Wednesday, December 19, 2018

How Two Non-Cooks Write Culinary Mysteries by Debra Goldstein and Barbara Ross

JENN McKINLAY: Today, two culinary mystery authors, Barbara Ross and Debra Goldstein, confess their lack of kitchen know-how on this edition of Jungle Red Writer's author confessions. Pull up a chair, kids, this is going to be good! Seriously, welcome Debra and Barb! We're delighted to have you with us. 

Side note: I am a baker but I don't enjoy regular day to day cooking, so I feel ya!


BarbDebra Goldstein and I have discovered we have many things in common since we decided to do a joint blog for our books released on December 18. Debra’s book is One Taste Too Many, the debut in her Sarah Blair Mystery series for Kensington. (So exciting!) My new book is Steamed Open, the seventh in my Maine Clambake Mysteries. One thing Debra and I have in common is though both of us write culinary mysteries, neither of us is much of a cook.

Let’s go back to the beginning, Debra. How did your life evolve to make you a “cook of convenience,” as you so cleverly call it in your series?

DebraGrowing up, my mother made dinner between five and six p.m. My sister shadowed her in the kitchen while I opted to unload the dishwasher at five-fifteen, set the table at five-thirty, say “hello” to my dad at five-forty-five and come to the table after the six o’clock conclusion of Perry Mason. My sister learned to cook from scratch while I learned courtroom procedure and short-cuts that held me in good stead in my later career choice.

Barb: I’m laughing at the idea of you learning legal procedure from Perry Mason. I would have liked visiting your courtroom. So given all that, how did you come to write a culinary mystery series?

Debra:I love reading cozy mysteries (yours are some of the best!). When I decided I wanted to write, I thought about how cozy mysteries usually center around food or crafts – two areas in which I’m challenged. Somewhat frustrated, I realized there had to be readers who, like me, preferred bringing take-out in, making dishes using pre-prepared ingredients, or buying quilts, scarfs, and other already finished crafted items. When I researched and found recipes like Jell-O in a Can, I knew there was no shortage of material for a fun culinary cook of convenience mystery series. 


Considering your technical background and admitted reliance on your husband for recipe preparation, how did you come to write a culinary mystery series?

Barb: When my agent first brought up the idea of a series centered around a clambake, he characterized it as a culinary mystery.  I ignored him and wrote a proposal and sample chapters that didn’t include recipes. After all, if you’ve ever been to a clambake, it’s the same meal every time, and much of the meal isn’t practical to cook at home. Eventually, my agent caught on and made me put in recipes. By then I was too in love with the setting and characters to turn back.


Okay. So now we know you, like your main character Sarah, are a cook of convenience, how do you make readers’ mouths water when they read your book?

Debra: My first goal was to write a fun book that combined a good plot with recipes true cooks and cooks of convenience could both appreciate. Using my experience raising night and day twins, I opted to have my protagonist be a cook of convenience while her twin sister is a gourmet chef. This gave me the ability to introduce recipes, even for the same dish, all readers could salivate over. A good example is the contrast between Sarah’s Spinach Pie made with Stouffer’s Spinach Souffle and her twin’s farm to table version.

Seven books in a series is quite a feat – what workarounds did you use to keep readers’ mouths watering considering the limits of a clambake’s menu?

Barb: You’ve already alluded to my major workaround. My husband is a great cook. I decided early on that since most of them couldn’t come from the clambake, I would provide recipes from the other meals my characters ate in the course of the story. I tell my husband Bill the type and circumstances of the meal. He figures out the recipe, and then we taste test so I can describe it accurately.

What’s the most embarrassing/funny/crazy thing that’s happened as a result of the mismatch between your series focus and your own culinary shortcomings?

Debra: Last year, after writing about food, I got the brilliant idea to make matzah ball soup from scratch for our family Seder. While buying my ingredients, I grabbed a bag of Passover approved noodles. The day of the Seder, I spent all day bringing my soup to perfection. I tasted it and knew I’d nailed it. As the Seder service began, for an extra touch, I threw in the noodles. When we finally reached dinner, I removed the pot’s cover and watched the liquid whoosh away. Our first course was chicken flavored noodles sans soup. 

How about you? Most embarrassing moment?

Barb: Possibly the librarian who decided my husband and I absolutely had to cater her annual board meeting. I explained several times in several ways that Bill and I are not my characters Julia and Chris and she would surely regret her insistence.Or there was the panel I was on this year at Bouchercon. The moderator was a last minute sub, and she did a great job. Unfortunately, she’d prepared a whole slew of questions about cooking, and not one author on the panel was a cook. She was great, though, and it made for a very funny panel.

