Thursday, June 19, 2014

Recipe: Spiedies

Friends, I am about to do what no upstate New Yorker does lightly. I am about to share my spiedies recipe.

Understand, this isn't my actual spiedies recipe. This is an approximation of how I make 'em, jotted down for the first time ever during a recent spiedies-making episode.

The main principles which my method follows are... wait, what?

What are spiedies?

Oh. Spiedies (pronounced "speedies") are a regional dish found within roughly 60 miles of Binghamton, New York. They are chunks of spiced, marinated meat, eaten in a sandwich. When I was a kid I thought they were called "spiedies" because they cook very quickly. Now that I am grown up and have Google, I'm able to find out that nobody knows why they're called spiedies. When I was a kid they were almost always made with beef. Nowadays I think they are more often made with chicken.

Anyway, spiedies are not good for you, but I like to think my version is less-not-good-for-you than others.

Warning: Spiedies are addictive.


2 large garlic cloves
1 lb (450 grams) organic free-range boneless, skinless chicken breast
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 tsp lime juice
1/4 tsp turmeric
pinch fresh ground black pepper
1/8 tsp Jane's Crazy Mixed-Up Salt (optional)
1 T1 fresh basil (about 8 leaves)
1 T fresh sage
1 tsp fresh oregano
4 spearmint leaves and 2 peppermint leaves (or 1 tsp combined fresh mint)

Chop the garlic and set it aside to rest.

Combine the olive oil, vinegar and lime juice in a large measuring cup. Add the turmeric, pepper, and salt. Set aside.

Chop the herbs; set aside.

Remove all fat from the chicken and cut it into chunks or strips no more than 1" in size. Put the chicken in a bowl or plastic bag.

Beat the oil, vinegar and lime juice briskly with a fork for 1 minute. It will separate immediately, but at least you tried. Add the garlic; stir. Add the herbs and stir thoroughly.

Pour this marinade over the chicken and stir well. Marinate in the refrigerator for 24 hours or more, stirring occasionally in a vain effort to get the oil and vinegar back together.

The olive oil may solidify in the fridge. For this reason, I prefer to use a plastic bag. Frequent vigorous (but not too vigorous) squishing of the plastic bag can reliquefy the oil.

Once the spiedies are marinated, remove them from the liquid. Fry them. (The oil will tend to splatter, so you might want to cover the pan. Alternatively, they can be skewered and cooked outdoors on a grill.) Drain on paper towels or paper bags, and serve in your preferred sandwich wrapper. I like to use toasted Italian bread. Traditionally nothing joins the spiedies inside the sandwich. It's just spiedies and bread. 

Alternative for those avoiding starches: Cut each chicken breast into three or four thin cutlets, instead of chunks or strips. Marinate. Then, instead of frying, spread the marinated spiedies on a cookie sheet and bake in a 350 degree oven for 20-25 minutes, or until cooked through. (Slice and make sure there's no pink inside.)

The fresh herbs, by the way, are why I prefer to make spiedies in the summer. But don't go out and buy all that stuff if you haven't got it growing. And if you have thyme, which grows wild in much of upstate New York, use that too. Just use whatever you have, in whatever combination you want. Spiedies are essentially a state of mind.

1 If using dried herbs, use 1/3 as much. 1 T fresh= 1 tsp dried. 1 tsp fresh= 1/3 tsp dried.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

My Writing Process Blog Tour

I would like to thank the delightful and wise Megan Frazer Blakemore, author of The Spy Catchers of Maple Hill, for inviting me to participate in the Writing Process Blog Tour. I have the honor to know Megan through Twitter and lists; lots of lists! Her 2013 middle grade fantasy The Water Castle tends to appear on the same lists as my book Jinx. Most recently, they both appeared on the 2014-15 New Mexico Land of Enchantment list.

And now, here are my answers to the Writing Process Blog Tour questions:

1) What are you working on?

I'm sitting here waiting for the page proofs of the third and (for the nonce) final Jinx book, Jinx's Fire. They should be here very soon. And I've started drafting another middle grade fantasy. This one is set in a different world from Jinx's, and at the moment the protagonist is a girl. I'm about 12,000 words in.

2) How does your work differ from others of its genre?

I suppose anybody's work is different from anyone else's. You could take any story idea (for example: Due to a series of errors, a fieldmouse is elected President of the United States) and hand it to 100 different writers, and you'd get 100 different stories.

One characteristic of all my work is that I'm fascinated by setting. I love to explore places. Setting is nearly always a character in my stories. In the Jinx books, the setting even has a speaking part.

3) Why do you write what you do?

The desire to explore, again. Not just places, but relationships between people, and the reasons why things happen, and the unwritten rules and assumptions that we live by.

I feel lucky to be writing children's fantasy, because fantasy stays with you. When people talk about the books they remember from childhood, more often than not they talk about fantasy. There's much more children's fantasy being published now than when I was a kid, and I'm so glad to be allowed to be part of that.

4) How does your writing process work?

I spend a long time-- months, sometimes years-- letting the story come to me. While that's happening, I walk, I draw pictures, I write down bits of dialogue and ideas, and I do bubble maps. I use colored sharpies for the latter; a different color for each character or event. (I have a lot of colors.) I also use the colored sharpies on index cards, which I'll rearrange on a table or on the wall until I get the main events into a temporary order.

Then I start drafting, as fast as possible. I shoot for 10,000 words a week and usually make it.

I set the draft aside for as long as I can afford to (usually two weeks to two months). Then I come back to it with fresh eyes and begin the revision process. I usually go back and make more bubble charts at this point to resolve issues that have come up during the drafting. It'll be sometime after the third draft that I actually show the work to friends, family, or critique partners.

After that there will be several more revisions before I'm ready to send the work off, and then finally of course there are yet more revisions with the guidance of my agent or an editor.

Oops, here's the UPS guy with those page proofs for Jinx's Fire! So I'm going to finish now and hand you over to another participant in the Writing Process Blog Tour, fantasy author Sarah Prineas, who needs no introduction but is going to get one anyway.

Sarah Prineas's award-winning Magic Thief series follows the adventures of the irascible wizard Nevery and his gutterboy apprentice, Connwaer. Sarah holds a PhD in English literature and recently taught honors seminars on fantasy and science fiction literature at the University of Iowa. Her latest book is Moonkind, the conclusion to the Winterling series. Visit her website here, and watch for her Writing Process Blog Tour post on June 12th.