You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Monday Dialogue with Guests’ category.
I came to know my mother-in-law, Mary, through the recipes she gave to me. In my memory, I always see and hear Mary in the kitchen of the two-story brick house my father-in-law built after he retired from the Norfolk and Southern Railroad, in the mountain town of Bluefield, Virginia, where Mary had lived all her life, and raised all five of her children. When my husband, Rick, and I went back to Virginia for a visit, Mary and I often woke before dawn and sat across from each other at the kitchen table, waiting for the sun to rise, and for the rest of the house to wake. Sometimes, we peeled apples together. Rick’s grandmother still lived back on the family’s home place, on a ridge between a limestone quarry and the town’s cemetery. Below the grandmother’s house was a green apple tree that continually dropped spotted, lopsided apples onto the gravel drive leading to the grandmother’s house. Rick’s father wouldn’t throw any of the fallen fruit away. Summers, he brought home a bushel basket full of bruised and torn apples every evening, after he’d been up to check on his mother.
Mary and I would stand in the morning quiet of her kitchen, peeling and discarding the damaged spots off each apple, dropping the good slices into a pot of water, sugar, cinnamon and cloves, boiling this mixture into dark brown apple butter. While the apples simmered, Mary baked six thin layers of a gingery molasses cake, three at a time, in three well-seasoned cast iron skillets. When the cake layers cooled, she stacked them, frosting each layer with the apple butter. The cake was supposed to “age” for a day, so that the apple butter could soak into the spiced layers until they became sweet and delicate. Nobody in the house ever waited for this cake to age. They ate it young, right after supper, which was always served at midday at my in-law’s house.
Mary called this dessert molasses cake, or apple stack cake. Though she made this cake for all kinds of family gatherings, it was once the traditional wedding cake at Appalachian weddings. The brides who lived on the remote sides of these Southern mountains relied on their guests to bring a thin layer of molasses cake when they arrived at the wedding, and the brides’ family members would assemble the cake, spreading apple butter between the layers. It is said that the popularity of the bride determined the final height of the cake.
This is a humble-looking cake that most women of this region make without a written recipe. It’s not difficult. It requires only the patience for simmering a bushel of apples into butter, and waiting for six layers of cake to bake. While we waited for the cake layers to cool, Mary often told stories about her family. She’d grown up in a trailer on the other side of Bluefield, on a ridge known locally as Dump Hill. My father-in-law always said that Mary’s early upbringing was so rough that the details of what happened to her as a child on Dump Hill could not be repeated. Though she hardly ever spoke of herself, Mary told stories about the women of her family. These women married young and faced almost unendurable hardships—poverty, abandonment, violence–and endured.
Perhaps the bitterness of Mary’s past was what prompted her to adore anything sweet. Perhaps her hardscrabble childhood and early marriage made her into the genuinely kind mother woman who readily adopted me as her daughter-in-law, and taught me how to make the Appalachian wedding cake recipe she’d learned from her own mother-in-law.
When Mary passed away from cancer, Rick’s father began making all of Mary’s dessert recipes—brown sugar fudge, chess pie, and banana pudding—for the family. The last time Rick and I visited Virginia, I woke early and found Rick’s father in the kitchen. The whole house smelled warmly of the ginger and molasses cakes that he’d been baking while the rest of the house slept. As he assembled and iced the cake layers, his grizzled face softened, turning almost boyish. I could tell he was remembering Mary, perhaps recalling her as a young wife, still healthy enough to stand in that kitchen for hours, peeling those homely apples, baking those humble layers of cake. Larry had baked his cake layers in different sized skillets, and he’d iced the layers with cooked apples rather than apple butter. The finished cake looked a bit like a lopsided beehive, but there was no mistaking. It was an Appalachian wedding cake. We ate it “young,” drizzled with caramel, and dusted with powdered sugar.
Here is the recipe for Appalachian Wedding Cake. I use 3 9-inch cake pans instead of 3 cast iron skillets—mainly because I don’t own 3 cast iron skillets that are the same size. If I don’t have the time to make my own, I use apple butter that you can find at produce stands or at church bake sales. I pretty up the cake a little, dusting the assembled layers with powdered sugar, drizzling the top and sides with caramel sauce, garnishing it with a few slices of dried apples.
Appalachian Wedding Cake
1 cup sugar
1 cup unsalted butter, room temp.
