Sunday, November 29, 2009

Welcome our Guest Blogger Barb Goffman!

I am very happy to introduce Mystery Lovers' Kitchen readers to Barb Goffman. When you read her pie story below, and then about the The Gift of Murder anthology in which she has a story -- and you'll understand why those of us here on the blog who know Barb are so delighted to have her join us today. She will be popping back in here after the first of the year to talk about the Malice Domestic conference (don't miss it!)



No matter what you’re cooking, you won’t end up with a good dish unless you use quality ingredients. This applies whether you’re baking a pie, making lasagna, or ... putting together a short-story anthology. Yep. A good book of short stories is only as good as the writers who wrote them, the ideas that inspired them, and the editor who helped shape those stories.

Now I’m no expert on pies. The only time I ever made one, my brother-in-law looked at it cooling and said, “Where’s the top?” I knew it hadn’t looked right when I took it out of the oven, but I had followed the recipe exactly, and the recipe hadn’t mentioned a crust. Sigh.

Thankfully, I’m a bit better at writing. As are the 18 other authors in the anthology The Gift of Murder. This book, which was published in October, has 19 crime stories all set during the winter holiday season. (Festive!) The reviews have been solid. (See some of them at the publisher’s website: The Gift of Murder. Others are on Amazon.) But the sales haven’t gone as well as we’d hoped. And that’s a shame, because the publisher is donating every dime of profits from this book to Toys for Tots.

So let me tell you about the ingredients making up this book. Hopefully, you’ll decide they’re the quality you’re looking for in a good read—both for you and for folks on your Christmas, Hanukkah, and/or Kwanzaa gift lists.
Do you like heartwarming stories, the kind that Hallmark scoops up and turns into feel-good movies? Then you’ll like Earl Staggs’s “Caught on Christmas Eve,” which involves bad choices and second chances. Do you want a solid puzzle in your mystery? Then you’ll be happy with J.F. Benedetto’s “The Seven Dollar Clue.” Are you a fan of amateur sleuths? Authors Marian Allen and Elizabeth Zelvin have you covered. Prefer cops and PIs? We have those, too, thanks to Austin Camacho, Kris Neri, and Sandra Seamans. If woo woo’s your game, Bill Crider wrote about werewolf love (much better than muskrat love) and Gail Farrelly has a Kindle with a mind of its own. Want to kill someone with a waffle iron? Stefanie Lazer’s story is for you. And to round things out, we have stories about folks in bad situations who find their way out of it ... and some who don’t.

I’m so pleased that folks who have read my story “The Worst Noel” have called it both funny and disturbing. (Too bad they’ve also said that about me.) The story starts at Thanksgiving and ends at Christmas Eve, and in between a woman with an overbearing mother and a witch of a sister decides to gift herself with a little less family. If you’ve ever wished you could get rid of that one annoying relative, I think you’ll like my story. Besides, it involves poisoned food, which just rounds out the whole holiday cooking experience, doesn’t it? Now, I don’t recommend putting poison into real-life recipes, but it’s an excellent ingredient in fictional ones.

The chefs behind The Gift of Murder are master storyteller and editor John Floyd and publisher Tony Burton of Wolfmont Press. This is the fourth year in which Tony has persuaded authors to donate their stories so he can raise money for needy children. It’s a great cause. Here’s how you can get the book: Visit the major online bookstores (Amazon also has it on Kindle) or your local brick and mortar shop. You also can get a copy in print form, e-book or audio through The Digital Bookshop. I highly recommend The Digital Bookshop, which has partnered with the publisher so that more money will end being donated to Toys for Tots.

And if you’re feeling lucky, maybe you can win a copy here. Everyone who comments below (before midnight tonight) with a funny story about their own cooking mishap—I can’t be the only one with a pie story, especially with this being the Sunday after Thanksgiving—will have their names thrown in a hat. I’ll mail one signed copy to the winner.