How about you, Reds and Readers, are you a culinary wizard or do you fake it 'til you bake it?

About the authors

 Judge Debra H. Goldstein is the author of Kensington’s new Sarah Blair cozy mystery series, which debuted with One Taste Too Manyon December 18, 2018. She also wrote Should HavePlayed Pokerand 2012 IPPY Award winning Maze in Blue. Her short stories, including Anthony and Agatha nominated “The Night They Burned Ms. Dixie’s Place,” have appeared in numerous periodicals and anthologies including Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Black Cat Mystery Magazine, and Mystery Weekly.Debra is president of Sisters in Crime’s Guppy Chapter, serves on SinC’s national board, and is president of the Southeast Chapter of Mystery Writers of America. Find out more about Debra at www.DebraHGoldstein.com.





Barbara Ross is the author of seven Maine Clambake Mysteries. The latest, Steamed Open, was released December 18, 2018. Barbara’s novellas featuring Julia Snowden are included along with stories by Leslie Meier and Lee Hollis in Eggnog Murder and Yule Log Murder. Barbara and her husband live in Portland, Maine. Visit her website at http://www.maineclambakemysteries.com

77 comments:

  1. Congratulations, Debra and Barbara, on your new books . . . maybe each of you could tell us a bit about your story?

    I don’t know about being a culinary wizard, but I really like to cook . . . .

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    1. Joan, Thanks for asking...in One Taste Too Many for culinary challenged Sarah Blair, there’s only one thing scarier than cooking from scratch—murder!

      Sarah knew starting over would be messy. But things fall apart completely when her ex drops dead, seemingly poisoned by her twin sister's award-winning rhubarb crisp. Now, with RahRah, her Siamese cat, wanted by the woman who broke up her marriage and her sister wanted by the police for murder, Sarah needs to figure out the right recipe to crack the case before time runs out. Unfortunately, for a gal whose idea of good china is floral paper plates, catching the real killer and living to tell about it could mean facing a fate worse than death—being in the kitchen!

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    2. Hi Joan--thank you for asking.

      It’s summertime in Busman’s Harbor, Maine, and the clamming is easy—or it was until a mysterious new neighbor blocks access to the beach, cutting off the Snowden Family Clambake’s supply. Julia Snowden is just one of many townspeople angered by Bartholomew Frick’s decision. But which one of them was angry enough to kill?

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  2. I'm not much of a cook, but I do it out of necessity. I do enjoy baking at times though. And your new books sound wonderful!

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    1. Maria,
      Thank you for stopping by....I can vouch for Barbara's being wonderful and I'll modestly hope you enjoy my. My cook is a cook of convenience - brings take out in and uses pre-made ingredients.

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  3. Congratulations to my fellow release-mates! I knew Barb didn't cook but didn't realize you don't, either, Debra. Your solution of the twins is a brilliant one. Night and day twins - does that mean fraternal, and one of each sex?

    As for cooking, I love it, and baking too. And reading cozies like both of yours.

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    1. First, congrats to Edith on her new book!!!! She has real recipes I bet she's made often. For me, One Taste Too Many reflects exactly how I grew up - my sister (not a twin) is a gourmet cook and I lay on the couch watching Perry Mason in preparation for my future life. The twins in One Taste Too Many are fraternal, but female. I've had practice in night and day twins as I am the mother of fraternal twins (boy and girl). Thanks for stopping by .. and by the way, Barbara and I will come and eat your food anytime.

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  4. Cook of convenience sounds like a pretty accurate term for me. I can whip up a meal so that I don't starve or just order take out. Or make a PB&J.

    With it being just me in the house now, there's no sense wasting time on preparing something elaborate, even if I did have the skill.

    My one attempt at baking went well enough (no one got sick or died). The chocolate caked came out great. However, I had to have my mother frost the darn thing because I was crap at that part of it.

    All this is a bit funny because I used to love watching The Food Network, but never had the desire to actually try cooking any of the recipes. And Julia Child was the chef of my childhood over there on PBS with painter Bob Ross.

    And, truth be told, I'm lazy. I'd rather have something I can whip up in less than an hour than work all that hard to get all fancy and the like with my cooking.

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    1. Jay, a person after my own heart! I love to watch cooking competition shows. Top Chef and Chopped are two favorites because I marvel at what the chefs create out of nothing, but I'm definitely a cook of convenience. You can tell how bad it is .. this year, the day after Thanksgiving (my sister-in-law did the turkey day), I offered to make dinner at home. My son and husband simultaneously yelled "No." Thank you for commenting.