1 cup molasses
4 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. ground clove
1 cup buttermilk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 ½ cups apple butter, preferably homemade
powdered sugar, for dusting
Dried apples and caramel sauce for decorating
Method: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease 3 9-inch cake pans. Combine all dry ingredients and sift. Cream butter and sugar together. Add molasses and eggs and mix until combined. Alternating dry and wet, add in sifted flour mixture and buttermilk. Stir in vanilla extract and divide half the batter among the three greased cake pans. Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean when tested in the center of a cake. Let cool for a few minutes, then invert cakes onto paper plates. Bake the other half of the batter.
When all cakes have cooled, spread several tablespoons of the apple butter on each layer—stacking as you go. Wrap cake tightly and let “mature” for a day. Or, if you can’t wait that long, dust finished cake with powdered sugar and serve.
Winner of the South Carolina First Novel Prize in 2012,In the Garden of Stone by Susan Tekulve is a multi-generational tale about the nature of power and pride, love and loss, and how one impoverished family endures estrangement from their land and each other in order to unearth the rich seams of forgiveness. Bleak, harrowing, and beautifully told, In the Garden of Stone, is a haunting saga of endurance and redemption. Visit her website http://susantekulve.com/
For my 55th birthday, my husband, who dislikes jewelry and ostentation, but believes in celebrating important occasions, bought me a blueberry field. The field is about 18 acres of berries on a lovely wide-open, elevated slope in Maine looking a pond. Should anyone happen to be picking berries that late in the day, it has sunset views to the west. I am very excited about being a blueberry grower whose land produces between 75,000 and 90,000 pounds of berries, especially after completing twelve hours of USDA training in how to be a better farmer.
My children and my nieces and nephew have gone running through that field on our post-Thanksgiving walks. We’ve collected bird skeletons, shotgun shells, strange rocks, returnable bottles, and other treasures there. Buying it felt like bringing a piece of the farm back into the family. When the papers were signed and the field was really and truly mine, I took an ecstatic run through it, the crisp, fall-red bushes crunching underfoot, to celebrate my special gift.
My field is next door to the farm where I grew up, so it has been on my personal landscape forever. When I was born prematurely, a July baby instead of the September one my parents were expecting, the nurse who could cradle my entire small self in her hand called me “little blueberry eyes.” As kids, to make spending money, my sibs and I would pick quarts of blueberries and sell them on a little table at the edge of the driveway. When it wasn’t a blueberry year (wild Maine blueberries are an every other year crop), my brother and sister and I rambled through the field.
As soon as I was old enough, I got a job working on a raking crew–out at the crack of dawn every morning in late July and August, riding to the fields in the back of a pick-up truck, and spending the day working down my rows, lined out with white string, and lugging the heavy baskets of berries to the winnowing machine and getting a tick or a punch on my card. Those fields were fraught with danger. Sandra, Janet and I were shy, rural girls of twelve or thirteen. There were strangers on the crew, silent, foreign men who’d come over from Canada to work the crops. There were nests of wasps in the ground that would swarm up and surround you if you disturbed them. Huge colorful garden spiders and even bigger brown spiders waited to crawl up your arm or your leg. The sudden, sinuous departure of a startled snake could make your heart stop.
For a farmer’s daughter in a family without much spare cash, those ticks marking baskets filled translated into dollars that became new school clothes–a pair of golden brown corduroy pants, a matching striped sweater, a soft blue Garland skirt and sweater set from Isabel Abbott’s store on the Union Common. They became a small transistor radio in a brown leather case that got the best reception if I set it on one of the burners of the stove. Once, my absent-minded father turned on the burner under my radio. Ever after, my treasured radio had black scorch rings on the smart brown leather.
A few summers later, I left the fields for the processing plant, sitting on a stool along a long conveyor belt, a row of women on each side, feeling very young among the housewives looking to make some spare money–to augment the family budget, to buy school clothes for their children, to save for that new washer or freezer or a second car. As the berries came in from the field, they pour onto the belt, and our job was to pick out all the stuff that winnowing (pouring the berries into a machine where a fan would blow out the leaves and sticks and tiny green berries) hadn’t caught. Along with the leaves and sticks and chunks of moss and dirt, there were spiders again. Also bugs, bees, and the occasional mouse that we tough, fearless, women had to pick off the belt. The berries rolled off at the end into flat, plastic-lined boxes and went away to be frozen. The day’s harvest had to be processed the same day they were picked, and if the crews had had an especially productive day, we worked as late into the night as necessary. In those pre-cell phone days, I would sometimes use the office phone to cancel a date because I had to work. It was hard physical work, directly connected to the production of food. I felt very lucky to have the job and very grown-up.
