Sunday, March 24, 2019

Feeding the Sourdough Monster

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I was a whole wheat bread-baking hippie mom back in the eighties. I lived with well-thumbed copies of Laurel's Kitchen and Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book. For a few years I kneaded by hand, and I made pretty good bread. Then I got a bread machine, and those loaves were pretty good, too. But, eventually, we got busier (I started writing novels, for one thing), the daughter was not so impressed with Mom's home baking, the bread machine wore out.

For years my baking genie lay dormant. We ate store-bought whole wheat sandwich bread, and I only dreamed of French baguettes. 

But in the last couple of years, I've become obsessed with sourdough bread. The bread in my hippie baking days was made with processed baker's yeast, you know, the rapid-rise little packets, a modern industrial invention. 

Sourdough bread, on the other hand, is made with wild yeast that grows naturally in a mixture of flour and water, and is as old as human civilization. Anyone who's ever eaten a traditionally made baguette or a loaf of real San Francisco sourdough can tell you there's a world of difference. It's also a lot better for you.

I was determined to make my own sourdough bread, and whole wheat if possible. I ordered a dried culture. This one from South Africa is supposed to be especially good for whole wheat, but you can get cultures from all over the world, and they are all a little different. 

(You can also start your own, by leaving out a mixture of flour and water for a few days, but that sounded a little dicey for a beginner.)

I mixed up the dried culture with flour and water and put it in the oven to proof. 

But I soon learned that my oven proofs too warm. The starter went wild, foamed over the top of the jars, then collapsed! 

It had, basically, eaten itself. 

And I can tell you, it smelled terrible!! Think a mixture of acetone and dirty gym socks!!

Help! Back to the sourdough bread book and YouTube. Never fear, I learned. A good sourdough culture is hard to kill. This one could be revived! After five days of twice a day dividing and feeding more flour and water, the sourdough starter finally looked and smelled (heavenly) just like I thought it should. 

It was time to bake! Here's my little helper (granddaughter Wren) starting the dough.

Then it went into the mixer for kneading (not doing this by hand anymore!) then an overnight rise.

Yay! It worked!

Then a half hour rest--

Then shaping and another few hours rise--

Then, finally, baking!

I'm sorry to say there is no photo of the baked loaf because WE ATE HALF OF IT as soon as it was cool enough to slice.

And oh my gosh it was good.  

Not perfect--it could have risen more--but it was so amazingly delicious that the loaf barely lasted a day. There is just nothing that compares to the smell and taste of freshly baked sourdough bread bread.

I used unbleached organic flour, because that is what was recommended for starting out. So the next challenge is adding some whole wheat to the recipe.

But in the meantime, every time you activate your refrigerated starter, you are supposed to divide it in half. (And feed it!

But what are you supposed to do with your ever multiplying jars of sourdough starter??? 

Help needed!

Has anyone else tackled the sourdough adventure?

And if you have any fresh-baked bread memories, please share with us!

Saturday, March 23, 2019

The Weekend


But wait--this is how I'm spending my weekend.

I'm doing my copy edit. And I think I have worked every weekend since, oh, September? And darn it, I like weekends. I know I'm self-employed, and we have this years' long argument in our house, where the hubby says since I can set my own hours, weekends shouldn't matter. I should do my errands when other people don't do them, like on a Tuesday. But I like to look forward to having a couple of days off in a regular schedule, and I like taking my days off when other people are free, too, like my kiddos and my friends. So give me Saturday and Sunday, please!

I think that some of us prefer to write seven days a week, but for me that's a necessity, not a choice! I like to have a couple of brain-rest days, get all my chores and errands done, and chill out a little bit. Then I feel ready to dig in on Monday morning.

REDS and writer friends, do you write seven days a week? Or do you take weekends off?

And what are you doing this weekend (that I'm not... sigh.) 

Binge-watching Netflix? 

Watching March Madness? (I have no understanding of March Madness, but it's a big deal, right?) 

Planning your garden? 

Shopping for spring clothes?

Rain in the forecast here so I won't feel quite so deprived...

RHYS BOWEN:  If nothing is scheduled I work all weekend until I have a first draft finished. I don't like to take a break when I have a story in my head. But I do like the idea of lazy weekend days, picnics, walks beside the ocean. I used to love breakfast at college. We'd collect food and coffee from the dining hall, buy the Sunday papers and take them to someone's dorm room. Now there is always something to do!

DEBS: Rhys, I want your college weekend NOW.

