Thursday, June 30, 2016

Debs' 4th of July Picnic Chicken

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Wait, I hear you saying. REDS never post recipes on Thursday. But I am breaking the mold today because this is so good that I thought I'd give you a chance to put together the ingredients if you were tempted to try it for the upcoming big weekend.


My cooking is very slapdash these days. As in, hmm, what's in the fridge that needs to be used up...and what will be easy to make, easy to clean up, and won't heat up the kitchen in the process.

So, Monday night, a package of chicken thighs (the last one in the big supermarket on Saturday.) It's HOT. Why not grill? Root around in fridge and pantry. And this is what I came up with:

DEBS' GRILLED CHICKEN THIGHS

(Note: all the ingredient amounts are estimates, because I was experimenting and didn't pay that much attention.)

6 bone-in, skin-on (very important!) chicken thighs
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
Juice of 1 lemon
3 Tbs olive oil
1 Tbs Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbs brown sugar (I used Succanat, which is a little more molasses-y)
A half dozen shakes of Jack's Bloody Mary Spice (a friend sells this blend, from her father's recipe--we use on everything! I'm sure you can find an equivalent.)
1 Tbs sumac
1 Tbs Ras El Hanout
(Note: The sumac and Ras El Hanout are from Trader Joe's, but I'm sure you can find the equivalent other places. If you want to make the Ras El Hanout from scratch, it contains: coriander, cayenne, cinnamon, cumin, spearmint, chili, ginger, all spice, long pepper, black peppercorns, cardamon pods, cloves, mace, and rose petals.)
Fresh ground salt and pepper

Mix all the ingredients except the chicken in a bowl, whisk with fork until well blended. Pour on chicken and coat all the chicken pieces well. Let marinate for two hours at room temp, or a day in the fridge. 


(Note: You want to make certain the chicken has come up to room temperature before grilling, otherwise it may not get done all the way to the bone.)

Put chicken pieces on very hot grill, skin side down. Sear, then turn heat down to medium. Cook approximately five minutes each side. 

(Note: This is a very rough estimate of the time it took on my grill until the chicken felt done.)

If using for picnic, let cool, then refrigerate until the next day.

This was delicious hot, but it was the best cold chicken I've ever eaten!

For a picnic, you might serve with mint iced-tea, cold rice pilaf, and a cucumber, parsley, radish, olive oil, and lemon juice salad, to keep up the middle-eastern theme. 


Or just eat straight out of the fridge, which is what I did with the leftovers...

Bon appetit!

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Francine Mathews--A View From the Shadows


DEBORAH CROMBIE: Okay, here's a really bad thing about BOOK JAIL. My friend Francine Mathews (aka Stephanie Barron) is in Dallas for a few days, staying downtown, and I CAN'T HANG OUT. Boo. I am so totally bummed out. I was really looking forward to seeing her. Fortunately, Francine understands, because she has a book to finish, too.

The good thing is, we all get to talk to Francine here on the blog, today. Francine and I go way back. You may know her better as Stephanie Barron, author of the Jane Austen mystery series, which I adore. But Francine also writes terrific spy thrillers. And she has the chops to do it, because she was a real spy. Here's Francine to tell you about it, and about her latest novel, an historical thriller set in 1943 and featuring Ian Fleming--yes, that Ian Fleming--as the protagonist.


Here's a synopsis:
A tense and enthralling World War II thriller: British Naval Intelligence officer Ian Fleming races to foil a Nazi plot to assassinate FDR, Churchill and Stalin.

November 1943. Weary of his deskbound status in the Royal Navy, intelligence officer Ian Fleming spends his spare time spinning stories in his head that are much more exciting than his own life...until the critical Tehran Conference, when Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt, and Joseph Stalin meet to finalize the D-Day invasion.

