction


One of the fun things about writing is figuring new and interesting crimes. I sure hope no one is checking my Web searches. I could be in trouble.

I had an idea for a crime story. The perfect murder would be one caused by something no one expected to cause a problem. However, Mythbusters have destroyed a lot of great ideas, especially the ones with disappearing bullets made of frozen meat or ice. Darn party poopers.

I decided on death by medication. Right, killing someone with their own meds. How? Having the medicine interact with some food or drink. Everyone knows about drugs and alcohol, so I decided to search for something new. And I found a bunch, not fatal ones, but still interesting.

Bronchodilators treat and prevent breathing problems from bronchial asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The combination of the Bronchodilators and caffeine can create side effects, such as excitability, nervousness, and rapid heartbeat.

ACE inhibitors alone or with other medicines lower blood pressure. It also increases the amount of potassium in your body. Too much potassium can be harmful and can cause an irregular heartbeat and heart palpitations. It would interact with foods high in potassium, such as bananas, oranges, green leafy vegetables, and salt substitutes that contain potassium.

Glycosides, such as digoxin, treat heart failure and abnormal heart rhythms. They help control the heart rate and help the heart work better. Foods high in fiber may decrease the digoxin in your body. Digoxin with black licorice (which contains the glycyrrhizin) can cause irregular heart beat and heart attack.

Thyroid medicines control hypothyroidism but they don’t cure it. They reverse the symptoms. Coffee and Black tea reduce the medicine’s effectiveness by up to 35%.

Antipsychotics treat the symptoms of schizophrenia and acute manic or mixed episodes from bipolar disorder. Caffeine can increase the amount of medicine in your blood and cause side effects.

MAO inhibitors treat depression. Someone who eats an excessive amount of chocolate after taking an MAO inhibitor may experience a sharp rise in blood pressure.

Grapefruit and its juice are especially nasty. It increases the absorption of the drug into the bloodstream, creating a higher concentration of a drug. With Statins this can lead to liver damage. It can also interact with some blood pressure drugs, organ transplant rejection drugs, anti-anxiety drugs, anti-arrhythmia drugs and antihistamines.

Pomegranate juice has its own list of drugs it can interact with. In its case it increases the impact by slowing the body’s ability to break down the drugs.

I decided to stop before I got into herbal medications. I’m certain there are murderous combinations of herbs and medications. Would you like a cup of Foxglove tea?

So, death by coffee, banana, chocolate, bran, or licorice. Choices. Choices. Now I have the murder, all I have to discover is how the murderer trips up. That’s the trouble with writing. It’s one problem after another.


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Blame it on the Pizza


I blame the pizza.

Now that’s not to say that the pizza was bad. I found it very tasty, with peperoni, sausage, and bacon on it. I can’t blame anyone but myself for eating it. Tony and Guido didn’t come to my house with a pizza and a pistol to force me.

Let me go back to the beginning. My new year’s resolution was to lose thirty-one pounds by sensible dieting and exercise. Until this week I was working on this goal by losing five to six pounds a month. Each week I’d usually lose a little more than a pound. I have the records to prove it.

During my trip to Cuba, I managed to keep this up. Walking through Havana, the heat and the lack of chocolate helped. During my cold when I couldn’t workout, I managed it because I wasn’t hungry. Have you noticed that when you have a cold and a stuffed nose, you can’t taste anything?

Then I ate the pizza. Actually I didn’t eat the entire pizza, only a third of it. Three slices from a large one. (There are two and a half pieces still in the freezer, calling to me, waiting for me.) Now that’s a bit piggy, but not that bad. I looked it up. It’s about 300 calories per slice so that was 900 calories in total.

The next morning I weighed myself. Overnight I had gained 2.5 pounds. Overnight! That’s more than the pizza weighed. Oh well, water retention. I’ll lose it again.

It’s a week later, and I haven’t lost those 2.5 pounds. My entire diet is in ruins. Three weeks of dieting all lost for one night’s indulgence.

