Posted on

Hanukkah and Latkes

Hash brown and sour cream on a plate against gray stone background, well fried.

Way back in the deep, dark mists of time, I fell in love with and married my husband.

Okay, so it was the early nineties, but that was still over 25 years ago.

With all families, there’s a melding of traditions but in our case, it took a lot of study on my part. You see, before I met him, I had probably met only a handful of Jewish people in my life (I blame growing up in New Hampshire).

One of the things I took to earliest was cooking, because at least with my family, creating delicious food for holidays is an expression of love.

This year we celebrated Thanksgiving on Thursday afternoon and Hanukkah on Thursday evening. As the family gets larger and larger, it’s tougher for all of us to get together. Since Hanukkah actually begins on Sunday night, we decided it was close enough.

Let me tell you, there was so much food! Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans, turnip, gravy, cranberry sauce…I feel like I’m forgetting some things, and about eight different desserts.

My two oldest nephews each made pecan pie and we had a taste test. One was a honey praline topped pecan pie and it was fantastic. The other was a chocolate and caramel pecan pie which was incredible with ice cream.

After we had a couple hours to clean up from lunch we started in on dinner and potato latkes.

One of the things I like best about Hanukkah is that I don’t do the cooking. I cook for every other holiday in the year and I really enjoy my evening off while my husband cooks. He also made the turkey and will do anything I ask for other holidays, but knowing I have no responsibilities for that meal is lovely.

I thought I’d share his recipe for potato latkes with you.

The best husband makes the best latkes recipe

Ingredients:

  • 8 russet potatoes
  • 2 yellow onions
  • 8 eggs
  • Matzo meal
  • Adobo
  • Vegetable oil for frying
  • Sour cream
  • Applesauce

Instructions:

First off, I apologize because everything is done “to eye” (since you don’t want to taste raw potatoes and eggs). The good news is that you can’t go wrong with this recipe – it’s very forgiving.

  1. Peel the potatoes.
  2. Cut the potatoes and onions into pieces a little bigger than your thumb.
  3. We run our potatoes and onions through a grinder but some people prefer shredded instead. Do whatever you want. Maybe try both to see what you like best.
  4. Add eggs and mix
  5. You now have a glorpy mess. It should be this way. Add in maybe ¼ can of matzo meal, more if the latke mix is still quite loose.
  6. Add in more adobo than you think you could possibly need. At least 1/8 a cup.
  7. Fry the latkes in hot oil until deep golden brown.
  8. Drain on paper towels and serve with sour cream or applesauce.

Posted on

Romaine Calm Chapter 1

Usually, people trained their pets, not the other way around.

I pulled the heavy wooden door to the Portsmouth Apothecary closed. The doorbells chimed as I locked up my business. I rested my hand on one of the warm glass panes and quickly refreshed the protection wards. Done with my evening ritual, I took a deep breath of late summer air and headed for home, because I had a date.

Okay, not a date. An appointment. With my cat. My talking black cat.

I wasn’t a woman whose life revolved around her pet, so let me explain.

Jameson, the cat in question, was my familiar, and he was serious about his responsibility to train me. A couple months ago, I took possession of a beautiful emerald amulet when my neighbor was murdered. Jameson came with the amulet, along with some weighty obligations. When I accepted the amulet, I became the newest member of the Sorority of Brigid. The sorority was a group of witches who practiced real witchcraft, not the stuff you see on TV. Their goals were to keep witchcraft a secret, protect witches, and prevent witches from abusing their power.

To hear Jameson tell it, the sorority should have been all I thought about, and my foolish notions about having to pay my rent or buy food shouldn’t concern me.

Yeah, well, I really enjoyed having a roof over my head, and when I threatened to toss him outside during a rainstorm, he decided I might have a point after all.

At any rate, I was on my way home for more training. He begrudgingly said I was okay with a lot of the larger and simpler spells, so we were working on precision with smaller spells. When I asked about the focus I’d chosen in my last investiture, potions, he laughed.

“Everything changes once you join the sorority,” he said.

“What changed for you?” I asked.

“I’m not a member.”

“Oh,” I said, feeling stupid. “Is it a humans-only group?”

“No. Both the sorority and fraternity are for witches and their familiars. But when I was a kitten, they were split along traditional lines. The Sorority of Brigid was strictly for women, and the Fraternity of Free Witches only allowed men.”

“Then why aren’t you the familiar for someone in the fraternity?”

“Because I’m not evil,” he said patiently, as though he were explaining to a small child.

The jury was out on that. Some of the spells he had me casting were so difficult, I felt like my brain would explode.

I went to my family with my concerns, but they were no help. I wasn’t sure any of them ever had a familiar.

Aunt Lily said I needed to follow his training. She was certain he knew what was best for me. He was, after all, over two hundred years old and had trained at least three other witches before me.

Aunt Nadia thought I could get to him through his stomach. You know—the best way to a man’s heart. Maybe that applied to cats too.

