Showing posts with label Krista Davis. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Krista Davis. Show all posts

Monday, June 5, 2017

Around Our Kitchen Table: What Do Our Characters Eat?

Summer is all but upon us, and these days that often means farmers' markets are opening up. (Most of you are probably way ahead of us in chilly Massachusetts.) It's been a delight to watch people rediscover fresh local food.

But some of us grew up with a different food focus: the joys of frozen food, mass-produced bread, TV dinners, and so on. All things designed to save time for the working mother. How can we object to that? Sadly, mothers back then sacrificed flavor and nutrition for speed.

So you can say that we have come full circle, from wholesome local food to commercially prepared fast food for the microwave, and back again.

Last month we discussed here why and how we use food in our books. I think we all agreed that eating together brings us closer to friends and family. But how do we choose those foods for our characters? Based on modern trends? Or based on what we grew up with and remember, consciously or subconsciously? What do our characters eat, and what does it tell the reader about them?

Does your protagonist like to cook? Or just can't be bothered? (Too busy solving crimes, of course.) When she cooks, is it comfort food? Is she trying to impress someone? Does she like to experiment, and fly without a parachute (er, recipe)? Or does she stick to safe familiar dishes? Or would she rather just find a restaurant? We all eat, but what we eat can help us tell a story.

SHEILA: This subject came to mind because I was editing my next book (shameless plug: A Late Frost, Orchard Mystery #11, coming in November), and my main characters have been so busy (getting married and taking a honeymoon) that they haven't had time to cook or even shop, and they're scraping the bottom of the freezer to feed themselves and whoever else drops in to talk about murder. (They do, however, drink a lot of coffee!) At one point Meg threatened to feed new husband Seth a meal made up of frozen ham, cherries and peanut butter, because that was all she could find in the house.

Early on in the series I did create an alternative: I added a local foods restaurant in my fictional town of Granford, so there's always somewhere to go if Meg and Seth need a good and creative meal. My other series characters? They're just not interested in cooking. (Now, why did I do that?) But they do enjoy eating!

LESLIE: My characters all seem to be obsessed with food, although in a future Spice Shop Mystery, we'll discover that one of the Flick Chicks is a secret crackers-and-cheese-for-dinner type. 

My Food Lovers' Village Mysteries each involve a festival, and the recipes let the readers recreate the festival food at home. Treble at the Jam Fest, #4, officially releases this week, and it's set at a jazz festival. There's a gala in the Merc's courtyard and a picnic before an outdoor concert, each featuring food I love. Erin's family gathers every Sunday at the Orchard, the family homestead, for brunch or dinner, and I've tucked in a couple of those recipes as well. Like all amateur sleuths, Erin has a busy life, and I admit, she eats a lot of festival and family leftovers! But in each book, I try to let her cook a good meal at home. In this one, it's enchiladas, a recipe I shared last week.   

And she pops into Le Panier, the French bakery, a little more often than is probably good for her, but the croissants and gossip are too tasty a combination to resist. Some of my local readers have given me heat for inventing a bakery our town doesn't actually have, but you know, I think it's a blessing, because there are no calories on the page!

LUCY: My Key West series character Hayley Snow loves her job as a food critic for the style magazine, Key Zest. She loves tasting all the flavors of the restaurants in the city, and loves telling people her opinions so they can spend their hard-earned dollars well. Here's what she says about this in DEATH WITH ALL THE TRIMMINGS: 

“The part of my job that feeds my soul is writing about food. Teasing out what makes one meal good, but another magical. Discovering a new chef or a new dish and describing my find to the world—or at least to other food-addled diners who’d go out of their way for something special. For me, the cooking itself was not so much the miracle. It was all about the eating. And then choosing the words that brought that food to life on the page.”

But is she also a fabulous cook, which she learned from her mother, Janet. And by book 8, which I'm working on now, Janet has developed a catering business in Key West--meaning Hayley is often pressed into service. This new book (due out sometime in the summer 2018) takes place at a Cuban–American conference in town. I'm having so much fun deciding what they will serve. Mini Cuban sandwiches? Top secret recipe for flan? Traditional beef stew or ropas Viejas? You'll be seeing all of these recipes over the next several months, as Hayley and Janet make them!

DARYL:  Well, my two current protagonists are studies in contrasts! In my new French Bistro Mystery series, (set in Napa Valley) of course Mimi Rousseau cooks. She fell in love with food when she discovered the five mother sauces of France. In high school, she made her friends taste test everything. At 18, rather than go to college, she moved to San Francisco and became a sous-chef, then a full-fledged chef. She adores food and knows how to create simple as well as difficult dishes. Her favorite foods? Steak au poivre and créme brûlée. She also enjoys a delicious glass of chardonnay or cabernet. 

