Breakfast Tacos?

cover-lg2aThat’s right.  Breakfast tacos.  Also Huevos Rancheros Especial, enchiladas, Banana Dream Cake, and the Best Danged Buttermilk Pie you’ve ever tasted.  Also Chorizo, “THAT” BLT (sort of a BLT on steroids), and the mythical Double Trouble Dog, so dangerous it’s shortened to DTD.

What does this have to do with cookbooks?  These are just a few of the recipes in The Mossback Cafe Cookbook, a companion book to my Traces of Treasure novel series.

I first wrote about “The Mossback Cafe” in my novel, The Fever.  It’s a small cafe in the crossroads ranching town of Van Horn TX.  Van Horn is real.  The Mossback is not.

“Mossback” has a lot of meanings, including an old Elk or Moose, or an old “lunker” fish, or an ancient tortoise or turtle.  But there’s another “old-west” meaning … an old wild (and wily) Texas longhorn.  Hence the longhorn on the cover.  In the novel, owner Smidgeon Toll serves up good food with friendly banter.  It keeps her place popular with both locals and people passing through.  Although it was an invention, I fell in love with the place I created and based most of the sequel, A Curse That Bites Deep, in and around The Mossback.  The third book in the series will be based there too.

The cookbook is crafted to read as though owner Smidgeon Toll has put it together as a promotional piece for the cafe, and I’ve added a little more biographical info on her and her family and the restaurant.  Her homespun humor is a lot of fun and she gives insight into some of the workings of the cafe with the sections divided into practical restaurant divisions.  “Basics” starts off with items such as biscuits and chili and a few other things that are used as components in other recipes.  There are popular and unique “On The Side” dishes, recipes for dishes served up as specials are in “Y’all Wanted Something Special?”, a few of the standards are in “Standard Bearers”, a small helping of wonderful desserts are in “Just Desserts”, and it ends up with a couple of recipes for items she calls “Weekenders.”  Not to be outdone, be sure to read the afterword … there are a couple of more surprises there.

A lot of the recipes serve double duty (some even more) and she even gives some insight into innovations they use.  For instance, she mentions that the sauce for their version of Arroz con Pollo (a Mexican chicken and rice) can, with a few minor alterations, also serve as a base for Chicken Cacciatore.

In short, if The Mossback Cafe actually existed, these are a few of the offerings that might have made it famous. In reality, they are some of my favorite recipes.  So, here you go, your Crazy Cookbook Guy created his own cookbook.  How about that.

What I was going for was the “look” of a small self-produced cookbook of a type that a small-town cafe might make for themselves in the mid-1980s.  I think I hit the nail on the head.  Even better:  IT’S FREE.  Well, it’s a free ebook anyway.  It’s also a lot of fun.

The ebook is available in formats compatible with Kindle, Nook, Kobo, iPad and most other e-readers. There is also a PDF version, in case you just want to browse it at work. I won’t tell.
The link below will take you to Smashwords, the world’s largest distributor of ebooks.  They have help files if you need a hand, but generally, if you can browse there in your reader you should be able to download the ebook right into your reader or tablet.
In short, epub works with Nook-iBooks-Kobo, and mobi works with Kindle.

For your free download >>> — >> click here

I am hoping this little cookbook will get hungry readers interested in the books that inspired it.  So feel free to browse for my books too… they’re on Smashwords as well as on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and iBooks.  No paperback of the cookbook yet, but there are paperbacks of the novel.  There are links for everything are on my website, click my name below. Enjoy!

Thomas Fenske, writer and cookbook collector currently lives in central North Carolina.


Coming Soon!

It’s slowly coming together.




What is it?

Well, what I’ve tried to do is create a 1980s look in a cookbook, based on a fictional eatery that figures largely in my Traces of Treasure novel series.  Hey, I collect cookbooks I know what it’s supposed to look like.
The Mossback Inn is a recurrent setting in both books, a local sort of greasy spoon, a throwback to the fifties and sixties, trying to hang on in the eighties.  The owner, Smidgeon Toll, is a feisty businesswoman, a romantic foil to the hero of the books but she, in fact, carries a good bit of that load herself in the second book of the series.