With the Big Three in one place, Fleming is tipped off that Hitler's top assassin has infiltrated the conference. Seizing his chance to play a part in a real-life action story, Fleming goes undercover to stop the Nazi killer. Between martinis with beautiful women, he survives brutal attacks and meets a seductive Soviet spy who may know more than he realizes. As he works to uncover the truth and unmask the assassin, Fleming is forced to accept that betrayal sometimes comes from the most unexpected quarters--and that one's literary creations may prove eerily close to one's own life. 



FRANCINE MATHEWS:

THE VIEW FROM THE SHADOWS

I discovered the world of espionage early in life. I was the last of my parents’ six children, and thus was permitted a degree of freedom unknown to my five sisters. I suspect this was due to weariness with the whole business of parenting—there are as few photographs of me as a child as there were rules. Regardless, I was packed off to bed each night with the understanding that I would almost immediately creep back downstairs and sit behind my father’s wing chair in the den, where he would invariably be established with his newspaper, and the older girls would be watching television. As long as I made no sound, everyone would pretend that I wasn’t there. As a result, I saw a lot of movies and television I was not supposed to see. From toddlerhood, I found that lurking in the shadows gave the best view of life.

I grew up on Bonanza, Petticoat Junction, Wild, Wild West, and John Wayne films. Sometimes it was Laugh In or Lost in Space. But often it was Get Smart, which I absolutely adored. Never mind 007; I wanted to be Agent 99. Agent 99 was funny, glamorous, more intelligent than the men around her, and far more competent. Plus, she could wield any sort of weapon or gadget with an insouciance that was enslaving. In go-go boots.



Once I could read, I graduated to sitting in my father’s wing chair with my legs thrown over one arm, while I consumed the adventures of the Dana Girls and Harriet the Spy. This is the only book I know of that truly captures the mind and heart of an adolescent bent on observing, collecting and analyzing intelligence in an effort to understand and predict her uncertain world—until she’s blown, and the blowback from her espionage makes her that sad figure in diplomatic circles: persona non grata. It’s a wonderful object lesson in the necessity of cover.

 


From Harriet, I went on to the novels of Helen MacInnes—one of the great and unfortunately less-celebrated-than-she-ought-to-be novelists of the last century. MacInnes worked for the British SIS during World War II, and her books are filled with women who are glamorous, competent, and intelligent—Agent 99s, all of them. In one of my favorites, The Venetian Affair, the male protagonist—an amateur unwittingly embroiled, as men so often are, in a life and death episode of international intrigue—is astounded to discover that the innocent blonde he has his eye on is in fact a trained CIA professional; the Paris apartment he’s been sharing with her is a safehouse. Reason enough to love Helen MacInnes.

Bond is harder for a woman to love. I say that as someone who’s read everything Ian Fleming wrote, as well as biographies of Fleming himself, memoirs of him written by his friends—and even biographies of his friends written by total strangers. I’ve read nonfiction histories of World War II that Fleming haunts like an unquiet ghost—the best being rousing rales like Ben MacIntyre’s Operation Mincemeat. 


But it’s Bond’s women that are the problem for female readers. Unlike Agent 99 or Helen MacInnes’s pros, they have ridiculous names and a habit of dying in pathetic ways. I’ve noticed this is usually because they have a fatal girl flaw—they trip while racing through the dark in high heels, or they can’t drive a stick-shift getaway car, or they drown when the chamber in which they’re imprisoned unaccountably fills with water, because their lung capacity is lower than men’s. 

This is a trope of Bond stories; Fleming must have had a fear of drowning. I give him that experience in my book, Too Bad to Die, which is the story of Ian Fleming going undercover as a spy named James Bond during World War II, in an effort to prevent the Germans from assassinating Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin. But I also give him something much more valuable: Siranoush, an assassin trained by SMERSH—the division of the KGB’s wartime precursor, the NKVD, responsible for counterintelligence. (You thought Fleming invented SMERSH, didn’t you? Nope. He just followed its activities during his own operative period. SMERSH is a Russian acronym that translates as “Death to Spies.”) Siranoush knows all the tradecraft and techniques Ian Fleming lacks as a London-bound desk jockey. Plus, she introduces him to vodka—shaken, not stirred. I thought it was time Bond took lessons from a competent, glamorous, and intelligent woman for a change.

