Food=love in my books. Today’s recipe belongs to my friend Annette Mardis. Since my wrist is still in a cast, I’ll let her tell you all about her delightful new book and super easy recipe.
Thank you so much, Debra, for hosting me on your blog. Liquid Silver Books just released my contemporary romance novel The Shore Thing. It’s the first book in a series set in the fictional west-central Florida beach town of Gulf Shore, where you’ll feel sugary white sand between your toes, the warm sun on your shoulders, and a sea breeze ruffling your hair.
You’ll meet swoon-worthy alpha males who aren’t embarrassed to cuddle a rescued baby dolphin in their muscular arms, and accomplished women looking for an equal partner who thinks that smart is sexy.
You’ll get up close and personal with sea life, join the “snipe and gripe” club for girls’ nights out, and fall in love with a talking parrot who acts like a little boy in a bird suit.
You’ll go behind-the-scenes at the local aquarium and out to the beach to rescue marine animals in distress. And once you visit Gulf Shore, you just may find yourself wishing you could stay.
Like many of us, Danielle “Dani” Davidson, the leading lady of The Shore Thing, is tired at the end of her workday at Gulf Shore Aquarium. An education specialist, Dani is on her feet all day, giving tours, interacting with guests and in general teaching people about marine life. The last thing she wants to do when she gets home is cook a big meal. So she relies a lot on her trusty slow-cooker.
One of her favorite sources of easy dinner ideas is the Fix-It and Forget-It Cookbook: Feasting with Your Slow Cooker by Dawn J. Ranck and Phyllis Pellman Good. Dani particularly is partial to this pizza rice recipe contributed by Sue Hamilton of Minooka, IL.
- Makes six servings
- 2 cups rice, uncooked
- 3 cups chunky pizza (or pasta) sauce
- 2 ½ cups water
- 7-oz. can mushrooms, undrained
- 4 oz. pepperoni, sliced
- 1 cup grated cheese
- Combine rice, sauce, water, mushrooms, and pepperoni. Stir.
- Cover. Cook on low ten hours or on high six hours. Sprinkle with cheese before serving.
Excerpt from THE SHORE THING
by Annette Mardis
Evan Sanders felt his swim fins touch bottom as he settled into position with his camera pointed at the two ten-foot nurse sharks circling above him. It was feeding time, and Fred and Barney were restless and hungry. Evan watched as black drum, striped mullet, mangrove snapper, and other smaller fish scurried out of the predators’ way.
He was in full scuba gear and had only his camera for protection, but he wasn’t worried. He’d shot still photos and video in Gulf Shore Aquarium’s Florida Fishes tank many times, and the nurse sharks hadn’t shown the slightest interest in him.
Still, the usually sluggish bottom-dwellers did have thousands of tiny, serrated teeth capable of crushing shellfish and delivering a nasty bite to errant hands or feet, so Evan couldn’t afford to be careless.
Leaning against the clear face of the tank for support, he noticed an attractive young woman watching him. She had her long chestnut hair pulled back in a neat ponytail and wore khaki slacks and the aquarium’s standard-issue teal polo shirt with the GSA logo. A small crowd gathered around her, and Evan knew she was regaling them with facts about how nurse sharks in the wild use vacuum-like suction to snatch fish, mollusks, and crustaceans from their hiding places, sometimes even yanking a sea snail right out of its shell.
He wished he had time to take a closer look at her because he liked what he could see. But duty called.
Evan zoomed in and fired off frame after frame as Fred sucked a freshly thawed herring from the stainless steel grilling tongs a trainer held just beneath the water’s surface. He tracked Fred with his camera as the shark circled around for another handout.
Suddenly, Evan’s peripheral vision picked up a hulking shape closing in fast on his right. He pivoted to find Barney’s snout within inches of the camera lens.
Pulse pounding, Evan barely had time to react. He bumped the shark’s nose just hard enough to discourage him from coming closer. The lumbering fish veered away at the last second and swam up to a second trainer, who enticed him with a hunk of squid.
On the dry side of the Plexiglas, the young woman stared wide-eyed. Evan gave an exaggerated shudder and patted his chest over his heart. She laughed, and he grinned around his regulator mouthpiece and wiggled his fingers. She waved back.
As Evan held her gaze for a moment longer, the young woman blushed.
* * * *
Fifteen minutes earlier, Danielle “Dani” Davidson had returned from an early dinner break to see the diver standing on the concrete deck of the tank, looking like he belonged on the cover of Hot Hunks Monthly. He checked his air tank and hoses, spit in his mask to keep it from fogging, and collected his camera gear. He’d zipped up his wet suit only as far as his flat waist, and it was only natural for Dani to pause and admire the wide set of his shoulders and the muscles rippling over his tanned arms and chest.
Just then, he raised his head as if he felt her gaze roaming his body and, face reddening, she hurried toward the stairs. She stopped on the top step, hidden by a sign identifying the animals in the tank, and watched as he worked his arms down the sleeves of his wet suit and then zipped it closed.
The show over, she headed down to the underwater viewing area to narrate the nurse shark feeding.