It’s not going to be huge, but it will look like the type of cookbook a place like I’ve created in the book might publish privately, just as a sort of tourist keepsake.
Except — for now — it will only be an ebook and a pdf one at that.

Sure, the place is fictional, and the characters are fictional, but the recipes you’ll find inside are real.  The setting is in the southwest, so the focus is on recipes one would find in the southwest.  All are good, and some are surprising.  Best of all, this will be a freebie.

Here’s a preview from my web site.  While you’re there click on the “subscribe” tab and subscribe to my maiing list.  Subscribers will get first notice when it is ready.
Don’t worry, I think I’ve sent ONE mailing in the last several months, so I won’t be slamming your inbox.  But the next mailing will be about the book release.  Trust me, you don’t want to miss this.

You might also want to click around and see what the books are about.  You’ll be glad you did and I’ll be happy if you buy them.

Sad to Report …

I’ve talked a lot about my favorite used book store and their fabulous twenty-five cent sales one weekend a month. We just went to this month’s sale this past weekend only to find out that, sadly, the twenty-five cent sale is no more.  ☹️

The price on sale weekends is now THIRTY-FIVE cents.  Oh, well. I’ll just have to somehow accept the change. 

In other news. 

Merry Christmas to you and yours. I hope you get some nice cookbooks this year! 

That Crazy CookBook Guy also lurks as author Thomas Fenske.  To find out what he is up to:

Caramel Knowledge

Yeah, that’s the title, Caramel Knowledge.   Published in 1988, it’s a little newer (28 years ago?) a book than I like to collect but as we all know, I’m a sucker for a catchy title.  Author Al Sicherman was a long time Food Writer/Food Editor for the Minneapolis Star & Tribune and this book pulls from his work on the newspaper.

I’ve got a collection of old food section cutouts, mostly saved from my dad, and I can tell you from experience that the recipes in this book are from the heyday of food sections.  You see, children, in them olden daze we didn’t have no new-fangled corn-pewters, or the world-wide-webernet to read about food or recipes or cooking.  We had the food section of the newspaper.  It WAS our internet.

Today the food section is a tiny vestigial part of the already diminished entity we know as a newspaper, but in the 60s/70s/80s, it was a big deal.  You looked forward to the food section, especially as holidays like Thanksgiving approached.  It was a selling point of subscriptions, it was informative, entertaining, and, as we see from Sicherman’s work here, a lot of fun.  This is not just a cookbook, it is a collection of the accompanying articles and it is a fun read.

He’s got standards, like Impossible Pumpkin Pie and Sauerkraut Fudge Cake, but he’s also got a lot of fun and interesting recipes highlighted in this book, like Choclava, Bostess Bupcakes, Herring in a Cloud, Chuck & Chick, Orange You Glad We Have Turkey?, and Mockaguole.  I often take pictures of recipes I mention but the format, embedded as part of the various articles, makes that impractical.  You’ll just have to take my word for it.

I wish I could have experienced the world of Al in his heyday but I found him on Facebook, I think I might drop him a message.  Fun, fun stuff.

A Cake Walk


This book was almost an afterthought.  It’s big.  I don’t go in much for large format books.  They take up a lot of shelf space and shelf space is one thing lacking in my house.  But I thumbed through it and … well, I immediately told myself the same thing I’m going to tell you right now:  “You gotta get this book!”

The Victorian Book of Cakes is a reprint of a book from over a hundred years ago, and it was probably THE guidebook for exquisite cake baking around the latter part of the Victorian era.  There are recipes and guides, lovely color plates, illustrations, and a treasure-trove of ads for ancient baking equipment.

Here are just a couple of pictures from within.  I could go on and on about what I like about this book but once again, if you collect cookbooks, this is probably one you want to get for yourself.

img_6130I’ll leave you with two pictures, one a multi-tiered cake … I want a piece right now.   The other is one of the ads inside the book … for a piece of industrial strength cake mixing equipment.  Wasn’t this the same mixer Charly learned to use in the movie “Charly,” the film remake of “Flowers for Algernon?”img_6132

No matter.