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    2. Debra, my interest in the Food Network was when they were more focused on cooking shows as opposed to the competition shows. I can't watch those shows because they come off more like a reality TV program which is a genre of TV that I despise.

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  5. So delighted to have you two here this morning! I'm hoping Santa has these books on his list for my stocking!

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    1. Hopefully, Santa does. Both books fit perfectly in a stocking!

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  6. I more of a baker instead of a cook. Desserts, anyone? But living alone I don't do much of either, although I enjoy reading recipes and cookbooks, so these books sound great!

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    1. Judi,
      I marvel at bakers because it is an art to get dessert to come out right (speaking as one who has used icing to cover a cake's crushed center). Thank you for stopping by today - Jungle Red Writers is a great blog, isn't it?

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  7. You both are fabulous! I am still laughing about that panel, Barb! Wish I could have been there.

    I have to say I always look at the recipes—but I have never actually made any of them. Do your readers?

    Congratulations you two ! Love your stories!

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    1. Thank you for the kind words and congrats! I know at least one reviewer made my Jell-O in a Can - and it looked great, especially the way she garnished it with cherries. I make my spinach pie with Stouffers often. Most of the time though …. my kitchen is pristine.

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    2. People make the recipes all the time, which always shocks me. Since I don't cook I always assumed the recipes in books were for "atmosphere." Even though we test everything, whenever I get an email that says, "I live in Montana and drove two hours to Costco to get lobster meat," my palms begin to sweat. Fortunately, it always works out.

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    3. This is so great! I love that your readers make the recipes-that is such a lovely connection! And Debra, I have always heard that the Stouffers spinach souffle is the biggest chefs secret of all. Actually, an old acquaintance of mine said her boyfriend *(he was truly unpleasant ) broke up with her after he found the boxes in her wastebasket--he thought she was such a good cook, and accused her of cheating. Isn't that a plot???

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    4. Actually, it is a portion of a plot I used (but with corn soufflé) in a story that is being published in Cooked to Death Vol IV in 2019.

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  8. Congratulations to you both! Your series sound delightful and I'll definitely add them to my TBR list.

    I've never heard the term "cook of convenience". I think I might fall into that category simply because I hate the chopping, slicing, and dicing part of the process. That said, I do love to bake! Somehow measure, sift and whisk is more satisfying.

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    1. When I used to work and come home (an hour in traffic) to two kids and a husband (WHAT'S FOR DINNER?), chopping/slicing/dicing PLUS and glass of wine gave me 20 minute of alone-time to decompress. I still find the prep work calming and satisfying. A stir fry takes 30 minutes to prep, fifteen minutes to cook, and ten minutes to eat.

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    2. I bet you have a mechanical or engineering type mind --- measure, sift and whisk falls into that realm. Cook of convenience is a nice way of saying bring in take out, go out to eat, or use prepared items. Pizza anyone? Thank you for putting both of our books on your TBR list.

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    3. Hallie.... my relaxation after work was anything but the kitchen. That stressed me out more than the day at work. I went for easy, quick, and hope it doesn't taste like shoe leather.

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    4. I agree, the kitchen stressed me out, too. I think because of all the years I was in that under-the-gun situation Hallie described. Though in those early years of kids and jobs, my husband always shared the cooking 50-50.

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    5. I love the mise en place, too. It makes me feel so organized. xoo

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  9. The worst question you can ask me: "What's for dinner?"

    I enjoy preparing special meals, like Christmas or Thanksgiving. But for the daily grind, I'm probably more a cook of convenience.

    But I do enjoy baking, althought I don't do as much these days.

    Congrats on the books!

    Mary/Liz

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    1. mary/Liz, thanks for the congrats. I agree that "What's for dinner" is the worst question and what's the caterer's number for the holidays may be the best. I do enjoy cooking when we have a snow storm, but in Alabama that's rare.

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    2. You have described me to a T, Mary. I've always been more of a project than a process person. My attitude about "What's for dinner?" is "Didn't I feed you yesterday."

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  10. Best of luck to you both! I enjoyed this post, as the manuscript I am working on is set in France, a culinary center of the world as we well know, and while our main sleuth is eager to try all the local specialties, one of the Americans who is renting the house with her and has insisted on doing all the cooking--cooks only vegan food and has the secret plan to turn them all vegan. It adds a little tension and humor to the story.

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    1. Keziah, Thank you for your good wishes and the same to you. Your WIP sounds like it will be quite enjoyable.

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  11. I used to wonder about people who said they didn't cook. How did you have family meals? Now, everyone in my house has a different idea of what is a good meal, so I quit cooking family meals except for holidays, and everyone does their own thing. It's great.