My mother didn’t know what I ought to do. She had a more realistic view of my relationship with Jameson, because she heard more of my complaints than my aunts. She’d started coming to visit me once a week at the apothecary. She never brought up the previously sore subject of my moving home, so the visits were relaxing. If I’d known all it took for her to stop haranguing me about moving home was to get a familiar, I’d have gone looking for one a long time ago.

She thought I was stuck with Jameson, unless I wanted to give up the amulet.

I’d considered the idea and dismissed it. I didn’t want to miss out on the power it gave me, and the ability to help people in addition to my work at the apothecary. I didn’t think the amulet liked the idea of being passed on to someone else either.

Over the past month, I felt like I was becoming more in tune with Jameson. I strode down the sidewalk on my way home for a quick dinner and night of training. We’d been working on my fine control, so he had me do the most excruciatingly difficult things, like moving one piece of ice in a glass while holding all the others still. Or making only one of the fronds on my palm tree move. He even had me strengthen my personal wards into what felt like a hard shield over me.

I understood why witches preferred to train in areas they’re naturally good at. I was okay with spell work, but the level he had me working at was exhausting.

At least I slept well at night.

I walked into my apartment. “I’m home,” I called out.

Jameson was waiting for me, sitting on the kitchen countertop. I’d tried to instill in him the idea that cats don’t sit on the food preparation or eating surfaces. He didn’t care.

“Good. I’m hungry, and you’ve got a lot of training to do tonight.”

I rolled my eyes. “Same thing we do every night, Pinky.”

He cocked his head, clearly not understanding my ’90s cartoon reference. I thought he’d get it, because at least he was alive then. I was a long way from being able to take over the world. And even if I did, what would I do with it?

“Start by opening the can of salmon cat food without using your hands.”

I frowned at him. “No dinner for me first?”

“Not tonight, you’re late,” he said.

“Right. Okay, then.” I considered the cans of Purina Pro Plan he preferred. They had a ring pull to open them, but when he said no hands, he meant no hands at all—no holding the can in one hand and using a fork handle to pop the top open.

Another thing he insisted on was subtle magic. It was no good trying to keep magic a secret if I was obvious every time I tried to use it. He had a point there, but I wished he had let me start off with big gestures and then move into smaller ones. Big gestures made the magic easier to use, at least for me.

I pointed my index finger and flicked it from right to left to open the cat food cabinet. One more gesture had the can floating onto the counter. I considered how to open it without my hands. There were a couple ways I could do it, but which was best? I could force the can to stay on the counter as I levitated a fork and used the handle to open it. I could try the metal shearing spell to cut the top of the can off, or I could try to make the can explode and hope I was fast enough to catch the food and direct it into the bowl.

I wasn’t feeling up to cleaning off the walls if I didn’t catch the exploding cat food, and using a fork didn’t seem impressive, so I went for the metal shearing spell.

I started the can slowly spinning, then I focused my mind on creating a sharp point just above the inside edge of the can. I lowered the sharp point, and thin curls of metal started peeling away from the lid. It was working! I pushed the point down and felt more resistance. I increased the can’s rotation speed, and within two seconds, the top of the can was cut off.

At this point, he would let me take the lid off and dump the food into his bowl, but I was so pleased with myself that I decided to show off. I levitated the lid to the recycling, then slowly lowered the can to his empty bowl. I upended it, gave the bottom a sharp magical tap, and smiled as the food fell out into his bowl. Success!

The can levitated to the sink to be rinsed, and I was done.

I beamed at my cat.

“Moderately acceptable. Now, what are you going to eat?”

“Moderately acceptable? Are you kidding me! Did you see what I did there? I held the can down, and made it spin, and used a sharp blade of air—of air!—to cut the lid off. I did great.”

Jameson didn’t have many facial expressions, but he was a master of using his tone to get his feelings across. “I can only hope your standards will rise as you get better at your spellcasting. For now, I’ll say you were well within the bounds of acceptable.”

I turned my back on him and opened the fridge. My spells usually rated “marginally acceptable” or “I suppose that will work too,” so I probably should have taken his words as a compliment.

I’d had teachers who believed they shouldn’t praise students until they were perfect, and although I didn’t thrive that way, I could work with it.

My fridge was mostly empty. I worked a lot and ate dinner at Proctor House at least one night a week, where Aunt Nadia forced leftovers on me. She loved me, and this was one of the ways she showed me. Maybe tomorrow night I’d head over and see what they were having.

But for tonight, dinner would have to be frozen pizza.

Posted on

How to support an author without spending any money

1. Follow me on social media

2. Review my books

Book reviews influence buying decisions, so if you like my books please leave a review on Amazon, GoodReads, and/or BookBub.

3. Add my books to your Goodreads lists

Let your friends and followers know you’re reading my books

4. Take a book selfie

Share a photo of yourself with one of my books. If you’re up for it, make it an action shot!