Now, as Dani’s heartbeat returned to normal, the guests gave her an expectant look, obviously waiting to hear what she had to say about the diver’s close call.
“Barney was just making sure our photographer got a nice close-up of his handsome face,” she ad-libbed, adding a reassuring smile for good measure.
“You wouldn’t catch me in the water with those monsters,” one woman proclaimed.
“Sharks are awesome!” the boy with her enthused. “During Shark Week on TV, they showed a great white leaping out of the water with a seal in its jaws, and the seal was all bloody and flopping around and stuff, and its guts were hanging out, too. It was so cool!”
“Eeeewww,” a girl behind him squealed. “That’s totally disgusting.”
“Well—” Dani began, but was interrupted by the man beside her.
“So, would that shark have bitten that diver just now?” he asked.
“Nurse sharks usually aren’t aggressive and are tolerant of people,” she told him. “Unless, of course, someone is careless enough to step on the shark or foolish enough to pull its tail. Our diver is anything but an inattentive imbecile.”
Several people laughed.
“Then why did that shark charge him?” the man pressed.
“‘Charge’ is an overstatement. Sharks are attracted by bright and shiny objects, like a camera flash.”
“Won’t they eat those other fish in there?” someone else asked, setting off a flurry of questions from the group.
“Not as long as we keep Fred and Barney well-fed,” Dani said. “Nurse sharks are lazy hunters who forage at night when their prey is resting.”
“How often do you feed them?”
“Four times a week.”
“Why don’t you just throw the food in there instead of using tongs?”
“The trainers need to keep track of how much fish and squid each shark eats,” she explained. “And they also get vitamin supplements in their food.”
“How big do nurse sharks get?”
“They average seven to nine feet, but it’s possible they can reach fourteen feet.”
“How long do they live?”
“About twenty-five years in human care.”
“Human care? Let’s call it what it is—captivity.”
“Are these, like, the only sharks you have? Because they’re, like, totally lame,” said a bored-looking teenage girl.
“We have a lot of other species at Shark Pier, which is near the back of the property,” Dani answered.
“So, um, why are these here, then?”
“Fred and Barney came to us before we built Shark Pier. A local man had them at his home and gave them to us after they outgrew every tank he bought. They’ve settled in here, so why move them again? Think of them as the aquarium’s greeters, like the ones at Walmart, but with much sharper teeth.”
Dani smiled, but the teenager stayed stone-faced.
“What’s the most bloodthirsty shark in this part of Florida?” asked a man wearing a floppy fishing hat and a sticky layer of coconut-scented suntan lotion.
“We prefer not to use words like bloodthirsty and vicious. Yes, they’re top predators, but sharks don’t hunt humans. Of the more than three hundred and fifty species, fewer than ten are considered dangerous to people.”
“You didn’t answer my question,” the man accused, his hands folded across his chest. Then he spoke with a deliberate pause between each word, as if she had rocks for brains. “Which sharks should we be most afraid of when we’re in local waters?”
“Bull sharks. They’re aggressive and unpredictable.” Dani’s smile wavered, but she kept it pasted on her face.
“Anybody been attacked?”
“Off Gulf Shore? No. None reported, anyway. South of here, in the Tampa Bay area? Yes, but not many. You don’t have to worry. I swim in the Gulf all the time.”
“Hey, it only takes one bite! What happened with those attacks? This is stuff we have a right to know!”
“Yes, sir, absolutely,” she agreed. “Nobody’s trying to keep secrets. In 2000, a nine-foot bull shark feeding on mullet killed a retiree who jumped off his dock near St. Pete Beach and Gulfport.”
Several guests gasped, and someone muttered, “Good Lord!”
“That happened in Boca Ciega Bay, where nine years later a teenage girl was swimming—”
“Wait a minute. Boca Ciega Bay? Oh! My! God! We’re staying right near there!” shrieked an older woman who looked like she’d just come off the beach and now regretted sticking even a toe in the surf.
“Did that girl get eaten?” the young Shark Week fan asked before Dani could say anything else.
“No, she was bitten just below the knee. It was serious but not life-threatening.”
“We need to stay someplace else if there are killer sharks in that bay,” the woman insisted, on the verge of a full-blown frenzy.
“Ma’am, sharks are found in every major body of saltwater in the world,” Dani said.
“Is that supposed to make me feel better, young lady?”
Dani’s shirt was sticky with sweat. “Your chances of being attacked are about one in eleven million,” she assured the woman. That didn’t seem to satisfy her, so Dani launched into tips for lessening that already minuscule risk.
“Don’t swim alone, at twilight, after dark, or if you’re bleeding. Don’t wear shiny jewelry. Be extra cautious in murky water. Don’t splash a lot or let pets in the water with you. Avoid going in the water where people are fishing.”
The woman’s face looked like she’d just sucked on a lemon, and the man who’d raised the specter of shark attack gave an impatient huff.
Geez, what’s with these people? Dani thought, sneaking another look at the diver with the camera. I’d be safer in there with him, not to mention with Barney and Fred.
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