While I was picking out the bugs and the dirt, my mother, the late country-living writer A. Carman Clark, was busy researching recipes for the brochure she was writing for the Maine Blueberry Festival, held yearly at the Union Fair. I would come home from staring at blueberries all day long to a line-up of blueberry desserts that needed to be tasted and evaluated. One year I was even a candidate for Maine Blueberry Queen.
Recently, mystery writer Katherine Hall Page, whose character is a caterer, commented that one of the hardest parts of writing her books is creating the recipes, because of all the experimenting that goes into creating them. It reminded me of those Union Fair blueberry recipe days.
Here are some of those recipes, many of them old fashion Maine recipes, for you to try.
Union Fair Blueberry Recipes from the kitchen of A. Carman Clark:
2 c. flour , 1 t. baking powder, 1/2 t. baking soda, 1 1/2 c. blueberries, 1/3 c. brown sugar, 1/3 c. molasses, 1/3 c. butter, 1/3 c. milk
Blend sugar, molasses and butter. Mix in all ingredients except blueberries. Butter a mold (or 2 lb. metal coffee can) and layer batter and berries until 2/3 full. Cover and steam in a kettle of boiling water for 1 1/2 hours. Serve hot with foamy sauce, hard sauce or ice cream.
Blueberry Slump (or Grunt)
1 1/2 c. flour, 2 t. baking powder, 1/2 t. salt, 1/4 c. sugar , 1/2 c. milk, 1/2 c. water, 1 quart blueberries, 2/3 c. sugar, 2 T. butter
SLUMP: In a deep skillet or wide-bottom kettle put water ,butter, 2/3 c. sugar and berries. Bring to a boil. Mix remaining ingredients to a stiff batter. Spoon over berries as dumplings. Cover tightly and simmer for 12 minutes. Do not remove cover during this time.
GRUNT: Preheat oven to 400. Grease a deep baking dish or casserole and into this put berries, sugar and water. Place in oven while mixing dough. Blend butter into flour. Add other ingredients. Spoon over hot berries. Bake for 20 minutes.
1/2 c. oatmeal, 1/2 c. wheatgerm, 1/2 c. flour (white or whole wheat), 2/3 c. sugar, 1/2 c. dry powered milk, 1/2 t. salt, 1/2 t. cinnamon, 1/2 c. butter, 2 c. blueberries
Mix dry ingredients. Blend in butter with pastry blender. Spread 1/2 mixture in a buttered baking dish. Spread blueberries over this and top with remaining crunch mixture. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes. Serve hot or cold.
Blueberry Dessert Squares
15 Graham crackers, rolled fine, 1/3 c. sugar, 1/2 c. melted butter. Blend and pat into 9″ square pan Blend & Spread over crumb mix: 1 8 oz. pkg. cream cheese ,1/3 c. sugar, 2 eggs, 1/2 t. vanilla
Bake at 350 for 30 minutes. Cool and refrigerate over night. Spoon 1 can blueberry pie filling over top. Chill. Cut into squares and serve.
4 c. blueberries, 3/4 c. sugar, 8 slices buttered bread, crusts trimmed Simmer washed berries and sugar about 8 minutes. Layer generously buttered bread and hot berries in deep baking dish or bread pan. Chill overnight. Serve with whipped cream or ice cream.
Kate Flora first developed her fascination with people’s criminal tendencies as a lawyer in the Maine attorney general’s office. Deadbeat dads, people who beat and neglected their kids, and employers hateful acts of discrimination led to a deep curiosity about human psychology that’s led to twelve books including seven “strong woman” Thea Kozak mysteries and three gritty police procedurals in her star-reviewed Joe Burgess series. Her first true crime, Finding Amy, has been optioned for a movie.
When she’s not writing, or teaching writing at Grub Street in Boston, she’s usually found in her garden, where she wages a constant battle against critters, pests, and her husband’s lawnmower. She’s been married for 35 years to a man who can still make her laugh. She has two wonderful sons, a movie editor and a scientist, a lovely daughter-in-law, and four rescue “granddogs,” Frances, Otis, Harvey, and Daisy.
She’s just sent her editor the fourth Joe Burgess mystery, And Grant You Peace, and is working on POD versions of the earlier books. Visit website
www.kateflora.com and her friends www.mainecrimewriters.com
In the traditional concept of the nuclear family—certainly in the 1950s sitcom version—the husband goes off to his job in a suit and tie, and the wife stays at home (usually with the kids), keeping the house clean and the meals cooked. Traditions of the 2000s and 2010s have evolved quite a bit from that picture, but no matter who brings home the bacon, it’s generally still true that the woman in a relationship cooks and cleans while the man mows the lawn and watches sports.
