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Cows and Plot Points and Art Imitating Life

Cows and Plot Points and Art Imitating Life

Cows and plot points appear to have very little in common. In See Jane Run!, however, cows and plot points intersect often, starting on page one. Many, though not all, of those intersections are examples of art imitating life. The cow in the photo above is one such case.

The cow’s name was Snippy. The old timer milking the cow was named Walter Stuart. Walter’s farm was right behind the school where I taught in the little town where Hiram and I lived. (I am not making this up.) We and half the town bought fresh milk from Walter for 50¢ a gallon.•

Walter was inordinately proud of Snippy and for good reason. Her milk was so rich that every gallon yielded a full quart of cream. Thick, delicious cream that could be whipped into butter or used in cooking.

One day, Walter called my husband and asked him to bring over our Kodak to take a picture of his cow. Hiram took several shots and got ready to leave. Walter stopped him and said, “But you got to take a picture of Snippy’s business end.”**

A revised version of this story made its way into See Jane Run! and is an example of art imitating life. In this short excerpt, Jane is the narrator, Merle is Walter, and Snippy is Snippy:

I scooted a few steps to my left to capture Merle and his girl in the best light. I snapped a couple shots and promised to bring him the pictures once the film was developed.

“But we ain’t took the good pictures yet.” He turned Snippy until her head faced the barn door and her backside faced me. Then he pointed at her udder, so full and heavy her teats nearly dragged on the ground. “Now you just squat down and get some Kodaks of her business end. Make it quick. I want to show you my garden and have enough time to eat before she needs milking.”

I framed Snippy’s . . . ahem . . . business end in the view finder and took several shots.

The photographs Jane takes that day play a crucial part in the unfolding of the mystery and its solution. In other words, the intersection of cows and plot points can happen, at least in See Jane Run!

If this excerpt has piqued your interest, remember that See Jane Run! will be released by Midwestern Books on June 7, 2022 and will soon be available for preorder on Amazon in electronic and print formats. Until then,

*Walter also sold eggs for 24¢ a dozen. His milk and egg prices were dirt cheap then and more so now. No one worried about selling and consuming raw milk. It was a way of life.

**For those of you who aren’t sure what constitutes the business end of a cow, study the above photo.


Ham and Potato Soup in the Instant Pot

Ham and Potato Soup in the Instant Pot

ham and potato soup with the instant pot

Ham and potato soup has been a favorite of ours for decades. When we lived in South Dakota, I made it with fresh milk that an old farmer sold for fifty cents a gallon.* We skimmed almost a quart of cream off every gallon and added some of that to the soup, too. My love of potato soup continues too this day, but making a dairy-free version to rival what I was used to before being diagnosed with a dairy allergy has been a struggle.

Until now.

With the addition of our Instant Pot and my daughter’s knack for using cashews to make foods creamy, the ham and potato soup I served our family last night was a winner. We were so hungry before supper, I forgot to photograph the full pot. As you can see, there wasn’t much left! Also, I prepared the ham hocks in the Instant Pot the day before, a process which yielded the broth used in the soup.

Ham and Potato Soup in the Instant Pot

2 cups cooked, cubed ham or the meat picked off two cooked ham hocks
6 cups ham, chicken, or vegetable broth
2 pounds potatoes, peeled and cubed in 1/2-1 inch cubes
2 tablespoons Earth Balance butter substitute
1 large carrot, chopped
1 medium onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
salt and pepper to taste
1/8 cup raw cashews
1 quart shelf stable coconut or oat milk

Soak the cashews in hot water for a few minutes. Put them in the blender with 1/2 cup of the coconut or oat milk and blend until smooth.

Using the saute setting on the Instant Pot, melt the butter substitute. Add the carrot, onion, and garlic. Saute until onions are transparent. Add the potatoes, ham, and broth to the pot. Season with salt and pepper to taste. (If using ham broth, you won’t need more salt.)

Secure the lid on the Instant Pot. Be sure the venting button is set to seal. Using the pressure cooking function, set the timer for 10 minutes. When the Pot beeps to signal the end of the 10 minutes, turn venting button from seal to vent to quick release the pressure.

When the pressure has been released, take off the lid. Turn on the keep warm function and add the blended cashews and the rest of the coconut or oat milk. Serve when the soup reaches your preferred temperature.

*The complete story of the farmer and his amazing milk cow, Snippy, made its way into See Jane Run! and the other books in my cozy mystery series. They are available on Amazon.

Cooking Ham Hocks in the Instant Pot

Cooking Ham Hocks in the Instant Pot

Cooking ham hocks in the Instant Pot is amazingly simple. I discovered that fact after deciding to use *ham hocks from the freezer in Instant Pot ham and potato soup. That soup was also amazing simple, delicious and believe it or not, dairy free. The recipe can be found at this link.

