Guest blogging at the 12 Days Mystery Books of Christmas

I’m over at Cozy Mystery Book Reviews.

On the first day of christmas my true love gave to me

UNDERDEAD by Liz Jasper

Please join me in welcoming our very first author for the “12 Days of Mystery Novels for Christmas”, Liz Jasper.

Liz is the author of the Undead Mysteries, UNDERDEAD and UNDERDEAD IN DENIAL, and is currently working on the third book in this fantastic series.

Newbie science teacher Jo Gartner thinks her life has reached an all time low when she realizes the biggest excitement of her year is the staff Christmas party. Then she gets bitten by a vampire. Sort of. And then she’s a murder suspect. The police are at her door, the Undead are at her windows, and her vampire traits are growing harder to hide by the minute. If she doesn’t figure out who to trust she won’t be alive long enough to worry about all those papers she still has to grade.

Liz is here today to talk about Christmas, and more importantly what mysteries are perfect to read at Christmas time!

Welcome Liz to Cozy Mystery Book Review. Let’s talk mysteries at Christmas. It’s winter and snowing up here in Canada, so I’m always spending a lot of time indoors reading mysteries at this time of the year. What is your favorite mystery novel to read at this time of the year? ….

 Click here for the rest of the interview and a chance to win a copy of UNDERDEAD. Warning, we’re fighting over Ranger from Janet Evanovich’s books.

Beef with…pickles? Are you kidding me?

Nope. It’s called Rouladen. Or in my case, Rouladen that isn’t actually rolled. And it’s delicious.  One of those wonderful stews that takes what appears to be a contrary list of ingredients and somehow, with a little time, manages to become something wonderful. My Austrian grandmother used to make it. She was one of those cooks who made everything without a recipe, so a couple decades ago one of my aunts stood over her at the stove, night after night for months, writing down everything she did. The recipe I’m giving you is the one from my grandmother’s “cookbook”– a binder of Xeroxed pages that every household in the family has squirreled away in their kitchen. The only difference is I’ve added a little chicken broth instead of the traditional Depression era water.

I made a huge vat of it over Christmas for a family dinner last year—enough for 12 hungry adults because I wanted leftovers — and the eight of us, with eight different dietary preferences, nearly licked the platter clean. No leftovers to speak of. Even my sister, who isn’t much for beef, chowed down. It’s that good.

Rouladen–Unrolled and delicious

  • 1-1/2 lbs beef round or London broil cut in ¼ inch thick strips. Most butchers will cut it for you.  If you’re in a neighborhood where there are German residents, they’ll know what rouladen is. If not, just tell them you’re making brigole, the Italian stew, and you won’t have to bother explaining how you want the meat cut. (Note, I admit here to getting lazy sometimes and just cutting up cheap pot-roasts into slabs of whatever size and thickness my knife makes. I aim for long flat strips but let’s be real, I get chunks. Eh.  So long as you have pieces with long flat sides to brown, it does the job.)
  • 1 regular old yellow onion cut in strips or diced. Whatever floats your boat.
  • Dijon mustard (I use Grey Poupon or, as I call it, the big grey poop. Probably they won’t be hiring me to do their marketing any time soon.)
  • Dill pickles—not kosher or anything fancy. Just your cheap, supermarket brand dills.
  • No-salt-added chicken broth. Or low salt if you can’t find the former. Or a mixture of beef and chicken broth. Do not add all beef broth or it will taste as if it came from a can. Ick. if you’re feeling v. industrious, make your own beef or chicken broth, but don’t flavor it up with a lot of herbs.
  • Token amounts of pepper, flour, butter, vegetable oil (I use grapeseed oil, as it doesn’t have a taste, is cheap where I live, and takes some abuse before it burns).

What to do: Pat the meat dry with paper towels, brush with Dijon mustard on one side and sprinkle with black pepper. Brown meat on both sides in a little vegetable oil. Remove.  Brown onions. Deglaze pan (scrape up brown bits) with a couple cups of broth.

At this stage, you can either dump everything into casserole, slap on the cover and throw it into a 325 oven. Or you can put the beef back in the pan, plop on a lid and leave it slowly simmering on low on the stove top. After 45 minutes or so, slice the pickles in quarters—3 or 4 pickles depending on size—you should have a good handful or two. If you are using low-salt broth instead of the no-salt-added, you can rinse the pickles first to get rid of some of the salt. (Though some salt-lovers will love going full strength salt all the way.) Add pickles to sauce. Continue cooking for another 30-45 minutes or until beef is tender.

The gravy will be thin. You can thicken it.  Mix 2 tbs of soft butter with 2tbs of flour in a bowl until you have mush. Put a quarter cup of gravy into a cup or bowl and mix in the flour/butter mixture until you have a paste. Stir this back into the stew and bring the stew back to a simmer.

