About Alannah Davis O'Dell

Alannah Davis O'Dell (who entered the world with the name Victoria Susan Peal) has been a magazine editor and award-winning columnist (under the name Victoria Stoike) for a local publication in the 1990s. She loves vintage housewares and will be thrilled to take that 1970s avocado green water pitcher off your hands! Alannah has suffered for years as a Chicago Cubs fan, so it's with a certain amount of irony that her first published work of fiction was the short suspense story, "Death of a Cubs Fan." Her newest short suspense story, "The Frontman's Journey," was published in the October, 2014 issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine. She lives in Kenosha, Wisconsin with her two cats, Reece and Cinica.

Super Easy Vegan Stuffed Acorn Squash, and Tasty Roasted Squash Seeds

Stuffed Squash 11-10-15 004I’m a writer, not a chef.  But I love cooking, and the writing muse has been making herself scarce lately, so I’ve been putting quite a bit of focus on finding satisfying recipes to help me transition to the vegetarian/vegan lifestyle that I hope will help me to live a longer life than my parents.  So far, at age 55, I’ve outlived my father and am only 6 years away from the age that my mom was when passed of a massive heart attack.

Playing with a few recipes I’ve seen on Pinterest and going with the ingredients I have on hand (the last local crop box of the year contained a buttload of squash!), I threw this together for tonight’s dinner.

VEGAN STUFFED ACORN SQUASH

  • 1 acorn squash, halved and relieved of its pulp (Don’t throw away the pulp!  See below)
  • 2 tbsp. dairy-free butter, divided
  • 2 tbsp. organic brown sugar, divided.
  • 2 cups garlic & herb croutons
  • 1 cup vegetable broth (or enough to moisten the croutons)
  • 1 cup of Daiya or other dairy-free mozzarella shreds
  1. Preheat oven to 400F.
  2. Score squash halves by running knife several times up and down, then across.  Spread 1 tbsp dairy-free butter over each squash half, then sprinkle 1 tbsp brown sugar over each half.
  3. In a small mixing bowl, mix croutons, vegetable broth, and dairy-free cheese shreds.  The broth should be just enough to moisten the croutons.
  4. Wrap each squash half in aluminum foil and place in casserole dish or on baking sheet.
  5. Bake for an hour.  The squash flesh should be tender when pierced with a fork.

Now, the best part!  TASTY ROASTED SQUASH SEEDS

While the squash is baking, separated the seeds from the pulp.  Rinse in a colander, making sure all pulp is removed.  Dry the seeds on a paper towel, toss in a small bowl with a little olive oil and salt (I used garlic salt, as I am a garlic fanatic).  Place scattered on baking sheet.  Once the stuffed squash is finished baking, turn the oven down to 300F, put the baking sheet with the seeds in the oven, and roast for 10 minutes.  I did this meaning to bring the seeds to work as a snack the next day, but they were so yummy that I ate them for dessert!

I must admit that I’ve never been a squash fan.  My mother, bless her heart, did not enjoy cooking and it showed.  She gave us squash that…well, let’s say I was put off for many years.  But I’ve been trying to put my picky eating ways behind me and open myself up to new things, especially now that I’m trying to commit to a lifestyle devoid of animal products.  When I found myself loving sweet potatoes (another food that is a dark memory from childhood – sorry, Mom!), that cracked open a door to more and more new things that I am willing to try.  Squash is one of them.

I can’t say that this recipe made me want squash as my be-all-and-end-all go-to, but the door is opening a little more.  I want to try a more ambitious stuffed squash – perhaps one that involves quinoa or something else unfamiliar.  Besides, I have all that squash from my crop box to use up.  I will learn to love it!

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Pass the Veggies!

Veggie Buys 9-18-15 003

About 15 years ago, I made an attempt at becoming a vegetarian.  It lasted for about 2 weeks before I was back to cheeseburgers and t-bone steaks.  I hadn’t really known what I was doing, and it didn’t help that I’m an incredibly picky eater.  At that time, my thwarted attempt at vegetarianism was for health reasons.  My cholesterol was at 290, and my family has a history of heart disease.  My mom and grandfather (Mom’s dad) literally dropped dead of massive heart attacks.  Mom was only 62.

This time around, it’s for those same health reasons, plus an epiphany I had about a month and a half ago.  I saw the documentary “Vegucated” and saw some things I had never known about the cruelty of the meat and dairy farming industries.  No, wait!  Don’t stop reading!  I’m not here to proselytize or change anyone’s eating habits.  I’m just recounting my own personal journey.  Are we good now?