In my Cookbook Nook Mysteries, however, Jenna Hart, a former advertising executive, never really learned to cook. Her mother did it all. When Jenna moves to Crystal Cove to help her eccentric aunt open a culinary bookshop and cafe, she's game...mostly because she is a foodie. She adores food. She's been to almost every Bobby Flay restaurant. She enjoys a good barbecue. She relishes putting the "idea of a meal" together. In the first book, she starts to learn to cook (with the help of friends) by trying out five-ingredient recipes. By the third book, she graduates to ten-ingredient recipes. If she's honest, she adores fudge and cookies--in particular, wedding cookies. [That recipe is in the first book in the series.]

KRISTA: I was amused when some of the first reviews for my Domestic Diva Mysteries called Sophie Winston a caterer. While Sophie does like to cook and entertain family and friends, she's a professional event planner who hires caterers. Her clients usually tell her what they want to serve or work it out with the caterer. 

Of course, there's another diva in town—Natasha. And Natasha doesn't try to keep up with the trends, she tries to stay ahead of them! That can be problematic for me, but I subscribe to a number of trendy online newsletters about food so I can keep up with Natasha. Her ideas (hot chili pepper brownies) aren't always well received by friends and family, which irritates her no end. Everyone wants to gather around the table in Sophie's homey kitchen for comfort food like mashed potatoes and ribs. Their friend Bernie sometimes brings a special cake or appetizer from his restaurant.

In my real life, I was once an assistant manager of a huge convention hotel and the biggest perk of the job was the food. I was thoroughly spoiled. And that's how it is at the Sugar Maple Inn for Holly Miller. She does very little cooking or baking because the private kitchen has a magic refrigerator. Part of the day's leftovers go into it, so whenever she's hungry, the magic refrigerator holds special surprises, no cooking necessary. One of the other perks of her job is a chocolate croissant, hot tea, and dog and cat treats in bed first thing in the morning five days a week. On the two days when Mr. Huckle is off, she has to go all the way downstairs for her first meal of the day, usually something decadent like Eggs Benedict or pancakes with freshly picked local blackberries. It's a ruff life.

I have a new series coming out called the Pen & Ink Mysteries. By day, Florrie Fox manages Color Me Read bookstore in Georgetown, Washington D.C. By night, she creates her own intricately detailed coloring books for adults, filling the pages with objects that catch her eye. But she also loves to bake. In the first book she bakes muffins, quick bread, and a strawberry cream torte. Luckily for her, there's a romance brewing and the fellow who has his eye on her is the son of a chef. I have a feeling she'll be eating pretty well!

LINDAMy Dinner Club Mysteries are just that -- the Culinary Capers Dinner Club meets monthly, rotating houses and hosts. The host chooses the cookbook (real ones that you can pick up at your local bookstore if you like the sound of their dishes) and the main course, then the others choose a side dish from that book. My protagonist, J.J. Tanner, is the newbie to the group, having joined within the past year. Her good friend persuaded, despite the fact that J.J.'s total involvement with cooking has been enjoying the photos in the many, many cookbooks she buys. What can I's a relatively inexpensive vice.
       Now that the stakes, or steaks, are raised, she has to up her game. She's getting more daring about her choices with each book but she sticks fairly close to the recipe. What she's loving is that the others are actually enjoying what she cooks! She also loves eating and experimenting with new dishes and flavors. Eating out is also high on her list of good things in life.
       I find she challenges me to get more interested in and creative about my own cooking, so that's a very big plus in my life. I guess you could say that J.J. eats with her eyes first.

Click to learn more.
CLEO: When my husband and I created the Coffeehouse Mystery series, back in 2002, we agreed that our amateur sleuth (Clare Cosi) should reflect our own backgrounds, including our love of food. Like Clare, Marc and I grew up in Western Pennsylvania in families that were big on love but short on money. We were thrifty, but we loved to cook and eat! Also like Clare, we moved from our little towns to New York City. 

In the Coffeehouse Mysteries, Clare does her best to juggle the demands of running a busy coffee shop while mothering a quirky young staff of baristas. (It's no wonder she cooks for comfort!) Clare's time in the kitchen also brings back fond memories of her beloved grandmother who taught her to cook--and I can relate to that, having learned from my mom and Aunt Mary, who were born in Italy. 

I'll just add that Marc and I get a big kick out of making food part of our mystery plotting. In our recent release, Dead Cold Brew, Clare’s Cannoli Cream Cupcakes and Mason Jar Cold Brew Coffee each played a part in the murder mystery storyline. Clare even re-creates a dish she inhales at New York's famous 21 Club, where she goes to pursue a lead--no, "The Donald" was not there that night, but we enjoyed taking our readers to that legendary restaurant, including the historic secret room inside it. There are many more foods and drinks featured throughout Dead Cold Brew, which you can see in the recipe guide here

Coffeehouse Mysteries #15 and #16
Food also played an important role in our previous Coffeehouse Mystery, Dead to the Last Drop. At one point in the book, Clare worked with her daughter, Joy, a culinary school graduate, to overhaul an entire menu at the new Washington, D.C., branch of their business. And those recipes reflect some of our favorites, including an easy "cake pan" cheesecake, adapted from a recipe that continually sold out when it was served at a New York graduate school. (Learn more in the recipe guide here.) Like our culinary sleuth, Marc and I truly enjoy researching, cooking, and (especially) eating the foods and drinks we feature in our mysteries, including our new Coffeehouse Mystery (#17), coming next year!

