18 January 2012

Sweetened Iced Tea & Ego Extract

Although she generally plans out the menu, when it comes to preparing dinner, Liz pretty much lets me cook the way I want. Sometimes, she's quite pleased. Often, she's a bit cautious and suspicious of the concoctions I've come up with.

As I’ve stated before, my recipes come about when I eat something I like very much and then my desire to create my own version of the culinary delight, hoping to improve upon the meal as well as add my own special touch.

The same goes with a nice beverage.

I grew up drinking sweetened iced tea. And although Paula Deen may have sworn sweetened tea to curve her Type 2 diabetes, I'll probably drink sweetened tea on my death bed.

One of my fondest childhood, teenage, and young adult memories is visiting Grandma Smith in Altus and drinking her sweetened iced tea.

Iced TeaAfter brewing and sweetening her tea, she put it in an old tin milk pitcher much like the one posted here, except Grandma's was just plain silver. The pitcher held about a gallon, and she’d have to make two or three gallons a day when any family visited on vacation.

Grandma super-sweetened her tea. That’s why I (and the others) liked it so much. I’m not sure, but I think Grandma put two or three cups of sugar in her tea, so much that it was more like sugar water with a  little tea flavoring.

I smile when remembering opening up her refrigerator, grabbing that old tin milk pitcher, and pouring a big glass of sweetened tea over several cubes of ice--even though the tea was already quite cold.

One of the downsides to Grandma’s sweetened tea was the pitcher itself. It was an opened pitcher with a wide pouring spout. As with liquids and other foods, the tea would often absorb any aromas wafting around in the old fridge.

So, if Grandma had fried some onions and put the leftovers in the fridge, the fried onion aroma floated through the fridge and would do a swan dive into the wide-mouth tin milk pitcher, thus mingling as one with the overly sweetened tea.

This is back in the day before plastic containers with airtight lids to keep aromas and freshness within the containers. Back in this day, tin foil often served as the lid for the leftovers, and tin foil does not an aroma barrier make.

So, I’d dive into the fridge, grab the tin pitcher of sweetened tea, pour the brownish-gold liquid over the ice cubes, and quaff.

Only after a few greedy gulps did I realize I was quaffing an interesting juxtaposition of sweetened tea and fried onions.

Still, it was so sweet that I didn’t mind the imbuing of the two contrasting palatine pleasures.

I’ve continued to drink tea over the years, many of those years I'd be drinking unsweetened iced tea in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle and keep my weight at a respectful balance

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gone back to sweetened iced tea, but I haven’t settled for the mundane sugar-tea combination.

And I winch at the thought of drinking tea full with as much as Grandma would stir into the tea.

So, I have compromised with my own concoction.

Larry Mike’s Sweetened Iced Tea:

  • 1 ounce of your favorite flavor of tea (leaf or bag)
  • 2 quarts of water (distilled/filtered is best)
  • 1 ¼ cup of sugar (or none, or sugar to taste, but not too much sugar or the sugar will mask the flavor of the tea, as Grandma’s would)
  • 1/3 cup of pure lemon juice
  • 1/8 cup of pure lime juice

1. Place tea in the two quarts of water and bring to boil

2. Boil for several minutes (two to five)

3. Turn off heat but keep the water/tea on the burner, letting the water slowly cool down from boiling

4. After a half hour of brewing, remove tea leaves/bags

5. Add lemon, lime, and sugar and stir vigorously

6. Put in a one-gallon container and add enough water to make one gallon

7. Although you can serve over ice cubes right away, I like to let the tea set overnight in the fridge to give all the ingredients time to fully mingle and become one.

Occasionally I'll add a bit a pure extract flavoring just to spice up the tea somewhat. Be careful if you do this so the flavoring doesn’t monopolize the tea-lemon-lime-sugar.

All flavors should work together to produce a delicious cold beverage rather than have one that dominates the others, like all the sugar Grandma put in her tea.

If you do add pure extract flavoring, just put in a drop, maybe two. Make sure to use pure extracts. I know the imitations are much less expensive and you (or I) probably can’t tell the difference in the taste between the artificial and the pure. Still, I prefer to pay a little extra for the real thing.

I’ve used the following pure extracts to enhance the sweetened iced tea experience:

Almond, Vanilla, Bourbon Vanilla, Peppermint, Raspberry, Strawberry, Blackberry

Of course, honey is a nice addition.

The first time I added a pure extract flavoring, I added too much, and the extract flavoring was all I could taste, ruining what I thought would be a perfect mixture of some of my favorite tastes.

Liz didn’t like it either. So, with great reluctance and a ceremony befitting a Viking funeral (I hate wasting anything, even if it’s something that’s gone wrong), I poured the remainder of the sweetened tea (a gallon minus two cups) down the drain.

I learned to use just enough extract flavoring to suggest, to hint at the taste of an additional flavor, to provide an occasional change to the routine.


Sometimes when I write, I add too much of a good thing, I put in too much Creative Writing Extract.

