Wednesday, January 22, 2014

How We Treat Our Characters @LucyBurdette


LUCY BURDETTE: We Reds probably seem like nice enough people when you read our blog--or even meet us in person. Sweet ladies who love to chat about Downton Abbey, funny incidents in our lives, what we're reading, oh, and food. But the minute you pick up one of our mysteries, you'll see what we do to our characters--the opposite of sweet! Because we need tension to keep the reader reading, and one of the best ways to up the tension is to torque up the pressure on the characters.

Last year when I was writing MURDER WITH GANACHE, I knew I needed a gut-wrenching scene out on the water. I persuaded my husband and brother-in-law to rent a little motorboat to take us around Key West. It was a cold, gray day--perfect for the scene I was imagining, in which my character Hayley Snow's brother had gone missing. We came upon the little harbor where a small group of live-aboards anchor their boats. I won't spoil the story by telling you what they find, but it's a grim day for Hayley and her family. 

Here's a tiny snippet: 

"Ray started up the engine and steered the boat out of the little channel into the big channel that fed into the ocean. A thick layer of gray clouds hung down like a quilt of cotton batting, blending into the steely water and obscuring the horizon. The choppy waves spanked the hull. Contrasting with her orange life vest, Allison's color changed from merely pale to gray like the clouds. She gripped my father's hand and pinched her lips together."

The fun thing about writing this series is that Hayley and her mother react to all bad situations by cooking. And eating. So after the terrible day on the water, they make spanakopita, one of my favorite meals of all time. The layers of crispy, buttery filo, the tangy bite of the feta cheese, the snippets of dill and pockets of spinach... Next time someone close to you has a really bad day, treat them to this dish--they are bound to feel a little bit better...
 

 Hayley Snow's Spanakopita

Ingredients

2 frozen packages chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
14 oz Feta cheese, crumbled
4 oz cottage cheese
1 bunch scallions, washed, chopped and sauteed in olive oil
1-2 Tbsp fresh dill, chopped
4 or 5 twists freshly-ground black pepper
4 eggs, beaten
1 package filo pastry, thawed in refrigerator
8 Tbsp butter, melted (1 stick)
3 Tbsp olive oil


The filo pastry can be found in a box in the frozen foods department. A day or two ahead of time, take one of the rolls of filo out of the freezer and move to the refrigerator to thaw. Also thaw your two packages of frozen spinach. When thawed, squeeze them completely dry (I use my hands for this.) Crumble your feta cheese into a big bowl and mix in the dry spinach and the cottage cheese. Next, chop and saute your scallions and add them, along with chopped dill and pepper to taste. Beat the eggs, add them to the bowl and mix everything well.

Now you are ready for assembly. Melt the butter and mix with the olive oil. In a 9 x 13 inch pan, lay out the first sheet of filo, being careful not to tear it. With a clean pastry brush, paint the filo with butter/oil mixture. Repeat until you have 10 layers. (Patience is a virtue here as it's very easy to tear the sheets. But don't panic, pat the pieces back in--no one will notice a few tears among all that flaky buttery goodness.) It's smart to cover the unused filo with a damp cloth while you work.

Once you have ten painted sheets, dump the spinach and cheese mixture into the pan and spread it evenly to the edges. Then repeat the process of buttering the next ten layers.
You may cover this with plastic wrap and store in the fridge a day ahead. Preheat the oven to 350, then bake until risen and golden, about 45" to an hour. Cut into squares and serve with Greek salad.

We're celebrating the fact that MURDER WITH GANACHE is almost here by giving away two copies! Leave us a comment telling us what your favorite comfort food is and you'll be entered in the drawing. To see more pictures of Key West and how the island shapes the mysteries, take a look at Lucy's Pinterest board called "Key West--the Character."

40 comments:

Joan Emerson said...

Can't wait to read the rest of Hayley's newest story . . . and to try the recipe!

My favorite comfort food? Macaroni and cheese . . . meat loaf . . . bread warm from the oven . . . .