If you are interested in baking, cakes, frosting, pastries -or- if you just like to collect cool cookbooks, find a copy.  Buy this book!




Thomas Fenske is a novelist living in North Carolina.  He also collects cookbooks.  For more information:


Cereal Killing

The bookstore where I browse now has five aisles with a jumbled up mess of cookbooks.  There is no rhyme or reason to the book placement, but sometimes when I am scanning the shelves I get the hint of a theme for the day’s search.  This past weekend I hit on such a theme when I found three breakfast cereal-themed cookbooks!


The first was “Cooking With Snap, Crackle, Pop & _____”

It’s a small book, kid-oriented.  Let’s face it, Rice Krispie Treats are one of the first things a kid learns to cook, or at least used to be before they started marketing them commercially.  Now?  Why bother, I guess.  Still, this 1998 publication tries to keep the tradition alive.  The “recipes” are basically variations on their own theme.

Still, it is an ingenious little book … starting from the cover which allows young cooks to personalize their book with their name and their picture if they want to … see the cutout?

img_6110I chose only one of the variations … little baskets.  Basically, you use a muffin tin to form your treats into little basket shapes.  My wife made these one Easter … made them into little Easter baskets with jelly beans as eggs and even added a pipe cleaner for a handle.  They were pretty cool.  All of the recipes follow this same theme … making things with Rice Krispie treats … Well, ya gotta start somewhere, right?

Well-made, with nice production values and high-quality stock which is a good plan when you are expecting little kids to be cooking.  It also has a nice intro to what one will need, and some basic cooking tools and stresses safety very strongly on the first page.  Kid’s book,  yes, but it’s a nice book.

img_6107Moving on to another flashy, eye-catching commercial book, trying to capitalize on the supposed novelty of using breakfast cereal as anything but … well, breakfast cereal.  The Breakfast Cereal Gourmet hardly lives up to its name.  It has one redeeming feature, it has a lot of images of classic box covers, and intersperses the text with “interesting” facts like, like the information that former president George H. W. Bush likes to crumble chocolate candy bars on his cereal.

It’s a “hype” book that doesn’t live up to its hype.  It includes a lot of blank space, which is irritating.  It is almost like a kid book, but unlike the previous book, which IS a kid book and is delightful, this one is way overdone and, really, although I guess a kid could enjoy some of the useless factoids, even they would get tired of flipping pages to see more of nothing.

img_6111A cursory examination of the recipes left me similarly disappointed.  They get lost in the overly-glitzy presentation … it seems the authors almost included them as an afterthought like “Oh, yeah, this is supposed to be a cookbook.”

Take this one … and I just picked one at random.  Mocha-cocoa Towers made with Cocoa Puffs.  You might notice that the entire recipe is not featured.  That’s because, in the interest of wasting space, most of the recipes span multiple pages.  I call this poor cookbook production.  There might be a reason to cut a recipe in two but they so waste space stretching this book out they did it like it was a bodily function.  If you really want this horrendous recipe, I’ll include it in the comments.  If you really want it.  Trust me, you don’t.

img_6105Now we get to what is, surprisingly, a real cereal cookbook.  The Kellogg’s Cookbook, from the Kellogg Kitchens edited by Judith Choate, is a 2006 publication that is a real cookbook with real recipes.

Sure, there are traditional uses for a lot of cereals, like bran muffins and coating for fried chicken.  They’re in the book … but they are not flashy “let’s see what else we can do” things to catch your eye.  They are “I’ve got this on the shelf and I’ll get some added value from this ingredient” sort of recipes, the kind Kellogg would include on the box!  In fact, that’s probably where most of these came from.


img_6113What I chose to include, and it was difficult to make a choice, was Corn Flake Banana Bread.  Something reasonable, using an unusual ingredient but it is mainstream enough that I thought … well, hey, I’d like to try it.  As you can see it looks like a cookbook recipe, all on one page, clearly defined …  it tells the reader you want to make this recipe.

