Showing posts with label Around the Kitchen Table. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Around the Kitchen Table. Show all posts

Monday, February 5, 2018

Around Our Kitchen Table: Food Mystery Mentors + book #giveaway

Today we welcome you to sit and chat with us around our kitchen table. Read all the way to the bottom for the super giveaway we're offering...

Lucy Burdette: I’ve been thinking about how food has become such a major part of my character’s life—and hence my Key West food critic mystery series—that it’s hard to imagine not including it in a book. And I’m certain that writing about food and creating recipes for the series and for this blog has helped me become a better cook. It’s been life-changing...

How did I even get started down this path? I can point to Diane Mott Davidson’s series starring Goldy the caterer as a major influence. I loved reading about how Goldy cooked—so effortlessly. And then how her new cop husband took care of her by baking special treats, creating homey dinners, and making her delicious coffee. I inhaled the food in these books! Food was love, and that’s how my character Hayley Snow thinks about it, too. (And so you can imagine how thrilled I was to have a quote from Diane Mott Davidson on my first Key West book...)


Writers, how did you get started writing culinary mysteries? Can you point to a certain influence?

Sheila Connolly: Everyone eats, right? So food--both making and consuming--is a common thread that links us all.

Diane Mott Davidson was one of the first cozy mystery writers I ever read, and when I went to a signing of hers, rather than her book I asked her to autograph one of her recipes. I watched Julia Child give a cooking demonstration in San Francisco, and I dedicated a book to Alice Waters. I've been a foodie since before the term was invented!

Then it hit me: Nero Wolfe! The main character in Rex Stout's series who was more interested the the menu for his next exquisite meal than in solving the crime at hand. I bought the Nero Wolfe Cookbook (which Stout is said to have supervised carefully so it remains true to the series) when it was released, and I have used it regularly for decades.

Oddly enough, many of the main characters that I've written don't cook, or no more than enough to keep themselves alive, but there's almost always a friend or sidekick who cooks.


Denise Swanson: Not all of my main characters cook, but they all like to eat. In my Scumble River series, Skye has learned to cook, in my Devereaux's Dime Store series, Dev has no interest in learning, But in my new Chef-to-Go series Dani Sloan has always loved puttering around the kitchen and finally gets to fulfill her dream of becoming a chef.

I'm betting nearly all mystery writers who write culinary cozies were influenced by Diane Mott Davidson. I LOVE her books and her recipes. But I was really influenced to write a culinary mystery series by all the television cooking programs. I watch Hell's Kitchen, Iron Chef, Chopped, Top Chef, all the baking shows, and, yes, even the America's Worst Cooks. 



I'd been writing unsold mysteries for years when I shifted gears to write my first published book, Books, Crooks and Counselors: How to Write Accurately About Criminal Law and Courtroom Procedure. After that, I didn't know what was next, but in my heart I was still a mystery writer. The culinary mystery had begun to emerge--including books by some of my friends--and I devoured them! We'd also just taken a month-long trip to France, which completely changed our relationship to eating and cooking. Krista, Daryl, and Peg were the fairy godmothers of my first published mystery, Death al Dente, reviewing the proposal and helping me find an agent and editor.

I, too, was inspired by Diane Mott Davidson's Goldie series, not just for the food, but because she recognized that the cozy could be about something serious. She incorporated social justice issues into the mystery. Later, I discovered Cleo's Coffeehouse Mysteries and saw that she did something similar, inspiring me to weave issues related to homelessness, domestic abuse, and immigration into my Spice Shop series, along with the food and fun. The cozy really can do it all!


Linda Wiken: In case you hadn't heard, and I'm happy to share this information whenever I talk about my Dinner Club Mysteries, my character JJ Tanner and I share one very huge trait. We both love cookbooks, and magazines, especially the one with color photos. Now, if that cookbook features cooking from another country along with information on the setting and culinary culture, I'm doubly in.

That's what sparked my interest in writing a cozy culinary series. I wasn't, and still am not, a great cook. But I love reading about something new and especially, combinations of different tastes. As does, JJ. Who knows, perhaps one day we'll both shine in the kitchen.

My inspirations have been the many delicious cozy series and, like Denise, the food programs on TV. I subscribe to the Food Network and spend a portion of my daily viewing time enjoying the shows. Cooks vs Cons is a favorite. And, don't forget those magazines -- Food and Wine, Taste of Italia, and Bon Appetit to name a few.


Daryl Wood Gerber: The foodie genre sort of picked me. My first attempt at writing a mystery was a Nancy Drew mystery, way back when. That was when I was a girl and it has since disappeared. Go figure! LOL Mom was quite discerning in regards to my baby book content. When I really applied myself, I cranked out a few standalone mysteries, but the agent who liked my work said she couldn’t sell “those.” She needed something with more of a "hook"—a series. I put together a number of proposals for her, but those didn’t satisfy her, either. Then Berkley Publishing approached her with a concept for a cheese shop mystery. She asked if I wanted to audition to write it. I'd catered. I'd run restaurants. I was a cook. I loved cheese--the basics. Sure! So I auditioned and got the job. That’s when I turned to writing cozy mysteries, writing The Cheese Shop Mysteries as Avery Aames. I immersed myself in the world of cheese and found that I wrote about cheese and food well. And so I continue to write other food themed mysteries: the Cookbook Nook Mysteries and the French Bistro Mysteries. By the way, to write about French food, I had to do a lot of TASTY research. I'm a better cook because of it. 