    I love the panel story, Barb. Wish I'd been there. Debra, I hear you on the twins. One of mine is a vegetarian and the other lives on fast food. Thank goodness they've grown up and are no longer my responsibility to feed!

    Best of luck to both of you with the new releases!

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    1. Ramona, Thank you for your good wishes. Even with my dislike of cooking, we figured out family meals around staples, deli, pizza, and going out. I once remarked it was time for dinner and suddenly, we couldn't find our then five year old --- he'd gone out to the car to get in his carseat. Twins are such a thrill, especially when they are night and day :).

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    2. The panel was hilarious. I was a "cook of convenience" when my family was growing up, though my husband always did the grocery shopping and half of the cooking. Now I am a "cook of inconvenience."

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  12. I'm a huge fan of Barbara's clambake mysteries, LOVE the Maine setting where we spend time every summer on Peak's Island, and now Debra's got me laughing so I'll have to read One Taste Too Many. I'm not much of a baker (yeast terrifies me: It's ALIVE!) but I love to eat and I'm a very good, intuitive cook (what can I make from what's in the fridge?) Last night I made pan roasted halibut with a slightly sweet fresh corn relish... a spring dish for midwinter. Sooooo good. Our friends, brilliant bakers, brought for dessert a crostada filled with fresh pairs, raisins, and almond paste. I just finished the last crumbs for breakfast.

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    1. Hallie, had you not finished the last crumbs, I might have invited Barbara and me to your house. I'm with you, a devoted fan of Barbara's clambake mysteries (and this one might be the best, yet! - which is saying a lot as they all are so-o-oh good).

      Like your books, too. In fact, I seem to have a shelf of Jungle Red Writers' books....

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    2. And once again, Miss Hallie, all of us at JRW beg you to do a cookbook!!!!!

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    3. So funny. My husband Bill made halibut last night, too, in a red sauce. We're thinking it might go in Maine Clambake #8, Sealed Off.

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  13. Congratulations to both of you. The books sound delicious!

    I have a very weird work schedule and a long commute, so I tend not to cook much during the week. On weekends, however, I'll cook something generous, like a pot roast, and that will not only give me a nice dining experience on the day, but leftovers the rest of the week. I can also bake pies and pound cakes and such. None of it is very fancy. When I want really elaborate and challenging feasts, I cage an invitation to Chez Crombie, where the wine is also guaranteed to be excellent.

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    1. Gigi, sounds like you have the perfect system. Those weekend meals and the ones at Chez Crombie sound delightful. thanks for the congrats and leaving a message today.

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    2. Thanks, Gigi! I'm really good at the wine and cheese!

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    3. That's kind of how I gave up cooking completely. When the kids reached high school and someone was out every night of the week, Bill started cooking big meals while watching football games and everyone helped themselves whenever they finally got home. Then we just carried on like that.

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  14. A personal thanks to Jungle Red Writers for hosting Barb and me. As I mentioned in an earlier comment, I am a fan of all of your writings and of your blog. Happy Holidays.

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  15. I have read and enjoyed books by both of you, and I’m happy to know that there are more!

    I used to be a good cook but pesky orthopedic issues have made it a little too uncomfortable for me to make the things I always enjoyed making. I wouldn’t call myself a cook of convenience; I just make several easier (as in very few steps and ingredients) meals in large batches so that much of the time I’m reheating something, and making a salad to go with it.

    Must go cozy book shopping,..

    DebRo

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    1. This is very much our approach to meals, too. Enjoy the books!

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    2. Our problem is we're not big on leftovers...so we don't do big batches. Plus, if I cook more than 2 nights in a row, Joel wants to go out.

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  16. Sitting in Sky Harbor airport - let me just say, the holiday crush has begun! Thanks so much for visiting us today, Debra and Barb!

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  17. Congratulations on your new books, both of you. I am a reader not a writer, except of grocery lists. Cooking, usually plain and with a southern touch, is my only creative outlet. And what I can create from a refrigerator bin full of past it vegetables is pure delight on a soup day. I also bake our bread, not only for the taste but because I suddenly realized we were spending $10 a week on "crusty loaves" from the bakery, and I could produce the same for about a nickel. My favorite is a dough I mix up and throw in the fridge, then pull off enough for a loaf and bake every few days.

    Hallie, I identify with your method back in the day. I would come home from work and start dinner before I ever sat down. Because otherwise we'd be ordering out!

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    1. Ann, I so admire your skills. Alas, I do not possess them.

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    2. What you describe is what I enjoy eating, but it somehow doesn't come out the way you describe when I attempt to make it...… I tend to get distracted and wander off to do something else which doesn't bode well for the dish I'm making.

