Category Archives: Blogs

Taco Soup

I haven’t posted a recipe in a while.  Even though the calendar says it’s spring, it’s gotten really cold here in Indiana (again), so I’m making this for supper. This is an incredibly easy recipe, it makes a bunch, and the leftovers freeze well. Could you ask for more?

Taco Soup

Ingredients:
1 1/2 pounds ground beef
1 onion, chopped
1 can Rotel
2 cans stewed tomatoes
1 can whole kernel corn
1 can pinto beans
1 can Ranch style beans
1 pkg. dry taco seasoning mix
1 pkg. Ranch dressing mix

Directions:  brown ground beef and chopped onion.  Drain fat.  Add remaining ingredients and simmer at least one hour, stirring occasionally.

Seriously, it’s that easy.  Here’s a photo of the simple ingredients and the resulting soup.

A couple of notes: while it’s not really high in calories, you can lighten it up by using a combination of lean ground beef and lean ground turkey (I use 93% lean turkey; it’s cheaper than the 99% lean and adds only a little fat); I posted a ‘hotter’ version of this on Amy Alessio’s website, http://www.vintagecookbooks.blogspot.com/, back in January to help promote my friend Molly MacRae’s new book Lawn Order. This is a tamer version that I prefer.

Enjoy!

Running Dark by Jamie Freveletti

Running Dark, Jamie Freveletti’s second novel, is just as captivating as her first. It features the same characters that were in Running from the Devil now a few months into the aftermath of their Colombian experience. Cameron Sumner is still with security company Darkview, but this time his assignment is on a cruise ship believed to be carrying pharmaceuticals. When the ship is attacked by Somali pirates, it becomes apparent these are not ordinary pharmaceuticals, but maybe a new kind of chemical weapon. To find out what’s there, a chemist needs to be transported into the danger zone. Emma Caldridge, fresh from an ultramarathon in South Africa where she was unwillingly injected with an experimental drug, volunteers to be that chemist and to be with Cameron again. Behind the scenes, a United States Senator is trying to bring down Darkview because of the Colombian pipeline destruction in the first book. To keep this from happening, Darkview executives Edward Banner and Carol Stromeyer are dancing as fast they can, trying to avoid giving up incriminating documents—and trying stay alive. Both are in danger of being killed by an organization that wants revenge for their earlier successes.

Freveletti’s characters are likeable and sympathetic, and the action never stops. You will not—I repeat NOT—be able to put this down. Don’t even try it. Just give into the delight of reading something this good.

What my playlist says about me…

As I ran this morning at the gym (aside: I only run outside in good weather), I was listening to my iPod Shuffle and wondering what those around me were listening to. What you listen to says something about you, whether you wish it did or not. Of course, if I could hear what the other runners were listening to, I’d probably make some kind of judgment based on what I heard.

So what kind of judgment would someone make if they heard what played on my iPod this morning? Here’s what I listened to:

1. Bringin’ da Noise by *Nsync.

2. Overkill by Men at Work

3. Down Under by Men at Work.

4.  Come Alive by Mark Schultz.

5.  Don’t Cross the River by America.

6.  Closer Than I’ve Ever Been by Mark Schultz.

7.  Syndicate by The Fray

8.  What About Now by Daughtry.

9.  Lovers in Japan by Coldplay.

10.  Supernatural by Daughtry.

11.  What I Like About You by Lillix.

12.  Message in a Bottle by The Police.

There’s definitely a nostalgic component to my music, and that surprised me. I don’t dwell in past, but … songs by *Nsync and the Backstreet Boys end up on my Shuffle because they take me back to a time when my kids were in middle and high school and we used to take these long, cross-country vacations. We listened to their music in the van sometimes. Lillix’s “What I Like About You” is also from that time, from the Freaky Friday soundtrack. My kids (and Debbie and I) really enjoyed that movie, which starred Jamie Lee Curtis and the now-disgraced Lindsay Lohan.

Add to that Men at Work, America, and The Police, and this list practically screams nostalgia. Those groups were popular back when Deb and I were in college and then out on our own, before kids, back when we were cool. (At least, I thought we were cool. Deb says we were never cool.)

But there’s a good mix of up-to-date music in there, too. I love the contemporary Christian scene, especially artists like Mark Schultz and Chris Tomlin. I make no secret I’m a Christian, by the way. If you’ve never read them, my books straddle the line between mainstream and inspirational.

And I LOVE the Fray. Can’t wait for their next album. The Coldplay song is from Viva la Vida, which I got largely because of the title track, but I really liked “Lovers in Japan” as well. And Daughtry.  He is SO much better than American Idol, and I’m glad he lost the competition and is proving to be more popular than a lot of those who won. His thoughtful lyrics and driving melodies are really appealing.

So, in short, here’s the analysis based on my iPod playlist: I enjoy revisiting the past, because so much of it—especially concerning Debbie and my kids—was so enjoyable. But I don’t spend my life there. I live for today, and find good in as many places as I can.

That’s what I want to believe, and I’m sticking to it.

So Cold the River

Michael Koryta’s latest novel, So Cold the River, is nothing like the novels that he’s written to this point. While it still has well-drawn characters and impeccably-described settings, this one starts out with a quiet puzzle rather than a lit fuse. That puzzle is presented to a man named Eric Shaw, who has the ability to sense truth through photographs and video. The failed former cinematographer is hired to go to West Baden, Indiana to do a video portrait of the mysterious early life of a 95-year-old rich man who is dying. The project is financed by Bradford’s daughter-in-law against the old man’s wishes. Bradford started out as a purveyor of Pluto water which is drawn from the springs found at West Baden.