Krista Davis: Hmm, which came first? The food or the mystery? Food was a big deal in my family. My parents were immigrants and I have noticed that even while they are assimilating and trying out hot dogs and apple pie, most immigrants seek out the dishes they remember from home. Anyone recall the moussaka scene in the lunchroom in My Big Fat Greek Wedding?

While I was chowing down on my mom's delicious cooking, I was addicted to mysteries. So when the idea for the Domestic Diva Mysteries arose, it seemed like a natural to me. What could be better than a mystery with food?

I have to say that writing culinary mysteries and Mystery Lovers' Kitchen have made me a much better cook. You wouldn't believe how fast you run out of your go-to and family recipes when you have to post one every week!

Like Denise, I love watching cooking shows. My mom was devoted to Julia Child, so I began watching them long before there were channels devoted solely to food. But having to come up with new recipes all the time for books and Mystery Lovers Kitchen has made me even more aware of food. I think I might be a little bit too interested in people's favorite recipes and delicious meals that I have when eating out.

Cleo Coyle: Krista, like you, I grew up in a family with strong food traditions, and I can also relate to My Big Fat Greek Wedding (Italian-style)! As for the link between food and fiction, it really began for me back in the early 1980s with the late, great author and screenwriter Nora Ephron. When I read Ms. Ephron's novel HeartburnI loved that she included recipes and food talk as part of her storytelling. Learning from Ms. Ephron, I try to do the same with my Coffeehouse Mysteries, which I write with my husband, using foods, drinks, and recipes to explore and express character, setting, and story. 

Nora’s book was published back in 1983, long before the current culinary mystery trend, but there was another work, published even earlier (1976), that also left an impression on me: Someone is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe. Do any of you remember the screwball comedy film that was based on the book? Well, that book was penned by married collaborators Nan and Ivan Lyons. A married couple writing fun, foodie fiction seemed like a delicious prospect to me, even though writing is a crazy way to make a living. I'm just lucky my future husband turned out to be a guy willing to take a wild, collaborative ride—and he turned out to be a pretty darn good cook, too! ~ Cleo

We have a fabulous giveaway to go with today's post--copies of Daryl's upcoming release PRESSING THE ISSUE (Feb 20, might take a week or so to get this), Krista's upcoming COLOR ME MURDER, and Sheila's latest release, MANY A TWIST. Plus an MLK tote bag!

Leave a comment about how you got started reading foodie mysteries to be entered in the drawing...
the winner will be announced on Friday.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Around the Kitchen Table and Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

Sometimes a new year brings changes and that's the case for Mystery Lovers' Kitchen. We're waving a teary farewell to Victoria Abbott. We hope she'll still drop by once in a while to tell us what she's doing. On a happier note, today we're welcoming Denise Swanson to the kitchen. Many of you know Denise from her beloved Scumble River Mysteries. She has a tasty new series coming, too. But we'll let her tell you all about that!

Today on Around the Kitchen Table, we're chatting about our "possibilities" for the upcoming year and maybe give you a few insights into what is coming up in the publishing world.

One commenter will win this cute Around the Kitchen with MLK authors tote bag. See giveaway below.

From Daryl:  Well, the publishing world turned a bit topsy-turvy this past year. I lost two contracts, but I gained two new ones. So as I  keep a positive mental attitude about what the future may hold, I continue to write and drum up new characters. I love living with my characters. They bring me joy. They help me problem solve. I find wonderful resolution solving cases and serving up justice to the "bad guy." What's coming for me this year?  The 6th Cookbook Nook Mystery, PRESSING THE ISSUE, will come out in February. Because this is through a new publisher, it will have a different look and the paper version will only be available on Amazon, through print on demand. I hope that won't put you off. It's still the same gang of characters and set in Crystal Cove. The Renaissance Fair  has come to town and Bailey is planning her wedding at a vineyard, hence the title using the word: pressing (grapes).  I don't have the cover yet, but it will be available SOON. In June, the paperback version of the first French Bistro Mystery, A DEADLY ÉCLAIR, comes out. In July, you'll see the release of the 2nd French Bistro Mystery, SOUFFLÉ OF SUSPICION. Better get my PR dancing shoes ready!


From Krista:  Those of you who aren't involved in the publishing business might not know that one publisher decided to cut back on cozy mysteries, and another cut them altogether. We have lived through some turbulent times! I'm pleased to say that I have a new series, the Pen and Ink Mysteries. By day, Florrie Fox manages a bookstore and by night, she's creates adult coloring books. She's a doodler, too, and doodles the clues she's thinking about. You can find them on the cover of the book, which can be colored! COLOR ME MURDER will be released on February 27th.

The Domestic Divas have moved to a new publisher and will be back on May 29th in THE DIVA COOKS UP A STORM. Sophie and friends are back (including Natasha). When a neighbor dies under odd circumstances, everything points toward his wife as the killer. Sophie is the only one who can't believe this woman killed her husband. But is she right?

I am also happy to announce that the ink is drying on a new contract for two more Wagtail books!


From Sheila: Once upon a time, in a universe far, far away, the publishing world was simple. It was made up of a handful of long-established and well-respected publishers, and any new writer's dream was to be accepted by one of them. But then the Internet was invented and things changed. And even those of us who were published by the Big Six (and then the Big Five) were sometimes orphaned. It happened to a lot of talented people. Publishing is a business, and decisions were based on sales numbers, not whether we were talented, hardworking writers.

