Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Gluten Free Beer-Battered Chicken

I'm a big fan of the fried chicken strip as summer finger food, but when you're eating gluten free, it sort of puts a damper on your fried chicken consumption. However, by blending GF flour and a GF beer (thanks to my friend Paula for pointing me in that direction), I've managed to come up with the most amazing beer-battered fried chicken ever.

GF Beer Battered Fried Chicken

2 lbs chicken breasts, cut into tenders, nuggets, or whatevers
2 1/2 Cups gluten free multi-purpose flour (I used King Arthur brand)
2 Tbs your favorite seasoning mix
1/2 tsp salt
1 bottle Redbridge GF beer
Canola oil for frying

Put the baking mix in a bowl, and whisk in the salt and the seasoning mix. My personal preference is Penzey's Bicentennial Rub, because (a) it's amazing and peppery and (b) I *always* have it on hand. Once your dry stuff is mixed together, slowly pour the beer into the flour mix.

It helps if you let the beer get a little flat first, because otherwise you have fizzy batter. I used Redbridge, which I really like. It's made by the Anheuser-Busch folks, and I can pick it up at Kroger so there are no special shopping runs involved. It's made from sorghum, and even though I generally don't like the taste of beer, this actually has a pretty good flavor and no aftertaste.


Blend the beer and flour mix until it's good and thick. Coat your chicken chunks in the batter, drop into your heated oil, and fry until golden.

Dig in, and wait for your family to be impressed as hell that they're eating something that's gluten free.

Friday, May 27, 2011

What the Hell is "That Falconer Woman"?

So a number of people have asked me about the novel I'm working on, and I thought I'd plop together a blog post explaining a bit about what it is and how it's progressing. It actually began last year on November 1, when I got a wild red hair up my ass and decided to participate in NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, the goal of which is to write a 50,000 word novel in exactly thirty days. Now, I've never been able to tell a story in less than about 75k, so I knew that whatever I created during NaNoWriMo would only be the beginnings of whatever story I decided to tell.

I did it, though -- I wrote 55,000 words in 30 days. Some days I wrote a lot, some days I wrote a little, and a couple of days I said the hell with it and wrote nothing at all, but come midnight on November 30, my tally was past the requisite 50k. You don't win anything other than bragging rights and the knowledge that you sat your ass in a chair long enough to write fifty thousand words, which is more than a lot of prospective authors write in a lifetime. And that's what I needed, was the Ass In Chair time.

The story itself began -- and I did whip up an outline the last week of October, which is within the rules -- as a Regency-era romance, but quickly evolved into a murder mystery as soon as a dead footman turned up in the garden. I couldn't help it, he was just THERE, with his head bashed in, and someone had to take the blame for it, despite the fact that lust and romance were going on at the same time.

Character names have changed a few times, but during NaNo what I worked on was this:

Cordelia Falconer is a widow returning to England after a fifteen-year-absence for her younger sister Ophelia's wedding. Ophelia is to marry Henry Brompton, the only son of a landholding family. Henry's mother is less than thrilled about the match, especially since Ophelia's family has a bad reputation - Cordelia left England under scandalous circumstances, and her brothers are known gamblers and rakes. Invited to a house party to announce Henry and Ophelia's engagement, Cordelia finds herself drawn to the mysterious Rhys Aubrey, who reveals little about himself beyond his desire for Cordelia.

During the engagement ball, a footman is found murdered - and scandal threatens to erupt when Henry learns that Ophelia was the last one to see the dead man alive. Cordelia and her teenage daughter, Lydia, are certain Ophelia couldn't have committed the crime, but Ophelia refuses to tell anyone what she may have seen. Cordelia and Aubrey work together to solve the mystery, hoping to exonerate Ophelia before the magistrate can arrest her for murder and ruin them all.

So, that's the gist of it, and the first draft is what I completed in November. What I'm currently working on is fleshing out details, making supporting characters have more depth (and eliminating a completely unnecessary parental figure), doing research on the Regency era, and so forth. Oh, and Cordie and Rhys Aubrey are gettin' busy in the billiard room. And a stable at an inn. And perhaps the conservatory, if all goes well.

Other characters of importance include Cordie and Ophelia's brothers, Tybalt and Mercutio (their father was a devotee of the Bard), Brompton's cousin Captain Thomas Heyward, Reverend Augustus Littleberry - who had hoped to marry Cordelia long before she ran off with that footman fifteen years ago, cadaverous magistrate Providence Adkyns, and the perfectly awful Mrs. Brompton.

When I write a character, I have to have an idea in my head of what the person looks like - even if it's just a general sort of appearance. I've got a file of images of what I imagine each of these individuals looks like, and it helps me give them thoughts and ideas and words and personalities of their own. For example, Cordelia has always looked like Kate Winslet, from the moment I first stuffed her into stays and a Spencer jacket. Rhys Aubrey looks like Rufus Sewell, with his high cheekbones, brilliant eyes and a Yorkshire accent.

