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
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."