But the good news is, we at Mystery Lovers' Kitchen have survived, and we've found new publishing homes, or in some cases created our own. We write because we love to write, so we're still writing. I will miss some of the characters from series that did not go on, but I can have some of them drop into new series, or I can go ahead and publish more books in a series myself. There are a lot of opportunities these days.

The County Cork Mysteries have been picked up by Crooked Lane Books, and the newest one, Many a Twist, will come out this month. I've got a new series coming from St. Martin's Press: the Victorian Village Mysteries, starting with Murder at the Mansion, which will appear in June--and that's where some of the characters from the Museum Mysteries will appear now and then. I'm planning to continue the Orchard Mysteries with Beyond the Page Publishing in the fall, and the Relatively Dead series as well.

Our characters become our friends, and a part of our lives. We can't just let them disappear, so we find new ways to get their stories into our readers' hands. We hope you'll continue to enjoy their company.


From Peg: You know the saying, when one door closes, another opens. As those posting before me have already said, the publishing world is changing...again. Nothing is a constant in today's world. But I'm pleased to say that a lot of new opportunities have opened up as well!  I'll be continuing my Cranberry Cove series with Beyond the Page--like Daryl and Sheila with two of their series. I'm also debuting a brand new historical mystery series, Murder, She Reported, with the Alibi imprint of Random House. It will be ebook only. It's a new profit model for writers, and I'm excited to see how things turn out! The series is set in 1938 NYC and my protagonist, Elizabeth"Biz" Adams, is a debutante turned crime photographer for the Daily Trumpet. The first book comes out on July 31.  I will also continue my Lucille Series for at least one more book--when Lucille and family and friends go to Italy and have fun with gondolas in Venice, motorbikes in Rome and a close encounter with Michelangelo's David in Florence!  Wishing you lots of exciting possibilities in the year to come!


LESLIE: Like my blog sisters, I too was affected last year by the post-merger decision of Penguin Random House, home to Berkley Books, where we all started our mystery careers, to significantly cut paperback original fiction. (Not just cozies and not just mystery; it was a business model change, not a reflection on sales or on readers' tastes or buying habits.) As a lawyer, I can understand those changes; as a creator, I know how they can mess with the mind. Fortunately, I can cook and soothe my sore head and twisted tummy with tasty food! My Food Lovers' Village Mysteries moved to Midnight Ink, and the 5th, As the Christmas Cookie Crumbles, will be out in June 2018. I've got a lot of proverbial irons in the proverbial fire---and I'm looking forward to a smokin' New Year!


LINDA: Okay, you've heard it all before, the news about the topsy-turvy publishing world. I look around at the demise of series written by friends, series I was hooked on, and think, what's going on! Obviously, I wasn't consulted. Nor was I consulted about my own series. The third book in the Dinner Club Mysteries from Berkley Prime Crime, MARINATING IN MURDER, comes out in March, 2018 but I'm sad to report, that series  has not as yet been renewed, and I don't expect it to be. I'm happy to report though, that I'm writing a new series for a new publisher, Crooked Lane, where a number of us has happily landed. It's called the Castle Bookstore Mysteries and the first one (working title is The Body at the Blye) appears in Nov., 2018 and along with the new everything, I'm a new person, too. Hope you'll make note of the name Essie Lang, that's me, and that's who's now immersed in the life of bookstore co-owner, Malin Stahr, and the day to day business of bookselling, and murder, in spectacular Blye Castle, on Blye Island in the Thousand Islands. Here's to great reading adventures for us all in the New Year!


LUCY: I too have found a new home with Crooked Lane, this for two more books in the Key West food critic mystery series. DEATH ON THE MENU will be out on August 7, and I'm busy writing #9. After that, who knows? I have two other projects in the works that are not cozy mysteries. Hopefully I can get them in readable shape and find homes for both. I look forward to many more books from my friends at MLK--and we are so grateful for you, our readers and friends!

CLEO: Marc and I have been writing professionally for decades and non-professionally (as a vocation) since we were children. What we know for sure about this sort of life is that nothing is sure. When we entered the publishing business, it was described as a volatile landscape, full of seismic changes—that was more than thirty years ago. And so it goes. With few exceptions, the artist’s life has more in common with a roller coaster than a carousel (which explains why you sometimes see authors throwing up hands and screaming). Our philosophy: never lose your love of storytelling; make friends with risk (there are virtues in it); try not to take yourself too seriously; and always be game for a wild ride. For now, our ride is continuing with our longtime publisher, and we sincerely thank our readers (along with so many kind booksellers and librarians) for the priceless treasure of their support. If you are among them, we hope you will continue to enjoy our upcoming works. Our 17th Coffeehouse Mystery will be published in April, read more about it here. Our 18th is now underway and scheduled for release next year; and our 6th Haunted Bookshop Mystery finally has a firm pub date of October 2, 2018 (and will be available for pre-order soon). If you'd like to keep in touch, subscribe to our newsletter so you don’t miss updates to our writing life. Whether you read our works or that of our co-bloggers, we thank ALL READERS for supporting your favorite authors. You can give us no better gift. We wish you all a happy, healthy, and industrious New Year!