Weird stuff begins to happen as soon as Shaw is hired. The blue bottle of Pluto water the daughter-in-law gives him is strangely cold, even in the ninety-degree heat. Shaw makes the mistake of tasting the water and is soon drawn into fits of migraine headaches and—once he reaches the West Baden Hotel—surreal visions. A young man who is a descendant of Bradford’s becomes a thorn in everyone’s side as he, too, sees visions and is driven to protect old secrets, even if that means committing murder. Like quicksand, So Cold the River slowly pulls the reader in until there’s no going back. What starts out as a curiosity that tugs at your brain becomes a compelling urge, not unlike the one which possesses Shaw, to learn the truth behind the Pluto water and the mysteries that surround Bradford’s history.

Though the end didn’t completely satisfy all the questions I felt Koryta had built up, there’s no denying the power of the story and his ability to tell it in a literate, compelling way. Plus, for those of us who’ve been to the towns of West Baden and French Lick and stayed in the two amazing hotels, Koryta’s novel provides an imaginative turn on the history of the area while documenting the rise, fall, and resurrection of this part of southern Indiana.

Printers Row Chicago

Printers Row Literary Festival, which was held in Chicago on July 12 and 13, was great fun!  The Mystery Writers of America had a booth, and I was there, signing books and helping get people into our booth.  Here are some photos from the event.

MWA Booth 3

MWA Booth 4

Michael Wiley & Jess Lourey

MWA Booth 1

Jack Fredrickson, Margery Flax, and Jamie Freveletti. In the background are Sharon Fiffer and Tim Broderick.

MWA Booth 2

Morgan Mandel, Raymond Benson, and Michael A. Black

Despite the rain, we had a great time.  Jack Fredrickson, Jess Lourey, Michael Wiley and I did a panel called “Stop! You’re Killing Me!” on humor in mysteries.  We had a few things planned, but the humor was mostly spontaneous, and there were a lot of laughs.  I think the audience enjoyed it.  And we sold a few books, too.

Italian Sausage and Peppers

This dish is from my first book, Second Advent.  Nick is of Italian descent (like you wouldn’t know from the Bertetto name) and visiting his father.  He wants to prepare something for him that his mom used to make, since Nick’s mom had passed away a couple of years before the book begins and Nick’s dad doesn’t cook. The recipe can be cut in half (I do that now that my wife and I are empty nesters) but it can also be doubled to feed a lot more. I hope you enjoy it.

Italian Sausage & Peppers

Ingredients:

1 T olive oil
4 Italian sausage links (about a pound or more)
1 large bell pepper, cut into thin slices
1 small zucchini or yellow squash, cut into rounds
2 15-oz cans of diced tomatoes with Italian seasoning (I like Red Gold brand)
1 medium onion, cut into rings or half rings
½ cup red wine
Cooked rice

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the sausage and cook on all sides until brown, about 10 minutes or so.  Remove the sausage from the pan.  Add the pepper, the onion, and the zucchini and sauté until done, 5 to 7 minutes.  Place the sausage back in and add the wine and tomatoes.  Simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes or so.  Be sure to taste the tomato mixture and adjust the seasoning to your preference.

I like to serve the Italian sausages separately and plate the tomato/vegetable mixture over cooked brown rice.  A salad is all you need to complete the meal.  And wine, of course.  (You did open a bottle of red just for this meal, didn’t you?  Why not drink it, too?)

Here’s a photo of the dish as I plated it.
Plated Sausage & Peppers website

Buon appetito!

February 11 — Being on the MWA Board

It’s a little daunting, being on the Board of the Mystery Writers of America (MWA).

The road to this started two years ago when Julie Hyzy, a fabulous author and a great friend, asked me to run as her vice president for the Midwest Chapter of the Mystery Writers of America (MWA).  When I did so, I knew the expectation would be that I would make my own run for the presidency two years later. That’s the way it usually works in the Midwest Chapter–a president runs for two years, and then the vice president runs for president.

Anyway, Julie did a great job in her two years, and and I ran and was elected president for 2010. And because all chapter presidents also sit on the MWA Board, I had the privelege of going to New York a few weeks ago and was indoctrinated into how things run on the national level.

All I can say is — Wow!  This is a great organization, and the people who are on the national board are a dedicated group of published mystery authors who love the genre and want to advance the field of mystery writing and help the authors who are in it.  If you are a mystery author or fan, I recommend that you look into membership.  Non-published authors and fans can be affiliate members, and published authors can become active members.  (Go to www.mysterywriters.org for more information.)  As a member, you are automatically assigned to the chapter that covers the geographical region where you live.  Chapters hold meetings with interesting speakers, have a message board to keep members in touch with what’s going on regionally and nationally, and make it possible to network with other writers and fans, among other things.

The Midwest chapter (www.mwamidwest.org) just held its first board meeting of the year, and we’re looking at upcoming meetings not only based in Chicago, our hub, but also in St. Louis, Milwaukee, and Minneapolis this year.  For more information, check the Midwest chapter’s site.

The daunting part for me is two-fold–first, to keep things going on both a regional and national level, and second, to keep up the quality of my writing as a member of such a prestigious board!