Thursday, March 28, 2013

FOODFIC: Please Welcome Grant Overstake, Author of Maggie Vaults Over the Moon

Maggie Vaults Over the Moon retells the story of Maggie Steele, a gritty farm girl from tiny Grain Valley, Kansas, who pours her broken heart into the daring and dangerous sport of pole-vaulting. Kirkus Reviews says the novel “…exudes sweetness; in some ways, it feels as if it takes place in another era, as it lacks the dark edge seen in other popular YA stories…”

A morsel of this story’s other-era sweetness can be tasted in a nostalgic food scene in which the stressed and grieving Steele family takes a break from a long day’s harvesting to savor a fresh, home-cooked dinner – transported from the farmhouse kitchen to a half-cut Kansas wheat field.

I chomped the buttery corn and chewed the fried chicken clean off the bone, wiping my hands on my napkin. Looking out from where we sat, I could see about a third of the wheat field had been cut.
“We still have a lot of work to do before dark, but we’ve made a good start of it,” Dad said.
Mom and Grandma took our empty plates and put the leftovers back in the basket. There was easily enough food left over for a hungry teenager, but if anybody else was thinking about Alex, they didn’t say so.
Even as full as I was, I still felt empty. But I kept the feeling to myself.

Now just before that scene, heroine Maggie Steele, for the very first time in her life, drove a fully-loaded grain truck from the wheat field to the Grain Valley Elevator, eight miles distant on the county blacktop. Driving the huge truck was a chore that her older brother, Alex, had always done, but that was before Alex and his friend Caleb had both been killed in a car crash one month before. 

On the way to town, Maggie made a driving mistake and barely managed to keep the fully-loaded truck from overturning on the highway. She arrives at the elevator shaken and frightened about taking her brother’s place on the family farm, but sits down to dinner with family members who seem to believe that if they don’t acknowledge who’s missing, everything looks, tastes, and smells as if all is okay. Maggie indulges her sense but isn’t fooled. After what she experienced on the highway, she knows everything has changed. And even a heaping plateful cannot fill the empty space she feels inside.

My years spent as a newspaper reporter in Kansas wheat country provided most of the scenes in the story. And while I'd heard-tell about harvest field dinners like this, I'd never seen one. Today, even the smallest towns have a place where Maggie could pick up some hamburgers and fries on the way back to the field, and so they do. Womenfolk like Grandma who felt compelled to fix such big dinners are mostly gone. Moms like Maggie's now work in town or drive the big grain trucks themselves. 

I heard from an older reader who especially liked this scene because he'd experienced field dinners just like these, with clean linen napkins, cold metal tumblers and everything. He said Maggie touched him so deeply that he cried when he finished reading it, because he didn’t want the story to end.

As for me, I felt like I needed to write this scene into the story because I wanted an eating event that went beyond the kitchen table and took on the feel of a mythic meal. I wanted you to taste the goodness, and believe that there really is a place called Grain Valley, Kansas, with a golden wheat field like this one – where your Grandma still fusses and fills your plate with fried chicken, potatoes and gravy, and Oh! fresh-baked bread, buttered with love. Where you, too, can taste the sweetness again.

Thanks for sharing your food for thought, Grant!

Former Miami Herald Sportswriter Grant Overstake is a lifelong participant in the sport of track and field who competed in the decathlon for the University of Kansas Jayhawks. A multiple award winner for excellence in journalism, Maggie Vaults Over the Moon is the author’s premiere work of sports fiction, and is now available in paperback and e-book at

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Toastworthy Teen - Sierra Green

Sierra Green, Oregon History Idol

If you're not from there, you may not know that Oregon is the "land of the rose and sunshine" (I didn't!), or even that the state song is called Oregon, My Oregon. But if you attended the Portland Trail Blazers game on February 14th, you learned both, thanks to the vocal talent of Sierra Green. 

The 16-year-old earned the coveted performance slot with a winning audition at the Oregon History Idol competition the weekend before.

Sierra, who admittedly practiced in her room until she "drove her brother crazy," has wanted to be a Broadway performer all her life. Sounds like she has the talent and work ethic to get there!

See her game performance here:

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Friday, March 22, 2013

FOODFIC: A Violet Season - Kathy Leonard Czepiel

Let’s begin by addressing exactly when violet season is. The work begins with the plowing of fields and moving of cuttings into raised beds in June, but violet “season” officially kicks off with the New York Horse Show in November at Madison Square Garden. (Before you rush out to buy tickets, let me clarify: violet season kicked off at MSG in 1898, but the last violet farm in the Hudson Valley closed in the 1980s and the horse show has moved to Kentucky). 