And from our newest writer, Denise Swanson: Happy 2018! It's wonderful to begin the new year with a new project and joining Mystery Lovers' Kitchen has got to be one of the most fun. Like many of my fellow cozy mystery writers, 2017 brought a LOT of changes for me. After 17 years and 25 books, I left Penguin Random House. And in September my new publisher, Sourcesbooks, debuted a reboot of my long-running Scumble River series, dubbing it Welcome Back to Scumble River. While the titles are no longer Murder of a.... and the covers are markedly different, the characters and setting are exactly the same. In my most recent book, Dead in the Water, Skye experiences a tornado, a kidnapping, and she gives birth!

April of 2018 will bring about my new culinary mystery series, Chef-to-Go. In the first book, Tart of Darkness, you'll meet Dani Sloan a former HR consultant and the brand new owner of the Chef-to-Go culinary business. She and her three boarders, college girls from the nearby university, immediately get elbow deep in a murder.

My third series, the Dime Store mysteries are on hiatus for a year. I may bring them to another publisher or I may publish them myself, but Dev and the gang will continue to solve mysteries in Shadow Bend, MO.


Victoria Abbott Well, it's good-bye from me and alter ego Mary Jane Maffini. We are still hoping to have more book collector mysteries following all the turbulence in the industry. MJ is finishing the seventh in her Canadian Camilla MacPhee series and we have several projects in the planning stages. Sign up for our newsletter if you want to stay in the loop. Just click here

We have loved being part of Mystery Lovers Kitchen and the fabulous group of friends and readers here and we'll be popping to get recipes and the news. You will really enjoy having Denise Swanson here 'in the kitchen'. I know you'll welcome her with open arms.


Leave a comment and tell us what are you looking forward to this coming year. 
Remember to include your email so we can contact you if you win the tote bag.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Around the Kitchen Table: Our Holiday Disasters and a #Giveaway!

With the season of feasting coming up fast, we crime-writing cooks are employing our monthly chin-wag to laugh (and cry!) about the mistakes we’ve made or the foul-ups we’ve fumbled through during the holiday season. We invite you to join our circle and share your own stories.

Leave a comment for us (with a way to contact you) and you will be entered in our random drawing to win a special prize…learn more at the end of the post. This contest is now over. See the winner announced at the end of this post. And now, let's talk Holiday Disasters!

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Cleo's disaster inspired the
last scene in Holiday Buzz.
Click to learn more.

CLEO COYLE: I was in my early twenties, on my own in New York City, and I'd been looking forward to seeing my family for Thanksgiving, but I just missed making my train. The moment was so awful, I can still see those taillights pulling away from me as I ran down the platform, dragging my luggage, ready to cry. It was Thanksgiving morning. There were no other trains that day to Western PA, and I was strapped. I couldn't afford to say "Oh, well," and buy a plane or even a bus ticket. I thought I was doomed to eating fast food alone. Thankfully, a girlfriend took pity on me and invited me to her sister's house. To this day, I feel terrible that I’d disappointed my mom and dad. But I did make the next morning’s train (after exchanging my ticket). There were plenty of Thanksgiving leftovers waiting for me in Mom’s kitchen. And, years later, that very disaster at New York's Penn Station helped inspire an important final scene in HOLIDAY BUZZ, our 12th Coffeehouse Mystery.

Years before he met me, my husband (and partner in culinary crime-writing) had his own holiday disaster. It was his first Thanksgiving in New York, and he wanted to make a feast for his friends. Marc proudly stuffed his turkey and popped it into the oven. All done! (Not quite.) Marc had failed to clean the gizzards out of the neck flap, and they were sealed in plastic. The bird looked great, but it tasted like hot, wet Styrofoam. That Thanksgiving, Marc and his friends enjoyed dinner at the local Nathan’s fast food joint, where the hot dogs were delicious. 

Click here for our doggone tasty
holiday appetizer recipe.
Which goes to show you. No matter what you're eating for dinner, if you're sharing it with people you care about, Thanksgiving can turn out to be a doggone beautiful meal. And on that note, Marc and I sincerely wish all of you a disaster-free holiday feasting season!

We're also pleased to share a fun, delicious (and insanely easy) party appetizer. Click here to get it and may you and your loved ones eat with holiday joy!


LESLIE BUDEWITZ: Mr. Right and I are classic trailers -- his siblings are 7 and 11 years older, mine 9-1/2. As a result, we have never been allowed to host a family holiday dinner! My two sisters-in-law are absolutely lovely, but they are also older, strong-minded women who know exactly how holiday dinners are supposed to go in their houses. One has probably never forgiven me for the year my cranberry almond bundt cake (yes, I took a cake!) was more popular than her Costco pumpkin pie at Christmas dinner. My other SIL has a hard time sitting still, so she packs up the leftovers for everyone. Which is great, except for the time she packed up the mashed potatoes before I got any. And since we're usually traveling, the leftovers don't do us a lot of good. Talk about disaster!

So Mr. Right and I have created our own tradition. We join the family and have a great time. Then, sometime during the week after Christmas, we make a turkey dinner with all the mashed potatoes we want. And no one sweeps up my half-full cup of coffee when I turn my back. On the other hand, there's no one to help us with the dishes ... The only real disaster, in my book, is not finding a way to celebrate that makes you happy.