If you don’t win, please consider buying this book for yourself or as a gift to help us help the wonderful Toys for Tots Foundation, run by the U.S. Marine Corps. Not only will you get the joy of knowing you’re helping needy kids, but you’ll also be getting a great book that’s like a buffet. If you don’t love one of the stories, well, there are 18 more to read. Tony and John did an excellent job of mixing all the ingredients together to create a solid anthology with 19 stories that differ in content but blend well because of their authors’ creativity. You can’t get a better recipe than that. Well, except for the following recipe for chocolate pound cake. No poison included. Happy holidays!

Chocolate Pound Cake
Serves: 12-16 (No you don’t have to eat it all—if you’re not having that many relatives over, freeze the leftovers. They’ll keep.)
1 cup butter
½ cup Crisco
3 cups sugar
5 eggs
3 cups flour
½ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
1 cup cocoa
1 cup milk
2 tsp. vanilla
Powdered sugar, for dusting


Grease a Bundt pan or an angel food cake pan. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Sift together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. Add vanilla to the milk. Set aside. Cream together the butter, Crisco, and sugar. Add the eggs one at a time to the sugar mixture, beating well after each egg. Add one third of the flour mixture to the sugar mixture, beat until it’s incorporated, then add one third of the milk, and beat until it’s incorporated. Repeat these last two actions, alternately adding in the flour mixture and the milk mixture in thirds. Bake for 1 ½ hours or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool for 10 minutes, then remove from the pan. Dust with powdered sugar and enjoy.

* * * * *
Barb Goffman is an Agatha Award-nominated author who toils as a lawyer by day to pay the vet bills at night for her miracle dog, Scout. (He had cancer three times, but now he’s cured!) She grew up on Long Island but figures she must have been Southern in another life because half the voices she hears in her head—oops, sorry, half the characters she creates—are Southern. In addition to the short story mentioned above, Barb has had stories published in the second and third volumes of the Chesapeake Crimes anthology series, and she will have a new story coming out this spring in the fourth: Chesapeake Crimes: They Had It Comin’, a wonderful book with twenty tales of murder and revenge. Barb’s website is


  1. Hi Barb,
    I have a copy of the anthology on my end table waiting for Dec 1st when I go into my "all holiday all the time" reading until Jan 6, so don't enter me in the drawing. I just stopped by to read your blog. What a great thing Tony does putting this little gem together each year!

    Probably my worst cooking disaster-and there have been many, was when I first startedon my pie making quest back in my 4'H days. Somehow in my recipe reading, I failed to note the part about BAKING the crust for a cream pie before dumping in the filling. So I got the pie all put together, complete with the meringue on top, popped it in the oven to brown the meringue and was at a loss to figure out why the crust was still raw. Okay, I was a kid, but still, one would think common sense should have kicked in!
    Caryn in St. Louis

  2. Welcome to the Mystery Lovers' Kitchen, Barb! Your chocolate pound cake sounds divine and I like the idea that the leftovers will freeze...not that we'll have any leftovers at our house! :)

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  3. Hi, Caryn. I love your holiday-reading marathon idea. Hope you have a lot of fun with it. And I love that you also have a pie crust story. How funny.

    I'm always so afraid of screwing things up when I cook that I try to follow recipes exactly, so if I had missed a step like you did, common sense would not have kicked in. But we're certainly not the only ones. When my oldest niece was 12, she was going to make lunch for herself for the first time. I can't remember what she was making, but the can said to put it in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave for however many seconds. Of course the can should have said to EMPTY THE CONTENTS into a microwave-safe bowl. My niece, following the directions exactly, put the unopened can in a bowl, opened the microwave, and I'm sure if I hadn't been sitting there, would have burned the house down. (Sorry, Rachel, if you're reading this. But it's a good story!) Sometimes commonsense just isn't there. But it can happen to anyone. Hey, my pie story happened when I was 24!