I imagine Henry Brompton and Thomas Heyward as Henry Cavill and Tom Hardy (odd coincidence about the names here, but that's the way it turned out). Ophelia looks like Romola Garai, and Lydia like a redheaded Haylee Steinfeld.

Tybalt and Mercutio are especially easy -- the delicious Damian Lewis and his doppelganger Stephen Campbell Moore, without a doubt. Round that out with Ray McKinnon as Providence Adkyns, Helen Mirren as Mrs. Brompton, and Philip Seymour Hoffman as Rev. Littleberry, and it's a collection of characters to be reckoned with indeed.

So, what's the current status of That Falconer Woman? Well, I'm on round two, as I mentioned, and it's progressing nicely. After letting it sit and percolate for a few months, I've done some significant revisions, and I'm hoping to have it finished by the end of summer. That way, I'll be ready to start shopping it around to agents and publishers in the fall.

Besides, I've got to get my schedule cleared before NaNo 2011 begins!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Gluten Free Cheezy Crackers

I haven't had a Cheez-It (TM) in four freakin' years. Lest you think that's no big deal, try going four years without your favorite snack cracker. You'll find yourself at parties, sobbing at the canape table, because you want a handful of those damn Cheez-Its so badly... and yet you know if you eat them - hell, if you eat just ONE - you're going to end up in a fetal position on the floor, with abdominal cramping and vomiting all over those cute new shoes you just got at Kohl's. Cheez-Its, for someone who is gluten intolerant, are like Kryptonite. That which we love can kill us make us very very ill.

Until now.

I found a recipe over at Gluten Free in the City, adapted it a little,  and within about half an hour, I was sighing over a handful of snack crackers like a nine-year-old girl sighs over a Justin Bieber song.

First, here's Britt's original recipe for Cheez Bits.

I changed things up a bit, because I don't really love the taste of millet flour, and so I never have any on hand. Also, I love me some sharp cheddar, so I used that. The sharper, the better. Oh, and I added a smidge of garlic salt, just because you can never go wrong with garlicky goodness.

Gluten Free Cheezy Crackers:

1/2 C gluten free baking mix (I used the King Arthur brand)
1/4 C brown rice flour
1/4 C tapioca flour
1/4 tsp xanthan gum
1/2 tsp Kosher salt
1/4 tsp garlic salt
12 oz grated sharp cheddar
1/2 stick cold unsalted butter, diced
3 Tbs cold water

Preheat your oven to 350, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Throw all your flours, the xanthan gum, the Kosher salt and the garlic salt into the bowl of your food processor. If you don't have a food processor, go get one. Mine is a zillion years old, was my mom's a long time ago, and kicks total ass. Pulse the food processor a few times to mix up your flours.

 Add the grated cheese and the butter chunks. Pulse until everything is mixed together and kind of grainy looking. Add the water, 1 tablespoon at a time, and blend until you've got a big ball of dough. Cover the ball in plastic wrap, and chill in the fridge for half an hour.

Roll out your dough until it's about 1/4" thick - you might want to split your dough in half if you work slowly, and keep the part you're not using in the fridge.

Use a pizza cutter to cut the flattened dough into strips, and then go the other way to make squares. I used a bamboo skewer to make a dimple in the middle of mine, just because it looked cute and didn't take very long. Use a spatula to slide your dough squares onto the baking sheet. If you use all the dough, you'll get about 13 dozen 1" square crackers.

Bake at 350 for about 15 minutes, or until the crackers crisp up on the edges. When they come out of the oven, sprinkle lightly with some more Kosher salt and allow them to cool completely.

Then, eat them, and swoon like you mean it, because these are effin' amazing.

In theory, you probably shouldn't eat them all in one sitting, so store them in an airtight container in your pantry. Label them "liver and onion cookies" so the rest of your family will stay the hell away from them.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Monday Mancandy: Space Cowboys

A brief note: Blogger has been doing really strange things lately, and I've discovered than when I go to insert images into a post, the entire thing locks up. This leads to a less than stellar blogging experience, so until it gets resolved on Blogger's end, I'll simply link Monday Mancandy posts to images elsewhere.

Ok, so two weeks ago, I was feeling a bit patriotic, and we looked at the Navy Seals for Monday Mancandy. This week, I'm posting on the heels of multiple episodes of Firefly, so today's Monday Mancandy pays homage to the archetype of the Space Cowboy. Because the Space Cowboy appears in many different incarnations, let's look at a few prime specimens of the species.

Han Solo, one could argue, is the most obvious (1977) space cowboys (or space pirate, depending on your perspective) to grace the film screen. He's cocky, he's arrogant, and he shoots first and asks questions later. Not only that, he's smooth enough that he's part of one of the best exchanges in movie history:

Leia: I love you.
Han: I know.

