Sunday, October 17, 2021

Jerry's loose, or: The Atherton Vampire is available now.

 Remember when I said last week that I was setting myself an arbitrary deadline for releasing The Atherton Vampire? And that it would be out this coming Thursday?

Strike that. It's available now at Amazon. Here's the cover so that you know what you're looking for.

I've set the price for the Kindle edition at 99 cents and will leave it there through at least the end of this month. 

I'm not planning to release paperback editions for this series, but I could be persuaded to change my mind. If you're interested in a paperback, let me know.


The series is set in Atherton, a fictional town on the fictional Cabell River. Jerry's grandfather founded the town; he chose this site on the Cabell (it's pronounced CAB-ull, not ka-BELL) for his river barge factory and essentially built the town to support the factory. (The remains of the factory figure prominently in the plot for this book.) 

I had a model in mind for the town of Atherton: Huntington, West Virginia. I lived in Huntington for a few years in the early '80s, back when I was a radio news reporter. Like Atherton, Huntington was named for its founder: railroad magnate Collis P. Huntington. He decided the area would be the perfect location for the western terminus of his Chesapeake & Ohio (C&O) Railway, so he bought some land and incorporated the city of Huntington in 1871. Unlike Jerry's grandfather, though, Huntington the railroad man moved on from his namesake city. He became one of the four rich guys who chipped in to build the Central Pacific Railroad -- part of the transcontinental railroad. (There I was, watching a Great Courses course on the American West not long ago, and lo and behold, who should pop up in the lecture about the transcontinental railroad but Collis P. Huntington. Small world, huh?)

The eastern terminus of the C&O was Richmond, VA, but Huntington later extended the line to Hampton Roads, VA. He was also instrumental in building Newport News Shipbuilding. As it happens, my next job after I left Huntington was in Hampton Roads. Who knew I was following in the footsteps of Collis P.?

Anyway, today's Huntington stretches for about fourteen miles along the Ohio River. It's the county seat for Cabell County, and its metro area includes Ashland, KY, and Ironton, OH.

In the series, the Atherton mansion sits on a bluff overlooking the town, the river, and the old shipyard. There's no view equivalent to that in Huntington, although the hills rise behind the town pretty fast. Situated up there is the Huntington Museum of Art, which is a decent museum for its size. I toured it with former Second Lady Joan Mondale when she was in town, stumping for her husband Walter the year he ran for the Democratic nomination for president. She invited reporters along on her tour of a visiting exhibition from the Armand Hammer Collection (speaking of wealthy industrialists). I liked one of the paintings so well -- Salome Dancing Before Herod by Gustave Moreau, a massive work of art -- that I bought a poster of it, had it framed, and hung onto it for many years.

Which has nothing to do with The Atherton Vampire, to be honest, unless I can work in a mention of John the Baptist's head on a platter later in the series. Hmm. Putting a pin in that idea.


Anyway, The Atherton Vampire is available now for Kindle for just 99 cents. Enjoy!


These moments of bloggy reminiscence have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Get vaxxed!

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Cooking with carbon steel.

For the past several years, I've been having eggs every morning for breakfast. (My doctor says my cholesterol level is just fine, thanks.) (I have theories about the fixation doctors and dieticians have on cholesterol, but that's a whole 'nother post.) I've also been a fan of nonstick pans ever since I bought my first set of cookware. So every day for the past several years, I've cooked my eggs in a nonstick skillet. And every year or so, I'd have to buy a new skillet because the nonstick finish would go hooey.

To be clear, I don't mistreat my nonstick pans -- I never use metal utensils on them -- but the finish only stays nice for a year or so, regardless. And once you can see it getting pitted and scratched, you kind of don't want to use it anymore, because how much of that stuff is getting into your food, right?

So a few months ago, when the frying pan I bought last year started to show signs of wear, I asked Mama Google if there was another alternative. "Carbon steel!" she said. "It's it's an alloy of steel and iron! It's lighter than cast iron and there's no chemical coating!" She then showed me a number of blog posts that rated the best carbon steel frying pans. Some were cheap, some were pricey, and I couldn't really tell what made one better than another. 

I dithered. Then I got sick of dithering and dropped the whole idea for a while. Finally, I went to a place at the mall and bought the brand they had in stock: A Ballarini Professionale 3000. (The link will take you to Amazon but you won't make me any money for buying a pan there; I don't do affiliate links.)

Photo stolen from Amazon.