  4. Hi, Elizabeth. Chocolate and pound cake all in one ... what's not to like? Thanks for coming by today!

  5. Hi Barb,

    Thanks so much for joining us here at the Mystery Lovers' Kitchen. I love your pie story. I once frosted a chocolate layer cake before it had completely cooled. I was running late and didn't have time. What could go wrong, right? Well, I placed my beautiful chocolate layer cake in my cake carrier and left for the party. When I opened it the cake had collapsed into four enormous layered chunks. Oops. The family still laughs about it to this day. But, even though it sat in messy pieces, it was still delicious.

    Glad to have you here, Barb!


  6. Oh, and I meant to add that the anthology and your story sound fabulous. Just as soon as I clear some time I can't wait to read it!


  7. Hi, Julie. You know how to make layers?! I bow down to you! Thanks very much to you and the other ladies of Mystery Lovers Kitchen for having me guest blog today. I really appreciate it. (And I hope you like the book!)

  8. Hi, Barb, so good of you to join us! Love your story about the pie. I once made a cake with homemade icing. Just didn't realize that icing requires "powdered" sugar. The icing ran and ran and ran. {Do not add me to your contest list. I'm one of the Mystery Lovers Kitchen bloggers.} But so fun to remember long lost memories! And can't wait to read your short stories.

  9. Hi, Avery. Your story reminds me of when, as a kid, I was making something (no idea what) with a friend. The recipe called for baking powder. We only had baking soda. Turns out they are not the same thing! The contents of our dish started to bubble and rise, like a volcano! I really should stay out of the kitchen.

  10. OK, I've cooked a turkey with the plastic-coated innards inside and another without remembering to turn on the oven. But this year I put my pistachio cake in the oven and ... well, here's a link to my blog entry about it...

  11. Hi, Pat. I'm laughing so hard that my dog is looking at me like I'm crazy! Thanks for sharing. (That time you forgot to turn on the oven, how'd that turkey turn out?!)

  12. I'm mathematically challenged. I had to make three dozen cookies once. I'd made the recipe hundreds of times so no sweat to triple it right? Wrong!! I multiplied all the ingredients correctly, except the salt. I tripled it not once but twice or was it three times!! I've learned my lesson and make one batch of anything at a time, unless a mathematician is there to calculate for me.

  13. HSS, please, please share with us what those cookies ended up like. How'd you discover your mistake? Was it obvious by appearance? Or did someone (you?) discover it by tasting them?

  14. Hi, Barb, the anthology sounds great! And my husband, the chocoholic thinks the pound cake sounds great too. Cooking disasters? Oh, I've had plenty. A pastry chef I am not, and unfortunately my shiny new food processor complete with dough blade hasn't helped a lot. I wanted to make something resembling an apple strudel for Thanksgiving. What I ended up with more closely resembled a large Hostess apple fried pie, only baked. It was edible, but not what I was aiming for!

  15. Hi, Shel. Maybe the problem has to do with apples. Because my pie story involved an apple pie ... hmm. I'm sure we can blame both our incidents on the apples. Not our own faults at all. Yeah, that's it!

  16. Chocolate pound cake sounds great. We'll have to try it this year.

  17. Thanks for posting, Benjie. Hope you like the cake!

  18. Hi Barb! Although food often appears in my mysteries involving Mark Sauer & Joi Li (including, as you mention, my story "The Seven Dollar Clue"), my own cooking rarely goes terribly wrong. On the other hand, I watched my Italian father try his hand at making choclate-fudge cookies. He made it clear that he didn't want his son's help and shooed me out of the house. Hours later, I returned and found there were no cookies. None. I frowned. "Geez, dad! Did you eat all the cookies by yourself?"

    He blinked and screamed "THE COOKIES!" and ran to the oven, where the cookies were still baking--five hours after he had put them in!