5. Pay it forward

Loan out my book to friends or family you think would like it.

Posted on 4 Comments

Deleted Scene from Root Cause

This is one of the many beginnings I wrote to Root Cause. 

I didn’t wind up using it because I felt it was a little slow for the beginning, but I like how it shows the relationship between Isabella and her grandfather.

Because it didn’t make it into the story, it’s not as well edited as it could be – I hope you’ll forgive that.

Enjoy!



My grandfather took my hand and poured the oblong, black speckled seeds from an unlabeled jar into my upturned palm. I looked up to his weather-worn face, taking in his familiar grey beard and wispy white hair.

“Last set. If you get these right, you’ll have aced this year’s seed test,” he said.

I looked at the seeds and rolled them around in my palm. “Scarlet sage. Or maybe broadleaf sage?”

He cocked a bushy white eyebrow at me and I knew he wasn’t going to give me a hint.

I took another look at the seeds in my hand. “Definitely scarlet sage. Broadleaf seeds are rounder.”

He took the slip of paper out of the mason jar that held the seeds and let me read the answer. A grin plastered itself on my face. I’d gotten ten out of ten right, a record for me in the five years I’ve been helping grandpa with the spring planting.

He kissed the top of my head. “Very good, Isabella.”

We were in the basement of our house, planting seeds for the garden. One side of the room was dedicated to seasonal storage and the other to grandpa’s gardening. He had tools hanging on one pegboard covered wall, bags of peat moss and potting soil stacked in the corner, and two different workbenches. We were sitting at the long cedar potting bench grandpa and I made last November. Every March, grandpa and I spent one weekend planting the seeds we would transplant once the danger of frost was over. Some plants were medicinal, some were ornamental, and some were for the vegetable garden. Today we were working on the medicinal plants.

He’d put about thirty seeds in my hand but I didn’t think we had space for nearly that in the garden. “How many do you want me to plant?”

Grandpa looked up from the grow light timer he was setting. “I think twenty. We’ll plant the best of them outside and in April we’ll compost the rest.”

I planted one seed in each of the soil-filled newspaper cups we made last night and then gently watered them. The earthy scent of the wet potting soil reached my nose and I breathed in deeply. All witches have a deep reverence for nature and mine was further honed by my grandfather, even though he had no magical talent himself.

I put the left-over seeds back in the jar, wiped my grubby hands on my jeans and brought the planted seeds to the join the rest under the grow lamps

I thought we were done but as I turned to go up the stairs, grandpa called me back. “I wanted to talk to you about tomorrow.”

Tomorrow. It was a big day for me and my two cousins, Thea and Delia. Tomorrow we would declare our intentions, as all witches do every seven years. When we were seven, our mothers declared us as beginning students. Now that we were fourteen, we could choose for ourselves. We didn’t have many options, remain beginning students, become intermediate students, or stop our studies and allow our talents to wither.

“What about tomorrow?”

“I’m not asking for any specifics, but I want to make sure you know what you are going to do. And if you don’t, you can always talk to me.”

I sat on a stool next to him. It was odd that grandpa was asking because he was the one non-magical person in the family. Grandma had fallen in love with him and there was no talking her out of marrying him, even though that meant she lost some friends who felt witches should not mix with non-witches.

“I’ve decided what I want to do, and so have Thea and Delia.”

He nodded. “Good. I just wanted to make sure.”

“Don’t worry about us, grandpa, we’re going to be just fine.”

“Well, I guess we’ve put it off for as long as possible.” He sighed. “I suppose it’s time for us to go upstairs.”

I knew how he felt. Sometimes living in a house with six other witches could be overwhelming for me and it was probably worse for him. Our time planting was the only time, outside of school, that I didn’t have to consider doing things with magic. For the rest of the day, the magic and the witches would be in full frenzy, because we were having people, even non-family members, coming to the ceremony tomorrow night.

I followed grandpa up the worn stairs and into the crowded, noisy kitchen. Pots and pans were clanging, my aunts were yelling and laughing, and we were tempted by the smells of fresh-baked bread and deserts.

Grandpa stood by the counter, strategically placing himself between Aunt Nadia and a pan of brownies. I stood behind him and took two, then slipped out of the kitchen before anyone noticed me.

We met in the living room and I handed grandpa his brownie. “Team work makes the dream work,” he said.

We sat on the burgundy upholstered couch, careful not to drop crumbs on the Persian rug. Of all the rooms in the house, grandma loved this one most. Her favorite chair was beside the fireplace and she would spend many long winter nights next to the flickering fire, reading. Of course everyone knew grandpa and I nabbed desserts but no one scolded us for it. This would end if we made any mess in the living room.

“Earl? Are you upstairs?” grandma called from the kitchen.

“Yes dear, I’m in the living room with Isabella.” He turned to me. “You’d better get cleaned up. I’m sure she’s got work for the both of us to do.”