Sure, I do all the shopping and most of the cleaning (since I apparently have a lower tolerance for dust and dirt). And my husband does the yardwork and takes out the trash. But that’s about where our traditional roles fall apart.
I’m the one who goes off to a day job and comes home cranky, needing to be soothed, ready for a cool drink and a quiet space. My husband is more of a nester—home all day, doing more of the cooking, tidying, and maintenance. He’s the one who’s waiting, eager for someone to talk to when I return from the day at work or emerge from my office after an evening or weekend of writing fiction.
Mind you, my husband isn’t sitting around watching soap operas (do they even exist anymore?). He does part-time consulting work in two different careers, with a little real estate sales on the side. He has periods of being very busy and working late into the night—as well as periods of not much activity, which means more free time for fun stuff, like playing music, taking a language class, or keeping up with friends (I haven’t done that in months).
But the biggest difference between us is when it comes to sports. You see, in our relationship, I’m the one in front of the television on a weekend day, watching a car race. He’s the one spending the day working in the yard. He’s the one asking me, with a fair amount of disgust in his voice, “Are you really going to sit there all day?” I’m the one nodding, making shooing motions with my hands.
He doesn’t like sports at all, and I write car racing mysteries. I don’t just like watching racing, I have to watch (some of) it. It’s research (wink, wink). He usually rolls his eyes at that point and leaves the room.
So it’s clear that neither of us fits traditional or stereotypical roles of “husband” or “wife.” Frankly, we’re both more “husband.” I think that means we need a wife.
What about the rest of you, are you living traditional roles or turning them on their head like my husband and I are? Any other couples out there who also need a wife? Anyone I can hire?
I’m always amazed when people tell me they have a hard time coming up with ideas for books. They’re everywhere, from the time we get up in the morning until we go to bed.
For instance, I went out in the yard this morning to water the plants. It’s spring and everything’s in bloom or budding. I looked at the roses. How often has a rose been the springboard of a romance? What about the big bee that’s buzzing around the wisteria blossoms? How does it know when the wisteria will bloom? Where does it go when the blooms fade? Children’s book? Possibly. “Follow the Bee.”
The milkweed is ready to host the wannabe monarch butterflies. I’ve pretty much decided that our garden is their last stop on their way to Mexico. From what I’ve read, it takes five generations to get to Mexico, beginning in the northern states. Well, what about the families who host these five generations of butterflies? What effect does watching the caterpillar turn into a chrysalis and then a monarch have on a family or an individual? You could even couch it in terms of a miracle. Maybe somebody rediscovers their faith or decides to become a lepidopterist. The possibilities are endless.
And what about the young mother holding an infant with another toddler in her grocery basket in which the only items are two cases of beer. Who did she buy it for? Herself or someone waiting at home? It’s a far different thing to buy two cases of beer on a Saturday afternoon, but at 8:30 a.m. on a weekday? A lot could be written about how she got to that moment.
Driving down the street and seeing the attractive woman jogging. Seeing her later that afternoon, once again jogging. Why twice a day? Running from something or to something? Maybe she’s meeting someone at the park or maybe even a tryst in a motor home on a side street. Maybe her home life is so bad that she has to get out of the house as much as possible. Does she have children? Endless possibilities for stories in that job.
I began writing Blue Coyote Motel because it was 106 degree in Palm Springs, California when we were there for a wedding. The air-conditioning was wonderful. I remember turning to my husband and saying, “Wouldn’t it be interesting if someone put a ‘feel good drug’ in the air-conditioning and everyone felt good all the time?” And so the novel that went on to be a quarter finalist in Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Award contest and Goodreads Psychological Thriller for April was born. Tea Party Teddy, due out momentarily, was born when I sat next to a bigoted, narrow-minded politician two nights in a row at dinners in Sacramento, where my husband was a California State Senator. Wouldn’t it be interesting if his wife had an affair with an Hispanic man? And so it goes… Ideas, they’re everywhere!
I have a problem. I can admit it. I’m a crazy cat lady. Always have been and likely always will be. And, my cat du jour is the Sphynx. This is the hairless, slightly quirky-looking breed that some people might remember as Mr. Bigglesworth from the Austin Powers movies. Sphynx have appeared in other movies and TV shows, but to me, my Sphynx or Sphynxi-my plural notation for multiple Sphynx-are simply companions. Although, my two boys are actually related to Mr. Bigglesworth (Ted Nude-gent is his real name), so there is a little Hollywood running through their veins.