    So we ended up with a cookie jar full of "fudge rocks" that my mother--frugal woman that she was--refused to let us throw away. They sat untouched in the jar for two full months (because they were as hard as concrete and just as inedible). I finally snuck outside one snowy morning with the cookies and a hammer, pounded them down into gravel, and scattered them in the mudhole at the end of the farm road we lived on, just to get rid of them.

    Ah, the holidays! What memories they bring back....

    --J F Benedetto

  19. Oh my. Oh I love this post. I really can see your dad yelling with horror in his eyes, "The cookies!" That is so funny. It makes me feel better about my own disasters. Thank you. And happy holidays! Oh, wait. Did he ever try baking again? Would your mom let him? I'm just sitting here laughing and laughing.

  20. I don't know how to bake or cook a thing. I live on take-out. But I do have two qualifications that PERHAPS permit me to comment here: 1) I'm the author of "The Kindle Did It," one of the stories in The Gift of Murder. I consider it an honor to be included. And 2) When I was a senior in high school, on the basis of a written test we all had to take, I got the highest score and was named "Betty Crocker Homemaker of Tomorrow." Yikes! Talk about a mystery . . . .

  21. Hi, Gail. What in the world was on that test?

  22. Cute story, Barb. Sounds like my type of pie!

    I have two stories about cooking gone awry. The first was when I was using one of my mother's old wooden-handled pots. I finished cooking my large batch of macaroni and was taking the pot to the sink, but I had forgotten that the handle was loose. The pot turned upside down, and all the noodles and hot water spilled all over the floor. Luckily I had on jeans and boots, so I didn't get burned, but I stomped my feet and screamed as loud as I could anyway.

    The next was when I was making lentil soup. I was supposed to mix some of the batch in a blender. Unfortunately I put in a little too much and used too high a speed. The top flew off the blender and lentil soup mix went all over the kitchen and me. I wasn't so lucky about not getting burned this time, but it was very minor and only on my hands.

    The wooden-handled pot went straight to the trash, and no lentil soup has been made in my kitchen since my pitiful pureeing. But I guarantee there's a new mishap waiting on the horizon.

  23. Hi, Becky. I like the top flying off the blender image. Very nice. I once was making a shake in the blender and forgot to put the top on. Slimfast and ice cubes everywhere!

    Lord, I didn't realize till I started seeing everyone's stories today that I had had so many mishaps in the kitchen. And considering how little I cook, the percentage of cooking to disaster is quite high. Fun, fun, fun.

  24. The Betty Crocker test I mentioned above contained quite a few math questions related to things like cooking (Example: if the cooking time of a roast is x minutes per pound, how long would it take to cook a roast of 9 1/2 pounds) and sewing. I know I aced those kinds of questions!

  25. My disaster was a three layer ultimate chocolate cake that I made for a Thanksgiving dinner that my family attended. The cake had whipped cream between the layers & lots of fudge icing. I had kept it in the refrigerator but when we arrived at the home of our hosts they did not have room in their refrigerator. I thought that it would be fine & it might have been except that the hostess had not estimated the cooking time for the turkey correctly. So we sat & had drinks & then when we finally finished the meal & the cake was brought to the table I knew that I was in trouble. The cake layers had already started slipping & when I put the knife into the cake it ended up on the beautiful white linen tablecloth.
    Helen Kiker

  26. Don't worry, Helen. It seems everyone has a cooking disaster story. It's what's brings us all together at the holidays. (I hope the stain came out of that beautiful tablecloth.)

  27. At the age of 12 I had to take over the cooking for my 5 brothers and sisters, and had to learn on the job. One night, making mac & cheese, I had just put the macaroni into the boiling water when the kitchen sink overflowed. By the time the disaster was cleaned up, the macaroni was a shapeless overcooked mess ... but being too poor to let food go to waste, my poor siblings ate it anyway.
    Our best family cooking tale, tho, is a cousin who, making a new recipe, asked her Mom "How do you make an egg white?"