If you were to show up on my doorstep right now and need dinner, the options would include a salad, American Flatbread Pizza jazzed up with onion, jalapeno and lamb sausage, or a puttanesca sauce with whole-wheat pasta. I could make vats of puttanesca, a sauce that includes black olives and capers. I recently re-organized the pantry and we have three unopened bottles of capers, for some mysterious reason. Also a lot of kidney beans, and I have no idea how they got there. To my knowledge, I've never made a single dish with kidney beans. Garbanzo beans? Absolutely. Kidney beans, never.
Perhaps more mysterious to you -- who re-organizes a pantry as summer winds down? In this case, a writer who has just sent off her twelfth book and is waiting -- nervously -- for the various sages to weigh in. Having met my deadline, I am free to clean my pantry, make all the appointments I've been putting off, and work my way through weeks of backed-up correspondence, the kind that can't be addressed with glib e-mails. (Yes, that applies to all of you waiting, oh so patiently, for the books I've promised.)
But my head is not unlike my pantry -- not exactly empty, but full of diverse elements that make it challenging to assemble a coherent meal here. The cans of tuna fish remind me of other good intentions I've harbored, be they about protein intake or reading, which always suffers in the final weeks of writing a book. Ditto, the unopened box of currants, a key ingredient in some healthy dish I was contemplating, but have since forgotten/lost. That reminds me of continuity issues I want to address in the revision, but forgot to write down anywhere. And why the backlog of Carr's Water Crackers? Oh, because of the variety pack sold at Costco; every time I go in for bottled water, I end up with water crackers. I am Costco's bitch. Finally those jars of capers -- they feel like the remaining events on the No Good Deeds tour: the Barnes & Noble White Marsh on Sept. 13th; Bouchercon, Sept. 28-Oct. 1; the Southern Festival of Books, Oct. 13-14; and a late October jaunt through upstate New York. How can I still be tour for book #11 when I'll be revising book #12? (It has a title, by the way, but I'm going to wait until I can show you the final cover, which is marvelous.)
Meanwhile, I'm mulling a little list called: Things I Promised to Do When I Was No Longer on Deadline. While I'm profoundly pessimistic about the book at hand as I trundle toward deadline, I'm overly optimistic about the things I can do when deadline has passed. It appears I've committed to three short stories and three freelance pieces of journalism, the first of which is due by Oct. 1. This should make for an interesting autumn.
Of all the things I haven't done, however, the one that's eating me is the absence of a house-warming gift for this guy. I promised him something very simple, a recipe for healthy Sloppy Joes, endorsed by no less a personage than this guy. Bryon, I still plan to send it, written on a little card as if I were your mother. And I might throw in the recipes I have for chicken soup and barley soup, other house favorites. But, for now, let me tell you what you need to have on hand so you can always make a good tomato sauce: olive oil, garlic and a 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes. (I'm partial to the San Marzano brand, but I probably couldn't pick it out in a blind taste test.) Here are two variations, adapted from How to Cook Without a Book, a book that I would recommend to any novice, time-pressed cook.
Put three-to-four tablespoons of olive oil in a large pot or Dutch Oven, adding three minced cloves of garlic and a half-pound of sliced mushrooms. Saute over medium-high heat until mushroom liquid evaporates. (The recipe says this will take three-to-four minutes, but it always seems to take longer.) Add a can of tomatoes and a teaspoon of dried oregano, bring to a simmer, then continue to simmer over medium-low heat for fifteen minutes.
And if you don't like mushrooms or olives -- well, then you're not going to like the Sloppy Joe's, which use cremini mushrooms.
For a puttanesca sauce, start with the same combination of oil and minced garlic. When garlic starts to sizzle, add four minced anchovies. (These are optional, but even if you're not fond of anchovies, go ahead and use them. You won't taste the fishy flavor, yet it does wonders for the sauce.) When the anchovies are soft, add sixteen to twenty-four black olives, pitted and coarsely chopped, and two tablespoons of capers, drained. Simmer over medium-low heat for ten to fifteen minutes.
Meanwhile, here are the final servings of the No Good Deeds tour:
Sept. 12: The Marc Steiner Show, WYPR (88.1, also available via webcast), 1 p.m.
Sept. 13: Barnes and Noble, White Marsh, 7:00 p.m.
Sept: 28-Oct. 1: Bouchercon, Madison, Wis. (I'll be on three panels -- a panel on Jan Burke's Crime Lab Project on Thursday; "Guilty Pleasures" on Friday, where I'll "moderate" Mark Billingham, John Connolly, Dan Fesperman and Karin Slaughter; and a Sunday morning panel currently known as Ken Bruen and the Spice Women of Mystery. (I might have mangled the title of that last one. Apologies to Alafair "Baby" Burke, Cornelia "Posh" Read and Zoe "Sporty" Sharpe, my co-panelists. I guess I'm "Scary" by default.)
Oct. 13-14: The Southern Festival of Books, Memphis, Tenn.
Oct. 26: Mysteries on Main Street, 144 W Main St. Johnstown, 7 p.m.
Oct. 27: Colgate Bookstore, 3 Utica St., Hamilton, 7 p.m.
Oct. 28: Creekside Books & Coffee, 35 Fennell St., Skaneateles, NY, 11:00 a.m.
Oct. 28: Lift Bridge Book Shop, 45 Main St., Brockport, NY, 4:00 PM