PEG: In my very first series, Gourmet De-Lite, Gigi Fitzgerald has a business providing gourmet diet meals to a select group of clients.  Her theory is that food can be delicious and low calorie at the same time!  She cooks the same way for herself although her culinary world is turned upside down in Iced to Death when her sister Pia, with her penchant for Twinkies and take-out pizza, arrives in town for a visit .

In my Cranberry Cove series, Monica Albertson is helping her brother on his cranberry farm by baking lots of cranberry goodies for the farm store.  She's a whiz at making light-as-a-feather muffins, delectable scones and decadent cookies.  Her cooking tends to be basic--well grilled steaks, homemade soups and roasts.

In my Farmer's Daughter series, Shelby McDonald runs a small boutique farm.  She serves fresh produce grown on the farm in the summer and her own canned and preserved items in the winter.  She's a good cook who can take a basic dish, add a distinct twist to it and take it to a new level.  

I love to cook, too, and I love that I get to write food and recipes into my books! 

We hope you enjoy the food in our books. If you've tried one of our characters' recipes, tell us about it in the comments!

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Happy Mother's Day

Many people probably don't know that Mother's Day was founded in Philadelphia, by Anna Marie Jarvis. Although Miss Jarvis was born in West Virginia in 1864, she left to work briefly in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and then she joined her brother in Philadelphia, where she worked for a reputable life insurance company (and became their first female literary and advertising editor). Her mother joined her there in 1904, but lived only another year.

In 1908, Anna Jarvis held a memorial ceremony in West Virginia to honor her mother, as well as all mothers, and that is counted as the date of the first official observance of Mother's Day.

I wouldn't have known any of this, but I spent several years walking past the sign in Center City Philadelphia.

Ladies, did your mother teach you to cook? Did you cook a meal as a treat for her? Or did you cook side by side in the kitchen?

SHEILA CONNOLLY: I give great credit to my mother for introducing me to fresh vegetables in my childhood (at a time when frozen vegetables were becoming popular). I thought artichokes and asparagus were wonderful things, and you could even eat them with your fingers. I wasn't as enthusiastic about avocados. I was cooking simple meals before my teens, but the first full meal I remember cooking for my mother was Thanksgiving 1967--I'd watched her cook a turkey for plenty of years by then.

LESLIE: Sheila, what a great picture of you and your mother! Mine was not much of a cook. I realize now that my father's schedule played a role -- he was a traveling salesman, gone from Monday morning to Friday afternoon, meaning dinner Friday was always some version of a casserole, what she with her Minnesota upbringing called "hot dish." Ground beef, onions, macaroni, a can of tomato soup -- you get the idea. 

But boy, could she bake. My father once told me "If you want to learn to make cake, watch your Aunt Peggy. But for pie, watch your mother." And he was right. (That's her cookbook and rolling pin, now at home in my kitchen.)

At Christmas, following her German heritage, she baked literally a dozen varieties of cookies, taking gift plates all over town. I just finished writing the 5th Food Lovers' Village Mystery, set at Christmas, and it was great fun to channel her when Erin and her friends hold a cookie exchange. (Mr. Right enjoyed testing a few Christmas cookie recipes in April, too!)

DARYL:  Sheila, my mother learned to cook after college. I remember finding letters from her to her grandmother (still have them) boasting that she'd learned to make meat loaf and green jello with fruit inside. [Her meat loaf was great; the jello...I'll pass!]  After that, however, she became a whiz. She was very bright. She could follow a recipe. She had just never learned to cook as a girl because her mother did it all. I fashioned my character Jenna, in the Cookbook Nook Mysteries, after my mother (as far as that trait was concerned). I'm sharing a photo of my mother and my sister, at Christmas. My mom loved to entertain guests, and Christmas was her favorite time. She set out ham and cheese and crackers and then threw together some terrific appetizers. No one went home disappointed. Did she teach me to cook? A bit. I make a mean spaghetti that is her recipe and a great margarita!  LOL. But honestly I learned to cook when my parents divorced, and Mom went to work, and someone had to get food on the table. I became quite good at steak and mac-n-cheese. I could throw together a salad. And I made chocolate chip cream pies to sell to the neighborhood. Happy mother's day to all. May you love them fully if they are still alive; may you remember them fondly if they have passed on, as mine has. 