I often tell people that all writers begin life as readers—and that the things we’re obsessed with as children have a way of following us through the years.

So it can hardly have been a surprise that, having exited seven years of higher education without any skill beyond the ability to read and write, I applied to the CIA. One year-long FBI background check and a polygraph later, I found myself in the Agency’s Career Trainee program—required of those slated for the covert world, but granted like a special treat to a few of us destined for Harriet’s analytic life. For the space of several months, I got to do what every proto-spy dreams of. I rappelled off a helicopter skid with an M16 strapped to my back. I endured escape-and-evasion survival training, while helicopters with forward-looking infra-red hunted me from the air. I fired grenade guns at tanks and took agent meetings in safehouses and was fitted with a disguise by the Agency section we lovingly call Q branch, after the Bond films. I left exposed film cartridges in a discarded milk carton under a particular step on the Exorcist stairs that run between M Street and N Street in Georgetown—otherwise known as a dead drop. I tried to keep my husband from spilling the beans about my mysterious absences from “the State Department” each week while I lived at The Farm, the Agency’s covert ops facility.

I learned to admire and love any number of people who live life in the shadows. I learned to treat espionage, its risks, and its immense value, with appropriate seriousness. But eventually, I came back around to my Destiny—and quit the job to write about it.

Truth may be stranger than fiction. But getting to tell a story is most of the fun of living it.

What are your spy-girl fantasies, friends?

Until next time— 



DEBS: I am so ashamed to admit that I've never read Harriet the Spy. BUT, I discovered Ian Fleming's Bond novels when I was thirteen or fourteen, and loved them. Fortunately--I think--they didn't encourage me to wear high heels with bikinis, or drown. 


I loved Helen MacInnes, too, particularly The Venetian Affair, which I intend to revisit. Spy fantasies? Not a Bond girl. But a Helen MacInnes heroine, definitely. The latest? I loved Rebecca Ferguson's Ilsa Faust in Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation.  (And as a fun side note, it's Ilsa who saves Ethan Hunt from drowning in the big underwater scene.)


REDS and readers, did you read Fleming? And what are your Spy Girl fantasies?

Francine Mathews is the author of 25 novels of mystery and suspense, including the Jane Austen Mystery Series, written under the pseudonym Stephanie Barron.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Book Jail

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I'm sure everyone is tired of me going on about the book I am about to finish. I've only been saying that for months. But I really am about to finish the book, hopefully in the next few days. See that stack of pages there, beside the cat? (And excuse the blatant self-advertising. That really is what's on my desk, because I keep referring to previous books.)



That's almost five-hundred pages, which means that this book had better be finished, asap. It also means that I've been working like mad, and for the last couple of months have been in what we here at JRW refer to as BOOK JAIL

That means writing and nothing but writing. And in the meantime, I have developed a post-book to-do list that looks like this:


--Do tax return (yes, I filed an extension. Doesn't everyone?)
--Catch up on the last six months filing.
--Update webpage.
--Write and publish newsletter.
--Have upstairs carpet cleaned (or replaced.)
--Get hubby to power wash house.  Ha.
--Have windows cleaned.
--Take both dogs and at least two of the three cats to vet for checkups. (Get out credit card.)
--Repair innumerable (and expensive) neglected household things, like cat-shredded wallpaper.
--Replace (expensive) dishwasher.
--Schedule all routine postponed doctors appointments. (You know, the really fun stuff...) (Get out credit card.)
--Do loads of chores in garden in 100 degree heat and 90 % humidity.
--Etc, etc....


Now, I ask you, who would finish a book, with those things to look forward to? (Other than because of the fairly major matter of a paycheck...)