We make a green bean casserole for holidays, a family favorite, that includes Corn Flakes as part of the topping (Not THE green bean casserole everybody makes, this one is much better) and I always have about 3/4 of a box of corn flakes left.  Now I know what I’m going to use them for.

So, maybe I didn’t make a cereal killing this weekend, but I’m out, what, seventy-five cents?  The Krispies cookbook is unique and I love the Kellog’s cookbook, so I’ll keep the other one around as part of a set.  Who knows, maybe I’ll find more and can build another mini-collections on the same theme

A Cuppa … What?

imageI’m not sure I’m so crazy this time. I just went shopping because I needed a new coffeemaker. Have you shopped for one lately? The market seems to be about half and half right now between drip and Keurig style. And about half the drip makers are higher end.  In fact, the coffee aisle seems to share that same division.

Okay, here’s a secret about me … I used to sell high end coffee. I really did. I was a barista too. It taught me that coffee can be an expensive pursuit but in the long run it doesn’t matter much. A good clean pot with some decent mainstream coffee can do just fine. Believe me. It can. Don’t get me wrong, I like really good coffee but I do just fine with standard coffee most of the time. Those expensive drinks? That is what they are, expensive drinks. Most are also calorie bombs. Splurge, if you want, but let’s get down to brass tacks … when y ou want coffee, what you really NEED  is some caffeine.  That’s why I like to go regular and if you are interested in saving money, all the better. What we all seem to need in the long run is convenience and CAFFEINE.

Okay, to clarify, I was shopping for a new drip-style. We still have a Keurig we got a couple of years ago. It makes great coffee. I also have one of those little single cup jobs to fill with my own coffee … it makes good coffee although I don’t think it is better than a good pot of drip.  But most people love the pods.  They are convenient, and the coffeemaker is fast. It should be, since a low end Keurig  costs as much as a high end drip coffeemaker.

But the coffee is gonna cost you.    Okay, I bought a big container of loose coffee that “says” 240 cups. Those are five ounce cups (another measurement that should go out the window IMHO). So figure 120 real cups of coffee (your mileage may vary). Divide that by 18 – most boxes contain 18 pods (but some boxes in the grocery stores carry 12 or even 10 – best to check what you buy, it will increase the resulting calculation). That gives us 6.667 boxes of Keurig style coffee. The “240 cup” container cost me $6.99 on sale. Boxes of 18 cup pods usually cost $9 to $13 so for theoretical purposes, let’s say $10.  Use some simple math:  for the same number of cups you are spending $66.67!

I shop around for pods and the absolute best price for them I’ve found is about 34 cents each, and that is if you are lucky … most standard brands hover around the 50-60 cent per cup mark. That same coffee I make with the drip maker comes out to 17 cents a cup. I figure using that same coffee in the little reusable pod is just a little more … using maybe one or two cents added, so that does save some money. But some of those are a pain to clean so right away, to save a little money, and you lose the convenience factor.

People used to do a major freak out if coffee went up at the store. That’s why you almost can’t buy a pound anymore … In the seventies manufacturers started skimping the size to reduce the sticker shock. They started by going down to 14 oz. Then the wholesale price of coffee went up again and they dropped it to 13oz. Now, that “formerly known as a pound of coffee” container is 11.5 oz. Sometimes 10.5!  I’m pretty sure that in the 1970s that 240 cup container was a  THREE pound container!  Now it is about a pound and a half.
So I would love to ask the manufacturers, why keep reducing the sizes if people are willing to shell out almost seventy bucks for seven bucks worth of coffee?  I propose the following promotion:  NEW, we now sell coffee in one pound cans?  Hey, we could make Coffee Can bread and cakes again.
I know, some people will say they prefer the pods because they want a choice, they want variety. Having sold gourmet coffee I say BEANS to that.  In my experience, ultimately most people tend to find something they like and stick with it.

One last word about convenience … it is all in your perception. Yeah, rinsing the pot and making a fresh pot takes a little effort. Usually one or two minutes. After that, the next several cups are MORE CONVENIENT than any Keurig. Just point and pour.