PEG COCHRAN:  My holiday disaster is still fresh in my mind! Every Christmas I make a buche de Noel.  How elaborate it is varies--sometimes I do the meringue mushrooms, sometimes there's no time for that. Last Christmas I was working with a new oven. My old oven ran hot--unbeknownst to me, this one runs cool.  I made my cake and when I tried to turn it out of the pan to roll it, it stuck and disintegrated.  (Hubby ate it anyway.) I tried a second time.  This time I got it out of the pan (a lot of sweating was involved) but when I went to roll it, it fell apart.

So...I went with plan B.  I got out my large crystal bowl, layered the broken up cake with whipped cream and other goodies, and proudly declared it...a trifle! 

So in the end, not a tragedy at all.  


DARYL WOOD GERBER:  I will never forget the first Thanksgiving I was in my current home. Though I was quite used to the space on my own, moving around a lot of other people was a challenge. Well, my stepdaughter wanted to learn how to make mashed potatoes that night. Okay, fine. Not hard. But when the milk started to boil and three people converged to lower the heat or move the pot off the heat, the milk bubbled over the top, down the stove, and into the drawers below. As if that weren't enough, as I was trying to set the stuffing into the lower oven, the lip of the pan caught on the oven door, and the stuffing spilled all over the floor. Everyone was laughing except me. I like things to be perfect at holidays, but this was a major disaster. We had a lovely meal, but the clean-up was atrocious. It wasn't until the next day that I realized WHY it has been so difficult. It's narrow between the island and the stove/oven area. And there were three or four people trying to navigate the aisle. Like I said, if I'd been on my own, it would have been fine. The following Thanksgiving, I told everyone to sit at the island and have a glass of wine. Guess what? No disasters. I guess I'm like a ship in a sea lane. I want clear passage and no obstacles in my way. LOL


My disaster came a couple of years ago when we hosted a giant family Thanksgiving dinner. Along with the turkey and gravy I made pumpkin and chocolate cream pies. Chocolate cream pie on Thanksgiving, you say? But my husband's family loves anything chocolate. And I was happy to show off, even buying designer chocolate instead of the usual Baker's. I've made this pie a dozen times--using a recipe right out of the JOY OF COOKING. The graham cracker crust was lovely, but the chocolate pudding part looked grainy. And though I refrigerated it overnight, it never set. We served it in bowls and I was humbled. Though the mounds of whipped cream did help...(These pix are the actual offending pie--If you look closely at the full pie, you'll see the grainy texture. Why you might ask, did she stop to take a picture? Because a Mystery Lovers Kitchen blogger knows everything come in handy one day!)


SHEILA CONNOLLY: Where to begin... I can well remember my mother and grandmother arguing over the Thanksgiving turkey every year: is it done? is it overdone? It was always one or the other, never just right. I've had better luck with turkeys than they did--I even managed to cook one in my dorm (with a tiny kitchen) and fed the other people who couldn't go home for the Thanksgiving holiday. 

But there was one Christmas that my sister and I were both at our mother's, along with my daughter Julie, and we volunteered to cook dinner among us. Unfortunately my mother was not a scrupulous housekeeper, and there was a bit of extra grease in the burner liners on the stove, so we created a small fire on top of the stove. We didn't panic. I said, "I will find a cover to deprive the fire of oxygen" and my daughter said, "I will get the baking soda," and we calmly extinguished it. Except then we had to do it again, because we didn't quite get rid of all the grease. (BTW, the dinner turned out fine.)

But I am very fond of what I have always called "the cake mess," Julie and I created together (I had to look long and hard for the picture). I still have no idea what went wrong with the poor thing, but somehow since Julie has has turned into a professional baker. Go figure.


LINDA WIKEN:  I'm almost embarrassed to admit I don't have any stories about monumental disasters to share, probably because I've never been too into cooking so never tried anything too daring. Even though that part has changed -- yes, I do enjoy cooking now and in particular, tasting and trying new recipes -- I still have nothing major to report except for underdone turkey on one occasion or another. 

I also admit to not being into baking. However, at Christmas, I take on the mantle of 'Swedish Coffee Bread maker'. It's my Mom's recipe and while it tastes similar enough to hers each year, I've had some crushing results with texture. It's almost as if the oven elves give up partway through the 'rising' part, leaving me with an unlight, unfluffy result. Those years that I do succeed, I savor (pictured here). But, I will not give up trying! In fact, I'm eyeing a new mixer that might help with the kneading portion, which might, just might bring me a step closer to perfection. Fingers crossed. 


I love this topic and all your tragic tales of disasters, but I hardly know where to begin!  Our disasters so often happen at Christmas, the focal point of the year for the Maffini girls. Take for instance the Christmas many years  ago when we had an ice storm. The fully stuffed 25 pound turkey was roasting away in the oven on Christmas Day when the electricity went off!  Much later it had not returned and my hubby and my brother were busily bailing out the basement. Brother is still complaining thirty years later.  Luckily Victoria's sister, Virginia, was newly married and had an apartment in a different part of town and she had power!  She was also willing to save the day.  Because NOTHING may ever interfere with Christmas turkey, I drove the turkey over to her, skidding over the icy roads to her so it could finish cooking. Later on (still without power at home) we all squeezed into her little flat to enjoy it at the end of an exhausting day.  It was not the first or the last time that Virginia saved the day and it was a grand Christmas dinner in the end.

The next year, Christmas was perfect, BUT as we approached our New Year's Day Open House the wall oven died and so did the microwave.  As the first guest sat down on the newly reupholstered sofa (inherited from MJ's mom), the back leg collapsed.  Ah, the best laid plans!  

I could go on, but I'll give you all a break.