HALLIE EPHRON: It's dark and dank here in New England so no playing outdoors for me, either this weekend. I'm between books but I have some writing workshops coming up so I need to put materials together for them. And as far advance in as it is, I'm working on getting ready for my 8/6 book launch. There's a ton to get done. If there's a break in the rain, I'd like to get over to the beach and take a walk in the only-sightly freezing weather.

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I'm also editing this weekend, Debs! Not at the copy edit yet - this is the Big Editorial Letter edits, following the really Big Scene Edits and undoubtedly preceding the Fiddly Little Bits Edit.

I'm not a seven day a week worker - if I were, it wouldn't take me so long to finish a book! But I know myself, and I need at least a day  off each week. Those of you who comment here will notice I'm not on social media Sundays (except to post the Maine Millennial's column on my Facebook page.) I believe it's especially important to take time away from the internet once in a while - I try to stay completely off the computer on Sunday.

This weekend, I'll be having dinner at frequent Reds commentor Brenda Buchanan's house, and will also be seeing CAPTAIN MARVEL with my daughters. We spend so much time working, being on, being available - it's good to spend some time in the real world, with people who love you.

Readers, are your weekends reserved for relaxing? Tell us what you're up to!

Friday, March 22, 2019

Deborah Crombie--A Bitter Feast, the Cover

DEBORAH CROMBIE: One of THE most exciting things for an author in the life of a book is the day you get to show the world the cover! So here is the first look at A BITTER FEAST, Kincaid/James #18!

I absolutely love it!  I think it perfectly conveys the beautiful but ever so slightly sinister feeling of my Cotswold village in the story.  The wash over the artwork is a shimmery metallic gold and I think it's going to leap off the book displays. I hope you like it, too!

Here's a bit about the story:

Scotland Yard Detective Superintendent Duncan Kincaid and his wife, Detective Inspector Gemma James, have been invited for a relaxing weekend in the tranquil Cotswolds, one of Britain’s most beautiful and historic regions, famous for its rolling hills, sheep-strewn green meadows, golden cottages, and timeless villages that retain the spirit of old England. 

Duncan, Gemma, and their children are guests at Beck House, the country estate belonging to the family of Melody Talbot, Gemma’s trusted detective sergeant. No ordinary farmers, the Talbots are wealthy and prominent with ties to Britain’s most powerful and influential. A centerpiece of this glorious fall getaway is a posh charity luncheon catered by up-and-coming chef Viv Holland. After more than a decade in London, Viv has returned to her native Glouscestershire, making a name for herself with her innovative, mouthwatering use of the local bounty. Attended by several dozen of the area’s well-to-do, as well as national food bloggers and restaurant critics, the event could make Viv a star. 

But a tragic car accident followed by a series of mysterious deaths could ruin her ascent. Each piece of information that surfaces makes it clear that the killer had a connection with Viv’s pub—and perhaps with Beck House itself. 

Does the truth lie in the past? Or is it more immediate, woven into the tangled relationships and bitter resentments swirling among the staff at Beck House and at Viv’s pub? Or is it even more personal, entwined with secrets hidden by Viv, her business partner Bea Abbot, and Viv’s eleven-year-old daughter Grace?

Further revelations rock the Talbots’ estate and pull Duncan and Gemma and their colleagues into the investigation. With so much at stake both personally and professionally, especially for Melody Talbot, finding the killer becomes one of the team’s most crucial cases.

I hope REDS and readers are looking forward to the release of A BITTER FEAST on October 8th, 2019 as much as I am!

It's available for PRE-ORDER here:


Barnes and Noble 



Harper Collins  


Google Play
So, dear REDS and readers, do you like a book cover to convey something about the story, such as setting? Will you pick up a book by an unfamiliar author simply because the cover intrigues you? (I most definitely will.) And how much does the cover influence your online picks?  

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Wendall Thomas--Endangered Everything

DEBORAH CROMBIE:-- Oh, my gosh, how much do I love this blog? This week we have gone from Austin, Texas, to Siberia, to Tasmania! Talk about armchair travelers! And maybe some of us will be tempted to do even more adventurous traveling than that. Today, however, is extra special for me, as I have family in Hobart, Tasmania, and have dreamed of visiting.  But in the meantime, I think I need at least a Tasmanian Tiger bumper sticker while I travel along with Wendall Thomas's Cyd Redondo. (And, yes, Wendall, I am an emotional hoarder.)

Endangered Everything
Wendall Thomas

When I first decided to set the second Cyd Redondo mystery in Australia, and specifically Tasmania, I wasn’t sure whether I would continue the “endangered animal” theme that had been so central to the first book. I knew I needed a psychic break from snakes, at least.