MARY JANE aka Victoria Abbott  I love these stories of your mothers and your early cooking. Until I was married, I could only make tuna sandwiches and coffee.  My mother was a gifted cook and I wish I had a picture of her in the kitchen, but then she wouldn't have been wearing one of her glam hats. Here we are on Mothers' Day, a million years ago.

 My mother-in-law and Victoria's other grandmother, a girl from the mountains in the north of Italy, went on to become  brilliant in the kitchen and once cooked a meal for the Queen. 

When they would visit us at the same time, they could get into the kitchen and cook AT each other, competitively.  I would just hide out on the sofa reading (and worrying about shrapnel) and enjoy the results.  Victoria and I channeled her Maffini grandmother (who is still alive at 95) and her auntie into our Signora Panetone character. "Eat! What's the matter? You don't like it.  Many of the recipes from both sides are still family favorites.  Mothers' Day always makes me happy/sad.  I hope you all enjoy the day with the mums who are still with you and the happy memories of the ones who aren't.

LUCY: They cooked a meal for the queen?? Wow, MJ, my mother's cooking wouldn't have made it past the back gate LOL. To be fair, it was the 50's, and Mom worked full time and raised four kids. She loved to eat, and made sure we all got fed, but she didn't love to cook. We were all about cans of vegetables, roasts, and potatoes. And Leslie, the same casserole recipe that your mother used! She had some high points in her repertoire, usually involving a great buffet of little sandwiches, fruit, and cookies. And she went all out for Christmas cookies too.

 My hat's off to all these mothers who raised amazing daughters!

Linda:  I'm sensing a bit of a trend here. I don't think my Mom enjoyed cooking although I never asked her. She just made sure we were fed when we needed to be. Sunday after church it was always a roast with mashed potatoes and canned green peas. Most weeknight meals included the necessary potatoes, veggie, often canned cream corn or for a treat -- niblets, and some meat. Unless there was fish. My Dad loved to fish and growing up on the B.C. coast, there were plenty of salmon in those days to oblige him.

Where Mom really shined was Christmas. She'd bake amazing-smelling Swedish cookies and breads in preparation and then on Christmas Eve, our meal would be potatoes, peas, and a Scandinavian delicacy (depending on who you ask -- don't ask my sister!) called Lutefisk. I remember it all with fondness.

I've grown into cooking over the last few years, much as my character, J.J. Tanner has. Although I think she's better at it!

Here's to all our Mom's be they with us in person or in memory. We cherish them. 

Krista: Like Roberta, I'm very interested in hearing the story about cooking for the Queen!

Food and cooking were a very big deal in my family. I remember my father telling my mother that I would never learn to cook if she didn't start teaching me. My mom was a devoted follower of Julia Child and bought all her cookbooks. I didn't start cooking much, though, until I lived on my own.

Someone once said to me that my house was like the United Nations because celebrations
were full of friends from all over the world. My mom and her friends cooked and baked and took great pride in their dishes. They were truly the original domestic divas.

I am very blessed to still have my mom with me. These days I do the cooking and baking, and she seems pretty happy about that. 

To all the moms who are with us, and those whom we remember with such love, Happy Mother's Day!

Peg:  Such fun hearing these stories about your mothers!  My father was very much a meat and salad sort of person (no potatoes even--I think he invented the low carb diet)  but he did love the dishes my mother made that came from her mother--goulash, chicken paprikash, stuffed cabbage (my grandmother was Hungarian.) Dessert was something we only had on special occasions so she didn't do much baking.  



If you have a favorite memory of your mother
we'd love to hear it!

Leave us a comment and we'll choose a winner
(by random number generator)
of two Mystery Lovers' Kitchen recipe packets--
one for you and one for your mother
(or to give as a gift in her memory).

Monday, May 1, 2017

Around Our Kitchen Table: Food and Mysteries #giveaway

LUCY: I was reading the first book in Daryl's new series, A DEADLY ECLAIR, (yes, I got lucky and snagged an early copy!), and I started thinking it would be interesting to talk about how and why we use food in our mysteries. Writing the Key West food critic series has really tweaked my interest in food and cooking because I have to think the way that my character, food critic Hayley Snow, thinks. She uses food as a way to connect with people, and to calm herself down, and to seduce the folks she’s trying to get information from that may solve the mysteries.

I like what Hayley wrote for the magazine she works for, Key Zest, at the end of DEATH IN FOUR COURSES: “I’d summed up by saying how important it was to remember that while food did mean life and death in its most elemental form, most often we in the food writing industry were talking about food as the pleasure of connections. When we wrote about simmering a stew or a sauce for hours or days, we were really talking about how much we owed to the folks who came before us and the importance of cherishing their memory. And how much we yearned to give to the people in our present who’d be gathered around our table. We were writing about food as family history, and love, and hope, and sometimes a little splash of guilt.