But it was good pizza.

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Watch the Price of Almonds


The connections throughout the world have never been greater. What happens half a world away has an impact on your life.

The April snow pack in the mountains of California is only five percent of the average, and this is the fourth year of below average snow pack. California is in the midst of one of its worst droughts in its history.

How bad is it? The governor has ordered California’s first-ever mandatory water cutback, imposing a 25 percent reduction to force residents and businesses to significantly tighten up water use. This will affect golf courses and cities in a substantial way if this goal is to be achieved. Those green lawns might be a thing of the past.

California gets half of its fresh water from the melting snow pack in the mountains. No snowpack, no water. So how does this affect you? California produces roughly half of all the fruits, nuts, and vegetables consumed in the United States while exporting vast amounts to China and other overseas customers.

This agriculture consumes a staggering 80 percent of California’s developed water, even as it accounts for only 2 percent of the state’s gross domestic product. Most crops and livestock are produced in the Central Valley, which is, geologically speaking, a desert. The soil is very fertile but crops there can thrive only if massive amounts of irrigation water are applied.

Take almonds. The United States produces 80% of the world’s production, all in California. Last year’s drought decreased production from 1.41 million tonnes to .73 million tonnes. That was a 50% decline. That’s why the price of almonds is at a nine year high, with the sky as the limit. Last year, California had five times more snowpack.

Other crops might be affected, like rice and pistachios. The United States is the world’s second largest producer of pistachios, after Iran.

Some rice farmers in Northern California are skipping planting their crop this year and choosing instead to sell their water rights to Southern California.

All of this is spurring a drilling frenzy, not for fracking but for water. They drill deep for water today, between one and two thousand feet. Such a well can cost $300,000.

Pumping this additional water out of the ground comes with its own problems. Normally groundwater accounts for 40% of the water supply, and 60% during a drought. However the dropping water table indicates they can’t pump forever. As the water is pumped out, the ground settles. In some places in the Central Valley, land has dropped by a foot. This has damaged roads, pipes, and other infrastructure and has caused some canals to stop working.

As California farms and cities drill deeper for groundwater, they no longer are tapping reserves that percolated into the soil over recent centuries. They are pumping water that fell to Earth during a much wetter climatic regime—the ice age.

So, if you like Californian wines, almonds, tomatoes, and other food, you might consider praying for an end to the drought. Me? I’m going to buy a few bags of almonds and stick them in the freezer.



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A Taste of Honey

honeyDo you remember the taste of honey? Do you remember bread and butter, with honey sandwiches? The combination of the rich butter and the sweet taste of honey remains in my memory after all the decades since I last tasted one.

When I was young, honey was a treat, while sugar was a staple. The honey would come in a wooden box, with a honeycomb in it. I could skim the covers off the combs and drain the honey on the sandwich, or hack out honey and comb and spread the mixture on the bread.

Sometime I’d eat the honeycomb by itself. That would eventually result in a wad of wax that I could chew like gum.

The historical writer can relax on the subject of honey. Cavemen in Ancient Spain collected honey at least eight thousand years ago. The ancient Egyptians used it to sweeten cakes. Honey collecting began before records in both China, and the New World.

Wherever bees made honey, men would steal it and eat it.

Some interesting facts about honey. It never goes bad. I’m willing to bet you keep your honey in the refrigerator, although that isn’t necessary.

Because of its high fructose content, honey has more sweet flavor than other sweeteners. No two honeys taste exactly the same. Honey is a natural humectant and acts as an anti-irritant. Honey wine is called mead. Honey is a natural moisturizer.

A Sumerian tablet writing, dating back to 2100-2000 BC, mentions honey’s use as a drug and an ointment. Today honey can be used for hard-to-heal wounds, such as diabetic leg ulcers, even wounds with gangrene.