Then I came across the thylacine, or Tasmanian tiger. This fabulous marsupial has the body of a wild dog, the stripes of a Sumatran tiger, the gaping jaws of a wolf, the coughing cry of a human baby, and the pouch of a kangaroo—males too, to prevent their privates from catching on bushes...thistles can be murder! 

At the moment, the thylacine is “functionally extinct.” What the hell, you might wonder, does that mean? 

 It means they’re not entirely sure. Although the last verified tiger died in Hobart, Tasmania’s Beaumaris Zoo in 1936, five minutes on the internet turns up dozens of video clips of potential paw prints and sightings. And the hold the creature has on the Tasmanian imagination is profound and ubiquitous—landing it on the Tasmanian government logo, the Hobart Police Station door, countless murals, beer bottles, coffee blends, magnets, playing cards, and oven mitts in every market and souvenir shop.

I loved the idea that there might still be Tasmanian tigers out there and that Cyd might be involved in “un-endangering” them, with the use of her irreplaceable vintage Balenciaga bag. 

And then I realized what the whole series was really about for me—not just animals or accessories—endangered everything. 

I long for so many things that seem to have disappeared or are fast disappearing—corded phones, Go-Go boots, Jello 1-2-3, cassette mix tapes, handwritten letters, picking up your own take-out food, manners, the Oxford comma, and democracy. 

Am I just afraid of change? Am I an emotional hoarder? Or is that the human condition—longing for what we’ve lost? Cyd clings to old Fodor’s Guides and Orient Express posters, the ancient compass her late father left her, her brousins’ Linda Ronstadt albums, and her profession. Let’s face it, travel agents are on the endangered list for sure.

And what about us? Readers and writers? Popular wisdom says that we are “functionally extinct” too. The internet is always declaring that bookstores are dead, the novel is dead, print is dead, no one reads, etc. But here we are. We’re not extinct. Yet. Functioning? Depends on the day. So while I’m still here, I want Cyd to fight the good fight to keep the best things (and creatures) alive, and I’m determined to do the same.
What endangered or “functionally extinct” things do you treasure or miss the most? What objects/traditions/habits are you still trying to keep alive? Or are you embracing the present and future, full steam ahead? I’d love to know.

Wendall Thomas teaches in the Graduate Film School at UCLA, lectures internationally on screenwriting, and has worked as an entertainment reporter, script consultant, and film and television writer. Her novel Lost Luggage was nominated for both a Lefty and Macavity Award for Best Debut Mystery of 2017 and her short fiction has appeared in the crime anthologies Ladies Night (2015) Last Resort (2017), and Murder-A-Go-Go’s (2019). Drowned Under is her second Cyd Redondo Mystery.

DEBS: I want to know what Wendall wants to know. What do you hang on to, dear REDS and readers? (And I adore this photo of Wendall!)

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Off to Siberia!

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Do you have two personalities? The fabulous Elisabeth Elo says she does, and more on that in a moment, But first—oh. I am so excited. It’s such an absolute joy when a dear pal has a wild success. I am trying to remember where I met Elisabeth Elo—Elisabeth, do you remember? But it seems as if we have always been friends.

            Elisabeth hit a home run with her first thriller, NORTH OF BOSTON.  It made all the “best of”  lists and she was on the way. Now, her journey to certain stardom continues—with FINDING KATARINA M. And in all the books in all the world, you have nee read anything like this.

            Spies, Russia, reindeer, an amazing heroine, non-stop adventure, disaster, radioactive waste, diamonds, ballerinas, prisons,  blizzards, a trek over an icy river, murder, betrayal love and family. And vodka.    
           How do you like it so far?
           And, as I said, the wonderful Elisabeth insists she has two personalities. Do you?


Sometimes I do things as a writer I would never do in real life. For example, the Real Me would never fly halfway around the world to trek to a small village in northeastern Siberia so I could just hang out for a while and soak up the atmosphere. Nope, that sort of thing does not appeal to the Real Me at all. I’m your basic latte-and-chocolate kind of girl.  I like to sit in my cozy house with my fluffy pooch curled up at my feet. 

The Writer Me is an entirely different creature. She routinely dreams up wacky, off-the-wall ideas and immediately, thoughtlessly, blurts out YES! THAT WILL DEFINITELY WORK! 

Plus, while the Real Me is not any more motivated than the next person, the Writer Me fervently believes in the transcendent value of ART and will go far, far out of her way for the sake of a story. 

