1. Don’t believe everything you read on a Hallmark card.
JUDY: “Two months before I filed for divorce, my hubby bought me a dozen red roses, a heart-shaped box of chocolate and a beautiful card that said some smarmy sentiment like: “Honey, I’m so lucky to have you in my life. I love you. Yadda, yadda.” Pretty words that lost their meaning when I got the credit card bill the next month and discovered the charge was double what it should have been. Yep. You guessed it. He sent the exact same thing to his girlfriend, too.”
2. Snails, duck liver and fish eggs are even less sexy than they sound when they come back up after swallowing them.
Judy: “My first Valentine’s Day date after my divorce was with a really terrific guy who considered himself a gourmet cook and possessed strong convictions about what constituted a romantic meal. I’m the kind of girl who will try anything once. His pate de foie gras was rather tasty. In hindsight, I may have let my need to impress him with my worldliness get the better of me. I’m pretty sure I ate too much of the rich delicacy because my tummy was already tad…unsettled…when I tried the next course: a tiny shriveled object (day-old chewed gum, perhaps?) swimming in butter and garlic. Or maybe it was the disconcerting visual of fishing said object out of a shell that looked very much like the ones I stomped on in my garden. Either way, I stopped at two and drank an extra flute of champagne hoping the carbonation would work like Alka-Seltzer. It didn’t. A bead of sweat broke out on my upper lip when he delivered the piece de resistance: Smoked Salmon and Caviar pizza.
Did I mention he had white carpet?
Such a shame. I really liked him, too.”
3. Good hair does not a good guy (or Valentine) make.
Judy: “Remember Barbra’s leather gloved hand lovingly touching Robert Redford’s gorgeous locks in The Way We Were? Of course, you do. You’re a woman. Unrequited love gets us every time…because we all have that one-who-wasn’t-meant-to-be.
Mine was Richie Mason. Sixth-grade heartthrob. The guy I wasted my hard-earned babysitting money on buying my first-ever special friend Valentine. I had such a crush on Richie. His sandy brown hair was forever falling in his eyes. I probably lost a thousand hours daydreaming about brushing that dog-tongue of bangs off his charmingly freckled forehead…until that fateful V-day when he opened his cache of cards and discovered one that was not your standard-issue type. His brows arched under his shaggy curtain of locks as he ripped open the well-glued V (maybe I included a dozen or so stickers for affect).
As I waited for his reaction, my cheeks burned, palms dripped and heart thumped so loud I was certain it could be heard outside our classroom walls. His gaze bounced over the sentiment too quickly to have read the words and went straight for the signature. Mine. His chin angled a tiny bit to the left so he could sorta see me at my desk two rows over. Our gaze met–for a millisecond. Then he shoved the card to the bottom of his decorated shoebox and opened the next card. Not a smile. No acknowledgement of any kind. Not so much as a bleeping hesitation. I was crushed.
A week later, during a group art project–the last time our class ever did collages, I believe–my scissors slipped. Somehow a hunk of Richie’s hair wound up in my collage. I got an F on the project, but I learned something interesting: Richie wasn’t all that cute bald.
4. A heart-shaped pizza is flour, oil, tomato sauce and toppings–it’s not a sign he’ll love you forever.
Judy: “Some relationships are meant to last. Others…not so much. Figuring out the difference between the two is tricky. Don’t let pizza get in the way of those tough decisions. I’m pretty sure my ex extracted two additional years of marital servitude from me simply by showing up on February 14th with a heart-shaped pizza, a six-pack of beer and the aforementioned sappy greeting card. Listen to your head, Peeps, not your heartburn.”
Deb here: Hopefully, none of you have V-Day memories as bleak as Judy Banger’s. Luckily, Judy finally met Mr. Right. In fact, I asked her for an update, and here’s what she said:
“Age is a matter of opinion, and in my opinion, age doesn’t matter. If you find someone who makes you laugh when the world expects you to cry, then grab hold with both hands and have fun.”
A sentiment I totally agree with since I’ve been celebrating Valentine’s Day with my Mr. Right for 4+ decades:
HAVE A GREAT ONE, MY FRIENDS!
And don’t forget, we have a wonderful new Valentine’s Day book in the Love at the Chocolate Shop series now available. Sit back with a little chocolate and enjoy THE VALENTINE QUEST!