So, humans supposedly working better on a reward rather than a punishment system, I decided I should make a new to-do list, as follows. When I turn in the manuscript, I will:

--Call much-neglected long-distance friends and talk as long as I want.
--Have much-neglected local friends over for wine and snacks.
--Go out to dinner someplace nice with hubby.
--See the new Bourne movie at the iPic when it comes out the end of July.
--Have postponed mother-daughter-granddaughter dinner out for daughter's birthday (which was last Saturday.)
--Go SHOPPING. (Even a necessary trip to Target tonight was a big adventure.) (Maybe summer clothes will still be on sale!)
--Read a book--any book--all day. Just because I want to.
--Actually use the hammock before the summer is over.
--Set up the hillbilly hot tub before the summer is over.
--Cook something just for fun, not just to get dinner on the table in the shortest amount of time so I can go back to work.

--Take lots of naps.
--Plan trip to England.

 --Etc.

So the question is, dear REDS and readers, how do you get yourselves through the end of a very long project? Whips? Or rewards? And if rewards, what are they? (We don't need to know about the whips...)

In the meantime, I have a chapter to finish. And I might just make myself that root beer float I've been thinking about for a month...

Monday, June 27, 2016

Dinner Hour

DEBORAH CROMBIE: My husband and I sit down to dinner together every night. Okay, not in the dining room, but at our kitchen island. With place mats and napkins (okay, paper napkins most of the time) and nice dishes. We don't read, we don't watch TV. (There is a TV in the kitchen, but if I've been watching something while I cook, I pause or turn it off.) Our only exception to the not watching TV while eating is our Friday night movie date, when we eat Chinese takeout at the coffee table in our living room and--obviously--watch a movie or something really fun. (Lately, the Chef's Table documentary series on Netflix. Fabulous!!)


Here's our kitchen. (Okay, full disclosure. I did a wee bit of staging here. As in moving the huge pile of unread newspapers out of the sight line. And moving the stool that lets our cats jump up easily to the cat food bowl.  So un-glam, these real life things..)


And here is our dining room, which seats ten in a pinch. Fab for company and holiday dinners and Sunday quilting afternoons and doing puzzles and sorting papers... But, we rattle around in there a bit, and as much as I love our Stickley-esque furniture, the chairs are too big to be really comfortable for short me. So kitchen it is.


This eating dinner thing is not a statement--it's just what we do. The other night, it occurred to me to wonder if we were really weird. So 50s, so Leave it to Beaver. Do other people do this? Growing up, my family actually ate in the dining room most nights. It was a rare treat to get TV tables in the den. (Now, that's a thought. Who has TV tables these days?)

What about you, REDS? Do you and your spouses sit down together for meals, and eschew media temptations?
 

HALLIE EPHRON: We do sit down at 6:30 every night for a home-cooked meal (or leftovers or pizza or Chinese...) but always sit down, no media, no tablet, no phone, no reading matter. Usually wine. We don't have room for a table in our kitchen so we sit in the dining room and I only have one set of dishes so we eat off the good-enough ones that I got when we got married a loooooong time ago.

I believe in a real family dinner. In my family, we always had a sit-down dinner and my parents expected us to TALK (in my family it was a competition) -- as dysfunctional as my parents were, it was the one thing they did right. I've always made dinner when my kids were little -- my quiet 20 minutes in the kitchen after getting home from work, a glass of wine and an onion to chop and I could be civilized -- and we sat down as a family and *talked*. It teaches kids about table manners and how to have a conversation.  

As I'm writing this I'm preparing a chicken roasted in the barbecue over coals and a couscous salad for a late dinner with my daughter and her husband after their two little ones are down for the night. 
 


RHYS BOWEN: When my kids were at home we always ate dinner that I had cooked. Sometimes their friends joined us. These days John and I eat at the table in the kitchen, unless we have guests or family over. One of us cooks, from scratch. Never a pre-packaged meal in our house! Tonight it's pork tenderloin in a garlic mustard sauce. Sometimes we have the TV on, and watch Jeopardy, and sometimes we talk. But we've never owned TV trays and never had a TV in the kitchen or dining room when the kids were small. I love noisy family dinners!