The violet farm depicted by Czepiel is a family business, meaning that the Fletchers are as ensnarled in all the complications that come with both families and businesses as are the roots in their beds. And adding further stress to the situation is the arduousness of the work. Joe Jacobs, the son of the Dutch Reformed Church’s dominie, home from Princeton while he decides whether or not to go on to law school, hires on at the Fletchers’ farm and is quick to note: I never realized how hard you had to work to grow these little flowers. I don’t imagine any boy who gives them to his sweetheart has any idea.

Joe’s intended sweetheart is, of course, Alice, the daughter of the youngest Fletcher brother (why else would an educated young man endure such grueling labor?). And when Joe stays on the farm after Alice is sent away, he’s not so different from the other Fletchers who’re sticking out unhappy situations because of the time, circumstances, and, frankly, lack of other options. 

There are bright moments, certainly, like the holiday party where they serve the confection I’d secretly hoped to find since I first saw the title – a cake topped with sugared violets! Now, I’m sure the Fletchers didn’t feel quite the same excitement over seeing yet more of the little purple flowers that they were surrounded by and essentially dependent on, just as I imagine a cherry farmer would prefer to see anything but that tell-tale lattice pie crust on his table each night!

I’d like to think, though, that those crystallized petals brought at least fleeting smiles to the faces of the Fletcher women, not only because there were so few bright spots in their tough lives, but also since the violets –hardy blossoms which flourished in cold climes, not unlike the women themselves – were, even if only for one night, being treated with care and held in a place of honor.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Toastworthy Teen - Max Wallack

Max Wallack, Puzzles to Remember

Max Wallack has been putting both his altruistic spirit and innovative mind to use since he was 7, when he devised a portable step with handle to help his great-grandmother get in and out of her van by herself. And those childhood years spent watching Gertrude battle Alzheimer’s also led to Max’s greatest “invention” – Puzzles to Remember

At age 13, Max learned that doing puzzles could actually slow the progression of Alzheimer’s and dementia, while at the same time giving sufferers and their caregivers something positive to do together. So for the past 3 years, Max has collected almost 15,000 puzzles for 1,500 care facilities in all 50 states as well as Mexico, Canada, and beyond. Even more impressive is that he’s taken all the monetary awards he’s received from various groups for his good work and donated it the Boston University School of Medicine’s Alzheimer’s Disease Center. 

Max does all of this for his “heroes – the men and women who sacrificed so much for your country," but clearly Max is a hero in his own right. :)

To find out more, visit:

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Thursday, March 14, 2013

FOODFIC: Please Welcome Guest David Hill, Author of At Drake's Command

The year is 1577. Our unlikely hero, Peregrine James, is a young cook sentenced to a lashing for the crime of being an unwelcome suitor to his master's daughter. Despite the stripes on his back, however, Perry convinces the charismatic sea captain, Francis Drake, to accept him among his crew. Soon he is aboard the Pelican, the flagship of a fleet of five small vessels ostensibly bound on a trading voyage to Alexandria—although everyone is sure their real destination lies elsewhere, wherever there were Spanish or Portuguese ships to rob.

As the assistant cook, Perry is the “least boy” aboard the Pelican. Unfortunately, he is disliked by his immediate superior, Lancelot Garget, who assigns him every menial duty—scrubbing pots, “shifting” salted meat, plucking chickens, fetching ingredients from the orlop, mucking out the livestock pens—and much chopping and dicing and scraping. There are sixty-seven boys, sailors, men, and gentlemen sailing with the Pelican, and each is entitled to a full pound of beef, pork, or mutton per day, with cod or ling served on Fridays, not to mention equal portions of vegetables and biscuit. The work is never ending.

This is the natural of things in any kitchen or galley, of course, and Perry never thinks of complaining. What irks him, however, is that Garget “cannot abide foreign flavors, particularly the stink of garlic” and insists on food plainly cooked in the style “my mother taught me, God rest the good woman.” Growing ever more tired of Garget's signature dish, boiled beef and onions, Perry is overjoyed when he is transferred temporarily to the Benedict, the smallest ship of the fleet. Finally he has a galley of his own and may cook as he likes. His welcome, however, is not warm …


The Benedict was commanded by Tom Moone. He was a hulking giant several inches past six feet in height, with placid brown eyes and a stillness of expression that encouraged you to believe him to be slow-witted although I knew him to be a professional killer of high intelligence.

“Where is Garget?” he asked Bartelmyeus Gotsalk.

“Drake would not part with the man.”

“No surprise there. Lancelot is too fine a cook to surrender.”

“Drake swore the lad here would do as well. Let us take heart, captain, at least he is not Artyur.”

