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Monday, July 30 2012

Organic soft serve ice cream with olive oil and sea salt? Did I read the menu right? As soon as my sister saw the ice cream on the dessert list, she suggested I try it, and I just as quick said, "Heck, no." But then I found myself reading the description over and over. The restaurant promised it would taste like caramel. They wouldn't put it on the menu if it didn't taste good, right?

In case you're wondering, ice cream is considered organic if the ingredients, including the milk, sugar, and vanilla are all organic. For milk to be certified organic, the cows must be given only organic feed and not treated with synthetic hormones or certain medicines. It sounds like there are a lot of steps to making sure the ice cream is organic.


But back to the olive oil and sea salt ice cream. I ended up trying it.

In a word, delicious. The dish was essentially the restaurant's homemade vanilla soft serve sprinkled with sea salt with olive oil drizzled on top. The olive oil was delicate and mild, definitely a higher quality than what I normally buy at the store. The sea salt added a pop every time I bit one of those little grains. Did it taste like caramel? Not really, but that's okay. It was still yummy and a fun dessert to try. 

Posted by: Staci McLaughlin AT 11:01 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, July 23 2012

After blogging last week about all the healthy foods Zennia cooks that Dana is grossed out by, I got to thinking about how maybe I should try some. I mean, it wouldn't kill me to eat healthier, right? I'd recently read an article about a wheat grass product available at Whole Foods and had thought in passing that I should try it some time. I decided that this weekend was that time.


I drove to the nearest Whole Foods (we won't talk about how much gas that wasted) and wandered the aisles. It's been ages since I've been to this store, so I had no idea where to find anything, but I didn't want to stop every person and say, "I'm looking for the Amazing Grass." Someone was bound to think I was trying to score some pot and call the cops.


I eventually located the wheat grass section, but holy smokes, wheat grass is expensive. Even if I didn't like it, I'd still feel obligated to use up the entire container because of the cost. Thank goodness they sell single serving packets. I selected the three-flavored one with barley grass, wheat grass, and alfalfa, and another packet that supposedly tastes like an orange dreamsicle.


When I got home, I decided to start with the three-flavored one. I tore open the pack, took a big whiff, and smelled.dried grass. I don't know why I was expecting anything different. I shook the green bits into a glass, added a cup of water, and stirred. Then it was time to take a sip.


Not bad. Seriously. It tasted much like a really strong cup of green tea. The only problem I had was that the grass doesn't really dissolve, so I kept getting clumps stuck in my throat. I can't stand pulp in my orange juice either, so I had a hard time getting past that. I definitely should have stirred the mix better.


Afterward, I didn't feel any worse for wear, but I also didn't feel any healthier. My husband pointed out that I probably needed to drink the wheat grass on a regular basis to see any effects, but that's just crazy talk in my opinion. I mean, sure, it might take years of eating double cheeseburgers before I actually have a heart attack, but this health food is supposed to work after one serving. Sheesh, everyone knows that.


Still, I'm glad I tried it. At the very least, I'll know exactly what I'm writing about if I include any more wheat grass scenes in my books. But I think I'll save that orange dreamsicle packet for another day.


Posted by: Staci McLaughlin AT 10:27 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, July 16 2012

One of the fun yet challenging parts about writing a Blossom Valley mystery is finding healthy yet unique or unappetizing foods for Zennia to cook. I try to find foods that I think people will initially wrinkle their noses at but may eventually consider trying after Zennia points out the health benefits. This is not always easy. For one thing, the mere mention of broccoli sends some people running in terror, while plenty of others love the stuff, myself included. Almost every food has fans and haters, so I try to pick a food that I think the majority of people won't like.


As I've searched online and flipped through various magazines, I've also discovered that the more exposure I have to healthy foods, the less gross they seem. Take quinoa. The first time I heard that word, I had no idea what it was (or how to say it), but I immediately decided it wasn't something I would like. Since that time, I've tried quinoa in salads and other dishes, and it's a perfectly fine food. I don't do cartwheels when I see it listed as an ingredient, but I also don't refuse to eat it.


