Cooking With Aching Muscles

I’ve been working hard to give one of the bedrooms in our house a makeover. The house is nearly a hundred and fifty years old, and nothing is truly level or plumb or straight. You can’t just nail in a panel or board, everything has to be custom fitted. Makes a lot more work. It also guarantees muscles that ache at the end of the day. Don’t get me wrong, I love the fact that it’s an old house, even though it means work. I find it fascinating to see what materials were used. They made-do with whatever they had. Makes me wonder what they had to eat at the end of the day. Without a nearby grocery, I assume they made do with whatever they had on hand, but even then, no microwave or quick solution to the question of what to eat? Open a can of beans? Only if they had canned food. Thaw something from the freezer? Only in the winter, I suppose, and only after a good fire was blazing. I’ll bet pancakes and a few slices of bacon came into play on occasion.  An omelet might do well. In my case, I’ve been fortunate to have a meal cooked by Lesley, but I still think about those on their own at the end of a long, hard day, even my series protagonist, Bobby Navarro. He likes to cook, but a long day on a motorcycle can produce it’s own set of tired, aching muscles. I think soup, fortified with beef jerky would be a good bet for Bobby. Now, what about others? What works for a writer who has written past a reasonable hour and forgot to take anything out of the freezer?


I’ve been learning how to pickle vegetables recently. Turns out, it’s fun and it’s as easy as they say. I’m especially liking pickled red onions. I’ve long enjoyed oil and vinegar salad dressings, but except for noting such variations as using balsamic versus red wine vinegars, and discovering how delightful rice wine vinegar can be, I haven’t given vinegars much thought. Pickling an extra red onion, like using leftovers to make soups or salads, turns out to be a great way to get more out of the food supply. I like to use a heavy, dark honey for the sweet element of the pickling liquid. It gives the pickled veggies a great depth of flavor.

Somehow, making pickled vegetables puts me in touch with ageless food practices that were everyday routines on self-sufficient and pioneer farms. It’s even better than watching how off-the-grid Alaskans and Appalachian people approach life on TV. I like the idea of self-sufficiency. In a simple way, it puts things in perspective. I think that is part of what I love about cooking.

My mother taught me some basics of cooking when I was growing up, and I’ve loved cooking all my life. Bobby Navarro, the protagonist in the mystery series I’m writing started cooking when he was a kid in a dysfunctional family as a means of picking up the pieces his parents weren’t handling well. In the first book of the series, Murder on Route 66, Bobby learns to handle sourdough cooking on a cattle ranch in New Mexico. He takes the skill with him, along with sourdough starter. Obviously, he gets something out of  it. I enjoy it when a protagonist in a good book likes to cook. It’s not something you find all the time, but for me, it connects the story with a sense of reality.

Salad with pickled red onions and pickled cabbage

Salad with pickled red onions and pickled cabbage

Old friends bring new writing insights

I recently came into contact with some friends I hung out with in high school, but haven’t stayed in touch with since then. It’s been great. An unexpected and exciting adventure. To me, as a writer, it’s fascinating to learn what the other three have done all these years. I still remember them as they looked and were back then, so it’s like seeing our life stories play out with all the surprises revealed that we never dreamed might happen back then. I could never have predicted much of what my life has been like, let alone the others.

And, this morning I read a great piece in the paper written by a young woman about how people have asked her what she wants to be when she grows up or what she wants to major in when she gets to college. Like many of us at that age, she just wishes she knew the answers. Well, my friends and I didn’t have the answers then either, but our lives have played out pretty well anyway. I think the important ingredient was the underlying values and strengthening experiences we acquired without even realizing it. Those were the essential determinants in the stories that have played out as they have, even though they were only vague shadows in the backgrounds of our consciousness at the time.

Again, as a writer, I find it fascinating to reconcile those vague shadows with the lives that evolved. I also think the characters in the books I love best are presented to us readers with those shadow indications of what underlies our heroes personalities, and makes them real and interesting. Also, capturing those shadows in our own writing is an essential challenge to us writers.

Looking ahead

The weather continues to warm up here in Florida, families are visiting from the North, and winter visitors (snowbirds) are packing up and leaving the neighborhood. For myself, I find I’m giving more and more thoughts to the projects awaiting me once we make the semi-annual trek to upstate New York, as I mentioned in my last post. I’m also giving attention to getting as well-organized as I can so I can get everything done, especially the writing I have in mind. I’m used to thinking of Fall as a busy time of seasonal transition, getting wood cut and stacked, lining up snow tires, etc., and Spring as a (sometimes dreaded) time of house cleaning, but I guess any seasonal change offers an opportunity to get your stuff together and position yourself to do well in the anticipated months ahead of you. Why doesn’t that work out better in real time?

As far as my writing is concerned, I’m thinking of adding some Okeechobee time for my protagonist in my next novel. I had decided to set it in the Florida Keys, but have received encouragement to include this area, Okeechobee, as well. Now, I have to figure out how much. With some improvements in weather and opportunity, I’ve gotten out on my own motorcycle more lately and keep feeling some of the things that would resonate with Bobby Navarro—openness of the landscape, fewer people, abundant wildlife. These are things that Bobby found so important to his being in the Southwest in both Murder on Route 66 and my latest publication, Murder on the Mother Road. It’s funny how you learn about your character as you write. Meanwhile, I still want to enjoy what we have happening here in rural Florida.

Enjoying Rural Florida

Enjoying Rural Florida


Labor Day Parades


Yesterday morning, about a dozen farm tractors, some new, most vintage, drove past our home in upstate New York. I thought they might be gathering for a parade, but it didn’t turn out that way. I tried to get photos as they drove by, but I was too slow. So, no photos. . ..

Linn, an old tractor no longer manufactured, was built here, and was used not only on farms, but in the logging industry in the Adirondacks. The people who built the Linn helped lift the area out of the horse and buggy era, and that’s what Labor Day celebrates. Linn tractors were impressive machines, with a combination of wheels in the front and tracks for the rear.

I think parades are one of the things that typify village life. They are likely to include a high school band or two, maybe an honor guard of American Legionnaires carrying the national flag, and possibly a few floats as well. Of course, there will be a line of fire trucks, and participants will toss candy to the kids lining the sidewalks.

In a small city in Connecticut, a bunch of people decided to do their own parade when the official one was cancelled. They got out on bicycles, and carried boom boxes (portable radio/tape players) on their shoulders. It went over so well, it became an annual tradition. For our village, I think a string of farm tractors is ideal.

Would my series protagonist, Bobby Navarro, be likely to participate in a parade? I doubt it. I don’t think I’ve ever read a murder mystery in which the protagonist takes part in a parade. But, maybe if there were fifty other Harley riders in it, he might. What do you think?