How? If poured on a wound, honey will seal it from outside contaminants. It has a low water content and acidic nature which both combat bacteria. More than that, when honey is diluted with wine or body fluids, enzymes in the honey create a small amount of hydrogen peroxide. Furthermore, honey on a wound reduces pain, and promotes healing.

So, maybe you should include honey in your first aid kit. And I might suggest some bread and butter as well.


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Sugar, a short history


I love sugar. However, that is not the reason for this blog. I read all sorts of stuff, especially when sailing. Almost every marina has a book place, where voyagers can offload books that they no longer want and pick up new reading material. However, you are at the mercy of other peoples’ tastes.

I picked up a Historical Romance set in the 12th century in Great Britain. In one scene the heroine feeds her horse a lump of sugar. Are you laughing? You understand. Are you wondering what the issue is? Read on.

Today, you can pick up a pound of sugar from sugarcane in the grocery store for less than a bottle of beer. That shows how greatly the world has changed.

Sugar, as we think of it today, is the product of either sugarcane, or the sugar beet. We can ignore the sugar beet for most of history. Why? The 16th-century scientist, Olivier de Serres, discovered a process for preparing sugar syrup from the common red beet. However, since crystallized cane sugar was available and tasted better, beet sugar never caught on. The commercial manufacture of sugar from beets didn’t take hold until the early 1800’s when the British blockaded the French ruled continent. The sugar beet has one advantage. You don’t need a tropical climate to grow it. Even with this advantage, beet sugar only accounts for about 12% of all sugar production today.

So, cane sugar is king, and always (aside from the necessities of war) has been.

Guess where the sugarcane plant came from. No, not the new world. Actually, sugarcane was first grown in New Guinea about 6000 BC. The practice spread to India, and the production of crystalline sugar began about 500 BC. Ancient Sanskrit and Pali texts mention sugar. Arab traders brought sugarcane to Mesopotamia by the 10th century AD.

Crusaders brought sugar home to Europe after their campaigns in the Holy Land, where they encountered caravans carrying “sweet salt.” Crusade chronicler William of Tyre, writing in the late 12th century, described sugar as “a most precious product, very necessary for the use and health of mankind.” The first record of sugar in English is in the late 13th century.

So, before the 13th century in England, sugar was unknown, except for returning Crusaders. Imagine a delicacy that had to be imported from the Holy Land. Do you think you would feed it to a horse?

How expensive was sugar? In the fourteenth century, a pound of sugar would cost as much as thirty-six gallons of ale or a couple of sheep.

Now remember this isn’t the same quality of sugar that we buy in the store today. Early refining methods involved grinding or pounding the cane and then boiling down the juice. The result looked like gravel. The Sanskrit word for “sugar” (sharkara) also means “gravel” or “sand.”

Then Columbus discovered America, and sugar production moved to the new world. Approximately 3,000 sugar mills were built before 1550 in the New World. The Spanish had the gold, but Portugal had Brazil and its sugarcane plantations.

The French and the British followed. For the British sugar formed one side of the triangle trade of New World raw materials, along with European manufactured goods, and African slaves. Sugar (often in the form of molasses) was shipped from the Caribbean to Europe or New England, where it was distilled into rum.

France found its sugarcane islands so valuable that it effectively traded its portion of Canada, famously dubbed “a few acres of snow,” to Britain for their return of Guadeloupe, Martinique and St. Lucia at the end of the Seven Years’ War. (Shush. Don’t tell the Quebeckers.)

Sugar and the European demand for it fueled the plantations. Those needed slaves, so the sweet stuff financed slavery in the Caribbean and South America. New England abolitionists tried to fight sugar from cane with the sugar beet. The “Beet Sugar Society of Philadelphia” was founded in 1836 by those who opposed the slavery on the sugar plantations.

At the same time, sugar began to work its way into every aspect of the cooking of Europe. As the price dropped, sugar changed deserts. It sweetened jams and marmalades. It even sweetened tea.

What we eat and drink today is much different from what people in the actual historical settings had. Sometimes describing an everyday meal can be a trap for the Historical Author.

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