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Happy Chocolate Cake Day!

So today, January 27, is Chocolate Cake Day! In my book, any day is a day to celebrate anything chocolate, but since we’ve got an official ruling for this date why not run with it, right?

I recently saw a few different blogs and pages sharing “depression-era” cake recipes and I’m really excited to try one soon. The cool thing about these cakes is that they were created during times when things like eggs, milk, and butter were hard to come by and so they found some interesting ways to substitute for the missing ingredients. Betty Crocker even had a radio show to offer housewives inventive ways to make recipes during the hard times.

Today some of us might even know these “substitution tricks” if we’re on special diets. For instance, you can achieve the fluffiness of eggs by using apple sauce or a combination of vinegar and baking soda

But let’s get back to CHOCOLATE cake, eh? Here’s a recipe for “Depression Era Chocolate Cake:

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl combine the following ingredients:

  • 3 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 5 heaping Tablespoons of cocoa
  • 2 Tablespoons white vinegar
  • 10 Tablespoons oil (I almost always bake and cook with Olive Oil)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla (or if you’re like me, you might just pour until it feels right 😉 )
  • 2 cups cold water

Pour the mix into an ungreased 9 x 13 pan and bake for 40-45 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean. You can top your cake with whipped cream, cool whip, powdered sugar, fruit or even ice cream!

Enjoy!

A yummy vintage treat!

I decided to whip up a treat that I remember enjoying as a little girl.  These just don’t taste the same as when my grandma or my mom made them, but then does anything taste as good as that?

Turns out Martha Washingtons have a little bit of history to them.  The Martha Washington Candy company made them in stores across the U.S. during the 1920s. The Depression took a toll and most of the stores closed down.  Still, the sweets were so beloved that generations of recipes were passed down through the years. 

Here’s the recipe I used:

For the Filling:

  • 2 pounds confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk 
  • 2 cups flaked coconut
  • 4 ounces (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter
  • 3 cups pecans, chopped

Short-cut Dipping Chocolate:

  • 2 4 oz packages Semi-Sweet Baker’s Bars
  • 1 12 oz bag of milk chocolate chips

Put the chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl and heat for 30 seconds at a time, stirring after each interval until smooth.

OR Traditional Dipping Chocolate

  • 1 ounce food-grade paraffin wax, 1/4 of a bar
  • 12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips

Mix wax and milk chocolate chips together in a double boiler. Make sure the water at the bottom is simmering and not boiling.

How to put it all together:

  1. Line a baking pan or tray with wax paper or parchment paper.
  2. Sift the confectioners’ sugar into a large bowl and add the sweetened condensed milk, coconut, melted butter, and pecans. Mix well with the help of a wooden spoon. Refrigerate for 30 minutes, covered.
  3. With your hands, shape the mixture into balls and place them on the pan or tray. Refrigerate the balls until the balls are very firm, or about 1 hour.
  4. Once the candy is hard, prepare melt the chocolate with one of the above methods.
  5. Dip the chilled balls in the melted chocolate and let cool on top of wax paper.
  6. Enjoy!

If you try this recipe, comment below and tell me how it worked. Have a special holiday recipe of your own? Email it to me at chsessums@chsessums.com.

Sessums Snippet #3 – Something personal

A recent reader said in her review that she found Jenny’s enabling of JD’s drinking “cringe-worthy.”  And I’ll be honest, she’s absolutely right. Jenny Dee does enable her dad.

The truth is, there’s a lot of me in Jenny, including the way she handles her dad’s drinking.  My dad was an alcoholic…  Never physically abusive, but just a pleasant, happy drunk.  And for most of his life, when we were growing up, he managed to keep the drink in one hand and a wrench in the other.  He worked hard, super hard as a diesel mechanic and never let his drinking get in the way of putting food on our tables. In those days Mom worked evenings and I can remember me and my sisters heating Daddy a plate of dinner each night as soon as he got home so he wouldn’t pass out with an empty stomach.

Several years ago under my “romance pen name” I wrote a story about two alcoholics.  One recovered, the other working her way towards recovery.  To prepare for All the Wrong Reasons, I decided to read Alcoholics Anonymous ( The Original Text of the Life-Changing Landmark). Originally published in 1939, this book provides a description and definition of alcoholism as well as a step-by-step explanation of how the twelve-step program works. It then relates story after story told in first person by members of the group.

