Hi, all! And belated wishes that 2020 will bring you health, happiness, and prosperity—and you will master all the resolutions you made. I hope you and yours had wonderful holidays. My family and I—all seventeen of us—spent Christmas in a rented lodge on the Blanco River in the Texas Hill Country. We cooked and ate and laughed and sat around a fire pit; we took day trips to historic Hill Country towns, Luckenbach and Fredericksburg. Most of all we just relished being together. The pictures show the sun setting on the cliffs across the river, with the deer who came to a feeder every evening at dusk, and all of us at Christmas dinner.
The Second Battle of the Alamo
My year will get off to a great start with the March 7 launch of The Second Battle of the Alamo at the annual meeting of the Alamo Society at San Antonio’s historic Menger Hotel, across the plaza from the Alamo. I will be at a table signing books, and at least two of my children and two grandchildren will be wandering around, seeing the sights of San Antonio, principally the Alamo, of course.
The Second Battle is the story of Adina De Zavala and Clara Driscoll, who, together, saved the Alamo from destruction in the early twentieth century. They were very different in their backgrounds and vision for the historic shrine—Adina had the passion for the history; Clara had the money.
Brian Gibson, president of the Alamo Society, was kind enough to write the following for the back of the dust jacket:
“This book was fantastic and down to earth. I really enjoyed the childhood stories and the differences in Clara’s and Adina’s upbringings, and yet how through a similar bond of devotion they fought hard for the recognition of their beloved state landmark in the Alamo. Judy Alter has done a great job explaining and making the reader feel the emotion of these two women pioneers of Texas history. I would definitively recommend this book.”
The Second Battle of the Alamo is available for pre-order on Amazon (Kindle and Hardback formats are available).
The Most Land, the Best Cattle: The Waggoneers of Texas
That’s the tentative title of my next book, due out in 2021. I’ve submitted the manuscript and am waiting for editorial comments and suggestions. I’m in the midst now of collecting photographs.
The book will trace the history of four generations of the Waggoner family and their lives on the Waggoner Three D Ranch in North Texas, the largest ranch in the nation under one fence. It’s a saga about a family, men devoted to the land and livestock, women enjoying celebrity, a family inclined to many marriages and just as many lawsuits with a tangled line of inheritance. Sometimes truth is indeed stranger than fiction.
The book will be out in September 2021. Stay tuned. Meanwhile, for those curious, you can learn more about them here. (It’s a short read; half a cup of coffee or tea will do.)
All things culinary
A new adventure awaits me this year. Next fall I am to teach an online course on “Creating a fictional chef,” for Coffin Courses, sponsored by Romance Writers of America. The class is designed to help authors create chefs who are more realistic than Julia Childs or Jacque Pepin. We’ll look at questions like did your chef cook as a child? Professional training or learn by doing? What kind of kitchen does your chef preside over? Upscale restaurant or greasy spoon café? What career opportunities are open to professionally trained chefs? Specialty dishes? Gourmet or down-home? I will suggest a reading list, both of culinary mysteries and books by well-known chefs.
Some memoirs I’ll recommend: Blood, Bone, & Butter, by Gabrielle Hamilton; Give a Girl a Knife, by Amy Thielen; anything by Ruth Reichl, but primarily Garlic and Sapphires, about her life as a restaurant critic in New York; Notes from a Young, Black Chef, by Kwame Onwauchi; Sous Chef: Twenty-four Hours on the Line, by Michael Gibney; Yes, Chef: A Memoir, by Marcus Samuelsson.
You don’t have to have culinary ambitions to enjoy these books—just a passion for food and its preparation. And you can always add any of Anthony Bordain’s titles to the list, though he was hardly typical, nor was his career.
Some reading suggestions
Obviously, a lot of my reading time has been taken up with Waggoner material and culinary memoirs but I have read a few books that I found significant. For you mystery fans, I recommend the Murder, She Wrote series—now at fifty books, so you can pick and choose. For years, I’ve dismissed that series as superficial spinoffs of the TV programs, written by a variety of house authors. But then I read an interview with Jessica Fletcher in “Shelf Awareness,” an online publication for booksellers. It sounded very like she’s one person who writes them all, with a co-author, and, yes, she really does live in Cabot Cove.
So I tried one, Gin and Daggers, and found it delightful—well plotted, believable characters (okay a few stereotypes), and, if you’ve ever watched the show, a familiar voice. As you read, you’ll see Angela Lansbury in your mind’s eye. I’ve just finished Manhattans and Murder.
I’m a fan of Cleo Coyle’s Coffeehouse Mysteries (and of mysteries series in general—I like the familiar world of known characters). No surprise that I was waiting for Brewed Awakening, #18 in the series (I must check to be sure I’ve read them all.) In this one, Clare develops amnesia and goes missing for a few days. Family and friends are relieved when she’s found—but relief turns to dismay when she doesn’t even remember fiancé Mike Quinn and is suspected of a murder. Well plotted and believable. Worth waiting for.
On another note, I enjoyed The Library Book by Susan Orlean. It’s all you ever wanted to know about the fire that nearly destroyed the Los Angeles Public Library in 1986. Orlean, a lifelong book lover, weaves in much about libraries and librarians in general, but it is the story—and statistics—of the actual fire that will astound you.
If, like me, you’re lured by the Scottish Highlands, you’ll enjoy At the Water’s Edge, by Sara Gruen. A sophisticated and spoiled Manhattan couple heads to Scotland to verify the existence of the Loch Ness monster. They are not welcomed in the remote Scottish village suffering from the devastating effects of WWII. In what is almost a coming-of-age (or maybe coming-to-your-senses) novel, central character Maddie makes real friends, for the first time, and opens up to a larger world than she had known, once with values that transcend the superficial values of her sheltered background.
And a warm hearty recipe for the winter….
This is my adaptation of a beef stew with coffee that I found in Cleo Coyle’s Brewed Awakening.
2 c. black coffee, divided
2 tsp, Kosher salt, divided
2 lbs. beef stew meat, cut in 1” cubes (you will probably have to cube it, because butchers usually cut cubes too big)
½ c. flour
1 tsp. finely ground pepper
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil, more as needed
2 tsp. cider vinegar
4 c. beef stock, preferably low sodium
3 bay leaves
2 medium onions, chopped
6-12 baby carrots, scraped clean and halved if too big
10 tiny new potatoes (if the market doesn’t have them, chunk up some larger new potatoes)
½ c, frozen corn
1 Tbsp. butter
Marinate beef cubes in 1-1/2 c. coffee and 1 tsp. salt for an hour.
Dredge beef in flour, pepper, and remaining salt. Brush off excess flour and, working in batches, brown the cubes in salad oil in Dutch oven. (You will probably have to add oil as you go.) Remove all beef from pan with a slotted spoon, leaving juices behind.
Add remaining coffee and vinegar to juices and cook two or three minutes; return beef to kettle and add beef broth. Bring to quick boil and simmer until beef is tender, at least an hour and a half.
Add onions and carrots and cook 15 or 20 minutes; Add more broth, if needed. Add potatoes and cook until all vegetables are tender.
Finish by adding the corn and the butter. This keeps well in the refrigerator and improves with age.
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I wish for each of you a good winter. I’ll be back in a few months with a spring newsletter. Meantime, God’s blessing.