Saturday, January 24, 2015

Every hunter's dream -- 'Stag Party'

Reviewed in the Boerne Star, Jan. 20, 2015
It was every hunter’s dream. From his perch in a tree, Jasper Endicott scrutinized a huge herd of agitated bucks below him.
      “As he watched, more bucks arrived. Dozens more. They didn’t emerge tentatively from the brush, wary of danger, as deer usually did. Instead, they came bursting from the woods at full speed, caution to the wind. . .Their brains weren’t sophisticated enough to understand they’d been tricked.”
      It was a special scent that 102-year-old Harley Frizzell, an eccentric recluse, invented. He wanted to sell it and Jasper’s family was interested in buying the pheromone. The Endicott entertainment empire inspired hunters all over the country with their weekly reality television series.
       “A typical episode might include the men castrating bulls, shoeing horses, repairing a tractor . . . filling deer feeders, or building a barn.” But mostly the Endicotts hunted and they had a very large following.  Throngs of “wallhanger” bucks just for the picking would surely increase their ratings.
      Stag Party is Texas hill country author Ben Rehder’s eighth irreverent installment of his Blanco County mysteries. His cast of memorable characters reappear in this latest novel, but the book is a standalone story and does not depend upon reading the previous books.
      When Harley Frizzell’s lifeless body is discovered by Red O’Brian, Sheriff Bobby Garza questions Red and dismisses him as a suspect. Red, however, believes that he is number one on Garza’s list and enlists his buddy Billy Don to help him find the killer. He and Billy Don had recently won a feral pig shoot with a bounty of $25,000.00 for each of them. Red had considered buying Frizzel’s deer scent formula, but before he could cinch the deal, the old man was murdered.
      The two bungling rubes track down Frizzell’s girlfriend, a seventy-one-year-old hippie sculptor named Sparrow Holliday, who was purportedly the last person to see Frizzell alive. Could she have murdered him in a fit of jealous rage? Or did one of the Endicotts kill Frizzell to obtain the old man’s deer scent without having to pay for it?
      At the same time, 19-year-old PETA activist Liam Mooney and his partner Jessi Winslow, 18, set out from Nebraska to Texas to protest the Endicott’s fervent incitement of the public to kill innocent deer. The two misguided teens use Google Earth to locate the Endicott’s massive compound, which overlaps Kendall and Blanco counties, and they hatch a plan to burn the main house down.
      Lurking in the background of the story is Aaron Endicott, the sociopathic son who does not appear in the television show and who the Endicotts would rather not acknowledge. Aaron is a grotesque, colossal man with a pocked face and feral eyes. Aggressive and combative, the youngest Endicott seems always on the offensive for violent encounters. When Liam and Jessi mistake Aaron’s cabin in the Endicott compound for the main house and set it on fire, Aaron confronts the young couple and fireworks ensue.
      Stag Party ( ISBN-13: 978-1505440263, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, December 15, 2014) is bawdy, clever, irreverent, and infinitely entertaining. It is available on Amazon as a kindle e-book or paperback.