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Like MJ, my most memorable disaster was losing electricity on Christmas. Fortunately, it was early enough in the day that nothing was in the oven yet. We just shoved the entire celebration to the following day.

Because I cook for my dogs, and I used to have four to feed, I have roasted a lot of turkeys. It's sort of a no-brainer for me. Last Thanksgiving, I calculated the times carefully and all was well until the guests arrived and I peeked at the turkey. It was raw! Oh no! As far as I can tell, I must have accidentally turned the oven off when I took the turkey out to flip it over. Sigh. It tasted wonderful, which prompted a conversation about whether turning the heat off in the middle of roasting might be the best way to roast a turkey!

But the worst of all was really more of a faux pas. It still makes me shudder today. I was invited to the home of my boyfriend's parents for passover seder. Between his mother and sisters, it was determined that I should bring two pies as my contribution. Being of the clan of the cake, it was slightly out of my comfort zone, but I very carefully made the pie crusts and prepared two pies for the dinner. We packed them up and joined his rather large and noisy family for a lovely dinner. I'd had plenty of Jewish friends, but hadn't given any thought to foods that might be forbidden . . .

As my boyfriend's father took a bite of my pie, complete with the whipped cream I had dutifully brought along, I saw him lean over to his wife and ask very quietly, "Is this real cream?" 

His wife said, equally quietly, "I think so." 

The father shrugged and kept eating. In fact, the pies and cream were snarfed up and no one ever said a word to me that wasn't complimentary, which just goes to show what lovely people they were. It was years before I realized that the cream was probably frowned upon as not appropriate because one doesn't serve dairy and meat in the same passover meal. Oy vey!

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Now it's your turn! Leave a comment on this post, telling us about your own holiday disaster or you can simply comment on ours, and you will be entered in our in our special giveaway of a Mystery Lovers' Kitchen tote bag...

You will also win these
wonderful new book
to fill it! 

 * Krista Davis' *
Not a Creature was Purring 

* Daryl Wood Gerber's *
A Deadly Eclair 

* Sheila Connolly's A Late Frost
and the new trade reprint of 



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Good luck and may your 

upcoming holidays be disaster-free!

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Congratulations, Nora!

Monday, October 2, 2017

Around the Kitchen Table -- Comfort Food

LESLIE BUDEWITZ:  The seasons are changing, and with it, what we eat. No more fresh peaches or berries. Up here in the north, the pots of herbs are coming inside, there's a colander filled with the last tomatoes on the counter, and the deer and bears have left a few apples on our ancient Red Delicious tree. It's the season for comfort food.

A few years ago, a friend went into rapture, fantasizing about a fresh ragu -- an herby tomato sauce -- simmering on her stove, and called it the ultimate comfort food. I laughed -- to me, the ultimate comfort food is mac 'n cheese, smooth, creamy, maybe with a few herbs and toasted breadcrumbs for crunch, but none of the spicy bursts of flavor of a rich tomato sauce. I gave that conversation to my girl Erin in the Food Lovers' Village Mysteries, but she plays the part of the surprised Italian girl who goes to college and discovers that to others, comfort food was grilled cheese, custard, or bread pudding. Pumpkin muffins. Breakfast for dinner. (I swear, I was probably 40 when it occurred to me that my mother made pancakes and sausage for dinner occasionally not as a treat for the kids, but because she needed a little mothering herself!)

What says comfort food to you, dear readers? Include your email address in your comment for a chance to win a terrific Mystery Lovers' Kitchen tote bag! (US and Canada addresses only, please.)


Daryl: I've made it very clear, Leslie, in post after post that grilled cheese and mac and cheese say comfort to me.  I love adding all sorts of goodies to both. To grilled cheese? Avocado, bacon, shrimp. To mac and cheese, bacon. When is bacon not a comfort food?  I adore meatloaf packed with herbs and onions. This simply reminds me of my mother. She made a dynamite meatloaf, and her recipe (tweaked) is still what I use. My husband loved my meatloaf. And last but not least, ice cream! Any time of the day and night. I don't care how cold it is outside. I love ice cream. Which is probably why I like to make it. I love the sound of the churn. I love the aroma of vanilla and whatever else I add to the ice cream. And I like the way ice cream "chills" my stomach. It's like a
natural "anti-inflammatory."  LOL  Ah, comfort food. Do we need autumn and winter to enjoy it? Nope. Year-round comfort food is definitely a necessity.


Sheila: When I started thinking about my go-to comfort foods, I realized I had a few semi-scientific pieces of evidence. I've been collecting recipes and cookbooks for a long time, and the first clue is to look at my well-used cookbooks and find the pages with the most grease stains. My first copy of Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking has quite a few pages like that, mainly for beef and chicken dishes. (I could use the same test on the cookbooks I inherited from my mother: the recipe for chocolate sauce in her 1948 edition of Fanny Farmer's Boston Cooking School Cook Book may lead the pack.)

But a more important clue is how often I've made a particular dish over the years, no matter what the source. For that one, I think Apple Goody stands out. It's a recipe that comes from the mother of one of my long-ago roommates, back in the 1970s. I knew her mother for years, and I still get together regularly with my friend. The recipe is simple: apples, cinnamon, flour, sugar (brown and white) and butter. Bake and enjoy. I can't begin to count the number of times I've made that, both for guests or to take to a pot-luck, or just to eat myself. I even included it in one of my Orchard Mysteries.

