Southern belle with a story to tell. Refreshing iced tea served after literary punches thrown.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

In Praise of the Sweet Potato Pie!

^those sweet potatoes she's holding will become a glorious pie!

She (or he) who bakes the pie, wears the crown!

It's almost that time of year, when we open our doors to relatives and friends and welcome them in from the cold  for a wonderful Thanksgiving meal.  In the south, we have our traditions, and one holiday dessert we treasure is the sweet potato pie.

Some may say why not bake pumpkin pie?  Well I'll tell you why I prefer my southern sweet potato pie recipe over any pumpkin pie, but it's not to say that pumpkin pie isn't delicious, it's just that this is how we do it down south, and it's all about the sweet potato.  In my opinion, if you were to eat one spoonful of pumpkin pie and then sample one spoonful of sweet potato pie, you would notice the sweet potato pie has the consistency of velvet,  is smoother and richer than the pumpkin pie, and embodies the taste of the holiday season.

Just about every friend I have, who grew up in the south will swear that their grandmother made the most delicious sweet potato pie in the world, but the funny thing is, almost each recipe is identical to one another, although there can be debate as to which recipe has the right pinch of this or pinch of that added.  Sometimes the prize goes to the pie with the best crust, since the filling as I said before, is almost identical.  A warm, golden-brown flaky crust is desired, but there is no top crust over the pie, as in an apple or cherry pie. I have heard on occasion, "Yes, her pie is good, but did you try (insert name here)'s pie?  Her pie filling was divine, but her crust was so flaky and buttery, and it just melted in my mouth."  So if you want to go down in familial history as to having the best sweet potato pie ever, keep the crust in mind!  If you are busy, as I am, then do not fear, there are amazing pie crusts out there which taste almost as good as if you made it yourself.  Just remember to douse yourself with flower, and sprinkle your forehead with water (to imitate sweat and toil) and people will think you were in the kitchen for hours making that flaky, crust.  We'll be the only ones to know, and do hide the container in the trash, as soon as possible,  to cover your tracks!

There is however, one more point of contention, and that is whether or not to add real whipped cream on top.  Some say to serve the pie just as it is, in  all its' simple glory, but others choose to instead crown their sweet potato pie with whipped cream.  I'm talking old-fashioned whipped cream, not from a can, but cream you whip into shape yourself!  Again, the addition of whipped cream is optional, and it has become a source of great debate in some households at Thanksgiving or Christmas.  To make everyone happy, I think it is best to bring your fresh whipped cream and set it out in a bowl, and let each guest decide for themselves if they wish to add it or not, this way they will sing the praises of your creamy, delicious pie and crust, and have their pie just the way they want it.

Oh how we love thee, o sweet potato pie.  You are a rockstar in the dessert world, and a country star too! In fact, you're so famous,  you've become immortalized forever, in these tasty lyrics from a tune by Alabama.

"Song, song of the south.
Sweet potato pie and I shut my mouth."

History says that George Washington Carver, the man who created peanut butter and over 105 other foods using peanuts, is also attributed to touting the benefits of growing sweet potatoes, as another cash crop in the south, and is said to have made one of the first sweet potato pies. If you've never read about him before, do check out this link below.  In truth, we actually don't know who was the genius who created the first sweet potato pie, but since this gentleman inventor, the Steve Jobs of the south and the agricultural industry,  made the sweet potato famous in the south, I'd like to think he created it.  Without this man, there would be no Reese's peanut butter cups, no chocolatey, peanut-buttery goodness would we have ever experienced.  So if he could create something so sweet and good as peanut butter, and came up with a bazillion ways to use the sweet potato, then I'll believe the innuendo and give him the props and proclaim him inventor of this too.

As a writer, I have to mention to you, a fun series of books written by Jill Connor Browne, which introduce to the world the Sweet Potato Queens, a bawdy, beautiful bunch of belles from Jackson, Mississippi and it heralds their escapades and thoughts on life, love, and everything in between.  Check out any one of these books for a fun read!  I am also going to post below my fabulous sweet potato pie recipe, which is one handed down over the years, and it will taste so good, your family will crown YOU  sweet potato queen (or king) 2011!
Are you ready now to make your own sweet potato pie?  If you are, then feel free to borrow my family's recipe.  And let me tell you, mine is the best!  You can rest assured, I will enter my kitchen on Wednesday afternoon, and by five p.m., there will be two very ravenous men stalking both my upper and lower ovens, waiting for me to open them stick a knife into the pies.  These two particular men know if the knife comes out of the pie clean, then that's the signal the pie is ready to come out.  I tell them to wait, that it needs to properly cool before it's eaten, but they usually can't, and they slice large pieces, and gobble it down, with a wide smile and a glass of milk.