Anyway, after “Vegucated” was over, I swore that I was a vegan from that moment forward.  I really meant it.  Unfortunately, my veganism lasted for less than a day.  Once again, I’d jumped into something without really knowing what I was doing.

However, I didn’t give up entirely.  I figured there was no reason why I couldn’t start cutting my use of meat and dairy way down, and take the vegetarian road in baby steps.  The first thing I cut out entirely was milk.  I replaced dairy milk with almond milk.  The picture you see with this entry is my very first veggie-centric shopping trip, complete with almond milk, dairy-free butter substitute, and loads of fresh fruits and vegetables.

The first couple of weeks were really hard.  With my mind also on my health, I began eating fruit instead of the cakes, cookies and chocolate I love.  (Can we say major sweet tooth?)  That was harder than anything else, quite frankly.  The good thing about being a wannabe vegan these days is that there are so many products now that weren’t widely available a few years ago – vegan mayonnaise, dairy-free cream cheese, even fake bacon (which really isn’t too bad).

I’ve also watched other documentaries such as “Forks Over Knives” which promote plant-based diets, and have stocked up on vegetarian cookbooks such as both of the Thug Kitchen cookbooks and Mary McCartney’s “At My Table.”  I already had one of Mary’s mum Linda McCartney’s cookbooks from my first attempt at going veg.

I’ve already lost 10 pounds since I began this journey.  Oh yes, did I mention that this is another incentive?

Even as I write this, I have a couple of carrots marinating.  Instead of hot dogs, I’m going to have…yes, carrot dogs!  I found the recipe in the Thug Kitchen “Party Grub” cookbook and loved their description of ordering carrot dogs at an L.A. hot dog place and were prepared to mock it, but ended up ordering two more.  I’d rather have a real vegetable than fake meat, so I’m giving it a try.

It sounds trite, but I really do wish I could re-live my youth with the knowledge that I have now.  The young me was so anxious to please.  At almost middle age, I am finally learning to let go of what others think and to just please myself.  But how much different would my life be right now if I hadn’t gone through all the little things like being too shy to meet my classmates’ eyes, or closeting myself in my bedroom to read instead of trying to socialize with kids my own age?  I like and enjoy the person I am now.  I don’t want to be anything different than what I am today.  So I guess that means every painful damn thing I’ve been through to this point, has been worth it.

I’ll take it.  🙂

‘Turn around!’ Fans fail to notice John Stamos standing in front of ‘Full House’ home

Hilarious!

WGN-TV

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SAN FRANCISCO — Actor John Stamos paid a visit to the Full House home on Friday — and some fans completely missed what would have been an incredible moment.

Stamos was posing for pictures in front of the house while some fans were standing behind him, oblivious that Uncle Jesse was standing less than 10-feet away.Stamos posted the picture on his Instagram page. In it, you can see him  standing on the sidewalk near the residence while some fans are seen closer to the foot of a flight of brick stairs leading up to the townhouse. The house is occupied and gated off, due to the popularity of the spot.

Stamos shared a photo of the moment on Instagram. In the photo, you can see him standing on the sidewalk near the home with the fans in the background.

“Boy, these youngsters have 0.0 idea what they’re missing,” he…

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My short story, officially in print

AHMM published

This feeling is indescribable. A story of mine, “The Frontman’s Journey,” is now published and available in both print and digital versions in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. An excerpt is available at AHMM’s site.

That publication, along with Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, are the gold standards of short mystery fiction. I’ve been sending stories to both magazines for nearly 30 years. The clear lessons for every writer who feels that the ultimate goal is to be traditionally published:

1) Never give up.

2) Be open to criticism. Get a beta reader who is interested in your writing (not always the case in workshops) and who isn’t afraid to give you an honest opinion. My highly-trusted beta reader needed only to say one word to make me do some rethinking: “Ack!” But be able to listen to your instincts and heart enough to know when to take a critique to heart, and when to thank the critic but do your own thing anyway.

3) Be willing to put the work into it. The creative part is fun. The honing, shaping, and umpteenth revision are not. Not for me, anyway.

4) Never give up. And I repeat,

5) Never give up.

This is why I don’t throw away my old files

AHMM 002

I’ve been looking forward for months to July 22, 2014 – the publication date for the October issue of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. That’s the issue in which my short story, “The Frontman’s Journey,” will appear.