Another issue is that when I find what I consider to be an even wackier food, ones I'd previously thought were odd now seem completely normal. When I was writing the first book, I focused a lot on tofu. It's very good for you, yet many people don't eat it, and still others have no idea how to cook it. It seemed like a great food for Zennia to promote.

Then I found out about natto, which is fermented soy beans chock full of healthy probiotics and protein. Issues that people need to overcome when eating it are that it can smell really strong and the texture is somewhat slimy. It's definitely an acquired taste and makes tofu seem downright pedestrian.


Now, as I'm writing the third book, I'm struggling to find other super healthy foods that might make people recoil at their mere mention. If you can think of any, feel free to add a comment. I'm always looking for a good food to disgust people with.

Posted by: Staci McLaughlin AT 09:45 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, July 09 2012

My editor sent me the copy edits for my second manuscript, and I've spent the last week reviewing the changes. It's a great way to see where weaknesses lie (or should that be lay?) in my writing.


Apparently, I still have a fear of hyphens, because I didn't use nearly enough in my draft. The copy editor added dozens of them. I remember that the copy editor for my first book added hyphens on almost every page, and I swear I tried to pay attention to where I needed to add hyphens in this latest book, but I guess I have a blind spot in that regard.


I also have no idea when to use "further" and when to use "farther." In an effort to educate myself, I consulted Merriam Webster, but the first definition for further is farther. That's not a lot of help. I then checked the Grammar Girl's web site, and she had a handy tip. Use farther when referring to physical distances, and use further when speaking figuratively. I'd like to think I'll remember that rule forever, but I suspect I'll forget it as this copy edit gets further and further in the past.


Another spot where I need to brush up on my grammar skills is with the word, "only," one of the most frequently misplaced modifiers according to Grammar Girl. Based on the number of times the editor moved the word to its rightful place, I just throw "only" into a sentence willy-nilly without any thought to the correct location. I placed it in the right spot a few times, but I suspect that was mostly luck.


Looking through these changes reminds me that it's been many, many years since I sat through a grammar class. I would definitely benefit from taking a refresher course. Then again, I like to tell myself I'm giving the copy editor something to do. You know, in case she didn't have enough to do already. That's the only reason I'm not taking that grammar class. Yeah, right.

Posted by: Staci McLaughlin AT 10:48 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Tuesday, July 03 2012

I haven't been to Mendocino in years, but a few scenes in my third book take place there. I decided a road trip was in order. I needed to make sure my descriptions were accurate, the ambience was right, and Dana could really do all the things I'd outlined in the book.


Over the weekend, I loaded the kids and the grandparents in the car, and we headed off for Mendocino. Several hours and many twisting turns later, we arrived at our destination. Looking around, I realized that my descriptions were way off.  First off, Mendocino has exactly zero fast food restaurants. In a world where there seems to be a fast food joint at every freeway off-ramp, I found the lack of chains refreshing, but that also meant Dana would need to find a new place to stop for breakfast. Fortunately, Mendocino has several coffee houses that can serve the same purpose.


Next in the book, Dana visits the home of the murder victim, but again, my imagination created a setting that doesn't exist. Where I had manicured lawns and trimmed hedges, the residents of Mendocino have beautiful flowering bushes that flow over the fences and fill the yard with color.

For the town itself, I was picturing parking lots and cement. In reality, it's meadows and cliffs.

In the end, we only spent a few hours in Mendocino, but the trip was well worth it. I was able to answer all my questions about neighborhoods, speed limits, and eateries. More importantly, I got a good sense of Mendocino's artistic leanings, as well as the natural beauty of the place. Though those scenes will represent only a small portion of the book, they'll now be more authentic and believable for anyone familiar with the area. I'd love to return some time to visit the shops and actually eat in some of the restaurants. I could claim I was doing more research, but really, I'd be there for pure enjoyment.

Posted by: Staci McLaughlin AT 03:28 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email