Post-Prohibition Era diagnoses of alcoholism were grim. Some believed it might be an allergy of sorts to which some were more susceptible than others. Most medical and psychiatric experts believed the condition was incurable and terminal. Those with limited resources were resigned to state hospitals or charities like the Salvation Army. If you had financial support you might get more aggressive treatment including the “purge and puke” method with barbiturates and belladonna.

Still most of the time those resulted in relapse and eventually death associated with the condition. In the beautiful story, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn when the doctor notes that the father’s death certificate will read pneumonia and alcoholism as the cause, the mother begs him to leave the word alcoholism off for her children’s sakes. It’s a heartbreaking scene.

Eventually, though, a group of alcoholics, starting with Bill W. and Dr. Bob began to experiment and find success by applying the theories of The Oxford Society to their illness. A Christian fellowship movement, The Oxford Society’s tenants were described by their founder as follows: “All people are sinners”; “All sinners can be changed”; “Confession is a prerequisite to change”; “The change can access God directly”; “Miracles are again possible”; and “The change must change others.”

Many of the beliefs of The Oxford Society were adapted for the problem of the alcoholic and although the two groups diverged in the later 1930s, many of the edicts of the twelve steps have some connective tissue to The Oxford Society.

I relied on the stories of the “anonymous” contributors of the book when creating the relationship between JD and Mr. Killough. And when you read The Christmas Kettle Caper in the Mysteries of Christmas Past anthology, you’ll get a little more of that very special relationship.

Unfortunately, in 2018 my own dad died without ever having beaten his addiction to alcohol. Interestingly, his death happened just a few weeks before I released All the Wrong Reasons, the story for which I’d researched so much about the disease. I’ll always say my Lord’s timing is perfect because I know without a doubt that my understanding of his struggles with drink is what helped me deal with the impact of his death.

So there’s a little snippet of history plus a lot of personal history.

Have I mentioned how humbled I am that you’re reading this and my books? From the bottom of my heart, THANK YOU.

~C.H. Sessums

Scolding Blake – A Doubtful Death Teaser

I followed Blake to the second floor where he turned immediately to the first room on the right.  But when he slipped his key into the hole we realized quickly the door was already unlocked.  Giving me a warning glance, I nodded and grabbed tight to my reticule, my handgun inside, then waited as he slowly eased the door open.

The lights were on and we heard movement coming from what I assumed to be the bedroom.  I followed Blake as he made his way in that direction and I had to wonder if he had his own weapon. 

Suddenly the door swung wide and I was surprised when my eyes met the doe-eyed ones of the woman from the funeral.  Hers widened in terror as she backed into the frame and put a hand to her chest, clutching a handful of her black cotton mourning dress.

“Who’re you?” she asked on a pant, then, “I’m not a thief.  I have a key.  I’m not doing anything wrong.”

“Is that so?” Blake said, tone laced with accusation, “Then maybe you’ll tell us who gave you that key and why you’re in a dead man’s apartment?”

We all paused a moment, a three-way standoff, then the girl dropped her face into her hands and began to weep bitterly, shaking and wailing. Blake and I stood there staring at her before he glanced over his shoulder with an expression of panic. “You might have been a tad more gentle,” I scolded as I stepped in front of him to put an arm around the crying woman so I could lead her to the couch to sit.

NOTE: This is an unedited excerpt, so please forgive any errors.

Have you preordered your copy of The Doubtful Death Mystery?

When a top insurance agent dies in a boating accident, it’s a tragedy, but when the books for that agent turn up short twenty-thousand dollars, doubt becomes the name of the game…

Order today: https://books2read.com/b/b5ZwO6

Sessums Snap Snippet #2: A Bootlegger in a Bordello

Today’s “Sessums Snap Snippet” is super cool because it’s connected to my C.H. Sessums books AND my Olivia Hardin books!

This handsome couple is Marcella and Guy Chadwell... but they're not nearly as innocent as they look. In 1917 Marcella Raspberry went to work at a department store in Port Arthur, Texas.

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She was a very poor but rebellious girl who liked to drink beer and had several tattoos.... pretty shocking for the earlier twentieth century.  She noticed a regular customer at the department store always had a purse full of cash, had a car and chauffeur.  When she learned the woman owned a bordello, Marcella decided to rent a house on the west side of Port Arthur where she installed several “ladies of the night” to work for her.