The next step was to season the pan. I've never owned any cast iron, so this was a new thing for me. The pan came with instructions for seasoning, but the translation didn't seem to be the greatest, so back I went to Mama Google. Once again, there was tons of advice. The first instruction was always to scrub off the manufacturer's coating, which keeps the pan from rusting 'til you bring it home. But after that, things started to diverge: Coat it with oil, inside and out -- the handle, too -- but different people recommended different types of oils (canola, grapeseed, vegetable). And then came the actual technique: Heat the pan on top of your stove, but it's going to smoke like crazy! Or cook a mixture of oil, salt, and the peels from two potatoes in it! Or put it upside down in the oven at 450 degrees -- no, 400 -- no, 500 degrees -- and let it bake for an hour -- no, two hours! Then let it sit in the oven 'til it cools, and ta-da! It's done! Except you'll need to redo it several times in order to build up that patina so it's really nonstick.

And to clean it, don't ever soak it -- just scrape off the food residue with a wooden utensil and wipe the pan clean with a paper towel. No washing with soap. Well, maybe use a little water, but then heat the empty pan over a burner again 'til you're sure it's dry. Then oil it again to protect it from rust. Unless you use it a lot, in which case you can skip oiling it.

The process seemed daunting. But I looked up smoke points for oils, settled on vegetable oil as my seasoner of choice, and picked the oven method. Set it at 425 degrees, if I recall correctly. Left it in there for two hours for good measure, then allowed it to cool for another two hours. When it came out, it looked gorgeous, all evenly dark like it was supposed to look.

I used it several times. And then I made chickpea and spinach stew in it, forgetting one of the other rules of cooking with carbon steel: if you put anything acidic in it -- like oh, say, sherry vinegar -- it'll take the patina right off.

The solution, it turns out, is to keep using the pan in order to build the patina back up. It took about a week of daily use. This morning, I made fried eggs in it. Even with the patchy finish along the sides, the eggs turned out beautifully and they didn't stick at all.

Lynne Cantwell 2021

I'm really starting to like this pan. I might even buy another one.


I'm going to have to give myself an arbitrary deadline for getting the Atherton Vampire books out or it will never happen. So let's say the first Atherton Vampire book will go live on Kindle next Thursday, October 21st, just in time for your Samhain/Halloween reading pleasure. The second book has to stay exclusive to Kindle Vella until late November, so I'll aim for a release for that one just before Thanksgiving (the American one, I mean, and happy Thanksgiving today to my Canadian friends!). That will allow me to write the third book during NaNoWriMo and release it just before Yule. 


These moments of bloggy seasoning have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Get vaxxed!

Sunday, October 3, 2021

Ah, festival season.

Probably the thing I've missed the most over the past year and a half of this pandemic is outdoor festivals. Yarn festivals in particular, of course, but really any gathering in the fresh air where participating crafters offer their items for sale in booths. It's fun to walk around and see everything.

I hit the jackpot this weekend: the annual harvest festival at El Rancho de los Golondrinas in Santa Fe and the Taos Wool Festival in Taos. If I'd been paying attention, I would have gone to one yesterday and the other one today. Alas, I wasn't paying attention, so I ended up doing both today. 

Lynne Cantwell 2021

El Rancho de los Golondrinas (which means "the ranch of the swallows") used to be a stop on the Camino Real from Mexico City to Santa Fe. Now it's a living history museum. This was their 40th annual harvest festival, and it featured all kinds of craft demonstrations. But mostly, I took pictures of the animals.

At the sorghum mill, the interpreter mentioned that they had planned to make sorghum syrup but they'd run into several issues -- among them, recalcitrant burros for running the press. By the time I saw the critters later, they were okay with posing for photos.

Lynne Cantwell 2021

The burros live at the ranch, and so do these Churro sheep. The breed is descended from Churra sheep brought to the New World from Spain by the conquistadores. It's a popular breed around here -- the Navajo raise them, among others. They're prized these days for their soft woolly undercoat, which museum volunteers spin, dye, and weave into blankets and other items.

Lynne Cantwell 2021

Not far from the burros was a portable corral for a few alpacas. Some kids were trying to pet them, but the alpacas seemed more interested in their feed bags. 

Lynne Cantwell 2021

If there are sheep and alpacas, there must be yarn. And there was some yarn for sale from vendors at the museum, but I didn't pull out my magic plastic card 'til I got to Taos. The wool festival there is nothing like Maryland Sheep and Wool, which takes up a huge county fairground, but I managed to put a dent in my bank account anyway. No photos from Taos -- I was too busy petting the yarn. But I wish I'd gotten a shot of the gentleman who was leading around a yak on a leash. He -- the yak, not his owner -- was about five months old and looked a lot like a cow.

What was a yak doing at a fiber festival? Like sheep and alpacas, yak fur can be made into yarn. Their undercoat feels like cashmere, or so Mama Google tells me. It's pricey, of course, so I'm not in a hurry to buy any. Maybe next year. Or not.

These moments of bloggy critter stories have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Get vaxxed!