Food=love in my books. Are you a Halloween fanatic or not? Me? Not so much, but Judy Banger, the heroine of my grown-up romantic comedy, Judy Uncensored, used to go all out on Halloween. She loved to dress up and often threw over-the-top parties. Look at this amazing cake one of her friends brought last year.
I’m told it’s easier to make than it looks, but first you have to be a baker. Judy doesn’t bake.
But she does know her way around unusual food stuff…like gizzards.
If you’ve ever baked a Thanksgiving turkey you know what a gizzard is–a large, grayish thing that usually gets thrown away but can be boiled and used in the gravy.
Believe it or not, many people actually eat chicken gizzards, too. Some consider them a delicious bar food. Judy’s recipe is very simple and fattening, but the key is letting the gizzard simmer for a long time to get really tender.
These make the perfect Halloween party food because…well, some people will be grossed out by the idea of eating chicken innards–no matter how yummy they taste.
Judy Banger’s Gizzards
Recipe Type: appetizer
Author: Deb Salonen
Although it might be hard to swallow, some people actually love these things. Honest!
1-2 pounds of fresh chicken gizzards (readily available at ethnic grocery stores and meat counters.)
1 1/2C flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp garlic salt
1/4 tsp cumin
1/4-1/2 C oil (Judy prefers half olive and half coconut)
Heat oil in a heavy pan or electric skillet.
Mix spices into flour.
Coat the gizzards in the flour and seasoning mix. (Judy puts them in a plastic bag to make it less messy and easy to cover completely.)
Add to the hot oil and cook long enough to brown on one side before flipping them.
Cook until the other side is brown, then cover and reduce the heat to simmer for an hour.
Stir several times so they don’t stick to the bottom of the pan and burn.
The longer they simmer, the more tender they become.
On Sale, Saturday, Nov 1: 99¢
There are costumes…and then there are costumes…
Judy tugged on the plunging neckline of her one-piece swimsuit in an effort to contain the bulging swell of breast into the sculpted demi-cup that had looked so becoming on the size-1 mannequin. Too bad she was thirteen or so sizes larger.
She posed before the full-length mirror attached inconveniently behind the hotel room’s bathroom door. “How do I look?”
“I know you think the black would be better–“
“No,” Pru snapped. “I don’t think, Judy. I know.”
Judy’s BFF had cut short her Mediterranean cruise to rush home to Judy’s side the minute she learned of the wrongful death lawsuit being filed by Buddy Fusco’s son. Judy appreciated her friend’s gesture and refused to question the uncharacteristic selflessness, but since Pru’s arrival on the scene, Judy’s tenuous hold on the situation had slipped through her fingers like water laced with chicken fat–down the drain but leaving a tangible ickiness behind.
“Black conveys danger, power, death.” Pru punctuated each word by advancing forward, the heels of her thigh-high, five-inch stiletto boots digging into the carpet. “Purple screams Elton John and dancing dinosaurs. You can’t walk into the sniveling little shit’s room, pull out a whip and expect him to fall to his knees and beg forgiveness when you’re wearing a bright plum one-piece–no matter how cute it looks on you.” She cocked her head. “Have you lost weight?”
“A pound or two…along with my mind,” Judy muttered. A second sleepless night–this one a result of more qualifying rounds in the Sex Olympics–combined with a full day of “helping” Jed Blassingame install new flooring in her bedroom had left Judy in a fugue fog. Gone was the proactive, take-charge woman who’d conceived this ridiculous, dangerous plan. A plan any idiot could see was destined to crash and burn in a blaze of humiliation, regardless of Pru’s last minute tweaks.
Pru grabbed a black, satin and lace bustier from the foot of the queen bed closest to the bathroom. Judy had resurrected her entire BDSM wardrobe from a box marked XXX a few hours earlier.
“I’m telling you, this is what you need to wear,” Pru said, shoving the slightly musty smelling object into Judy’s hands.
The satin felt cool, sleek and alive. Blush-worthy memories flitted across the movie screen in her brain. Memories from one short moment in time.
She held up the top, pressing the cleverly spaced “bones” against her waist. The square cut neckline and underwire cups had had men drooling over her boobs. She’d never felt sexier or more in control of whatever sexually charged situations she found herself in than when she wore this getup.