Here’s the low-down on Sphynx. They are mutants! Truly. Their breed is a mutation. And, surprise, they aren’t truly hairless. In reality, they are covered in a fine, downy fluff, but because it’s hard to see, they look hairless. According to the breed standards, they are allowed to have limited fur on their feet, ears, face and tail, but it can’t be too much. Also, as they age, hormones can affect the amount of fur they have and their coloring.
Now comes the fussy part. Without hair, the oil on the skin collects and this, naturally, attracts dirt. So, they get dirty quickly and need to be bathed as frequently as once or even twice a week, depending on how dirty they get. I bathe my less in the winter due to it being colder. Another thing is that they do get cold and really like to burrow under blankets or sit in front of space heaters. I have a heated bed and so many baby blankets that they are never cold. They also have quite the wardrobe of tee-shirts and I’d swear half of their clothes are nicer than mine. Like any cat, Sphynx love to lie in the sun, but without hair, too much sun can give them a sunburn. Sunscreen isn’t a good idea because they’d just lick it off, so limiting their sun bathing is something I try to do.
Sphynx also have a faster metabolism and they feel very warm due to this. Their temperature is a few degrees warmer than furry cats. To drive this super heat-generating metabolism, Sphynx eat a lot. All the time. They never seem to stop. I learned early on that it’s a good idea to always leave kibble out for them or they’ll meow for food every few minutes until my ears ring.
While Sphynxi are felines in every sense of the word, they are definitely NOT aloof. Not even a little bit. They are affectionate and require a lot of attention. There is constant sitting on laps, shoulders or being cradled like a baby, wrapped in a soft blankie, and they will follow me from room to room. Wherever I go in the house, there is bound to be one or more Sphynxi trotting along with me. Even in the bathroom and especially on my laptop while I’m writing. This constant need for affection makes them a bit more dog-like and many people who can’t have a dog will choose a Sphynx because of this. I think that’s cool.
Luckily for me I do a lot of writing at home, so my boys are able to pester me incessantly. I can’t complain though. Well, I could, but it wouldn’t end well for me. Monty, my red (looks pink) boy has a blog of his own where he whines about what it’s like living with a writer. He’s a sassy blogger and posts all sorts of incriminating photos about how ‘tough’ his life is because I’m always at the computer and not paying him enough attention. Nonsense. Like any cat, he owns me and runs the household. I know my place and accept it gladly. And you know what, I wouldn’t change my life for anything.
Even with the Sphynxi distractions and Monty’s blogging, I have managed to get a new novel published, a historical romantic suspense, Charity’s Heart. It’s available at the publisher’s website (www.frontporchromance.com) and from the usual retailers like Amazon.
My website is www.sofiadianagabel.com, and you can check out my other sites at: https://www.facebook.com/sofiadianagabel, https://twitter.com/sofiadianagabel, and http://approachablefiction.blogspot.com/,and you can follow Monty’s latest ravings at Monty’s Catablog: http://montysphynx.wordpress.com/.
Growing up in New England, I never questioned the wisdom of displaying a witch ball in the front window of a home – an east window, if at all possible. I’d see them often, especially outside the city, usually a large glass fisherman’s float, green in color, and hung in a woven net.
A witch ball is a hollow sphere of colored glass, often encasing strands of glass. Some are fanciful and decorated with enameled swirls and brilliant stripes. Today for the most part, witch balls are produced as yard ornaments with vibrant colors or iridescent coatings, sometimes with decorative objects inside.
Witch balls have been around a long time under many different names: Fairy orbs are believed to remind the fairies of flowers. In turn, the fairies reward the owner by bestowing luck. Pond balls are placed in a pool of water so that animals, seeing their reflections, would retreat instead of preying on fish. Early colonists believed in protecting their homes with spirit balls, a round glass ball with a small opening at one end. The harmful spirit would fly into the open end and become trapped inside the glass. Friendship balls, with no beginning or ending of the glass surface, were given as gifts and the reflective surface of gazing balls was believed to frighten evil spirits away. A later invention, butler globes, served a more practical purpose, allowing servants to observe their house guests without staring directly at them.
In the middle ages, witch balls were crafted into rough round shapes to ward off witches, goblins, and evil spirits. Victorians later manufactured them with higher quality glass and a more perfect spherical shape. Some even claim the modern Christmas ornament is descended from the witch ball. Glass was an expensive in the 18th century, but still the balls were popular and believed to ward off spells or ill fortune. Early settlers in New England carried the tradition across the Atlantic and continued the practice. Today they are still a common sight in the windows of many New England homes.