In 1921 Chadwell came into her bordello, swept Marcella offer her feet, and married her! Guy’s rich father had given him a speedboat for his 21st birthday so when Prohibition hit, he used it to run bootlegged liquor on Johnson’s Bayou in Louisiana... and if you've read my small town, beach romance Love & Found as Olivia Hardin, you might remember that Simoneaux Bayou is the fictional version of JOHNSONS Bayou!  (if you like romance you can check those books out here -----> Love & Found.)

In 1925 Guy was shot when he got into an altercation with police, but rumors said his death was part of a plot cooked up by a competitor named Rusty Woodyard... and interestingly enough, Rusty's wife was a bordello owner too!

Marcella gave her husband a grand funeral before his body was taken back to Cameron Louisiana for burial. And she kept her bordello open for 25 years until authorities finally shut her down.  A young Steve McQueen even worked for her bordello as a bouncer years before his acting career.

Marcella lived to the ripe old age of 94 and is said to have cared little about what people thought of her… with one exception...

She almost always wore long-sleeved dresses to cover the tattoos on her upper arms!

Today's Snap Snippet was a surprise to me!  I just happened to run across this fantastic story on the Facebook page for the Museum of the Gulf Coast in Port Arthur, Texas.  If you're ever in that area, be sure to check it out. I'm proud to say my hubby was the founding director of the museum which chronicles the story of my beloved hometown.

 

A different kind of Christmas – Lufkin, Texas

So Christmas came late for me and my mom, sister, nieces and nephews.   But despite COVID and other life issues, we all managed to gather for a full day of fun this past weekend in Lufkin, Texas.  If you've never been there is so much to do!  Check out the Lufkin Convention & Visitor's Bureau for all the fun you can have in this cute town.

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We met first for lunch and gift exchanging (in the pics above you'll see a fantastically cute gift my sis made for me... perfect for a writer!)  After that, we headed to the Ellen Trout Zoo where we saw lions... no tigers or bears, but a rhino, lots of peacocks and two gorgeous bald eagles.

Our final stop was the Naranjo Museum of Natural History.I was almost afraid we would have to abandon the hubby there because he was a kid in a candy store exploring his educational roots (he majored in anthropology, paleontology and zoology!) The museum was really well done because they provided both advanced information as well as more basic text for children and those without a Phd.

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Then on Sunday, we had a huge surprise that was the icing on the cake for my "final" Christmas weekend of this holiday season... we had snow!  Now, this might not seem a huge deal to some, but I grew up in a part of Texas that rarely had snow and even when we moved here to East Texas, that sort of weather has been rare.  It was a lovely event that was perfect for a lazy Sunday where we could all just veg out in front of the fireplace, then venture out in short bursts to enjoy the beautiful white landscape.

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History Streaming with Mystery

In about 2010 the hubby and I began the sometimes fun, sometimes exhausting, oftentimes ill-planned, converting of our old storage building into what we now affectionately call “The Bunkhouse.”  It took quite a while to get it fixed up right, but when we did we discovered how much we LOVED being in there.

That began our almost weekly forays into “stay-cationing.”  We would take the pup(s) (then it was just the little corgi, but now we have a second bigger dog) and would spend the night in The Bunkhouse over the weekends.  We would tune out most of the world, light up our Amazon Firestick to stream movies and series.  A lot of those were mysteries and I thought I’d share a few of my absolute favorites with you.

Foyles War

We caught a few episodes of this even before the Bunkhouse, watching it on PBS.  Then when we began streaming I discovered they were ALL available on the Acorn Channel, so we went back to the beginning and watched them from the start.  These are fascinating because they take place in war-time England so you get a fascinating mix of the history of that time combined with the mystery.  And the relationship between the main character Foyle and his driver/assistant Samantha Stewart is so much fun.  Their tenuous relationship grows through the seasons until he becomes almost like a father to her.  I highly recommend checking it out. 

Midsomer Murders

The great thing about Midsomer Murders is that it’s a long-running series that you can stream for free (with commercials) from IBDb.  Barnaby is a Detective Chief Inspector in the cozy county of Midsomer where they seem to always have some interesting murder investigation. These are fun episodes with lots of little quirky twists and turns along with a cast of suspects.  Grab the popcorn and start binging this one today.

Under Military Law

If you’re interested in something really different, check out this Russian mini-series.  Set during WWII, this one is part war movie and part mystery, with undertones of intrique and romance throughout. You won’t know who the good guys and the bad guys are until the very end.  Yes, this one is actually in Russian with English subtitles, but highly entertaining.  There’s only one season available now, but a second has been produced and I’m just sitting on pins and needles waiting for it to become available on Amazon.