Joey's Sweet Potato Pie

  • 2-3 sweet potatoes (nice large ones)
  • butter
  • sugar or granular splenda (if you want it sugar free)
  • eggs
  • cinnamon
  • nutmeg
  •  vanilla
  • can evaporated milk
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 packages Mrs. Smiths' or Marie Callender's frozen pie crusts (almost as good as homemade)
-peel sweet potatoes and then slice them 
-preheat oven to 400 degrees
-in pot, add sweet potatoes and add water to barely cover the top of the sliced sweet potatoes. Add pinch of salt when cooking the potatoes.  Cook until boiling, and then reduce heat.  Continue cooking sweet potatoes
until very soft.
-pour water out of pot, 
-mash sweet potatoes with 1/2 stick of butter
-add 2 eggs
-add 1/2 teaspoon of both cinnamon and nutmeg
-add t teaspoon of vanilla
-add 1 cup evaporated milk
-using hand mixer, mix the potatoes and ingredients until thin consistency.
-pour mixture into pie shells
-melt 1/2 stick butter in microwave and drizzle it over top of pie
-bake in oven for 400 degrees for 15 minutes then lower temperature down to 350 degrees and bake for 30-40 minutes until done.  
-you will know when the pie is done when you can stick a knife in the middle of it and it comes out of pie clean without mixture sticking to it.  
-add real whipped cream (or not)  and enjoy!

Maybe in honor of my pie being the best around, I'll go ahead and crown myself "Sweet Potato Pie Queen 2011 of the Household".  Yes, I actually have one of these crowns (won a few back about 20 yrs ago and 20 pounds ago), and I'm not afraid to wear it when baking my pie, as I feel it's a subtle reminder who rules the kitchen.  You feel your pie is the best?  Then don't be afraid to bake the pie and wear your crown.

Happy Thanksgiving Ya'll.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Who is the Ultimate Fictional Villain?

The ultimate guide to the ditigal universe and everything (<homage to Douglas Adams) is Wikipedia.  According to wiki,  this is a villain:

"A villain (also known in film and literature as the "bad guy", "black hat", or "heavy") is an "evil" character in a story, whether a historicalnarrative or, especially, a work of fiction. The villain usually is the antagonist, the character who tends to have a negative effect on other characters. A female villain is sometimes called a villainess (often to differentiate her from a male villain). Random House Unabridged Dictionary defines villain as "a cruelly malicious person who is involved in or devoted to wickedness or crime; scoundrel; or a character in a play, novel, or the like, who constitutes an important evil agency in the plot"."--Wikipedia

In your minds' eye, who is the most fabulously evil villain in all of fiction?  I know who mine is.  He's a guy I'm writing about now, in my novel.  Somebody so sensible, caring, and cool on the surface, in fact, the kind of man everybody would like to invite to their holiday party.  He'd be the guy who can always give the perfect toast, dresses impeccably, isn't too handsome, but is nonetheless very attractive, always has the right thing to say and brings the perfect hostess gift every time.  But beneath the G.Q. exterior, lies a sociopath, a man who can compartmentalize his emotions, justify every means to every end, and has the innate ability to use people, twist them ever so delicately, that they never know anything has happened to them until it's far too late.

I'm talking about the character I have created in Frank Deveraux.  And if I had to paint you a picture of what he'd be/look/act like, it would be a combination of these men:

Most Interesting Man in the World/Dos Equis guy^

^Goldfinger, from James Bond movie of same name.  Drinking a mint julep in Kentucky.

^Gordon Gekko from "Wall Street". 

Let me hear your ideas about the perfect villain.  It could be one already created, or it could be one you've dreamed up.  

As for my character, mean ol' Frank, he's a combination of what you get if Gordon Gekko, Goldfinger, and the Interesting Guy all climbed into some sort of futuristic d.n.a. scrambling machine.  

Sad thing is..there is one person alive who is eerily similar to Frank Deveraux.  But you needn't worry about him, dear readers, for he's locked up, and the feds threw away the key (hint).