“But fishnets and a garter belt put me out on the high wire without a safety net, Pru. If Lewis calls the police and I’m wearing a swimsuit, I could pretend I was planning to jump in the pool and accidentally wound up in my late-lover’s son’s hotel room.”
“With a picnic basket full of sex toys,” Pru added.
An annoying burst of acid etched a trail up Judy’s esophagus. She swallowed the bad taste in her mouth. “Those were your idea, remember? My plan was to throw myself at Lewis’s feet and beg him to drop the wrongful death lawsuit.”
Pru let out a short, musical laugh. “Yeah, right. Like that’s going to happen. I agree you might have done that if I weren’t here, but, girlfriend, let me tell you, I didn’t travel sixteen thousand miles and forty hours–” Judy rolled her eyes. She often told people the only time Prudence O’Riley exaggerated was when she opened her mouth. “–to let you debase yourself before a complete and utter sleazeball. The man plans to take out all his twisted feelings of inadequacy and Daddy-never-loved-me shit by crucifying you. Judy. The kindest, most generous and all-around good person I know.”
Pru shook her index finger back and forth in the air like a prim, old-fashioned schoolmarm. “No, sirree, Bob. Not on my watch. We have a plan, and we’re sticking to it. Now, dump the pretty purple suit and get into costume.”
Food=love in my books. Today’s recipe belongs to my character, Judy Banger–heroine of my newly revamped, slightly…okay, majorly…unconventional romance: Judy Uncensored.
Judy, age 52, decides she’s too young to throw in the towel and too old to…actually, there’s not much Judy won’t do when she decides to take control of her love life, her sexuality and her future.
Shhh…don’t tell anybody, but being good is highly overrated. Being naughty is much more fun.
And that includes upping her game in the romantic cuisine department. Fried cheese is far too predictable. Almond-crusted Fried Brie on the other hand…now, that’s sexy.
Almond-Crusted Fried Brie
Recipe Type: appetizer
Author: Judy Banger (Adapted from Bon Appétit, November 1999)
Judy Banger is ready to up her game in the romance department. Fried cheese is far too predictable. Fried brie…now, that’s sexy.
1 small wheel of brie, cut into wedges or quarters
1 cup almonds (you may also use hazelnuts, walnuts, pecans, or a combination)
2 Tbsp. sesame seeds
1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
1 large egg
2 Tbsp. half & half
canola oil, for cooking
Freeze brie for 30 minutes. Finely chop nuts with sesame seeds, thyme and salt in the bowl of a food processor, then transfer to a shallow bowl. In another bowl, stir together the egg and cream with a fork. Remove cheese from freezer and dip each wedge into egg and then into nuts, turning to coat and pressing the nuts to help them adhere. (You should have a nice thick crust.) Cover with plastic and refrigerate until very cold, at least 45 minutes. (Can be made 6 hours ahead. Keep refrigerated.)
Pour about an inch of oil into a shallow pan or small skillet set over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. (A piece of bread should sizzle when dipped in.) Working in batches, fry brie a couple pieces at a time until deep golden brown, turning as needed. Transfer to paper towels to drain and serve immediately, while still warm.
by Debra Salonen
(previously titled Are We There Yet?, pub 2013)
Judy clutched the stiff black satin bodice to her chest when the woman in question looked Judy’s way. In her peripheral vision, she saw Lewis lazily roll to his side, head braced on his palm, to see what all the fuss was about.
Fletcher’s annoyed snarl gave way to a sigh of resignation. He swallowed a big gulp of wine then said, “Hello, Dad. Imagine meeting you here.”
He made a sweeping gesture with his free hand. “Gang, let me introduce you to my father, Judge Wilson Canby.”
“Judge?” Lewis repeated before levitating off the bed to disappear into the bathroom.
Pru, Judy noticed, had apparently snatched her purse and hightailed it at the first sign of trouble.
Judy shrank against the chair pinned by the blue steel gaze that surveyed her from toe to head. The man’s expression was as unreadable as his son’s, but tightly clenched fists and rigid cast of his shoulders spoke volumes. Anger. Frustration. Disappointment. And something else. Grief? Despair?
She’d seen the same look on Buddy’s face when he talked about the pain of losing his wife and the regret he felt over the vast chasm of disconnect between him and his son. Buddy had thrown in the towel and let Lewis manage their relationship. This man, Judy guessed, wasn’t the type to give up without a fight. His Armani suit might as well have been made of chain mail.