Serve with rice, dumplings or noodles. Green beans and carrots go well with this. The recipe can easily be doubled, tripled or quadrupled. (As I did last Christmas).  You can also brown up up a beef bone and throw it in to the broth for flavoring.

I am not kidding, and I can’t explain why it is the case, but this is to die for. (Note, I stole a rouladen-like picture off the internet because I never think to take pictures while I’m cooking.)

This is part of a holiday recipe blog hop! Hop here to see more holiday recipes from authors who should be writing their next book but are tinkering in the kitchen instead!

Taking back the Back Back

I saw this car ad a few days ago in a magazine that was showcasing the third row of seats in the back of their fancy, behemoth SUV. The tag line was something on the order of “The Bak Bak seat is cool”.

Okay. First of all, it’s the Back Back for Pete’s sake. And I’m not sure I have their spelling correct, but it doesn’t really matter because however they had it, it was wrong. And that was just the beginning of their wrongness.

The back back is NOT cool. And it is not a row of comfortable leather seating.  The back back sucks. It’s not meant for people, not officially, and it usually has no seats. (Exception: the wagons with the pop up seats that faced the on coming traffic behind you, aka, the vomit seats.) It’s the place where people shove groceries and tire jacks and picnic blankets too filled with prickers ever to make it back into the house. It’s usually got cheap carpet that leaves rug burns and it’s got detritus from years of living and neglect. There are no seat belts. You usually have to climb over the back row of seats to get there and no one chooses to sit there. You get stuck there because you are the youngest or smallest or someone hates you and likes watching you suffer.

The only thing cool about the back back is that if you survived it in your childhood, you are somehow a tougher human being. The sort than can handle driving backwards around curvy hills. That can handle unmentionable goo on your clothes. That has learned to flip off bad drivers in oncoming traffic that have the gall to look at you as you sit huddled miserably in the rear of the car and smile and wave at you. 

There is NOTHING cool about sitting in a comfy third row of seats in a brand new SUV, probably with cupholders and tv’s and your own climate control. Unless you’re a coddled wimp. Maybe that’s why even the ad people shied away from calling it the back back and came up with a fancy yuppie name for it. 

Wimps.

Odd What Strikes One as Hilarious


 Okay, so this particular issue of The New Yorker came in the mail a while back and for whatever reason I LOVE this cover. I can’t explain why it makes me giggle and why I want to have it on my wall. I want to go to the effort of buying a frame for it and sticking it up near my UNDERDEAD books. And the number of such things I currently have framed on my wall? Zero.

It sort of seems obvious why I would find it funny. Afterall, I write cozy mysteries with vampires and this is pretty much in the spirit of my novels. And yet, there’s a decent chance that if someone had given this to me I would have held it with two fingered distain. In fact, I would think that the very obviousness of this cartoon would make me bored by it. But, nope! My eyes keep going to the picture as I type this and I get a little rush of giggle each time.

Humor is an odd, odd thing! I think that’s why we feel so close to people who share our sense of humor. So tell me–what’s something you find funny and you can’t quite explain why?

Don’t Make the Halloween Mom ANGRY!

When I was in the sixth grade, trick or treating was a big deal because I was invited–and allowed–to go with a couple of friends and stay out until late (8:30) without supervision.

We were very proud of our costumes.  My friend Shanna was a cabaret dancer. It was a very cool costume. She had a top hat and a sparkly tuxedo jacket and a leotard and fishnets. I borrowed a spider costume that consisted mostly of giant black pipe-cleaner legs. It required explanation when I rang a doorbell:

Bewildered door-answerer:  And what are you?

Liz: I’m a spider!

Bewildered door-answerer:  Ohhhh. Here. Have an extra Milky Way, dear.

But then my costumes always required explanation. I don’t remember what the third friend went as. You just can’t compete for memory space against Shanna’s sparkles and top hat and my thrill over having a real costume instead of the sort of throw-together thing my family went for.

Liz’s Mom: Here, Liz, wear this old shirt of your father’s out of the rag bin. Look! You’re a hobo!

Liz: What’s a hobo?

Anyway, we were having a great time (translation: having a good candy haul that year) when the clock ticked past 7:30. That meant the parents out trick or treating with little kids were taking their kids home. Soon we we ran afoul of a gang of 7th grade boys. Here’s a what happened: they had shaving cream and were ten year old boys.

Shanna got the brunt of it. Her sparkles were like a hundred little targets begging the boys to nail her with shaving cream.

We made it back to Shanna’s house teary and dejected.

Shanna’s Mom: Girls! You’re back early. How was the… [eyes narrow. Lips compress.] What happened.

Three girls speaking at once: They were mean! They had shaving cream! It wasn’t our fault! They just attacked us!