That was how I ended up boarding a plane a few years ago to go off on a solo adventure to Siberia. Looking back, I’m sort of amazed I did it, but I’m not at all sorry, because that trip gave me my just-published novel, Finding Katarina M. I couldn’t possibly have written it without first-hand experience of the people and the place. So there you go. The Writer Me wasn’t so crazy after all. She was just doing her work. 

What I came to understand from my experience is that there are usually two sides to a place. There’s the place as it exists in your imagination; then there’s the real place. 

These two places can be, and usually are, quite different. The Siberia of my imagination was a cold, dark, dangerous place where millions of people had died in the gulag and many more had been exiled.  I am sorry to say that I saw the whole region as a sort of dreadful prison.

The real Siberia, of course, is nothing like that. It’s a vital, evolving society full of diverse peoples who are doing amazing things. When I was in Yakutsk, the city was booming; construction cranes were everywhere. Cultural life includes opera, ballet, and a yearly film festival. Yakutsk is Russian city, obviously, but it feels very much like its own place, with its own identity and pride.

So my western imagination got a good dose of reality, and somehow, from the merging of these two things, came a novel about an American woman who travels to Siberia to find a grandmother she mistakenly believed had perished in the gulag. Natalie (that’s the main character) faces down a lot of bad stuff and experiences some good stuff along the way, none of which she could possibly have predicted when she lived in her cozy world of lattes and chocolate (sound familiar?). 

Which brings me to a question I love to think about, and you might enjoy as well. We all have certain places that live vividly in our imaginations, either for good, bad, or mixed reasons.

 If you could set a novel anywhere in world, where would you go and what kind of novel would you write? A foggy London mystery? A sensual love story set in the south of France? An African adventure? Where would your character stay? For how long? Why is she there, and what does she hope to discover? Let your imagination run wild—why not?  It’s fun, and it’s only a story, right? 

HANK:  Oooooh. Let me think. And we have to go there, right?  So...not Siberia. How about you, Reds and readers? (Have you ever been there?)  And a copy of FINDING KATARINA M. to one very lucky commenter!

 Elisabeth Elo is the author of the suspense novels Finding Katarina M. andNorth of Boston, chosen by Booklist as a Best Crime Novel Debut. She grew up in Boston, attended Brown University, and earned a PhD in English from Brandeis. She worked as a children's magazine editor, a high-tech  product manager, and a halfway house counselor before starting to write fiction. To learn more, visit  

American doctor travels to Russia to find her estranged grandmother, only to uncover dark family secrets and a dangerous international plot 

Natalie March is a successful doctor enjoying a busy life in Washington DC. She always thought that her maternal grandparents perished in the gulag, Stalin’s notorious network of labor camps. But when a young Russian dancer comes to Natalie’s office claiming to be her cousin, Natalie must face a surprising truth: her grandmother, Katarina Melnikova, is still very much alive. Natalie eagerly travels to Siberia to meet her, only to be drawn into a web of mystery, intrigue, and danger that will push her to the limits of her endurance. 

How far will Natalie go to find Katarina M.? How much will she risk to protect her Russian family and her own country from a deadly threat? FINDING KATARINA M. takes the reader on an extraordinary journey across Siberia—to reindeer herding camps, Sakha villages, and parties with endless vodka toasts—while it explores what it means to be loyal to your family, your country, and yourself. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Genealogy Tips for Beginners--S.C. Perkins

DEBORAH CROMBIEThere's nothing we love more here at Jungle Red than introducing a debut author--especially an author who has won the coveted Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery award!

It's a double treat for me as S.C. Perkins (Stephanie!) is a fellow Texan! And, on a personal level, I'm fascinated because we've been talking a lot about genealogy in my family lately. My daughter recently got a subscription to and we've been investigating our family, using some of the very tips Stephanie suggests. We didn't come up with anything very exciting, but what if you did? We all think it would be cool to find out we were related to someone famous but most of us wouldn't have a clue where to start looking. 

Good thing we have S.C. Perkins to tell us!

A Few Tips for the Genealogy Beginner

Looking back, it seems only natural I would make Lucy, my main character, a genealogist. I’ve heard about my own ancestry my whole life and I’ve always found it as fascinating as the amateur genealogists in my family did! Until I began to explore Lucy’s job, though, I knew next to nothing about how one traces their lineage.

Luckily, my hometown of Houston has the wonderful Clayton Library Center for Genealogical Research, and I went to take an introductory class. They imparted so many good tips and interesting facts, and I thought I might pass a few of them along. You know, in case you’re a newbie like me and just as lost!