“You need to come home, son,” Judge Canby said, his voice deep and surprisingly dispassionate, but not lacking in authority. Judy would have been on her way out the door if he’d directed the order her way.
“I don’t think so, Dad,” Fletcher replied, his tone a bit more peeved. “Wine, anyone?”
Judy suddenly realized she was thirsty. She timidly raised her hand, nearly exposing one breast in the process. Fletcher smiled warmly and carried a glass to her. Still, naked. He didn’t seem embarrassed by his nudity, but her cheeks began to burn when she realized the judge and Clarice were staring at her. Well, the judge, anyway. Clarice’s gaze seemed fixed on Fletcher’s ass.
“Thank you,” she said, her voice a mere squeak.
She polished off the oversize gulp like water then sat up, looking for a method of escape.
“We know about your resignation, Fletcher,” Clarice said, her expression clearly sad and desperate. The woman didn’t have the slightest idea who Fletcher was and yet she was determined to interfere in his life. “Sarge told me and I called your dad.
“Do you need to talk to your aunt, Fletcher?”
Judy caught the slight hesitation in his father’s delivery. Was the man embarrassed to air Fletcher’s issues with a family member or was something else holding him back?
Fletcher let out a gruff hoot. “Are you suggesting we hold an official intervention, Dad? Do you honestly think you–or Aunt Wendy–can talk me out of living my life exactly the way I want?” He ran a hand through his hair impatiently. “Dad. How many times do I have to say this? I’m not broken and I don’t need fixing.”
“Well, something’s obviously wrong, Fletch,” Clarice argued. “We’ve been partners for nearly two years. I know you. And this…” She motioned dismissively toward Judy. “…isn’t you. For God’s sake, Fletcher. This bimbo is old enough to be your grandma.”
Judy jumped to her feet. “Hey. Who are you calling a grandma? I don’t know what your problem is. You’ve been riding my butt since the day you showed up at my house.”
“Your trailer,” Clarice corrected in the snarkiest tone imaginable.
Judy threw back her head and laughed. “Oh, that’s it. You think I’m trailer trash and you’re better than me.”
She cleared the distance between them, forgetting her aching feet and lack of clothing. “Well, let me tell this to you straight, Clarice. I may not live in a palace, but I’m not the one breaking down my partner’s–oh, wait.” She looked at Fletcher. “Did I hear that right? You quit your job?”
Fletcher chugged his wine and nodded.
She narrowed her gaze. “Correction. I’m not the one breaking down my ex-partner’s hotel door in the middle of the night, am I? Maybe you’re just jealous because nobody invited you to the party.”
Clarice went for her gun, which, luckily, wasn’t at her waist since she was dressed in civilian clothes. Judge Canby struck the table with the palm of his hand. The sound possessed an imperious crack not unlike the attention grabbing noise Gerald made.
“That’s enough, Clarice. Is this the woman you said tricked Fletcher into coming here?”
“Yes, sir. That’s Judy Banger.” Clarice pointed her finger like a twelve-year old tattletale.
Bang-her. The old, familiar slur.
Judy’s fist curled around the plastic whale bones of the bustier in her hand, reminding her Di and Dem were hanging free for everyone–the judge included–to see. And look he did.
He stared for what felt like a lifetime of heartbeats, and then he checked her out from toe to head, again. Judy’s mouth turned too dry for water or wine to fix. Her heart rocketed against her ribs. A connection as alien as something you’d see on Star Trek, yet as palpable as a touch from a loving hand, passed between them.
Panic made her dive for her coat. She tugged it on and raced–or rather stumbled as gracelessly as a drag queen in her first pair of heels–toward the door.
A part of her brain cried, “Picnic basket. Room key. Gerald!” But she ignored the voice.
She needed to get away. Back to the safety of her room where she could hide under the covers and try to forget what just happened.
Not the sex. That didn’t matter. They were four consenting adults and whatever happened was by choice.
No. She wanted–needed more than anything–to forget meeting Wilson Canby.
“He’s not the one. He’s not the one. He’s not the one,” she muttered under her breath as she limped to the elevator.
He is, too. He’s the one. He’s the man of your dreams.
How sad would it be if that was true? Could anyone possibly have screwed up meeting Mr. Right under more humiliating, ridiculous conditions than this?