Shanna’s Mom [crossing to the fridge and yanking it open]: Here. Hold this. [Hands closest girl an 18 pack of eggs.] Girls, get into the car. No. We’re taking the van. [She grabs a box of something and hefts it in the van, placing it between the front seats.] Okay. Everyone buckled in? [We drive in petrified silence to back to the street. There are muffled sounds of sniveling as we take stock of our ruined costumes.] Okay. Point them out.

Shanna: There they are. Those are the boys! See? The big one still has a can of shaving cream.

Shanna’s Mom [Slams to a stop. She opens the egg carton and grabs as many as will fit in her hands and starts pelting the boys]: Get ’em!

[We grab eggs,  crowd at the back windows and hurl them out.]

[The boys run]

Shanna: Mom, we’re out of eggs. They’re running away!

Shanna’s Mom. “Hold on girls!” [Screeches forward in a three point turn and chases after the boys with the brights on.] “Take some apples!”

Shanna: Eew, these are the ones that went bad!

Shanna’s Mom [smiling for the first time]: I know.  Get ’em girls!

Frankly, now that I look back on it, I find it was very generous of Shanna’s mom to teach those boys an important life lesson at such a tender age: Always remember how you treat a girl because at some point, you WILL meet her mother!

Guest bloggin at Buried Under Books (which isn’t a bad way to go, IMO)

HALLOWEEN COSTUMES FOR THE CHEAP AND LAZY

Maybe you’re too busy with daily life to come up with a good costume for Halloween. Or maybe you can’t muster the energy to deal with the parking lot at Target, much less the insanity of the Halloween aisle.

Or maybe you’ve already eaten the candy meant for trick-or-treaters and have had to go back for the re-buy of shame and don’t have money left for a “real” Halloween costume. (Liz hurriedly shoves empty king-sized bag of Rolos out of sight.)

Not to worry. I, Liz Jasper, award-winning author of the UNDERDEAD vampire mysteries, am here for your Halloween costume needs! [MORE]

Leave a comment at Buried Under Books about your costume skills and get a chance–or two–to win a copy of Underdead!

 

Best pumpkin ever!

 

Here’s something to love about Facebook–you get to see a ton of funny images. Or things that inspire. Or awe.

 

Or that do all the above, like THIS:

How cool is that! If I understand the Facebook credits properly, the genius behind it is Craig Hurle and that link will take you to the Dr. Who page. (There may be others but do THEY have pumpkin Daleks? Are they awesome?)  Darn straight I “liked” the page! I will admit here that I, Liz Jasper, am a Dr. Who junkie. The new series, not the the older ones. My sister used to watch those paltry excuses for whodom when we were kids. Yes, she wore the striped scarf around like a dork (she’s my sister so, yeah, I’m calling her a dork). She had a big crush on the blond doctor. And probably the curly haired one with the big nose, too; she was that into it. I would take one look at the screen and roll my eyes and run out and shoot hoops. I was very, very condescending.  

And I still am. Hah! The new ones rule! Anyone with me? If not, Exterminate!

(Mis-) Naming your pet

We had this cat, Fuzzy. No, I did not name her. I would not have named her something so insipid, so…generic. In my family, we like to get a feel for the cat’s personality before naming him or her. (Unfortunately, this often leads to confusion, as the cat’s name tends to change over time as we get to know him or her better.)

Anyway, the point is. my cat’s personality was not the sort that goes with “Fuzzy”. “Fuzzy” belongs to a sweet cat. A nice cat. The sort that sits on your lap and purrs.

THIS cat was more the sort to sit on someone else’s lap and purr, just to stick it to you. And she’s not cute the way a name like Fuzzy would imply. Frankly, she was much, MUCH better looking than that. You know that euphemism about someone having a “good personality”? Well Fuzzy was the reverse. She had a terrible personality. We kept her because she was so darned good-looking. She was a ridiculously cute cat.

Eventually, after a few years of spurning, we got over her blinding cuteness, stopped calling her Fuzzy and started calling her by the name that went with her personality: That Little Turd.

But even that name didn’t last forever. As will happen, The Little Turd got old and her kidneys went on the blink. Which means I had to give her (foul tasting) meds twice a day and inject her with some stuff. As you might imagine, there was a lot of hiding under furniture and complaining. Often by me. We changed her name to Cranky Pants. That lasted about a minute, until we got caught in the death ray of her glare at being, once again, named something insipid. She became known from then on as Bitter Butt.

About that time I moved. I was good. I read all the books. I bought her treats and crooned at her. I bought two litter boxes so Bitter Butt could have her pick. And how did she respond? How did she show her gratitude?

Spite peeing. She never used the litter boxes unless it was as a place to stand while she went off the side. She hit the bathroom rugs, so you’d get a little damp surprise under your feet if you had to go in the middle of the night. She went inside closets. On luggage, towels, and electronics. She particularly enjoyed peeing on iPods. I don’t have an iPod. But she could sense it from two rooms away if a guest brought one in the house and was stupid enough to leave it unattended.