MLK ladies, I'd love to hear about the role food plays in your books!

SHEILA: I was a big fan of Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe books from the beginning of my mystery-collecting career. The idea of a sleuth who sat eating wonderful food while solving mysteries in his own mind was very appealing. I even have a copy of The Nero Wolfe Cookbook, and I've used several favorite recipes many times.

In a way the Orchard Mysteries are the polar opposite. My protagonist Meg Corey moves to an unfamiliar town and finds a body in her back yard--not the best way to meet your new neighbors! But a major theme of the series is community, and that means bringing people together over food. Meg even helps friends launch a restaurant in her town! And since she grows apples, I've used quite a few of the apple recipes I've collected over the years in the books. 

Clearly food matters. It's something we share, especially when we are celebrating important events or holidays. Eating together with friends and family is one of the joys of life.

LESLIE: It really is all about community, isn’t it? My main characters are retailers who love to cook. Food is their business, and their passion. In the Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries, Erin is committed to raising awareness about local food. Food anchors gatherings with her extended family, and the festivals that are a village mainstay. In the Spice Shop Mysteries, we explore one of the great public markets—Pike Place in Seattle—with Pepper, and learn a lot about herbs and spices. Both women love putting good food in customers’ hands, to enhance their knowledge and pleasure. As sleuths, their occupations give them an entree to the investigation. Erin finds a clue in an old recipe. Pepper uses a delivery as an opportunity to confront a reluctant witness. The amateur sleuth has access to conversations and secrets that law enforcement doesn’t have—and nothing opens those doors like huckleberry jam or a fragrant box of spice tea. 

I’ve said this before, but I believe the role of the amateur sleuth is to restore the social order after the disruption that murder or other crime creates. What does that better than food?

LINDA:  My series features the Culinary Capers Dinner Club, so food is at the core of both the series and their monthly dinners. The group uses real cookbooks anyone can find in bookstores, so I must be sure not to have anyone poisoned! 

Besides bringing them together in a ritual of friendship, it has allowed my protagonist, J.J. Tanner, who is an event planner, to quickly find a place in her new town. She readily admits she's not a seasoned cook however, she has a great passion for cookbooks, with color photos. And she tries hard to improve her skills both in the kitchen, and when scouring the clues for a murderer. And the Culinary Capers gang is more than willing to help on both fronts.

CLEO: Marc and I live in the borough of Queens, New York, one of the most ethnically diverse plots of land on the planet. We may not speak the same languages as our neighbors, or wear the same kinds of clothing, but we absolutely enjoy each other’s foods—from Salvadoran pupusas served out of a family-run truck to the colorful chiffon cakes of a Filipino bakery and the savory kebabs of a Bosnian diner. 

In our Coffeehouse Mystery Holiday Grind, our amateur sleuth Clare expressed our philosophy this way: “A diversity of cultures meant a diversity of foods. Eat with tolerance, I say!” 

Like Clare, we believe food can serve as the most basic first step toward cultural understanding. It's one reason we enjoy putting a diversity of foods in our mysteries: from the bright purple Filipino ube cake (and our favorite carnita recipe) in A Brew to a Kill to the Bosnian burger (pljeskavica) and “poor man’s caviar” in Once Upon a Grind

We loved writing about coffee hunter Matt’s Ugandan chicken stew in Billionaire Blend as much as culinary student Joy’s mini tarte Tatin’s in Dead to the Last Drop—not to mention her mother's cannoli cream cupcakes in Dead Cold Brew“Food is our common ground, a universal experience,” said James Beard. Marc and I agree. We also love to eat, of course, and now we have an excuse. Research! May you, too, eat with curiosity, wonder, and joy!

KRISTA: That's a lovely quote, Lucy. For those who aren't writers, I'll explain that when you start out, all kinds of people spout writing rules at you. I remember someone telling me never to set a scene at a table when people were eating. Now I love to tell new writers to learn the rules and break them appropriately!

The gang in the Domestic Diva Mysteries often discuss murder over food. In my personal life, a lot of the most interesting discussions with friends and family (though happily not about murder) take place around the table, so why wouldn't that happen in mysteries? Do the sleuths always have to be on the run? Of course not. 

Plus, food always shows up at the celebrations of life. Whether it's a birthday or graduation, holiday or job promotion, we celebrate with food. It only stands to reason that our characters would do the same.

And like Lucy, I love it when my sleuths can use food as a bribe. What better way to interrogate, er, meet the new neighbors?

DARYL:  Krista, I remember hearing those same rules. 'No discussions over food and tables!' So I was avid about creating scenes which included food to be about the preparation of food. Moving about the kitchen. Slicing, dicing. Handling hot objects. Not sitting. But people in foodie mysteries seem to gravitate to the table or to the counter or the food stand.  I will say that when I was writing the Cheese Shop Mysteries, I had to learn so much about cheese, that I was often keeping my characters at the cheese counter to taste, share, and discuss. I had to learn to move them about the shop and out of the shop into town and "real life." It was a challenge. Now that I'm writing the French Bistro Mysteries, I have to remind myself to move the characters out of the bistro kitchen. It's a challenge—I love a kitchen!—but I love a challenge.