GOODBYE GLUTEN: Happy, healthy, delicious eating with a Texas twist

Reviewed in the Boerne Star, Nov. 21, 2014
Pizza. Pasta. Hamburgers. Biscuits. Fried chicken. These are forbidden foods for individuals with celiac disease or for those who have an intolerance to wheat, barley, and rye. In their new cookbook, GOODBYE GLUTEN: HAPPY, HEALTHY, DELICIOUS EATING WITH A TEXAS TWIST, authors Kim Stanford and Bill Backhaus prove that even decadent deserts can be successfully prepared without gluten.
    Over the past decade, gluten has gained a reputation as a devil in disguise. For individuals with celiac disease, gluten, a protein, causes an autoimmune response in the digestive system that can be deadly. In recent years, even people who can safely ingest the substance have joined the gluten-free bandwagon, declaring that they feel better avoiding it.
    There are problems inherent with sticking to a gluten-free diet. Many processed foods contain gluten, as do canned goods, condiments, cured meats, and liquor. Gluten-free foods are expensive, are sometimes adulterated with unhealthy additives and preservatives, and are often bland and flavorless.
    The backbone of Stanford’s and Backhaus’ cookbook is their assertion that gluten-free can be just as delicious as mainstream food. Their two hundred-plus gluten-free recipes will restore the enjoyment of great food to people who have been forced to miss out on their favorite dishes.
    When Backhaus called his former wife, Kim Stanford, to ask if she was interested in collaborating with him on a gluten-free cookbook, she responded with an enthusiastic “yes.”  Backhaus had been diagnosed with celiac disease more than thirty years before when there were virtually no packaged or processed gluten-free foods, so he and Stanford, a former financial consultant, learned to cook without gluten. Stanford continued to consume gluten until she was diagnosed with a thyroid deficiency. She eliminated gluten from her diet and also turned to organic whole foods. To her amazement, her thyroid healed without the surgery her doctor told her she needed, her allergies disappeared, and she lost weight with no effort.
    Stanford grew up in north Texas and lives in Austin. As the owner of a catering company, she borrows recipes from her childhood and jazzes them up with her own special twists. Her “Guadalajara Gazpacho,” “Lasagna with Mexican Crema,” and “Spiced Tequila Chicken” are succulent, delectable entrees that any good restaurant would be proud to have on its menu.
    After his celiac disease diagnosis, cooking quickly became Backhaus’ passion and he spent thousands of hours developing entrees like “Herb-Crusted Parmesan Chicken” and “Bacon-Wrapped Quail with Dates and Jalapeno.” A meat-lover, he has included numerous recipes for barbeque, rubs, and sauces. One notable sausage recipe, “East Austin Trailer Park Spicy Homemade Chorizo,” is downright addictive.
    Stanford loves dessert and looks forward to sitting around the dinner table at the end of a meal with a cup of coffee and a luscious sweet treat.
    “Previously,” Stanford says, “gluten-free desserts were like eating raw corn grits with sugar baked on them, then set out in the sun for a couple of days and, of course, freeze-dried for a couple of months. They were dry as concrete, tasteless, and so different from regular desserts.”
    The desserts that Stanford included in GOODBYE GLUTEN are anything but tasteless and dry. Her “Best Little Coconut Cream Cake in Texas,” “Ooey-Gooey Chocolate Brownies,” and “Southern Bell Peach Pie” will please anyone.
    Because food manufacturers add gluten to a myriad of products—cheese, chips, cereal, salad dressings, frozen vegetables, baking mixes, and processed meats—Stanford and Backhaus have included a list of gluten-free, brand-name pantry items found in most supermarkets. Even ketchup frequently contains gluten so the authors include a recipe for a homemade version.
    Some liquors and spirits also contain gluten. Popular brands of beer use barley for the fermentation process and are on the gluten-free forbidden list. Stanford and Backhaus list gluten-free beer brands and also include a bar guide in their cookbook. While vodka made with potatoes, unflavored rum, and tequila are naturally gluten-free, rye whisky and certain other blends contain the offending protein. Many cocktail mixers also contain gluten. Wine is generally gluten-free, but the authors warn the reader to stay away from malted wine coolers.
    GOODBYE GLUTEN is a comprehensive guide to enjoying a gluten-free lifestyle. At the same time it is a wonderful tool that any cook, gluten-free or not, can rely upon for a cache of recipes that will impress family and friends—with a Texas twist.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Let's not keep "The Secret Twins" a secret

I recently came across a captivating middle grade childrens’ chapter book (110 pages) on Amazon that had slipped under my radar—The Secret Twins by Lilly Bell. This delightful book plays on a common childhood fantasy of having a twin.

Ester and Betsy are nine-year-old twins. At only a half inch tall, however, Betsy is a teeny twin who constantly faces peril. Even though the twins’ mother outfitted Ester’s top dresser drawer with all of the conveniences of a regular home, Betsy prefers the company of her family to solitude. When they watch TV, Betsy has a special place on top of the coffee table. She is careful not to stray from her spot because her father sometimes rests his feet close by. Betsy is in charge of the remote, and hoists herself up on the gadget and leaps on the appropriate button to change the channel.

One morning when Ester is grumbling about having to go to school, Betsy wishes that she could go. It just isn’t safe and Betsy resigns herself to the fact that she must be homebound forever. All of a sudden Betsy hears Ester scream that a bee has flown in the house through an open window. When the startled bumble bee lands in Betsy’s dresser drawer, she hops on its back and off they go to school.

Unbeknownst to Betsy and her parents, Ester is being bullied by a dreadful little girl at school named Taylor. Through a series of missteps and by virtue of the bumble bee that carries Betsy to school on its back, the teeny twin is able to solve a mystery and vindicate Ester from accusations made by Taylor.

The Secret Twins is a charming book that is appropriate for kids from ages seven to twelve to read by themselves. Younger children from five to seven years will enjoy a parent reading the book to them. The story will spark a child’s imagination and will foster creativity.

The Secret Twins is available as an Amazon Kindle e-book. It is beautifully illustrated by the author and is free for kindle unlimited, or a true bargain at ninety-nine cents. Bell says she is working on a second installment of the story—let’s hope she writes a series.