The species evolved further just a year after Han Solo's debut, with the television series Battlestar Galactica. Dirk Benedict was Lt. Starbuck, and despite his military rank, you knew he was a space cowboy because he wore a leather jacket and smoked a cigar. He was also quite a hit with the Laydeez. Like Han Solo, he's a bit of a renegade, and managed to crash a Viper four different times, always emerging unscathed.

Random fun fact: Starbuck was named for a character in Moby Dick.

Now, lest you think that the space cowboy didn't emerge until the 1970s, it's important to note that when Gene Roddenberry first pitched Star Trek to network bosses, he described it as a "Wagon Train to the stars." In fact, every incarnation of Star Trek has featured at least one cowboy-themed episode - my personal favorite? "A Fistful of Datas" on ST:TNG.

If you look at the sci-fi television genre from a perspective of "westerns in space", then hands-down, there's nothing that tops Firefly. Captain Malcolm Reynolds is the leader of a ragtag band of big damn heroes in the years following the battle of Serenity Valley, out there on the raggedy edge. The further you go into the black, the more lawless the planets and their inhabitants become. Most episodes of Firefly follow a frontier theme, and the characters could just as easily be in Dodge City, rather than some dumpy rock out near Reaver territory.

Like Han Solo, Mal gets some great lines, including,"I swear by my pretty floral bonnet, if your hand touches metal, I will end you."

Random fun note: That line is from the episode "Our Mrs. Reynolds," featuring the always-magnificent Christina Hendicks as Saffron the con-artist.

So, now that we've analyzed a few space cowboys, let's look at:

Why They're Hawt: The space cowboy may not be classically beautiful, but tends to be ruggedly handsome. You can take a man with a face like a bucket of nails and dress him up in a leather coat, high boots, and a pair of six-shooters, and I guarantee he's going to look a whole lot better. Beyond the physical appearance of the space cowboy, though, they're appealing because they're rebels. They're renegades, and they don't live by the rules so much as they follow a personal code. Han Solo is a thief, but he's an honest thief. Mal might be smuggling stuff, but he does it because he wants to make a better life for his crew.

Bonus Hawt Points: They fly spaceships. Usually not bright and shiny ones, but utilitarian ones that come in handy for transporting a load of cows out to Jiangyin, or making the Kessel run in less than twelve parsecs.

Downsides: They're not home much, and they tend to get beat up a lot, tossed in jail, and occasionally shot at.

Total Mancandy Percentage: 94%

* The Total Mancandy Percentage of selected subjects is chosen by a highly scientific formula, as follows:

   (Why He's Hawt) + (Bonus Hawt Points) 
- (Downsides) 
÷(Would I Kick Him Out of Bed if He Talked)
 =Mancandy Quotient

So, who's your favorite space cowboy?

By the way, Monday Mancandy is going to become an every-other-week sort of feature now, so watch for the next installment in two weeks!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Garden Prep

So yesterday I spent the entire day outside tilling the garden. This year I've expanded it, in the interests of going from a decorative garden than had some food growing in it to a utilitarian and productive space where the primary purpose is food production. The main planting space is 20 x 25 feet, with a couple of extra areas tacked on for good measure. Tomatoes will stay over by the sunroom, on the south wall, because they really like it there.

Anyway, do you know what two hours of tilling sod does to you? It makes you sunburned and muddy, you begin to smell weird, and you get mud on the INSIDE of your sports bra. You also end up with blisters on top of your blisters, despite those Mac Tools work gloves you love so much.

You also end up feeling like you've accomplished a hell of a lot.

Right now - despite the fact that I feel like I've been run over by a car -- I've sent Mr. Wicked off to buy me a truck load of ComTill, I've got a sack of bloodmeal to blend in, and shortly I'll be RE-tilling the whole thing so that I can get my plants in place this week.

And in a previous post, I mentioned that I plan my garden in advance each year. No, I'm not obsessive about this or anything, why do you ask?

Friday, May 20, 2011

You Can't Go Home Again

Here's my latest column over at An Army of Ermas, in which we look at all the wonderful things you can find in New Jersey if you're NOT Tony Soprano or Bruce Springsteen but a ten-year-old girl in the 1970s: You Can't Go Home Again

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Bad Austen Coming in November!

Darcy did WHAT?
Adams Media has just released their Fall 2011 Frontlist catalog, and what did I spy on page 40 (41 of the pdf) but the luscious and dignified cover artwork of

::::drumroll please::::

Bad Austen: The Worst Stories Jane Never Wrote
Edited by Peter Archer and Jennifer Lawler

It should ship in October, and let me tell you, Jane would be horrified appalled all astonishment at what we've done.