I did see one lonely percolator on the shelf when I was shopping. When I was a kid, THAT was pretty much your home option. You know what? Don’t let anybody fool you … they still make good coffee.  My mother still uses one and when I went to stay with them when my dad was still alive … gotta admit that first morning, the coffee was pretty awful. I took a look in the pot and it was disgusting … well, I’m not blaming them, they both are legally blind. I cleaned the heck out of that pot. Next batch: good coffee. Scratch that. Great coffee.
That’s the key, get that old crappy coffee residue out of anything, including drip baskets, drip pots, or even the Keurig funnel. The worst thing people can do is just rinse out the drip pot and use that to refill the reservoir.  All that yucky burned oil residue gets recycled into the innards of the machine.  Blech.  Use something else to pour your water.

Hey, I haven’t even touched on the issue of waste but I will say this: the next time you hear someone complaining about rising costs or the dangers of environmental disasters … ask to see a picture of their coffeemaker.  That will tell you something about the value of their viewpoints.

(A note on the picture … it just one I happened to have in my gallery.  You want gourmet coffee in 1880’s Houston?  I think that was your place.  Likely it was, uh, er, just coffee, but you can bet it was freshly roasted.  That was from an ad in a vintage Houston cookbook I reviewed a while back)



All Scrambled Up

Ever wonder about the origin of scrambled eggs?   Me either. 

  But here’s the deal. I like to make what I call camp style scrambled eggs.  Camp style means you don’t dirty another dish … you break the eggs into a gob of melted butter in the hot pan and … well … you scramble them up. 

So that’s not how they teach it in culinary school?   Too bad.  Saw a chef on Worst Cooks complain about the eggs not being mixed well enough. When I make them the yolk/white incorporate quite nicely, thank you very much. 

If I’m making a lot, I still dutifully whip them in a bowl, but if I’m just scrambling eggs just for me, heck, I just SCRAMBLE them. 

Old School — Again?

imageLast weekend was yet another twenty-five cent book sale.  I missed the month before because we had an ice storm that weekend.  But I was tempted!

Anyway, the pickings were slim this time but I was happy to find this one.

Jane Brody’s Good Food Book.  Good old Jane, the long-time health and nutrition columnist for the New York Times.  She sort of rode the bandwagon as a big deal in the 80s as the stalwart champion of high carbohydrate living.  A lot of people hold her in less esteem these days for that very stance.

But I like this book for a number of reasons.  For one, it is full of good general information about food.  All kinds of food.  Fats, proteins, vegetables, grains, herbs.  If you want to know about food, this is an excellent reference book.  And it has good recipes too.  Sensible recipes.  Tasty recipes.  I’ve heard a number of people talk down about her and this book because she trumpets high carb lifestyle.  Okay, fine.

Here’s the deal.  She advocates moderation and exercise and advises people to stay away from processed foods and too many sugary sweets and instead make food from scratch using whole grains and natural ingredients.  We live in a world of fad diets.  I have always struggled with weight and for me, the only way I seem to be able to lose and keep it off is Atkins.  Low Carb.  Sure.   I can do it.  It gets boring but I like meat, I like salads and veggies.  Not as much as I like biscuits and cake but I can get by, for a while.  You hear about Paleo.  Frankly, I figure Atkins basically IS paleo.  I have a book somewhere called Neanderthin … same deal.  But the thing to remember when you want to tend away from grains and such is this: people who truly LIVED  paleo, didn’t really live that long.  Sure

But the thing to remember when you want to tend away from grains and such is this: people who truly LIVED  paleo, didn’t really live that long.  Sure Saber-tooth cats jumped out of trees but that only indicated that they ate simply because life was hard.  Civilization didn’t come around until, guess what, they started growing grains.  All this grain stuff didn’t just pop up in the last few dozen years, this grain lifestyle has been a predominant part of human existence for THOUSANDS of years.  We didn’t start advancing as a civilization until we started growing and harvesting and sustaining ourselves with grains.