Vindication

This is a brand-new favorite the hubby and I found just a month or so ago. It only has one season (so far) but it recently got picked up by PureFlix for the second season. The coolest thing? It was produced in connection with the church my husband and his sons attended when they were young. There is a strong Christian theme to these episodes, but the mystery is there too and it takes place in Texas! What more could you ask for?

So, when you’re not reading, what mysteries have you been binging lately?  Comment below and share your favorites.

Sessums’ History Snippets: The Texas Rangers

I had the basic mystery story set in my mind for The Case of The Texas Ranger even before I decided it would feature an old Texas Ranger. Sometimes inspiration takes us by surprise!

Most of us from the Lone Star state grew up revering the prestige of the great Texas Rangers.  My husband worked with some of them during his time as an arson and fraud investigator early in his career.  I got the idea for Templeton Gorham partly from watching the Netflix movie The Highwaymen starring Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson (if you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it.)  The movie chronicles the tracking down of Bonnie and Clyde in the late thirties.

After watching the movie, I was interested to know more about Frank Hamer, the ranger credited with their killing, so I found a book called Texas Ranger: The Epic Life of Frank Hamer, The Man who Killed Bonnie and Clyde.  The book was a fascinating study of the man from his youth to his death.  What was most interesting to me was the fact that Hamer was known for his protection of blacks against lynching. The book is full of tales of his efforts to stand between violent mobs and prisoners in his custody.  Later, he also fought continuously against the KKK and their rackets to control cities and counties.

In the early 1900s, Hamer befriended a young son of an ex-slave and sharecropper.  Mance Lipscomb went on later in life to become a renowned blues singer, guitarist and songwriter, but he often talked about his early life following him around Navasota, Texas.  He spoke highly of Hamer saying, “He wad’n no piece a man, he was a whole man.”   The character Alonzo was inspired by Mance Lipscomb.

Be sure to preorder the upcoming The Case of the Texas Ranger and head over to my Snazzy, Knobby, Keen Dish page to enter the GIVEAWAY!

Sessums History Snippet: The New London Explosion:

The upcoming JD Pierson mystery, The Case of the Texas Ranger starts with a tragedy in East Texas when a school building explodes in the small town of New London, about 25 miles west of Tyler, Texas.

The story of the New London School explosion is true, though the characters I’ve created in reference to the terrible tragedy are all fictional.  The school district of New London was one of the wealthiest, even though the Depression was raging.  The oil boom in that part of Texas boosted local revenue, and in 1932, the school was built at a cost of $1 million or about $18 million today.

Despite urgings from the architects, the school district decided to install gas heaters in the building instead of a boiler.  Then, in 1937, the district terminated its natural gas contract and decided to tap directly into Parade Gas Company’s residue gas lines.  This wasn’t unusual in the area, and because the gas was considered to be a byproduct that was simply flared off by the company, they simply overlooked the practice. 

On that fateful day, a Thursday, students in grades first through fourth had left the school early.  Reports differ, but there were approximately 500 students at the school when an instructor turned on an electric sander, thereby sparking the explosion.  Witnesses reported that the walls bulged and the roof lifted up before falling back down.

Help poured into East Texas from all around, and Tyler’s own Mother Francis Hospital did indeed open their doors early to treat the injured children and adults.  Of the 500 or so persons in the building, only about 130 walked away without serious injury.  Estimates of the dead go as high as 319.

The story of the New London catastrophe was reported all over the world, and one of those reporters was a very young Walter Cronkite.  This was one of his first assignments, and he later is quoted as saying, “I did nothing in my studies nor in my life to prepare me for a story of the magnitude of that New London tragedy, nor has any story since that awful day equaled it.”

The cause of the catastrophe was found to be a leak in the connection to the gas pipeline that allowed the fuel to build up throughout the building without notice since it was odorless and colorless.  Later, and in part because of this tragedy, an additive was put in natural gas so that leaks could be discovered quicker. If you’re ever in East Texas, there is a little museum dedicated to the tragedy.  I’m told that until not long ago, one of the children who survived the event served as a docent and gave her own first-person accounts of the experience.  You can also see their website which includes some haunting personal accountings from the time.  http://nlsd.net/Museum.htm

Photo from the New London Museum site.

Be sure to preorder the upcoming The Case of the Texas Ranger and head over to my Snazzy, Knobby, Keen Dish page to enter the GIVEAWAY!

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