You might be reading this and thinking, “Oh that poor sweet dear kitty! So traumatized at illness and moving.” That just goes to show you’re a total sucker for a pretty face. “She was just expressing her feelings,” you insist.

Of course Bitter Butt was expressing her feelings! The feeling she was expressing most often was enjoyment in watching me me get down on my hands and knees and scrub up after her, coughing my way through thick vinegar clouds. I could tell because off in the distance, I could hear that rarest of all Fuzzy sounds: her purring. The little turd.

Anyone else gravely mis-named a pet?

Plotting by Magic Eight Ball

 

I don’t know why I’ve bothered to take all those classes, why I’ve wasted blood sweat and tears over my book plots…when I could simply have used a Magic Eight Ball.

“Yes!” it agrees.

Consider this passage beginning from a potential novel. “Esmeralda looked out her window and saw…”

Now, I could spend hours debating what she saw. I could dither over the wisdom of opening the novel with my heroine spying on something. I could fret over the sentence structure. And so on. You know, the usual writer’s angst.

OR

I could simply use the Magic Eight Ball.

Liz Jasper (to the Magic Eight Ball): Should Esmeralda see her hero?

Magic Eight Ball: Signs point to yes.

LIZ JASPER: Hmmm. I guess that means she should see him, but indirectly. Maybe he’s in costume?

Magic Eight Ball: Concentrate and ask again.

LIZ JASPER: Right, right. She sees him getting into his carriage on the way to a costume ball.

Magic Eight Ball: Reply hazy try again.

LIZ JASPER: They’re in the carriage together, on the way to a costume ball and he has on one of those mask thingies. AND, that when she realizes her guardian is the mystery man she kissed in the garden at the last costume ball!

Magic Eight Ball: Cannot predict now.

LIZ JASPER: And she knows he’s on his way to meet his fiancée, to whom he was promised at birth but has never seen, and Esmeralda knows she cannot let him marry someone else because she loves him! So she rings for her maid and dons the gown from that fateful night, the gown she swore never to wear again, and secretly follows him to the ball in the second best carriage!

Magic Eight Ball: My sources say no.

LIZ JASPER: Dammit! No, you’re right. It’s been done. Hmm. How about she goes with him to the ball and that’s when she realizes he’s the one?  Maybe when they’re dancing together?

Magic Eight Ball: Very doubtful.

LIZ JASPER:  You know, this is very annoying! Why can’t you like any of my ideas? I’m a published author, you know.  An award-winning published author. Fine, that was mysteries and the Esmeralda book is a historical romance, but still.  Authors need to stretch themselves. Who are you to say I can’t write a big thick romance?  Screw you.  She’s going to that darn dance, she’s going to follow him out of the garden, and she’s going to…to seduce that blind fool!

Magic Eight Ball: My sources say no.

LIZ JASPER: Fine. She’ll stumble and he’ll clutch her to him–just for the sake of keeping her from falling—and  then they’ll kiss. Ha HAH! Now that’s good stuff.

Magic Eight Ball: Outlook not so good.

LIZ JASPER: You’d probably like it if they didn’t even exchange a smoldering look!

Magic Eight Ball: Most likely.

LIZ JASPER: Maybe You think I should be working on the next Underdead book like I’m supposed to be!

Magic Eight Ball: “As I see it, yes”

As you can see, the Magic Eight Ball can save you hours of time wasting and even help you with time management! I’d let you borrow mine, but it’s having some technical difficulties right now. Maybe when the glue dries…

NOVEMBER NEWS

     Almost Turkey Day!

(Hey, I LIKE Thanksgiving. I’d do a countdown but I figure my time is better spent in the Thanksgiving spirit of looking up recipes of things I can slop gravy over. Mmmm. Gravy! No, I’m not sharing. Get your own gravy bowl!)

Award winning UNDERDEAD  and the sequel UNDERDEAD IN DENIAL are now available in eBook and trade paperback!

 

“Jo is terrific! An entertaining lighthearted romp!”~~Midwest Book Review 

“UNDERDEAD is certainly not your typical vampire story, it’s better!”~~ Two Lips Reviews

“Hilariously funny…a page-turner extraordinaire”~~MyShelf

“Fun to read murder mystery with vampires rivals TWILIGHT series”
~~ Sci-Fi/Fantasy Fiction

 

As a launch special, the eBook version of UNDERDEAD will be on sale for $0.99 for a limited time. To find links to both books in whatever format you prefer, click here.

WHERE TO FIND LIZ IN NOVEMBER: Pin Up Hair Emporium and Unique Boutique. Reading, book signing and wine and cheese and palm reading. You saw it right, palm reading. 6-8:30. 1560 Fourth Street, San Rafael, CA