I've attended dozens of workshops, completed several creative writing classes, and I have even conducted workshops and taught creative writing as well.

I know much about how to put a story together using all the standard tools, techniques, and tricks of writing.

And, as with many writers, I sometimes let my cleverness and my talent and my knowledge take over and the story gets bogged down. I add everything to the mix so that the story becomes an exercise in Creative Writing cleverness rather than just a good story.

The reader has to sluggishly make his way through the thickness of Writer’s Ego Extract to get the real taste of the tale, leaving a thick, yucky heavy taste on his mental toungue.

If the reader gets to the end of the tale at all. Once a reader realizes he/she is merely indulging a Writer’s Ego in his exercise of Cuteness, he/she dumps the tale, just as I dumped that tea down the drain the first time I made extract flavored sweetened iced tea.

I want my reader to enjoy a story I've written the way he/she would enjoy a nice cold beverage I've made on a warm summer’s day while sitting on a porch swing, watching the world go by: relaxing, refreshing, invigorating, and enlightening

But, when I add too much pure extract of Graduate School/Creative Writing flavoring to my story (all that Creative Writing School/ How to Write the Perfect Story and Get Published nonsense), I’ve lost the true intent of tale-telling in the first place--to refresh the reader.

Adding a drop or two of pure extract to my sweetened iced tea is a refreshing change.

Extracting my Writer's Ego while weaving a tale is the best writing advice I can give to myself to provide the best tasteful flavor of story for my readers.

Bon Appétit

Larry Mike

15 January 2012

Tale of the Ole Taco

Once a week Liz makes out the dinner menu for the upcoming week as well as the grocery list. I pay for it. To be fair, she does ask me, “What do you want?” or “What do you think about . . . ?”

But, basically, she makes out what she wants to eat, and I go along with it.

I like this arrangement, Liz deciding what we're going to eat for dinner. Just one more decision (actually, seven decisions) I don't have to make.

One of our favorite meals we have about twice a month is taco.

Now, Altus has a Mexican restaurant on every corner. They’re competing with the churches around here to see who can proliferate one small southwest Oklahoma town with the largest number of the Same Thing.

So, if you ever need a Mexican meal or a baptizing, Altus can accommodate you quite well with both.

I've eaten at several of the local Mexican restaurants around Altus, most of them mom-and-pop places, not fast-food chains.

They all seem the same to me. It also seems the secret to having a local Mexican restaurant is to paint the outside of the building in some arrangement of Green, White, and Red--maybe have a sombrero or burro or cactus painted on the sign or the sides of the building.

Same thing for the inside: Green, White, Red, sombrero, burro, cactus.

And cheese.

Lots of cheese on every entrée. Sometimes I want to order some meat, lettuce, tomato, onions, et al to go along with my Mexican cheese meal.

I’ve eaten at a couple of “real” Mexican restaurants along the border, and the menus at the border restaurants are quite different from the local places.

When I eat something I like very much, I want to make it myself at home.
To do this, I try to guess what ingredients are mixed together.

Thus begins a trial-and-error period in which Liz and others are subjected to my experiments to imitate good food.

Here’s the seasoning I’ve come up with for Larry Mike’s Ole Tacos:
*      1 tablespoon chili powder
*      ½ teaspoon garlic powder
*      ½ teaspoon onion powder
*      ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
*      ¼ dried oregano
*      ½ teaspoon paprika
*      1½ teaspoons ground cumin
*      1 teaspoon sea salt
*      1 teaspoon black pepper
*      1½ teaspoon curry powder

Mix together and store until needed. This allows the various ingredients to get to know each other and to become friends so that when they are added to the meat, they really know how to throw a party.

When ready to make Larry Mike's Ole Tacos, add one tablespoon to each pound of ground beef used to make your tacos.

Here’s how I make my Ole Taco Meat:
*      Brown 1 pound of 81/19 lean beef and then drain
*      Once the meat is returned to the stovetop, turn the heat down and add the following:
*      1 tablespoon of Larry Mike’s Ole Taco Seasoning
*      ½ to ¾ cup of chopped fresh tomatoes
*      ½ to ¾ cup of chopped fresh yellow onions
*      ½ to ¾ cup of chopped fresh yellow onions

Let the meat, Old Taco Seasoning, tomatoes, and onions simmer in 1/4 cup of water (adding a drop of lime juice gives it nice tart taste).

Now, here’s where I differ from other taco makers. I don’t use taco shells. I don’t like them. They get soggy and they fall amount, and I’ve choked on a few sharp edges during my taco-eating.

Instead, I use 10” flour tortillas.

For each “taco”, I spread a generous portion of the Ole Taco Meat on the tortilla along with a helping of sour cream, some fresh cut lettuce, chopped jalapeños, and shredded cheese.

I then fold the tortilla once, fold in the edges, and then roll it so it shapes into a nice four to six inch “taco”.