PEG: My two most recent series--Cranberry Cove and Farmer's Daughter mysteries--represent food at its most elemental--growing it! And obviously growing it and cooking it go hand-in-hand so my characters also spend a lot of time in the kitchen.  Sharing a meal brings people together and it gives my characters an opportunity to gather a diverse group around their tables.

Readers: We'd love to hear--why do you read culinary mysteries? Leave us a comment with your email and you'll be entered in a drawing for Peg's absolutely, brand-new mystery, DEAD AND BERRIED!

Join us at the table!
Leave your comment below...

Monday, April 3, 2017

Around the kitchen table with the authors at Mystery Lovers' Kitchen

LINDA: We're back at the kitchen table and you know, we're having a lot of fun doing this monthly joint blog. From your responses, it seems that most of you are enjoying it also. We certainly hope that's the case.Today, our topic is one that is especially dear to my heart, what do you cook when you don't feel like cooking?

If I'm in that no-cooking frame of mind and ravenous, I opt for cheese (I usually have several varieties on hand at any given time), bread or crackers, and some wine. Ideal, tasty, easy and fast. But if I can hold off several minutes, I'll do a grilled cheese sandwich using my panini maker. As I mentioned, I always have some cheese on hand and these days, following a tip from fellow MLK Mary Jane Maffini, I slice a green apple to add to the grilled cheese. It adds a satisfying crispness and acidity to this old standby.

I will admit that it's easier to opt not to cook for those who don't have to worry about any other mouths to feed. I sometimes take it one step further, and like Lynn Johnston, the creator of that wonderful cartoon strip For Better or Worse, admits to doing now that she's on her own -- I eat, standing up at the kitchen counter. How freeing is that. And healthy, too, the standing up part.
The key phrase is: no cooking, no clean-up. Now, that's easy.

LESLIE: You mean, besides order pizza? Back when when one of the local restaurants had a take-out fridge, I picked up ribs for Mr. Right and crab cakes for me one evening, and mentioned to the chef-owner that I just didn't feel like cooking. He replied that he never felt that way -- which clearly means he had the right job!

On those nights, our go-to is usually spaghetti and meatballs. A couple of times a year, Mr. Right makes a good-sized batch of meatballs, using ground sirloin, Parmesan, Panko breadcrumbs, and red pepper flakes. He wraps them in plastic, 4-6 in a package, and tosses them all in a Zip-loc in the freezer. Heat the meatballs in the microwave, boil up some pasta, open a jar of marinara sauce and a bottle of red wine, and voila -- dinner!

But I do miss Chef Neil's crab cakes!

LUCY: Oh how I love grilled cheese--I've started adding sliced avocados, and the last time I made this, used both Swiss cheese and some fresh mozzarella. I make these in a frying pan with a little butter and olive oil--delicious! And we love crab cakes too, Leslie! And are fortunate to have a wonderful fish market in Key West that makes them to die for.

But if it's summertime, and the tomatoes are in season, my go-to no-cook recipe is chunks of tomatoes marinated with fresh mozzarella chunks, strips of fresh basil, red pepper flakes, and good olive oil. When it's time for dinner, cook the best pasta (I order from Eataly), sprinkle with parmesan, and dump on the tomatoes. Heaven, and so easy! (If you aren't worried about sodium, a few kalamata olives are a good addition too.)

SHEILA: My husband takes the easy way out: he makes Breakfast for Dinner, which is bacon, scrambled eggs, and toast or English muffins. My grandmother, who never learned to cook, settled for cereal and ice cream for supper (a real treat when my sister and I were kids!). Me, I have the most ridiculously well-stocked pantry I've ever seen, but there are days when I can't figure out what I want (well, maybe a French chef to drop in and throw together something, and of course clean up afterwards).

I'm fond of marinades and rubs, and things like fish which cook quickly, or spatchcocked chicken that I can just stick on a pan and bake for a while. But the most recent go-to meal is pasta. These days our market is carrying nice fresh ravioli and tortellini, which are easy (boil water, add pasta, drain--then fancy it up with whatever you have on hand) and taste really good.

LESLIE: Is there anyone who doesn't occasionally love breakfast for dinner? I was probably forty before I realized that when my mother made it for us as kids, it was usually because she felt a little in need of comforting herself!


The old jokes goes like this:  'Question What's the best things she makes for dinner?  Answer: Reservations. Sometimes, that's fun, but more often I don't feel going out any more than I feel like cooking. That 'don't feel like cooking thing' comes on quickly.  My favorite rescue is a quick saute with garlic, parsley, lemon and raw peeled shrimp.  From freezer to ta table takes just a few minutes. This is so easy and it feels special.