According to legend, the colorful balls could attract evil spirits, the glass strands inside the ball capturing and preventing the spirit from escaping to harm the home. Another legend claims the witch ball acted as a magnet attracting any type of negative energy. If a person were depressed or ill, it was believed they should rest near the witch ball to restore their spirits. No matter what the mythology, there was great faith the shimmering colors of the ball would attract negative energy and by wiping dust from the ball, the negativity would be eliminated.
Is anyone making witch balls today? Sure they are. Here’s one very comprehensive website I found if anyone is interested in exploring the legends: http://www.witchballs.com/
Do I have a witch ball in my home? You bet I do. Why take any chances? In fact, I just remembered to dust it off.
Connie Archer is the national bestselling author of A Spoonful of Murder, the first in the soup lover’s mystery series from Berkley Prime Crime. A Broth of Betrayal was released on April 2, 2013. Connie was born and raised in New England. She now lives with her family on the other coast.
I know a man who refuses to set foot in a chain restaurant, on the grounds they’re all alike and the food was probably prepared three days ago. Sometimes that seems true, especially if you get a chicken-fried steak that is still frozen in the center or bland mashed potatoes that may possibly have been rehydrated. But there are chain restaurants I truly enjoy—Pappadeaux is one, Uncle Julio’s Mexican Foods another. There’s a certain reliability to the food, and I really don’t think it is all prepared days ahead. I remember once, traveling, when we were overjoyed to come to an Outback Steak House, because we knew exactly what to expect. I have a son who loves Cracker Barrel restaurants for the chicken and dumplings. I don’t stop at most fast-food chains, although I used to claim McDonald’s had the best iced tea. Now they’ve switched from brewed to tea that comes out of a spigot just like soft drinks and it’s not nearly as good.
On the other hand Mom-and-Pop cafés can be iffy. (Maybe we should call them stand-alone restaurants instead of Mom-and-Pop—the connotation is better.) There used to be a place near my home called Summerhill’s (an unlikely name). It had eight or ten seats at a counter and that was it, but they served marvelous plate lunches—short ribs, stew, roast chicken. There was a place called Leta’s down an alley in North Fort Worth that served the best hamburgers ever, but you’d never find it if you didn’t know where to look. And Leta was famed for taking no guff from anyone. A visit there was an adventure.
For a few years I helped out on Saturday nights at The Star Café, also on Fort Worth’s North Side. It’s a steak house but it also has excellent hamburgers and chicken fried steak. I ran the cash registers and got to see restaurant life from the inside, happy customers and complaining. My favorite time was when the restaurant went dark after closing, and we could sit with a glass of wine and whatever we ordered for dinner. Owned by good friends of mine, this is almost a true mom-and-pop restaurant, though Don Boles might deny the appellation.
I also enjoy Guy Fieri’s segments on Diners, Drive-ins, and Dumps that feature unexpected small restaurants. But choosing a stand-alone restaurant without knowing anything about it or having Fieri’s recommendation can be chancy. There’s an old saying in Texas that advises choosing one with the most pick-ups out front. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. On the long stretch of road from Wichita Falls to Amarillo, we’ve tried that and not found one really good place, a few really bad ones. To anyone who owns a really good place along 287 that I’ve missed, my apologies.
One of my favorite stand-alones is a place called The Shed in Edom, Texas. For many years, my children and I ate there on our occasional visits to a B&B ranch owned by friends outside nearby Ben Wheeler, and I think The Shed is emblazoned on my memory by not just food—fried chicken, fried catfish, chicken-fried steak, and marvelous breakfasts—but by the good times we had there, filled with love and laughter.
When I decided I wanted to write a culinary mystery yet didn’t feel qualified to jump into the sophisticated chef’s world of Diane Mott Davidson’s Goldy Schultz series, my thoughts went to The Shed. The result was a mystery set in a small-town café, in a place not in the Deep East Texas of Caddo Lake and the Piney Woods but the farm and ranch land about an hour east of Dallas. I gave the town and the café fictional names but most in the area will recognize it.