Next, I cook them in one of two ways for that crispy, crunchy taste we have come to associate with a taco:
  • in a 375 degree oven until crispy or
  • in a deep fryer until crispy
I make sure to have homemade guacamole and salsa sauce for the repast (those recipes for another time) and more sour cream for dipping.

I serve with refried beans, real Mexican beer, and/or good tequila.

I know what you’re thinking: that’s not really a taco--that’s a burrito.

Perhaps, but the idea started with me wanting to make tacos like ones I enjoyed at the border, to make a better, more authentic taco because I can’t find one around here.

If I put the Ole Taco Meat in a hard crunchy corn shell, then it would truly be a taco.

Still, I will call my taco creation made with flour tortillas Larry Mike’s Ole Tacos, and you can either eat them or not.


The same is true when I write.

When I read a story I like very much, I want to make that story my own by trying to figure out the ingredients the writer used in his/her story, just as I did with the border tacos.

I experiment, revise, workshop, rewrite, and experiment some more. My family and friends are the guinea pigs.

Soon, I have a tale I like very much, and while it has much of the same successful ingredients as the story that inspired me (and all good and great stories, for that matter), I have added enough of my own personal touches and ingredients--my personality--that my tale has little resemblance to the original and, hopefully, is similar but something new and different.

And while my Dark Fantasy may not perfectly fit the Dark Fantasy motif because I use a different approach or a different style or add different motifs from other genres, I will still call it Dark Fantasy because, to me, that’s what my story is.

I’ve known many writers over the years who have some talent but lacked either the ambition or courage or both to take a successful formula and rework it as their own.

Yes, it’s nice to have rules and archetypes and motifs and standards. It's good to have a well-tested recipe.

The thing of it is though--the thing of it is--it's just one recipe for making delicious tacos or writing a lip-smacking story.

Just ONE.

A good writer, like a good cook, takes the basics and adds his/her own special ingredients so that while similar to those stories and tacos that have come before and will come after, this ONE story or this ONE taco is as unique as it can be and has a distinctive signature so that the reader, or the taster, will exclaim, "Ah, ha! This is one of Larry Mike's creations."

Bon Appétit,

Larry Mike

07 January 2012

Sloppy Joes--Sloppy Stories

Who doesn't like good ol' fashioned Sloppy Joes?

The problem isn't in the liking of good ol' fashioned Sloppy Joes--it's in the making--like writing a good story.

As with eating Sloppy Joes, we all like to read a good story, too. As a writer, I like to write a good story as well.

The thing of it is though--the thing of it is--is the time, the patience, and the energy required to produce the best story possible.

Sometimes my impatience gets the better of me, and I settle for a Hamburger Helper meal rather than take the time and exert the proper energy to produce a really good meal--or a really good story.

I crave for instant gratification, whether in sating my appetite or stroking my writer's ego.

Here's my recipe for Larry Mike's Hearty Sloppy Joes:

  • 1 lb. 81/19 lean ground beef
  • 1/3 lb sausage
  • 1 bratwurst
  • 1 sm onion, chopped
  • 1 tomato, chopped
  • 1 (12 oz.) can tomato sauce
  • 1 tbsp. vinegar
  • 1 tbsp. malt vinegar
  • 1 tbsp. brown sugar
  • 2 tsp. chili powder
  • 1/3 tsp. paparika
  • 1/3 tsp jalapeño sauce
  • 1/4 tsp. garlic salt
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • ¼ cup water
  1. Peel casing from bratwurst
  2. Mix all meats together.
  3. Brown beef, sausage, & bratwurst mixture with onion and tomato drain well
  4. Mix all remaining ingredients with meat and let set for one to two hours
  5. Heat and put generous portion on each bun
Cheese slices (optional)

Hamburger buns--swab with garlic butter and grill

Serve hot with homemade iced tea (lemon/lime).


The trick of course is possessing the patience to give all the meat and ingredients time to mix and to mingle, to imbue themselves so it seems they all have been one from the beginning of time.

Sometimes, impatience sets in, the desire to eat write away, and, while still a good meal, the mixture is not really a cohesive and satisfying whole.

Same for writing. Seems to be a rush to publish at the expense of quality.

With all the "instant" Hamburger Helper publishing opportunities available to hungry writers, many writers, and I'm just as guilty, will settle for a Hamburger Helper story rather than put our tales aside for "an hour or two" and let each tale mix itself properly--with editing, revision, re-writing, re-writing, re-writing.

As with an over-weaning appetite, I'm dying for ego-filling publication and am tempted to rush my stories to the all-too-easy Hamburger Helper publishing opportunities and to settle for an artificial recipe.

Sloppy Joes make for a great appetizing and filling repast.

Sloppy stories do nothing but waste time and bore readers.

Bon Appétit,

Larry Mike

PS: I am not adverse to SmashWords, Lulu, Amazon, B&N, and all the other digital publishing opportunities. There's just too much emphasis given on publishing "now" rather than publishing "well".