But if it's confession time and it's just us friends here, then I'll admit that sometimes I heat up a can of mushroom soup and hide the evidence.  I may also be wearing pyjamas.  Shhh.


Lucy, I can never thank you enough for introducing me to Eataly. Whenever I go to NY, I have to stop in!  It's such a phenomenal store!  Linda, I, too, always have cheese around and gluten-free bread in the freezer. I love my panini grill!!! So that's definitely a good easy choice. I love cheese and wine and some sliced veggies or fruit as a meal. Simple. Slice it. Set the goodies on a napkin. Wash the knife. Done.  I'm all for taking whatever is in the fridge and making a smorgasbord, too.  Hardboiled egg, some lettuce with a drizzle of dressing, slices of cheese, and hopefully I have an avocado. When in doubt and out of everything in the refrigerator, scrambled eggs!  This [see picture] is a pretty pathetic looking empty refrigerator, isn't it? Guess what I ate last night?  LOL  FYI, I don't like to eat standing up. I still like a meal where I sit and listen to the news or go outside and listen to the birds or read a book. It depends on my mood.

I confess that I'm a sandwich girl when I'm being lazy. Ham, or tuna, or peanut butter and jam are what I reach for when I want a quick and easy dinner. I have been known to make omelets or German pancakes, so I guess I do breakfast for dinner sometimes, too. Not very chic, but true.

CLEO: Marc and I are sandwich fans, too, Krista. We like to do Italian cold cuts with fresh lettuce, tomato, and banana peppers piled on crusty rolls. Or we'll put slices of salami on a plate with fresh mozzarella and drizzle it all with olive oil. Hot dogs are another quickie meal for us, and we have fun tarting them up with chopped onions and relish, or a bit of leftover chili or taco meat. Marc's Danger Dogs, on the stove or on the grill, are always guilty pleasures. Fast Tex-Mex is a quesadilla with whatever cheese is on hand with salsa and sour cream. And there's always good old peanut butter with honey, jam, or bananas for a no-fuss, no cook meal. Fun post and great ideas all!

I'm getting some great ideas from you guys! Sheila, spatchcocking a chicken and baking it is not "not cooking."  Just an FYI.  If I'm going to "sort of" cook I'll do pasta with clam sauce.  Saute garlic in olive oil, throw in two cans of chopped clams, heat and eat. If you want to get real fancy, add some chopped parsley.  But "not cooking" does not include washing and chopping parsley in my opinion.  I can't do pasta sauce in a jar--just can't. Unless it's Rao's but if I'm buying that I might as well buy a steak!  The price!  If I'm really not cooking and there aren't any leftovers in the freezer, I'll make us BLTs. 

How about you? 

What do you cook when you don't feel like cooking?

Let us know in the comments below...

Monday, March 6, 2017

Around the Kitchen Table with Mystery Lovers Kitchen Authors + book #giveaway!

Every few weeks, we're having a new Around the Kitchen Table discussion. We hope you'll like getting to know us as we have a little chat!

Today, we're talking about our love affair with reading, when it began, why we write.

BUT FIRST - new RELEASES plus two GIVEAWAYS below.  
Both Sheila and Linda have new releases!!  Congrats, ladies.

And now, let's chat!


One set of my mystery bookshelves
I wasn't a reader until the 4th grade. I mean, sure, I COULD read, but I didn't like it. I was an active girl. I wanted to be outside, running, playing. I also enjoyed math and cooking. But reading? Yech. Then I got sick with the measles and I was bedridden for a week. My mother worked. My parents were divorced. Back then, latchkey was not a forbidden word. I was home alone until my mom came home at lunch to check on me. "I am so bored," I told her. So she gave me her set of Nancy Drew books (all 37 of them) and said she thought I might enjoy them. Honestly? (Ugh!) Luckily, I picked one up...and I read all 37 of them in a week. I was hooked. I tried my hand at writing one six months later. That never saw the light of day, but it was my first inspiration to become a writer. I'm so thankful!  (Sadly, I do not know what happened to that set. I would imagine they were sold along with all my comic books when my mom and sisters and I had to downsize. Sigh!)


I can't remember not being able to read (and wanting to!). The first book I remember reading on my own is Harold and the Purple Crayon, neck and neck with my battered copy of Read Me More Stories, an anthology which was given to me on my third birthday (it includes an early version of "The Runaway Bunny"). It has memorable black and white illustrations, and I added a few of my own. It wasn't long after that my mother got me a library card, and we would go pick out books every week or two. One small misunderstanding: I thought the books were mine to keep and stuck them under my bed. It took my mother a while to catch on. Clearly my passion for book-collecting started early!


Sheila, I remember my first library card, too. I did love going to the library and picking out books. Wonder why it took me so long to fall in "love" with reading. Hmm.