Friday, November 18, 2011

Writing is HARD, BUTT Texting in Pakistan is HARDER!

^this hamster and his cute text message would be banned in Pakistan!

Yea, that's write!  The government of Pakistan has apparently generated a list of 1,500 words deemed "offensive" and these words appearing on their list, will be words which cannot be texted.  This action is supposed to help lower or eliminate the amount of text spam sent on cell phones in the country, but some of the words the government is banning are rather innocuous, such as one word in the header of this blog entry.  You get a bonus point if you can guess which word in the title is offensive!

Now I'm a pretty traditional person, and thought I was rather tame in my use of colorful metaphors and various quips, but this is ridiculous.

If you want to learn more, the BBC news has a great piece on this.

BBC News-Pakistan Bans 1,500 Words

Here's a list of some of the banned words:

  • Budweiser
  • butt
  • tampon
  • idiot
  • headlight
  • lavender
  • mango
  • athlete's foot
  • flatulence 
But my favorite banned word(s) from the list?  My absolute wild and crazy favorite?
Wu Tang!
*maybe the gov't.  over there saw the teeny, tiny parental advisory label in the corner.  

As for me, I'm thankful I live in the United States of America, and can text and write any kind of crazy drivel I want to!  Wu-tastic!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Q: What Happens When You Write and Cook at the Same Time?

A:  You have your husband and son become members of the clean plate club!  And oh yes, I served this dish with iced tea, the beverage of the south!

There truly is a reason we call some dishes, "comfort food", and it is because the food nourishes the body and soul, reminds us of happier times surrounded by those we love, and it is a taste of home, even if your hometown is thousands of miles away.

The recipe was a hit, so give it a try!  Both my husband and son loved it, and my crock pot o' fun, is now empty.  Not even a smidgen of leftovers for tomorrow was to be found.  Oh well, it's not as if I will starve by not having any leftovers in the refrigerator.  I've lost a few pounds this year, and am rather happy about that, and as my grandmother once said, "An instant on the lips, means a lifetime on the hips."

She was a great cook, and an even greater grandmother. She warmed my soul with her amazing southern cuisine, filled my heart with joy and life with love, and cooled scorching summer days with her famous sweet tea.

In fact, I'm missing her very much right now.  She is gone from our lives, but never from our hearts or soul, and is the woman who inspired the title and spirit of my blog.  I think you'd have liked this recipe tonight, grandma.

2011 Red Clay Writers Conference Recap!

On Saturday, November 12, 2011, writers from all over Georgia gathered at Kennesaw State University for the annual Red Clay Writers Conference.  Theme for the conference was "Back to the Art and Craft of Writing" and the theme resonated throughout the day during its' many panel discussions.

The event was kicked off with a keynote address by Wendy Wax, author of Ten Beach Road, during which she encouraged us to think of our writing, and of course, coined a new word (suckalicious), which must have something to do with the literary revision process, or so I now think.  Her humor and insight into the profession was a breath of fresh air, and it set the tone for the exciting events of the day.
^My handsome son, on his way to get a giant plate of meatballs!  Yum!

^my son gets an autograph from local writer, Ronald M. Waters, author of Honor, Country, and Family:  The Memoir of WWII P.O.W. Ronald Morgan Waters

^My son with Mr. Waters, who proudly introduced his book to attendees, in honor of his father
and the recent Veteran's Day holiday.

Attending with me on Saturday was my son, who truly enjoyed the event, and can say his experience there inspired him to excel at his latest writing endeavor, a fictional writing assignment for school on the topic of "Climbing Mt. Everest", securing him a solid "A"!  ( His teacher was so pleased with his short essay, she read it aloud to all of her classes today.)

Between lectures, there were tasty refreshments for those in attendance (my son gives a thumbs' up to the chef/writer who prepared the scrumptious meatballs! ), books for sale from a local bookstore, and area artisans showcased their crafts.  

I had the opportunity to meet other local writers, and get to know them, and believe supporting fellow writers in our community is absolutely necessary, as writing is a solitary endeavor.  We must reach out, network, and encourage area writers because exploring literary works of others expands our horizons and adds to our knowledge of this craft.  Sometimes we must leave our comfort zone, our solitary spot where we jot down our thoughts and dreams on paper, to reach out so we may grow as professionals.