Setting a novel in a small town was a big jump for me. I’d been writing mysteries set in an inner-city historic district in my city of Fort Worth. I knew the neighborhood well and could easily put characters on familiar streets, in familiar restaurants. Local readers loved it for that reason if nothing else. But a small town…I’m a city girl, raised in Chicago and living in Fort Worth for the last forty-plus years. I spent my first two years of college at a small private school in a really small Iowa town—and hated it. Then, later, I lived for three years in a small town in Missouri, but it was a university town and I was in graduate school. I lived in the academic community, separated somewhat from the town itself. So I don’t really know small-town life. And though I’d been to Edom, it’s now been at least ten years, so I wrote from memory and a limited amount of information available on the web. And, of course, as all fiction writers do, I used my imagination. I hope the results ring true to small-town life and a small café.
My new mystery, Murder at The Blue Plate Café, is the first in what I hope will be the Blue Plate Mystery Series. In it, twin sisters Kate and Donna inherit their grandmother’s restaurant, the Blue Plate Cafe, in Wheeler, Texas. There’s immediate conflict. Donna wants to sell and use her money to establish a B&B; Kate wants to keep the cafe. Thirty-two-year-old Kate leaves a Dallas career as a paralegal and a married lover to move back to Wheeler and run the café, while Donna plans her B&B and complicates her life by having an affair with her sole investor. But when the mayor of Wheeler becomes seriously ill after eating food from the café, delivered by Donna’s husband, Kate is suspicious. When Donna’s investor is shot, she is arrested. Kate must defend her sister and solve the murder to keep her business open, and she uncovers more than she ever expected. Gram guides Kate through it all, though Kate’s never quite sure she’s hearing Gram—and sometimes Gram’s guidance is really off the wall.
An award-winning novelist, Judy Alter is the author of three books in the Kelly O’Connell Mysteries series: Skeleton in a Dead Space, No Neighborhood for Old Women, and Trouble in a Big Box. Danger Comes Home will be published in July 2013. Follow Judy at http://www.judyalter.com or her two blogs at http://www.judys-stew.blogspot.com or http://potluckwithjudy.blogspot.com. Or look for her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Judy-Alter-Author/366948676705857?fref=ts or on Twitter where she is @judyalter. Murder at the Blue Plate Café is available at http://www.amazon.com/Murder-Blue-Plate-Mystery-ebook/dp/B00BGOKVNK/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1363374102&sr=1-1&keywords=Murder+at+the+Blue+Plate+Cafe Print copies will soon be available at your local bookstore or from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Turquoise Morning Press Bookstore.
“Only Fools Fall in Love!” Do you remember that song? It was popular in the 1950s and sung by Frankie Lyman and the Teenagers.
I like that song, but with a tweak to the lyrics: “Only fools get married on April 1.” Like my Personal Beloved (and long-suffering) husband, Joe, and I. That’s right, we’re celebrating our wedding anniversary today. And as a special gift to each other after more than forty years of wedded bliss (ha!), we have promised to love, honor, and be more tolerant of each other’s foibles for the next 365 days. Or, at least, try.
Remember those endearing qualities that drew you to your own Personal Beloved in the first place? He was independent (which now translates to: “I’ll take out the garbage when I’m in the mood, not when you ask me,”), witty (“So I said that you look like a dead woman walking when you’re not wearing makeup. No big deal.”), kind (“Helping that cute widow across the street plant her flowers was just my way of being neighborly.”), and a very sharp dresser (“Don’t you dare throw out that sweatshirt. I don’t care if it has holes and paint stains. It’s mine!).
Ah, the many phases of true love. Which does not always run smooth.
I’m frequently asked at book talks, “Why do you write a Baby Boomer mystery series?” My answer is, “Why not?” There are 78.2 million Baby Boomers in the United States, according to the latest census figures. And many “senior” Boomers, myself included, are starting to hit the magic age of 65. There’s so much written about the financial piece of growing older – taking care of your IRAs, 401Ks, etc. – but nobody seemed to be taking a look at the emotional piece. By that I mean, how do couples who have been married for years, raised a family, and been leading fairly independent lives, now cope with the fact that the husband and the wife are no longer going out to a 9 – 5 job every day? Instead, they often get into each other’s way as they struggle to re-define their roles. Of course, nothing like that ever happens in my house! (smile.)
I’ve always loved the mystery genre. I was hooked on Nancy Drew books when I was a child, then I graduated to Agatha Christie, and I’ve just keep on going. I love what is traditionally called the cozy – no blood and gore for me. I like to be entertained. And, especially, I like to laugh!
I was diagnosed with breast cancer years ago, and that was a real wakeup call for me. I’ve been a freelance writer, editor and drama critic for years. I’ve also had my own p. r. company and done special events for a variety of clients, including Carnegie Hall. Writing press releases, articles, brochures – I did it all. But I’d always wanted to write a mystery. After the cancer diagnosis (I’m fine now!) I thought, why wait? Who knows what other curve balls life might have in store for me?