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    3. Ann, you must share your bread recipe. I want to start making my own whole grain sourdough, but have been a bit busy with other things lately...

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  18. Thank you so much for having Debra and me today, Reds. I always love visiting.

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  19. Congratulations to both of you on your just-released books. As authors, do you think it's less important to know how to cook than to simply appreciate food and understand the role it plays in family/community life? I do like the recipes at the back of the book, but enjoy more the way food brings people together (or creates trouble) in your plots.

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    1. Hi Brenda! I wasn't so enthusiastic about the whole food thing at first, but now I find it is a constant reminder to bring in all the senses--taste, smell and feel, which it is so easy to forget to do when you're writing, especially if you're as visual a person as I am. My books are about community--family, colleagues, neighbors, friends, and these groups definitely come together over food.

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    2. Brenda, you raise a good question. For me, the recipes can be humorous (book 1) or more serious (coming in book 2), but it is the sense of family and community that I strive for in my writing. When one shares bread, one shares life experiences. Think how many television shows include at least one family meal or a scene where someone is eating on the run, but others slow them down by talking to them in the kitchen --- and of course, there was always cake to be had late at night on The Golden Girls.

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  20. Barb and Debra, congrats on your new books! They are definitely going on my stocking stuffer list!

    I do cook, and, like Hallie, really enjoy the prep. When I've been sitting at a desk all day, chopping things is my way of unwinding. Two things make a really big difference for me--good knives, and a foam mat to stand on!

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    1. You are referring to chopping food,correct?

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    2. LOL. All this mystery writer talk about chopping and "good knives."

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  21. Hi Deborah--we do have the foam mat and it does make a difference. I love unwinding with a glass of wine while Bill chops things!

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  22. I find myself thinking of "Christmas in Connecticut," one of my favorite holiday movies. Barbara Stanwyck has a hugely successful culinary and lifestyle column in a national magazine despite the fact she lives in a fifth-floor walk-up in New York and can barely scramble eggs. At one point, she tells her Hungarian uncle, who gives her all the recipes, she ought to try to make one of his dishes some time. "Never cook!" he commands. "The reason you write so well about it is that you don't do it for real."

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    1. I love that movie, too! I didn't think about it when I first started down this road. It's a great movie because it's really about that modern concept of a "lifestyle brand." This is one of the reasons I have been very open about the fact that I don't cook--even if I nearly couldn't persuade that very persistent librarian that I couldn't cater her board dinner.

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    2. Like Barb, I've been open about my shortcomings in the kitchen, but my ability to research. My friends, who own restaurants in Birmingham and have let me pick their brains, basically said the same thing to me as the uncle told Barbara - when they finished laughing at the copious notes I took touring their kitchens.

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  23. Barb! How can you go wrong with lobster? Put it in the pot, and when it turns red take it out. Love you!

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    1. Exactly--then what do I do for the second book? This was my dilemma.

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  24. Barb, I was house cleaning this morning and rediscovered your card and note (from long ago) regarding scrap booking supplies. It was very moving and cheered me at this time of great loss after losing both Jeanie and now her dad. All thoughtfulness and cheer mean so much.

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  25. I like to cook and usually have leftovers which I often doctor up a little by adding spinach, cheese, or herbs or spices. I follow the Drive-ins, Diners, and Dives method of tossing things in and stirring. Baking is harder but my mother was the best baker so I want to eat some of her recipes. I've also made recipes from Joanna Fluke and other cozy authors. Besides, baked goods are the easiest to take to share.

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    1. It sounds like you have a flare for doctoring leftovers - especially with herbs or spices. Unfortunately, I either forget the leftover in the refrigerator or dry it out by reheating it too long. I like the concept of using the Drive-ins, Diners and Dives method.

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  26. Congrats on your debuts! I am SO with you both. I'm not a cook and so coming up with recipes for my series is pretty much the hardest part of my job. I recently gave up on one. So in book 5 coming out next year, readers will see "R.I.P. Sweet Potato Praline Recipe."

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    1. I can't wait to see your R.I.P. Sweet Potato Praline Recipe! Thanks for stopping by today.

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  27. My phone has decided not to let me comment, and I'm just now back on my computer today. I did read the post earlier, and I loved it. So much fun, and I recognized a lot of myself there. Sadly, cooking doesn't rub off from reading culinary cozies, or I'd be a master chef by now.

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    1. Mark, you are not alone. I've read cozy mysteries since I was a child and despite consistently enjoying them, I've never tried a recipe other than the ones I include in my own books.

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