This is especially exciting for me because I’ve been an avid fan of both AHMM and its sister publication, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, for several decades.  If memory serves (and it doesn’t always!), I discovered them when I was a teenager in the late 1970s, working a part-time salesclerk job at a mall that boasted both a Waldenbooks and a B. Dalton Bookseller.  I left much of my salary behind at those two stores.  I’ve been trying for almost that long to have one of my own short mystery stories accepted by AHMM and EQMM.  As far as I’m concerned, if your work is published by either of them, you’ve hit the gold standard.

Today is July 20, and I was delighted to find out last night that the digital version of AHMM, containing my story, is already available on Amazon.com.  Even though I really, really want to hold the actual paper hard copy of the magazine in my hands, I couldn’t wait.  I had to buy the digital version to see how my story looks.  I wondered if they would give it an illustration, and they did.  It looks awesome on my Kindle, and will look even better on paper!

The truly cool thing is the way that “The Frontman’s Journey” could have been a never-was.

Every writer works differently.  That’s the awesome thing about writing:  it doesn’t matter how you get there, as long as the result is an entertaining, well-written story.  A few of my writer friends never keep the files, notes, etc. of stories that, for whatever reason, didn’t pan out.  I’m the opposite.  I keep everything.  I still have copies of stories, notes, and revisions that I created back in high school.

“The Frontman’s Journey” started out as a couple of paragraphs jotted down a few years ago.  I had a vision of two rock-and-roll band members driving down the highway.  I’m a huge fan of 1980s rock music, and I often find a way to work my true loves into my fiction. After I wrote those first few paragraphs, I was lost.  I couldn’t figure out where to go with it.  So I shrugged and went on to something else, but I kept the file.  Those few paragraphs might be just a weak sploot of uselessness, but as my Depression-era grandparents used to say, you never know when you might need it.  Grandma and Grandpa were absolutely right.  I’ve been able to go back and harvest quite a bit of my old cast-off stuff for ideas, lines, and characters.

Anyway, not long afterward, I became a member of an online workshop called The Writing Bridge.  There were monthly writing challenges in which all members had to participated, either by writing a story or by reading the contributions and voting.  One month, a challenge to write about a journey brought to mind that few paragraphs of bandfic that had gone nowhere.  With the inspiration of a journey, the story ideas suddenly flowed.

That first version was hastily written.  My Bridge challenge entries were always hastily written, since I always seemed to decide at the very last minute that I wanted to enter. But once the challenge was over, I had plenty of time to do serious revisions and shape it into a story that I would be proud to have carry my name, and that I would be excited for mystery fans to read.

For me, the lesson goes beyond saving my old files.  The real lesson is this:  Never give up!  At the age of those middle-aged musicians in my story, I’ve finally achieved one of my most important dreams. There is everywhere to go from here.

867-5309

Alannah at Nu Woman

867-5309

If you grew up in the 1980s – or, hell, have any knowledge of 1980s music at all – you just sang that phone number. And maybe even added a, “Jennnnny, I’ve got your number” for good measure.

If you don’t recognize that number, then Google it. You’ll be treated to 3 minutes of absolute fun.

On the other hand, you might wind up that time thinking that you’ll never get back the 3 minutes you just spent listening to Tommy Tutone wailing about Jenny’s number on the wall.

That song is pretty much what you make it. It can be fun, or it can be a big drag. That’s how I listen to music. I started out this piece intending to compare it with writing, but I’m rethinking that.

Writing is fun. For most of us, the fun lasts throughout the creative process of getting all your thoughts down. Then comes the part that’s not-so-fun for me: editing, rewriting, getting it all into a condition that makes it fun for other people to read.

This sounds simplistic, but today’s publishing world is becoming more and more a world of immediate gratification. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with immediate gratification, mind you. But when you’re putting your soul and blood out there in a piece of writing, you’ve got to make sure it’s your best piece of work. If you’re after traditional publishing, the reason is obvious: you need to look your best in order to please editors and publishers.

Self-publishing doesn’t mean that you can let down your guard. In my opinion, it means you need to be even more vigilant. Especially since Internet = Forever. Do you want your story to be the one that is wonderful but is immediately invalidated because it portrays someone using a cell phone in 1984?

I was an aerobics instructor (these days called a “group fitness instructor”) from 1986 to 1997. I focused on fun in my classes, because that was the way to get people to want to participate. I used “867-5309” in one of my most popular routines, pointing to one side of the room to sing the chorus of “867-5309,” and then pointing to the other side of the room to sing the responding “867-5309.”

Make it fun. Make it memorable. But for God’s sake, make it without grammatical errors, because there is going to be someone like me who will voice their honest opinion in their Goodreads and/or Amazon review