“Truer words were never spoken. I have been experiencing curious intestinal twinges since breakfast and I am not looking forward to supper. Artyur! Artyur! Where the devil are you?”


“This is Peregrine James, who is to be your superior until Hogges is back on his feet.”

“Let him return to the Pelican,
kapitein. I need no assistance.”

“You have it wrong, Artyur—you are to assist Mr. James, do you understand me?”

Artyur was a Hollander of about my own age. His head was almost perfectly round and he cut his hair in a line above the ears and shaved his cheeks and neck clean, a style that emphasized the globular nature of his cranium. Artyur’s features were in constant motion and he could not keep his hands still and he was always worrying the joints of his fingers.

kapitein,” he muttered sadly, “I understand all too well, ja. You did not appreciate the morning porridge.”

“Pepper does not marry easily with oatmeal.”

“And what of the

“In the future remember that the flavor of sugar should overpower that of salt in sweet pastry. Now no more argument, Artyur. Provide Mr. James all courtesy.”

My first challenge, I realized, would be to find Artyur harmless work since he was sure to do me injury through incompetence, if not through malice. It was plain that he resented my presence aboard the
Benedict and coveted my station.

“Be so kind as to peel twenty onions,” I told him, “followed by an equal number of carrots. Wash a couple bunches of celery. Cut each vegetable into pieces the size of your knuckle.”

Ja ja. Which knuckle? The first one or the second?”

“The knuckle does not matter. The point is for the pieces to be uniform, so that they cook evenly.”

Going below, I found a haunch of beef that had been rinsed of salt and was ready for cooking. I butchered it into square chunks and began browning the meat in bacon grease as my mother had taught me, guiding my hand with her own as we turned the sizzling cubes with a wood spoon, murmuring, “
Mira, mi hijo. Pay attention so that all sides receive equal color. Es muy importante.” Without Garget breathing over my shoulder, I was also able to skim off the impurities that would impart a bitter aftertaste if allowed to remain in the liquid. Frying together some butter and flour until golden, I employed this mixture to thicken the broth instead of using a paste of water and flour, which was quicker but brought nothing to a dish except a raw taste and a muddy color.

“I am done,
ja,” stated Artyur, giving the last carrot a couple chops before sweeping it from the cutting board into a bucket with the edge of his knife. “What now?”

“Fetch eggs, sugar, milk, raisins, and stale bread. A cup of sack, too. We will have pudding for dessert.”

When Artyur left to get the required items, I carried the bucket of vegetables to the iron pot in which the stew was simmering. Some premonition, however, prevented me from tossing in the contents all at once and instead I added the ingredients handful by handful.

This allowed me to intercept the dead rat hidden among the carrots, onions, and celery before it fell into the stew.

Artyur’s strategy was obvious. He planned to publicly discredit me before Tom Moone and the rest of the men.

More saddened than dismayed by this evidence of perfidy, I tossed the rodent overboard without advertising that I had discovered it. I figured my silence would lead Artyur to suppose his intrigue remained undetected, and it did. He shot me a couple sideways glances and then began whistling happily while stirring the pot, no doubt anticipating my upcoming humiliation and his consequent elevation to my position once I was disgraced. I did not doubt he was composing a rousing speech to recite when the rat was sighted in the stew.

“How is the flavor?” I asked as I finished kneading the old bread with the sugar, eggs, and milk and began to press the dough into a greased tin. “Is more pepper necessary?”

Nee, nee,” Artyur answered. “I believe there is ample.”

“Taste it to be sure.”

“I have done so, ja. All is good.”

“Lift your spoon, Artyur.”

Ja, meneer?

“Lift your spoon from the stew, place it to your lips, and tell me whether additional seasoning would be appropriate.”

Artyur regarded the spoon as if he had never encountered such a utensil before and had no inkling why the thing was in his hand. Finally he brought it to his mouth, hesitated briefly, and flicked out the tip of his tongue. “Very good,” he said, obviously relieved that his unwelcome addition to the recipe had not soured the dish. 

“Excellent. Now, Artyur, please take a generous helping, chew it thoroughly, and inform me if the meat is tender.”

Thanks for stopping by to share you food for thought, David! 


You can find David here:

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Toastworthy Teen - Donna Vekic

Donna Vekic, Tennis Champion

This year’s Australian Open was Donna Vekic’s first appearance at a grand slam event and, even though she entered with a rank of 111, she closed the tournament as the youngest winner ever.

Donna’s may sound like a Cinderella story, but it’s all hard work and not luck or magic behind this young star; she actually lives in Croatia but trains in London and has done so since she was only 11 years old. 

Clearly this 16-year-old phenom (whose attitude, according to her coach, is “second to none”) is going to be a force on the court for many years to come. :)

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