The series deals with typical Boomers Carol and Jim Andrews as they navigate the rocky way toward their golden years. In the first book, Retirement Can Be Murder, released in April 2009, Carol dreads Jim’s upcoming retirement more than a root canal without Novocain. She can’t imagine anything worse than an at-home husband with time on his hands and nothing to fill it, except interfering in the day-to-day activities and driving her crazy. Until Jim is suspected of murdering his retirement coach. The second one in the series, Moving Can Be Murder, was released May 1 2011. This one deals with Carol and Jim selling the family home and downsizing, with one dead body thrown in to keep things interesting. Book 3 in the series, Marriage Can Be Murder, includes a destination wedding on Nantucket, and was released in July 2012. Book 4, Class Reunions Can Be Murder, will be out later this year. There at least 9 books planned for the series.
My books are written in the first person, so many people think I’m Carol. I’ve even been introduced at book talks as Carol! We’re both sarcastic and like to be in charge. We value our family and our close women friends. Oh, one more thing – we both love English cocker spaniels. There are two English cockers in the books, Lucy and Ethel. Our newest English cocker, Boomer (get it?), is the cover model for the books.
The subhead for each book title is, “Every wife has a story.” The more women I connect with, either at book talks or via the Internet, the more I realize how true that is!
Thanks for the opportunity to make some new cyber friends. I always love to hear from readers. I can be reached at email@example.com
Talk about March Madness. It’s the month of March and there’s definitely Madness going on, but I’m not talking about basketball. I’m talking about my GG aka Great Granny Gert and her arch nemesis Fiona Atwater.
Granny is such a sweet lady with pristine white hair and snappy brown eyes. She bakes cookies and swears there’s a cookie for everything, storing them in her orange pumpkin cookie jar with the foil wrapped plate for a lid, insisting they don’t taste the same stored in anything else. She adored her late husband, Frank, and has been a bit lonely since his death. Until she moved in with Sunny and me, then she became her chipper ole’ self again because she finally felt needed once more.
Everything was fine until her former childhood best friend turned enemy, Fiona Atwater, had to ruin everything by showing up at the Summer Solstice Carnival in our small upstate NY town of Divinity. Granny says Fiona had a crush on Frank way back in the day, but Frank took a shine to Granny and nothing was ever the same after that. Granny thinks Fiona has shown up with her Knitting Nanas just to ruin her life by competing in nearly everything against Granny and her Sewing Sisters.
First they made an afghan for the auction, trying to outbid the Sewing Sisters’ quilt with Granny Squares. Then they had the nerve to sign up for the bakeoff, trying to beat Granny’s cookies with Fiona’s Lemon Meringue pie. The final straw was when Fiona took a shine to Captain Grady Walker, just to try to steal him away from Granny, even though he was never Granny’s in the first place weather she chooses to accept that or not. Frankly, they are both way too old for the man, even if he does sometimes encourage them by flirting a bit too much in my opinion.
I’ve never seen two humans who are more competitive in my entire life. I’ve lived for centuries, so that’s saying something. They might be the same age, but Fiona is way more in tune with what is hip and now. So Granny starts trying to “improve” herself by trying every new fad there is and making a new wardrobe for herself. Trust me, people, it’s not pretty. Poor Sunny is going crazy. Even though I don’t really care for Detective Mitch Stone, he seems to make Sunny happy for reasons I’ll never understand. All she wants is to go on a real date with him, which becomes nearly impossible with the Dynamic Due ever present and reeking havoc. Why, they are even competing over me with Fiona trying to knit me booties to match Granny’s bowties.
Store owners are complaining, the fire department isn’t happy, the police department is worried, and Sunny’s on the verge of a nervous breakdown. When a dead body turns up with Granny and Fiona listed as the main suspects, it’s no surprise. All the chaos they caused was bound to lead to disaster. All I can say is if Sunny and Detective Stone don’t solve this case soon, I just might have to take matters into my own paws…only, I don’t play nice in the sandbox.
Kari Lee Townsend lives in central New York with her understanding husband, her three busy boys, and her oh-so-dramatic daughter She is the National Bestselling Author, Agatha & RT Reviewer’s Choice Award nominee for her Fortune Teller Mystery series. Kari also writes romance under the name Kari Lee Harmon. Small towns, mystical elements, quirky characters and a few chuckles along the way are what her books are all about. To find out more about Kari and all of her books, check out her websites at: www.karileetownsend.com & www.karileeharmon.com