I attended the fiction lectures, and while each discussion panel/lecture offered wonderful insight and inspiration, I happen to agree with my son, that the most entertaining discussion was "Writing Funny:  Humor in Fiction" with authors Ray Atkins (moderator), Man Martin, and John Schulz.  We met many amazing characters as each author read an excerpt from one of their books, and laughed out loud, shamelessly.  The three amazing southern novelists held our attention, and it felt as though the lecture hall was transformed from rows of sterile chairs with swivel desktops into a country cabin with a fireplace and rocking chairs, where we were simply guests in the home of three of our favorite relatives.  As a local writer Kathryn A. Patterson  wrote, "I will never be as funny as Ray Atkins, John Schulz, or Man Martin."  And you know something, I agree with Kathryn.

I have a feeling a few books from those amazing, hilarious southern gents will soon pop up on my holiday reading list.  

By the way, if you want to read more about the conference, check out Kathryn's blog!  

How to Write and Cook at the Same Time!

What is a busy writer to do  when dinnertime is looming, and you have hungry faces staring at you, but you'd rather use that hour of cooking time to instead crank out at least 500 more words on your latest w.i.p.?  Easy,  whip out your crock pot and create something tasty and easy, a dish that allows you to write and cook at the same time, with minimal effort.

How can it be that you actually manage to write and cook at the same time?  I'll give you a hint, it's two words, is gifted many times as a wedding present, and is sometimes overlooked in the kitchen, as it was probably not even something you registered for as a wedding present.

It's the crock pot!

Here's a wonderful recipe, with southern flair, perfect for the crock pot.  This dish is great for cooler autumn evenings, and gives you that homey, stick-to-your-ribs feeling we crave every once in a while.  In fact, I am actually cooking this very dish as I blog right now, but shhhh, don't tell my husband, as I want him to think I've actually put forth a decent bit of effort on tonight's dinner.  This recipe is just that easy, friends, so dust off that crock pot, assemble these easy ingredients, and get ready to wow your family (or just wow yourself, and it's great as leftovers) with this recipe, courtesy of my friend, Tasha.

Here are some photos of this recipe cooking away in my kitchen:

Easiest Chicken & Biscuits
  • 1 rotisserie chicken (pulled apart into very small sections)
  • 1 bag of frozen mixed vegetables
  • 1 can (10 3/4 ounces) condensed cream of mushroom soup
  • 1 can (10 3/4 ounces) condensed cream of chicken soup
  • 1 1/2 to 2 soup cans of water 
  • 2 teaspoons chicken bouillon granules
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 container (8 pack) refrigerated buttermilk biscuits
Combine the small sections of rotisserie chicken, soups, water, bouillon, vegetables, and pepper in crock pot.  

Cut biscuits into quarters, and gently stir them into the mixture.  Cover crock pot.  Cook on low for 3-5 hrs, stirring occasionally, or until done.

Voila!  You have southern comfort food on the fly!

Later tonight, when I come back to write a recap on the writing conference I attended this weekend, I will include photos of this delish dish for you to savor.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Exciting Event! Red Clay Writers' Conference Today

Getting ready to attend the 11th annual Georgia Writers Association Red Clay Writers' Conference, to be held from 11:30 until 6 :00 p.m. at Kennesaw State University!  Excited to meet other area writers and listen to some amazing lectures.

I will update the blog with pictures and information from the Conference.  Today is all about elevating our craft, and I'm excited to be attending.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Pen Name Generator!

Just for fun, if you have always wanted a pen name, but felt too lazy or exhausted to conjure a name out of the blue, check this out!

Pen Name Generator

Although I've been up writing my novel, I still think I could come up with a better pen name than  "Wrightless Smalls".

The Cryptic Cookie: A Wacky, Writing Exercise!

Can you think of a better way to get wheels turnin' in the cabeza than to reflect upon words of wisdom from the humble fortune cookie?  I should think not.

Because sushi is my addiction (I eat it once a week), the  people at the restaurant around the corner, are extremely nice to me. I come in, get a big, cushy booth all to myself, and pull out my legal pad and pen, then write and eat. Mmm-m!  Sushi and iced tea!  The lunch special of champions (before three p.m., monday through friday).  It's fun to mix work with fun or food,  especially food, if the food is sushi!  Because I'm such a frequent flyer at the restaurant,  I now receive a few perks on each visit, with the best being at the end of each weekly roll-a-palooza, as the tab is being presented to me, the honor of  two fortune cookies instead of one.  Score!