LUCY BURDETTE: This photo is from 1963, our kitchen table from my growing up days. We always always had dinner together, with a German Shepherd or two under the table to accept scraps. When I was single, I usually ate in bed LOL. But once I married John and married into his little kids, we went back to the kitchen table. Dinner at six, and conversation, though I very much doubt we could have kept up with the Ephrons! John and I still eat together at six, say grace, and talk about our days. I hope we never give that time up!

 


HANK PHILLIPPI  RYAN: Oh, we are outliers. We have dinner at--forgive me, about 9. We always have dinner together, it's really a ritual, and although usually we talk, sometimes we watch a movie or something wonderful on TV.  I'd say I cook three days a week. (Tonight we are having rack of lamb grilled outside, and green beans, with coconut shrimp appetizers.Yesterday we had cooked out hamburgers and salad.) Other nights we go out, or carry out. Thursdays it's Jonathan's responsibility. I say--don't even ask what I want. Just provide it. It's usually pizza. wonderful.
 We eat at the family room table, since the dining room table is covered with book research and administrative stuff. Thats why Im always delighted to have dinner guests, because it forces me to clean it up.
 

When I was growing up, five kids, we always had dinner together, at a big round table in the dining room. And yes, we HAD to talk, and tell stories, and tell one thing that happened to us during the day. We'd also fight over who got to turn the Lazy Susan in the center. 

DEBS: Hank, we eat late, too. Dinner before eight at our house is a shock!

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: We do dinner at the table, no TV. We have a lot of dinner guests coming and going, so there are always new folks and new ideas and fun events to discuss. I think it's important for Kiddo to learn good table manners and also conversational skills. It's nice to come together as a family and laugh and tell jokes. Occasionally, often on Sundays, we'll do takeout and dinner on the couch with a movie. (Tonight, I have to admit, is pizza and the live-action version of Cinderella directed by Kenneth Branaugh—we have a friend over who's going through a bad breakup and she wants a movie and comfort food—but I'm including a picture of our table from the weekend.)

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: We've done it all ways at my house. I grew up with a proper dinner hour, every night at six on the dot, where we all sat down to a home cooked meal. Conversation was expected. You could argue, but only about factual points - I can remember various members of the family getting up to fetch the dictionary or a volume of the encyclopedia (those were the days!)

We had regular sit-down meals with the kids right up until The Boy began high school. He vastly preferred doing his homework on the kitchen table instead of in his room, and so unless we used the dining room table (which is very large and, like Hank's, usually covered with papers, etc.) we were stuck with working around a spread of textbooks, scientific calculators and notebooks at dinnertime. In addition, we now had TWO kids in two different high school doing cross country/track/track and field, as well as being involved in drama, music, etc. We still made homemade meals, but making the dinner itself eat-as-you-go became a lot more workable than getting everyone to sit down.

Things have obviously calmed down a lot since then, so we try to have a sit-down meal in the dining room about once a week. And of course, we have very formal seatings at our big holiday parties: six pieces of silver at each plate, bread dishes, soup bowls and plates and water and wine glasses. And Debs, we always use cloth napkins - they really are cheaper in the long run!



DEBS: Oh, so fun! I love it that everyone eats together. And I'm impressed that we all (mostly) cook. And I love everyone's kitchen/dining rooms! 

READERS, what about you? Do you sit down with spouse/partner/family for nightly dinners? And if you live alone, do you make dinner special?

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Book Collections


  LUCY BURDETTE: Eight years ago, my wonderful stepmother died unexpectedly, which meant that we needed to move my dad (who had Alzheimer's) to be near my sister in Florida. And this meant that John and I needed to go to South Jersey to clear out his office. He'd been a book collector all his life – we didn't have the same taste, he preferred history to my fiction. As we were sorting through those books, deciding which would go to the library and which we would send to his room in an assisted living facility, we got a little window into his psyche. Here's an example of what he was interested in; as you can see he was fascinated with American Indians and their battles with white men. We got the biggest giggle out of his impressive collection of books about white women who'd been captured by Indians. Freud might've had a field day with that but I will leave it alone. 