This isn’t  bad stuff, really,  but we’ve degraded.  Sugars and genetic engineering and oddball fats and trans fats and … the worst of all … corn syrup derivatives (goes back to sugars, I know but they are much worse).  I cringe every time I see somebody pick up a jar of “reduced fat” peanut butter at the store … because I know it has been processed with a hefty dose of corn syrup.  Geeze, I want to tell them, pure peanut butter isn’t that bad.  Check for evidence of trans fats but you don’t want that corn syrup.  It is used to augment so many products, especially products being marketed in some way to make them appear healthier — when in fact, they are much worse.  People are trickle fed corn syrup in alarming quantities — and then they wonder why diabetes seems to be on the rise.

Hmmmm, maybe growing grains isn’t good for civilization after all, maybe the faddists are right.

imageWith Jane, you get none of that stuff.  Back to basics.  Portion control.  A little of this, a little of that.   Take a walk.  Why do people vilify her?  Because she’s an outspoken woman?  I dunno.

I already had this book, BTW.  I just picked it up because it was signed.  As we all know, a signed copy is a “must buy” for that crazy cookbook guy.

A Question of Convenience

I don’t even know where I got this book. I was shifting some boxes and it just fell out. That’s the problem with being a Crazy Cookbook Guy … I’ll pick these things up and forget about them sometimes. It is not even the sort of collectible cookbook I usually buy, I mean, it is too new (2005). It might have been a gift, but frankly I just don’t remember where I got it. The “$1” sticker is a strong indicator that I might have found it at a yard sale, but sometimes the twenty-five cent sale books have old yard sale stickers, so it is hard to tell. Most of those books end up clumped together though … in one of the growing number of tubs I have.  Anyway, fate put it back in my hands and now I feel compelled to share it with you, my dear and loyal readers.

Mini-Mart à la Carte by Christopher Rouser & Victoria Traig is actually an interesting little book. As the title implies, it presents a number of recipes based upon things you could buy in your neighborhood convenience store. I have to admit, a lot of thought went into this book. Years ago I envisioned something along these lines for fanciful recipes, like using so many packets of sugar or salt, or my favorites, or making a quiche with x number of small half and half creamers. That’s about as far as I got.  These guys take that idea and moved it to an entirely new level. They should go on Chopped.

Now some of the ideas are just silly, like The Kevin Bacon where the chef is instructed at one point to sculpt a brick of cream cheese into a likeness of Kevin Bacon. I mean, it doesn’t even have bacon in it, just Bac-O’s. Other “recipes” are decidedly simple, like their version of franks & beans, something they call Weiner Bean Bucket. Poop on a Pringle is very simple, and awful sounding … bean dip on a Pringle topped with a piece of Vienna Sausage. Mmmmmm.

imageA couple did catch my eye, though. The Trojan Horse is very interesting indeed. If I ever go on Hell’s Kitchen I will serve a variation of this to Chef Ramsay as my signature dish! Basically, you trim and hollow out a brick of Spam and sculpt pieces to resemble a … Trojan horse. image

There are no Greek warriors inside, you stuff it with Cheese Whiz. Pure Genius. And look at it … a veritable piece of art.




imageAnother dish that I thought was cute, albeit simple, was the Corn Dog Kabobs. image

You cut away sections of the corn dog and using the stick as a skewer you separate sections with tater tots. I mean, what a great idea! And Kids would love these!


This book runs the gamut … 100+ pages of this stuff, including Pigs in a Poncho (hot dogs in a tortilla), New England Spam Chowder, Sardines Rockefeller, Fish Sticks Amandine … it goes on and on. Drinks include The Pink of Health (Smirnoff Ice and Pepto-Bismol) and The Mickey Rourke (Mickey’s Malt Liquor and Strawberry Soda). Desserts are not left to chance with Ho Cakes (made with any Hostess product, whipped cream and almonds) and Creamed Candy Corn (candy corn and butterscotch topping). I’m just scraping the tip of the iceberg off my shoe here folks. This blog would be as long as the book itself if I continued.

It’s a fun read … and even has some fun convenience store trivia. For instance, it claims that 1 in 9 people in the US will eat at least one hot dog in a convenience store every year. That’s a scary thought. Some of those people can vote too … and serve on juries. Think about THAT while you’re pumping your gas.