The wait staff are really great people, and at some point during my visit, one or two  of them will stop and ask about the progression of my novel.  "When is it going to be finished?  How many chapters are left?  Can I be a character?  Does anybody eat sushi in your book?"  Yes, these and other assorted questions I have been asked during my weekly roll-a-palooza.  

The wonderful folks there also watch me carefully open the cookies, their eyes wide, as they watch to see if I am pleased with the message within.  After reading the tiny strip, sometimes I giggle to myself, not quite unlike the maniacal laughter of Plankton ("I am going to rule the world!").

But there must be more to the cryptic cookie ritual, to help my evolution as a writer.  So, I'm going to switch it up a bit, and instead of performing the ritual there, I shall crush the spirits of my friends at the sushi restaurant, and bring the cookies home, where I will break them open upon my trusty legal pad beside the computer.  Yes, in the photo, that is a coffee stain, not a tea stain on the fabric, courtesy of a late night urge to change plot.

We can share the cryptic cookie experience together, dear readers, if you would like, so after I type my musings here, feel free to interpret the cookie message as it relates to your writing, characters in your book, work, life, last trip to the bookstore, or walk with your dog.      

Without further adieu, I shall crack open the cookie and reveal this weeks' dose of confectionary cosmic consciousness!   After which, a few moments of silence shall pass, and I will begin typing my interpretation of the cryptic cookie message.

Ok, wrapper is opening, the cookie is in my hands and smells of a nice vanilla-ish scent,  and is rather golden-brown in color.  My hands, with what dexterity is available, are now carefully pulling out this weeks' message.

Can ya'll cue a drumroll, please?

And the message is..."Trust others, but still keep your eyes open."

Um...this is awkward. Okay,  it's not the greatest message ever, and I seriously doubt it was crafted by either Confucius or the Buddah, but it's a good starting point for a weekly creativity exercise.

Now I shall attempt the introspective part of the message and interpretation with regard to my novel I'm writing.  Since in my book, there is quite alot of deceit, I can imagine several characters who trust, but should keep their eyes open.  Could the message be intended for Frank Deveraux or for Lee Stanton?

Hmm.. Let's for a few minutes consider Frank Deveraux, a major character.   However, this message could be intended for a character in my book, such as Frank Deveraux, the C.E.O. of a ficticious company (can't tell you what KIND of company, you will have to read my book), with plans to expand his business empire to South and Central America, and eventually the world.  He is a confidant chap, flamboyant, charming,  sports a devil-may-care attitude and exudes the West Palm Beach lifestyle . But here's the thing about Frank.. beneath his likeable exterior, lies a twisted personality, a bit of sociopathy, and it is such qualities which make him the perfect southern villian.  Just try to imagine Bernie Madoff , wearing a seersucker suit drinking sweet tea on the front porch of Tara,  reading the cookie message with a wicked smile, and you get the picture. He knows there are people who have discovered his dark secret and fears his empire will crumble, like the darn cookie, if the information gets out.

Or could the message be instead for Lee Stanton, another major character, and wife of the national sales director recently hired by Frank Deverauxs' company?  She sees her life changing before her eyes, her husband morphing into a man she doesn't know.  Should she trust him or should she trust the uneasy feeling she felt one evening sitting on the back deck gazing at the stars?  All on the surface seems right about her world, but yet deep within, there is an uneasiness.  Should she feel concern her husband hasn't returned her text?  Could this cookie message be for Lee?

I think the cryptic cookie exercise is great for getting the creativity flowing again, but it is also great for brainstorming if you are feeling the urge to write but wonder what exactly to write?  The next time you open a fortune cookie, try to use the message to write a paragraph.  Think of the message, and to possibly whom the message would fit for.  If we use todays' cryptic cookie message, then it is not a stretch to imagine the message could be applicable to a spy or a scientist working on a secret project.

If you get a minute, write your interpretation of the cookie message.  How does the message relate to the novel you are writing and to the characters?  What kind of book could you write just using the cookie message?  A thriller?  A romance?

If the cookie exercise doesn't get it for you, here's a wonderful link to an article I found especially helpful in overcoming the dreaded writers' block.

Overcoming Writers' Block