Ham Hocks in the Instant Pot

2 ham hocks (Ask the butcher to cut each hock into 2-3 pieces to make it easier to pick off the meat.)
6 cups water

Put the ham hocks and the water into the Instant Pot. Secure the lid and be sure the venting button is set to seal. Using the pressure cooking function, set the timer for 40 minutes. Push start.

When the pot beeps to signal the end of the forty minutes, let the pot natural release the pressure for 20 minutes. Then move the venting button to vent so the remaining pressure releases.

When all the pressure has been released, remove the lid. Using a slotted spoon remove the hocks. Put them in a pan to cool. When sufficiently cooled pick off the meat and discard the bones.

Use the meat and the liquid in the pot as ingredients for ham and potato soup, ham and bean soup, or other ham-based soups.

*Those of you who are eagerly awaiting the release of See Jane Run! on June 7, 2022 should know that cooking ham hocks in the Instant Pot is a totally Jane kind of thing to do. Except that Instant Pots weren’t around in 1977 when the story takes place. But if they had been, she’da been using one.

June 7, 2022 Is a Big Deal for See Jane Run!

June 7, 2022 Is a Big Deal for See Jane Run!

June 7, 2022 is a big deal for See Jane Run! for a very good reason.

The publisher, Midwestern Books, just announced that my first book in the West River Mystery Series will be released on that day. Wahoo!

Here’s some publishing trivia to celebrate the announcement:

  • Publishers always release books on Tuesdays. I don’t know why. If you do, leave the answer in the comment section below.
  • Midwestern Books is a brand new publishing company, and See Jane Run! is its inaugural release.
  • Asking other authors to write endorsements (those blurbs about a book’s amazingness printed on pages inside the front cover and also on the back cover) is my least favorite writerly job. Probably because it involves a certain amount of rejection. Maybe that’s why, when I receive an endorsement request, I almost always say yes.

With the release date set, the production schedule is moving into high gear. In the next month or two, the publisher will make the book available for pre-order on Amazon. There are pre-order bonuses to create, a book launch team to assemble, and a launch party to plan. Plus completing and approving the galley proofs after they’re received, as well as finishing the concept editor’s revisions on See Jane Sing! and finishing the first draft of See Jane Dance!

Those of you who consider me to be a trouble maker can rest easy this winter and spring. I’ll be too busy to get into or make trouble.

Thankfully, the same can’t be said of Jane, the protagonist of the West River Mystery Series. Even though her job keeps her busy, she gets into trouble. A lot of trouble. Since it’s the lifeblood of a good cozy mystery, I’m okay with her getting mired in it. In fact, I intend to lead her into more trouble on an almost daily basis until June 7, 2022 arrives.


Caramel Apple Dip: No One Will Know It’s Dairy-Free

Caramel Apple Dip: No One Will Know It’s Dairy-Free

Caramel apple dip used to be a favorite snack at our house. But once the kids were grown and my dairy allergy was diagnosed, I quit making it.

I missed it. Oh my how I missed it.

I was resigned to life without this treat until my daughter-in-law made a chance comment when we were together for Christmas. My daughter and I mentioned that Baker’s Pantry–a Mennonite grocery store we frequent because they sell 40-50 pound bags of all manner of bread baking staples–carries Watkins extracts.

That’s when my daughter-in-law said, “We used to mix their caramel extract with a little brown sugar and cream cheese to make apple dip.”

That’s when the lightbulb lit up in my brain. From the expression on my daughter’s face, I think she had a lightbulb moment too. We immediately added Watkins caramel extract to our Baker’s Pantry grocery list for the shopping trip we had scheduled for New Year’s Eve morning.

On the way home from Baker’s Pantry, we stopped at Hy-Vee, an Iowa-based grocery chain. They carry just about everything, including Daiya cream cheese substitute made from coconut. Most cream cheese substitutes are soy-based, and our granddaughter can’t have soy. (As I’ve said before, with her soy issues and dairy issues for 5 of the 6 people in this house, we are that family.)

A couple nights ago, I made the caramel apple dip and served it for dessert. It was a big hit. With everybody. Absolutely delicious. There are not enough superlatives to do the dip justice. And it was so easy. Incredibly easy.

You’ll find the recipe below. Use regular cream cheese if dairy isn’t an issue for you. Use one of the soy-based substitutes if that works at your house. However, you have to use Watkins caramel extract or the flavor superlatives won’t apply.

Dairy-Free Caramel Apple Dip

8 ounces Daiya cream cheese substitute at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon Watkins caramel extract
2 tablespoons brown sugar

Put the cream cheese substitute into a bowl and mash it with a fork to loosen. Add caramel extract and brown sugar. Continue mashing with a fork and mixing until smooth. Refrigerate until serving it with apple slices.