Susan Elia MacNeal said...

Oooh, that sounds delicious! Lucy, just want you to know I'm creating two cocktails to celebrate MURDER WITH GANACHE!

Libby Dodd said...

I was privileged to get an early copy of Murder with Ganache. It is terrific reading! I so want to visit Key West and see it through the characters' eyes.
Susan Elia MacNeal-Don't just tease us. What are the cocktails?

Hallie Ephron said...

Love the sense of place that you've created... both the external setting and what it's like at that moment to be inside Hayley's head.

I'm a huge fan of spinach pie... though reading the recipe I'm reminded how much work it is. Imagine if we had to make our own philo pastry!

Lucy Burdette aka Roberta Isleib said...

Mmmm, mac and cheese and meat loaf, me too Joan!

Libby, don't worry those cocktails will show up here on release day--February 4th!

Susan, can't wait to see what you come up with!!

Rhonda Lane said...

Back in KY and among my in-laws in IL, a fun social gathering (and summertime fundraiser for local civic groups) is a fish fry. BTW, I already pre-ordered my copy of GANACHE, so you can take me out of the running. :)

SandyG265 said...

My Mom's meatloaf with mashed potatoes.

Karen in Ohio said...

Best of luck with Murder With Ganache!

Any homemade soup or stew is my go-to comfort food. Last week I made a yummy chicken stew with root veggies, legs, and thighs. Last night I made a big pot of 10-Vegetable Soup. Nothing better on a cold winter's night. Summertime comfort food: our family's unique potato salad.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Oh, that's delicious..and you are right, sometimes actually being there, not just in your imagination, opens the doors to seeing a scene in a new perspective.

And MURDER WITH GANACHE arrived at my door yesterday--guess where I'll be this afternoon? In a cozy chair, safe from the snow, and with--Haley SNOW!

COmfort food? Hmmm. Chili!

But I have a great recipe that uses phyllo dough..SO EASY. Roll out dough on a lightly greased cookie sheet. Make a cut around the perimeter, almost all the way through but not completely Bake for a bit until the pastry is golden brown--the cut will make it have a raised edge. This is magic, don't ask.

Take out of the oven, top with lemon curd (you can get this in a jar from Williams Sonoma and the like), fresh berries and whipped cream. HOw easy is that?

FChurch said...

More books to add to my pile! Yes! My favorite comfort foods? In the winter, potato soup like my mom used to make with crisp bacon sprinkled on top. Summer: home-grown strawberries with a scoop of vanilla ice cream! In a pinch? Anything with dark chocolate! Keep those books coming, Reds!

Robyn said...

Chocolate and pizza. Maybe even chocolate pizza! I love this series!

Kim said...

Lucy, I so appreciate what you have to say about putting characters in difficult situations. I love my characters so much that I tend to protect them, which makes for very boring fiction and a lot of revising!!

I'm so thrilled that MURDER WITH GANACHE is on its way! For my comfort food - I'm with you and Joan: mac and cheese (Kraft, from the box, a favorite from childhood).

Congratulations!

Rhonda Lane said...

I need to check my Kindle. GANACHE might be there already. I've been reading "analog" books (paper). :)

Rhys said...

I remember riding little trains up mountains in Wales to see where would be the best place to push somebody out. When I exclaimed excitedly "Here would be perfect. He'd plunge 1000 feet to his death" there was a hush in the carriage and everyone moved far away from me!
We forget that other people don't live in our world!
Wishing you enormous success with Murder with Ganache, Lucy.

Mark Baker said...

My favorite comfort food? Yes. Okay, maybe chocolate.

No need to enter me in the contest since I was lucky enough to get an ARC. Loved it. If you're interested, here's my review: http://carstairsconsiders.blogspot.com/2014/01/book-review-murder-with-ganache-by-lucy.html

gg said...

I don't think I have a comfort food, pizza is the first thing that comes to mind and frankly, I would love it comfy or not;-)

Rhys said...