I'm the youngest child by 9 years, so as a kid, it seemed to me like everyone else was always reading. Naturally, I wanted to read, too. The first books I devoured were The Happy Hollisters and The Bobbsey Twins. They went to the seashore! (No seashores in Montana!) They found clues in old mailboxes and decrepit buildings! Much as I loved those books, it was probably Harriet the Spy who made me want to be a writer -- I remember sitting in my bedroom with my notebook, looking out the window, hoping something would happen "out there" that I could write about. I'm eight in this photo -- could that be Nancy Drew in my hands?

From LINDA: 

I hear you, Leslie. I had an older sister, 14 years older, so I grew up almost an only child. I had a wonderful fantasy life and reading fed it. We had a lot of books in the house but mainly in Swedish, so I dove into the popular kids books of the time - starting with the Golden Books, and then, The Bobbsey Twins, and Charlotte's Web. And I loved horses, so I read Black Beauty, Misty of Chincoteague, My Friend Flicka, and all of the Black Stallion books. Then, I decided to write a novel...about a young girl, oddly enough same age as me, who lived on a ranch, and had a horse. The only mystery is why I still have it in my drawer.


Oh don't throw that away Linda--it's precious history! I'm so sorry I can't find my first short story ever--something happens to a girl and she's unhappy and so runs to the top of the Cape Hatteras lighthouse, soon followed by her dream boyfriend, Micky Dolenz. That's right, Micky Dolenz of The Monkees LOL. That could be worth a lot in blackmail, don't you think?

I have loved to read as long as I can remember, and the first book I remember owning was called THE SCARY THING by Laura Bannon. My older sister and I (11 months apart), would come home from school and go to our rooms and read until dinner. Certainly Bobbsey Twins and Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys (stolen from my younger brother) and yes, the black stallion books, and hundreds more. I thank my parents for the love of reading--they read to us every night and they themselves were always reading. The best gift ever!


I can't remember not reading, either. I was a huge Nancy Drew fan. In fact, I remember my mom shooing me out of the house to play. I took Nancy with me and read sitting on the lawn. I also had an older sibling. When I had the chicken pox (there seem to be some themes here!) my brother was going out one night. My mom gave him some money and asked him to pick up a book for me to read. I must have been around seven or eight. He brought home a collection of short stories that a seventeen-year-old-boy would like. It included Edgar Allen Poe and, most memorably, The Adventure of the Speckled Band by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. As you might imagine, they were a bit grisly for a kid. I read every single one of them.

And PS to Lucy—after attending a performance of The Point, I rode home on the Tube seated just in front of Micky Dolenz.

From CLEO:

Mickey Dolenz! (Krista and Lucy: Marc and I are both unabashed fans of Mickey and The Monkees!) Okay, back to the subject. I loved reading all your memories of reading! I'll just add that my own connection with books began as a newborn. No, I couldn't read at the age of 0, but... My sister, Grace, was four years old and loved the story of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland so much that my parents decided to name me Alice (Cleo, of course, is my pen name). My next "chapter" on books came via my Dad. Our small Western Pennsylvania town had no library, but that didn't stop my father from driving me and my sister to the Big Green Bookmobile every Wednesday evening when it pulled into the Acme parking lot. Thank goodness (and it was literally goodness) for libraries and librarians. We didn't have the money to buy, but we sure had the will to borrow, which sparked a lifelong passion for stories and a fulfilling vocation in telling them. So here's to the librarians...and all those bookmobiles that rolled into kids' imaginations with hundreds of worlds on wheels.


Victoria here! One of the fun things about being a mother-daughter team is that we read together. I always loved reading with my mom..  We still love (and share with children)  the Frog and Toad books by Arnold Lobel. Here's Frog and Toad all year, a charming and funny look at the two friends through the seasons. These books are easy to read to pre-schoolers and great fun for young readers.

 MJ: The tragedy of my early life was when our public library burned to the ground when I was seven, putting an end to my access to the 'fairy tale' books from many countries. I'd had enough time to get hooked though, and switched to MacLeod's bookstore and Hardy Boys books. Now and then, books were treasured gifts:

I still have my tattered copy of Anne of Avonlea, the follow-up to Anne of Green Gables, a gift from my fourth grade teacher. I read all Lucy Maud Montgomery's magical stories of life in PEI.

From DARYL:  MJ, I can't imagine the horror of losing a library to a fire! How horrible. But I'm jealous that you still have childhood books. I have The Jungle Book, Robinson Crusoe, Dr. Doolittle, and a few others, all of which were my grandmother's.  The bindings are very fragile! The artwork in a few is amazing!

So, delightful fans, how did your love of reading begin?


Linda and Sheila are each giving away one of their mysteries this week. 
Two commenters will win! 
So remember to leave your email so they can contact you by Friday.