If you look on my shelves, aside from the huge piles of mysteries and women's fiction, you'd find a big collection of foodie books. (This doesn't even count the horde of cookbooks I have in the kitchen, many of which I haven't looked at in years.) To me, food is so much more than eating to stay alive. And the people who write foodie books write about food as a conduit for relationships and history and love.

Reds and red readers, what are your book collections like, if you have them?

HALLIE EPHRON: I have a tiny book-lined office -- crime fiction, writing, and reference. If I acquire a new book one has to go out... that's the rule.

Jerry's cool collection
My husband, on the other hand, is a serious book collector. Old illustrated children's books, books about New York City, and birds are his sweet spots. He's also cheap, so most of what we have has been acquired at yard sales. And there's a TON of them in bookcases all over the house, so I'm sure my children will have a miserable time going through it when it comes that time.

Here's just a sample of some small books he has tucked in at the end of a row in a bookcase with glass doors. Irresistible, right? He's a keeper, too.


HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  Not many "collections"- but a few books I treasure. 
These are in my study: the beautiful Sue Graftons, just a few so far. And my Nancy-Trixie-Cherry Ames shelf.   There are bookcases all over our house, gosh, just about in every room, and one lining the hallway upstairs.  We just gave hundreds of books to the library, but you almost cannot tell. Which is so sad. I fear there are piles on the floor in my study, but they are behind a chair so you can't see them.  :-)  It's just so difficult to get rid of books.  Hallie, that's a good rule. But so far, not doing it!  (But then--it drives me crazy that I can't find the one I want. Somewhere in our house is the Ruth Ware book. But where?) (I know, it sounds like a who's on first...)
 


DEBORAH CROMBIE: A couple of years ago I purged about 400 books from my house. To be fair, some of them were loads of foreign editions of my own books, but most were just accumulated odds and ends. Don't worry, there are plenty left! But I have tried to be better about passing on things I don't think I'll reread. The shelves in my upstairs office (once again groaning and triple-stacked) are mostly to-read books, and the research books I've used for my novels. The shelves in the downstairs office are mostly mystery series that are "keepers" for me, and some fantasy and sci-fi. The bookshelves in the hall and the dining room, however, are an odd assortment of classics and children's books, biology, poetry, biography, and things long out of print. Here are a couple of my favorite shelves (looking forward to sharing some of these with Wren in a year or few!) That's two bookcases out of five in our hall, and there are two more in the dining room. Maybe I should purge again...

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I'm not sure if I'm a book collector as much as I am a book KEEPER. We have boxes of books in the attic. Shelves in the hallways and on the stair landings. Each of the kids has at least three bookshelves in their rooms. There are stacks in the bathrooms. In fact, the only place where they're aren't any books are downstairs in the cellar (too damp) and in the entryway (we need the room for coats, boots, etc.)

That being said, I do have a nice collection of books by other mystery authors signed to me, or to Ross, or just signed. I keep a bunch of them in this living room bookshelf/glasses tray/curio cabinet. The only ones I know for sure have any monetary value are the three first printing, first edition copies of IN THE BLEAK MIDWINTER that I saved for the kids, currently going for $300 to $400 on ABE. Why didn't someone tell me to hang on to the rest of my author copies?!? I also have THE WHITE TRILOGY by Ken Bruen, a softcover published by Justin Charles & Co, Kate's Mystery Books imprint. It was brand new in 2003 when I bought it at her annual holiday party in Cambridge (remember how much fun those were?) and now it's worth between $300 and $400, too. Who knew?

Of course, I'm never going to unload any of my books, so I suppose it'll be my grandchildren who reap the financial rewards of collecting. Unless they're book keepers as well, in which case, these babies may never go on the market.


 
SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: Not really enough room in a NYC condo for collections of any kind (although that doesn't stop Noel), but I did put together a set of Random House children's classics for Kiddo. I started when I was in my twenties (a lot of them are my favorites, too!) and now he's been dipping in. I usually get him a new one every Christmas, too!

How about you Reds? what would we find on your shelves?