I meant to add that comfort food for me is hearty soups, but grilled cheese and tomato soup from a can work perfectly!

Karen in Ohio said...

Oh, I forgot about potato soup! Barbara Kafka has the easiest one of all in her Microwave Gourmet book; it takes less than 30 minutes, including prep, and it's as soothing and restorative as chicken soup.

Denise Ann said...

Last year, when my son-in-law had surgery, a friend of theirs brought over a spinach pie. My daughter and I fought each other for every crumb!

I reach for a cup of tea, and cheese and crackers.

Last night I finished reading Julia Spencer-Fleming's "A Fountain Filled With Blood." Talk about putting your characters through hell!

Edith Maxwell said...

My Greek friend used to make his own phyllo dough in grad school. At the end of the day, with a kitchen covered in flour and the bourbon bottle mostly empty, we all gathered to eat homemade cheese, spinach, and meat pies. And drink more. Yum.

My comfort foods are homemade bread warm from the oven with butter. And eating a perfectly ripe avocado out of the skin with salt and a spoon. Can you tell I'm still a Californian? And maybe my mom's creamed tuna on toast, too.

Deborah Crombie said...

Oh my gosh, Lucy, that looks SO good!

And I have my very own early copy of Murder with Ganaches, which I get to start TONIGHT! I'm so excited!

You're so right about the way we treat our characters. I really struggle with doing bad things to characters I like, and sometimes I manage to balance it by throwing in a little food for my main characters. (I've given Duncan a bacon and egg sandwich made by the imaginary proprietor of an imaginary chicken shop, and now I want it to be real!)

Kaye Barley said...

I always look forward to the newest Hayley - Yay!!

I'm having dreams of Key West today as we look at the snow in our 4 degree temps here in Boone. sigh.

I love to eat, so most food is a comfort to me, but I'd have to say tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich hits the comfort zone pretty darn nicely. Or pizza. Or ice cream.

Barbara T. said...

chocolate, ice cream, grilled cheese sandwich with tomato rice soup, macaroni and cheese, wine and cheese and nuts

Lucy Burdette aka Roberta Isleib said...

oh my gosh, you guys are making me soooo hungry. Off to eat lunch.

Edith, was the homemade phyllo very different from store bought?

Hallie, it's really not so bad. The trick is remembering to take dough out of the freezer:)

and Rhys, love your story of throwing someone off the carriage in Wales:)

Lisa Alber said...

Yay for MURDER WITH GANACHE! I like your protagonists' coping mechanisms -- food!

My go-to comfort food has always been pasta. Lately, I've been making a creamy avocado sauce for my pasta. Lots of garlic and basil plus lemon juice and S&P ... Mmmmm ...

Anonymous said...

Comfort food: mac and cheese (of course) and tomato soup with a grilled cheese sandwich. Yum.

Kathy Reel said...

Lucy, I am thrilled to learn about your Key West board on Pinterest. I imagine that I will be transferring some of those images to my Pinterest page. I'm still playing with the idea of a Key West visit for my birthday, 24th of February. I can't think of anywhere better to celebrate my major event.

Your descriptions are wonderful, Lucy. "A thick layer of gray clouds hung down like a quilt of cotton batting..." I can so envision that. I received my advance copy of Murder with Ganache yesterday (fairly skipped from the mail box) and am so excited about reading it. I have two more Molly Murphy mysteries to read to bring me up to speed on Rhys' series and should finish those by Friday at the latest. Then, this weekend is devoted to bringing me up to speed on Haley Snow, so my review for Murder with Ganache should be ready to go by the first of next week. January is my series catch-up month, and I have been especially lucky to have Molly Murphy and Haley Snow to fill my month. Of course, I still have a bit more catching up to do in reading the Reds' books, not too much, but a little. I still need to read Susan's Maggie Hope (btw, love your Web site, Susan), Rhys' Royal Spyness and Constable Evans, Hank's Charlotte McNally, and two more of Hallie's.