So while the collected works of Julia Child are dear to my heart, Apple Goody is the all-time winner.


Linda:  When I think of something comforting, I think of my Mom. I may have mentioned that she wasn't a great cook but what she made was all we needed, or thought we needed, at the time. So I'd say my comfort food is applesauce. She'd make it from scratch and I can still remember the wonderful aroma that filled the kitchen. She'd team it up with pork chops or baked beans. Often, when I wasn't feeling well, it would be an entire meal in itself. On toast, was also a good choice.
 It makes me think of being tucked up in a soft bed under a warm comforter or sitting on the couch while a storm rages outside. Of course, I'm always eating in these thoughts -- applesauce, it would seem.

I have to admit, I've never made applesauce but obviously, with such good memories attached, I should make the effort real soon. Maybe you can supply me with a tasty recipe, Sheila! 


Krista: Linda, I remember my mom grating apples as a home remedy when I was a kid. She made applesauce, too, but it's the raw grated apples that I recall because I never could figure out why they were supposed cure anything.

Mac and cheese is a favorite comfort food for me. We never had it growing up. Never!  I don't often make it now, but I do love that creaminess.

Like Daryl, I'm a complete fool for ice cream, but mostly in the summer. As the weather cools, my consumption drops off until the special flavors come around for the holidays. Peppermint anyone?

But I'll go out on a limb here and suggest something that I have been known to whip up very late on cold nights-warm chocolate pudding. Pudding is fine when it's cold, but there's nothing quite as soothing as warm pudding, eaten straight from the pot.  


Peg: Like Krista, we never had mac and cheese growing up! I don't really remember any comfort foods from my childhood--the association is really with things I make now like shepherd's pie and sauce bolognese and pretty much any kind of soup except tomato (which I don't care for!).  I could eat a whole bowl of mashed potatoes for dinner--that's comfort to me.  And pair them with roast chicken, and I'm in heaven!  

Lucy: I love love macaroni and cheese, but eating salty stuff is a no-no for me right now. On Sundays as a kid, we had cheese toast, baked beans, and potato salad on TV trays in front of whatever program was on--that's comfort food to me. All those carbs! These days, how about a nice peach or cherry cobbler, right out of the oven, with whipped cream?? Or a chicken pot pie?


Victoria:  I find this whole discussion very comforting.  Food in general offers comfort to me, but there's something special about the smell of fresh bread or biscuits, warm from the oven and served up with butter. I love it when they area bit savory, like these with chives. There should be a pot of tea nearby and someone to chat with, over the warm biscuits.

Cleo: All of your comfort foods sound good to me! I'll add homemade cookies to that list...
Angel Wings (aka) Italian Bow Tie Cookies
For the recipe, click here.

As a little girl, I loved helping my Italian-born Aunt Mary make what she called "Italian Bow Tie" cookies. Some of you may remember them as "Angel Wings" or Chrusciki (the Polish version). In Hungary, they are called Csöröge. In France, Bugnes Lyonnaises. In the Ukraine, Verhuny. In any language, they are delicious and sweet comfort for those of us who remember eating them as children.

May you, too, eat with comfort and joy!


🍒  🍞  🍇  🍕 

What says comfort food to you, dear readers? 


Monday, August 7, 2017


Welcome to Around the Kitchen Table, our monthly chinwag!  We look forward to the conversation with you today (and always).  Be sure to leave a comment today and you may win this terrific Mystery Lovers Kitchen tote bag.  Be lucky and have fun!

VICTORIA ABBOTT aka Mary Jane Maffini: My husband mentioned recently (in the kindest possible way) that when I cook, it's as though there's been an explosion in the kitchen. I would have taken great offense if a) it wasn't true some of the time and b) he didn't always volunteer to do the clean up.  He added, "It's mostly when you bake."

The evidence was clear.

I do my best to be neat, line up the ingredients in the order of use and put each one away when it's been added.  But all it takes it a few extra visiting dogs or hot and cold running relatives or (shudder) CNN blaring in the background and all is lost.  Until the clean-up crew, that is.  Except for the time there was tea on the ceiling.

For some reason, my hubby and my brother are both creative but neat cooks.  Me, not so much.

Of course, we're almost always happy with the results and the kitchen does recover whether I do it or he does.  Still, I dream of a neater future.

So what about you? Or you precise and disciplined? Or more like these exploding stars? Do you pick some dishes because they don't make a mess?  Pull up a chair and share your tips and your foibles. That's what we do around the kitchen table.

Leave  a comment and you may be the winner of TOO HOT TO HANDLE: a Fiona Silk mystery in which there's lots of chaos in the kitchen.  Be very afraid! 


From DarylMy kitchen is often a mess when I cook.  I do my best to keep it tidy but I simply can't. I stack things
The BEFORE picture!  HA!
up. I set them in the right order. And still I feel crowded. I've got the cutting board here, the mixing bowl there. I recall a lovely disaster at Thanksgiving--our first year in our new house in Los Angeles--and I wasn't comfortable with the oven and stove and the layout. It takes time to do the dance, you know?  Anyway, my stepdaughter wanted to learn to make mashed potatoes. With all 14 of the family hovering in the kitchen!!!  I got distracted. The pot of boiling milk and potatoes boiled over. What a mess! Plus I dropped a tray of stuffing on the floor. My nephew laughed his head off!  Rarely do they see me flustered, but that night - oy!