Wow, that spinach pie looks and sounds delicious. I think I could find much comfort from it. Some comfort foods for me are the aforementioned meat loaf and mashed potatoes, spaghetti casserole, homemade vegetable soup, and chicken noodle casserole. I am a big fan of casseroles. Also, thanks to Kim, I can admit to my guilty pleasure of the original Kraft macaroni and cheese in the box.

Two other quick comments. Rhys, you must have been quite a hit on the train rides in Wales. LOL! Susan, can you tell us what the cocktails are after you've created them (and before you drink them, since your typing might be impaired at that point).

stitchkat said...

The new book sounds fascinating. I love that your characters resort to food for comfort; I certainly do. Congratulations and I'm looking forward to reading it.

My favorite comfort foods - chicken and dumplings (my mom's were the greatest!) and pot roast with vegetables.

Jillyr said...

In Kentucky today it's 10 degrees, so I whipped up a pot of tortellini soup to warm our bones!

Katherine Ivan said...

My favorite comfort food would have to be chicken alfredo pizza, which is made and served at my home fairly regularly. The lump of dough gets shaped into the appropriate form, then liberally topped with cheese, chicken, alfredo sauce, and mushrooms. It smells wonderful while baking and tastes even better than you can tell from the aroma! Now I'm hungry so off to grab lunch (a boring sandwich).

Deb Romano said...

Meatloaf! I never tire of it! And when I'm feeling stressed out, I often make a soupy rice mixture: rice cooked in lots of chicken broth, with an egg thrown in near the end and topped with lots of Parmesan cheese,and with a little bit of lemon juice added. It's supposed to be more like a rice soup. My mom made it on occasion when we were kids, and I loved it. As an adult, I made it for years without being able to get it to the soupy consistency that my mom achieved. I asked her for some tips, and her first response was "you LIKED that? and you REMEMBER it? I hated making that!" Turned out she only made it when there was not a lot of money in the food budget. For her, it just brought back bad memories, I guess.

I have never been able to do anything other than tolerate mac and cheese.

Judy in Owego said...

My favorite comfort food is probably a grilled cheese sandwich -- made by someone else. But, oh, how I love spanakopita. I made it myself once and it turned out pretty well. But the recipe I used called for a large amount of fresh dill and by the time I bought that and all the ingredients I figured that it was probably less expensive to go to our local Greek diner. There I can get a huge piece of spanakopita and a huge Greek salad for $8. As my husband is not a fan of spinach, that’s what we do. I would not touch a vegetable as a child, but somewhere along the way I tried spinach and found that it’s the best!

Mar (aka mar annabelle jacob) said...

Mac n cheese with applesauce (both homemade)

Spaghetti or my homemade Lasagna

rhonda said...

Roast chicken or chicken almost anyway with mashed potatoes.

Pat D said...

Mac and cheese. Grilled cheese on rye. Chile con queso. Frito pie.
Is there a pattern here?

JJT said...

Macaroni and Cheese!

Reine said...

My favorite comfort food is my great-grandmother Klosowska's chicken noodle soup— two chickens, a dozen carrots, salt and pepper, extra-wide egg noodles (add noodles to bowl). That's it. Anything else and it won't be right.

Lucy Burdette aka Roberta Isleib said...

Thanks to all for your comfort food comments! We should have a Jungle Red potluck!

Winners for MURDER WITH GANACHE are Robyn and Stitchkat.

Please email me raisleib at gmail dot com to claim your prize!

Lucy Burdette aka Roberta Isleib said...

Thanks to all for your comfort food comments! We should have a Jungle Red potluck!

Winners for MURDER WITH GANACHE are Robyn and Stitchkat.

Please email me raisleib at gmail dot com to claim your prize!

stitchkat said...

Thanks so much Lucy! Received, read, and much enjoyed. Reviewed on Goodreads & will do Amazon when they let me.