Linda here:
 I like to think of myself as being neat, tidy and well-organized. Okay, I like to think a lot of things about myself but a lot of it isn't true--sexy, svelte, super get the picture. So, this question that Victoria poses is very disturbing. I have to 'fess up and come clean, because it's a sure thing my kitchen counters won't be after a cooking session. And don't get me started on baking because that's when the flour settles like that fine coating of dust when drywall is being erected. I actually start out on the right track. I try to pre-measure or slice and dice everything possible so those dishes can be stacked out of sight in the sink or maybe even washed and dried. It's when the nitty-gritty starts and the clock is ticking that my cleaning karma disappears. I like to believe that my problem is not enough counter space but that's not going to change, so I better change me. Start with all un-essentials cleared away; stick to the allotted space; do only one thing at a time (a biggy for me to change); and, then proceed in an orderly progression through the directions. Easy, right? So what goes wrong?


From SheilaI'm just back from Ireland, where my kitchen is about the same size as the one I had in my first apartment a very long time ago. A stove (or cooker) and a shiny new stainless steel sink eat up about half the counter space, and a microwave claimed the corner. So I have to think very strategically about what needs to be chopped and ready to go into a dish, and I definitely have to clean up as I work, and put things away (in the teeny-tiny refrigerator). The stovetop has flat electric burners, so I have to be careful about putting anything down on them because you can't tell if they're still hot. And I still haven't figured out how recycling works over there. Yes, there is recycling--that's the good news--but in which categories? And I swear my handyman said something about tossing the biological (food) by-products out into the back yard for the local animals. I'm not sure whether he was kidding. I did make an effort to hang up as many cooking items as possible, but it's still a challenge.


the compost pile last night after soup-making

LUCY BURDETTE: Hmmm, I bet my hub would disagree on this, as he's usually the clean-up batter--but I try to be neat! But cooking can be a lot of work, right? Especially if you're using a food processor and a chopping board and more than one pan at a time, which is usually the case. And tasting and photographing...good heavens, that's what sous-chefs are for, isn't it MJ?


PEG COCHRAN:  I find that my mess tends to expand depending on the space available to me. In my first house, the kitchen was small and the counter space limited. But then we moved and I had a much bigger kitchen and more counter space and my mess expanded like my stomach after Thanksgiving dinner. Speaking of Thanksgiving dinner...that one meal creates more mess than anything else I cook all year. Pots, pots, pots absolutely everywhere. Every single serving dish soaking in the sink, every kitchen utensil spread around the counter. It makes me shudder just to think about it!


LESLIE BUDEWITZ: I'm definitely a clean-as-you-go cook. Fortunately, so is Mr. Right, since we often cook together in a small kitchen with one sink. No doubt my tendency toward kitchen tidiness came from my mother, a woman with a strong innate desire for order! Since I've been part of MLK, photographing recipes as I cook, I've returned to her habit of getting out all the ingredients before any chopping or mixing. And with the exception of the lovely farmhouse I lived in for 8 years, remodeling as I went along, I've always had a small kitchen. 

But I will admit one foible that leads to extra dishes: When a salad, a vegetable dish, or a casserole involves a lot of ingredients to be mixed together, I consistently fail to properly estimate the size of bowl needed. I might switch bowls, or pots, twice to get the right one. Happily, we share the dishwashing, too!

CLEO COYLE: We have a New York City kitchen (yep, tiny!) but we love to cook, so Marc and I learned the hard way to clean as we go. Not that a mountain of mess isn't possible on a busy day, it just leaves us with zero counter space and pots and pans piled high as the Empire State building. 

Coffeehouse Mystery #1
Click here to learn more.
Truth is, our situation inspired us to write a similar one for our characters in our first Coffeehouse Mystery, On What Grounds. Our amateur sleuth, Clare, also has a compact New York kitchen. When she attempts to fix a special dinner for her young adult daughter and the girl's new boyfriend, her ex-husband insists on "helping." The result is a little crazy and a little comical. But you have to have a sense of humor when you measure counter space by inches instead of feet. Happy cooking, everyone. May your servings be big and your mess be small! Love, Cleo


KRISTA DAVIS: I'm so glad that I'm not the only one. But Mary Jane, I truly can't recall anything landing on the ceiling! I have a bad habit of forgetting about rice, which means it boils over. It's not so much that I forget, but I walk away to write and my mind is elsewhere. I now keep a timer on my desk to remind me that I need to check on it.

You never know who might be in the kitchen sink!
I try to be organized but somehow everything spreads. And countless other items land on my kitchen island adding to the clutter. All the vitamins and jars of dog cookies, for instance. Right now there are seven giant yellow squashes taking up a lot of real estate on the counter.

Unless it's something that needs to be rolled out (let's not even mention huge quantities of Christmas cookies—oy!), I'm least messy when baking. I learned a long time ago to put out an old dinner plate, a large spoon and a knife. That gives me a place for the paper that wraps the butter, eggshells, and all kinds of utensils that need to be washed, and keeps me from running around the kitchen for every little thing.

One of my very favorite cakes is Dobostorte. It's seven layers and a labor of love, so I don't bake it often. But those seven layers require a lot of room!

Don't forget to leave  a comment! You may be the winner of TOO HOT TO HANDLE: a Fiona Silk mystery in which there's lots of chaos in the kitchen.  Be very afraid!  
(PS remember to leave your email address so we can contact you if you win.)