To begin with, when looking for your people, start with the census.

Census records began in 1790 with the first Federal Population Census, and have been taken every ten years since. You can discover a wealth of information about your family tree from these records, and here’s some facts about them worth knowing:

·         Census records are not published for 72 years after the year they’re collected. This means the most currently available census is for the year 1940. The 1950 census won’t be available to the public until 2022.

·         The first few censuses (1790–1840) listed only families and were usually based on tax records and voter records.

·         In 1850, the census became more detailed. Individuals were listed, not just families. There were also two separate census schedules starting in 1850, one for free persons and another for slaves.

·         Beginning in 1850, specific questions were asked regarding free persons residing in a household, though the questions differed with each subsequent census. Some examples include:

Ö        the person’s occupation or trade
Ö        the year they immigrated to the U.S.
Ö        whether a member of the household had been married in the previous year
Ö        which, if any, persons over the age of 20 were unable to read and write
Ö        the value of land, home, and belongings
Ö         the names of all those in the household
Ö        if any member was “deaf, dumb, blind, insane, idiotic, pauper, or convict”

·         The word wife was not written until 1870. Before then, an adult woman listed in the household was merely assumed to be the wife.

·         The 1890 census records burned (in 1920). Thus, there is a 20-year gap in available records, with 1880 and 1900 being available, but nothing in between.

·         Names were often spelled incorrectly, and nicknames were sometimes given to the enumerator—that is, the census taker—instead of the person’s legal name. For instance, while your three-times great-grandmother might have been christened Sarah, you might find her listed as “Sadie” or “Sally” (two common variations of Sarah) on the census.

·         Sometimes a child was listed as “infant” because there were such high child-mortality rates that a baby may not have been given a name until he or she turned a year old. And, occasionally, a child is missing from the census because the parents merely forgot to mention them!

Another good tip is about pedigree charts, also known as ancestral charts.

First, always start with yourself as chart #1and fill in all known details. Remember to use pencil, because the chances you’ll have to erase or revise is high! The next chart you do will be that of your father, who is chart #2. Your mother is chart #3, etc., like this:

Chart #            Person
1                                            You
2                                            Your father
3                                            Your mother
4                                            Your paternal grandfather
5                                            Your paternal grandmother
6                                            Your maternal grandfather
7                                            Your maternal grandmother
And so on…
You’ll notice males are even numbers, and females are odd numbers. (The exception is chart #1. If you are a man mapping out his genealogy, you are still chart #1.) This even-odd system is to help keep your ancestors straight, especially if they have names that could work for a man or a woman, such as Lee or Terry.

(Note: offers free charts like the one above that you can download and print. Nice!)

Yet another good tip is to utilize military records, pension records, and, believe it or not, newspaper gossip columns.

·         In military records for World War II, there is an “Old Man’s Draft,” (aka the Old Man’s Registration) which listed men aged 45 to 64 and if they had any skills that could be put to use during the war. The information recorded on their registration cards include such information as height, complexion, race, eye color, and other skin characteristics such as moles and scars.

·         Think one of your relatives was in the clergy, but can’t find him? Look in military pension records. The names of ministers are often found simply because they married someone during a war.

·         Your female ancestor might also be found in pension records, as the soldier’s wife.

·         Gossip columns can be informative, too. For instance, marriages were not always announced formally by the family, but the nuptials may have been reported in the social columns of the day.

·         Probate records, land deeds, and court records are also rich sources when you’re looking for your relatives and their comings and goings.

And speaking of court records, don’t be surprised if you find your ancestors were always suing each other and their neighbors. It’s unlikely they were litigious because they wanted to be; suing was simply the best way to resolve disputes!

If you’re just starting out and aren’t quite ready to tackle a website such as or, try the National Archives website at . You’ll find tons of information and links to other resources that can help give you a leg up as you become your own ancestry detective.

Also, if your town has a genealogy library or your local library offers an introductory course on searching for your ancestors, take it. They’re informative, helpful, and fun!

S.C. PERKINS is a fifth-generation Texan who grew up hearing fascinating stories of her ancestry and eating lots of great Tex-Mex, both of which inspired the plot of her debut mystery novel. Murder Once Removed was the winner of the 2017 Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery competition. She resides in Houston and, when she’s not writing or working at her day job, she’s likely outside in the sun, on the beach, or riding horses. Visit her website at or follow her on Twitter, Instagram, Goodreads, and Facebook @SCPerkinsWriter.

S.C. Perkins' Murder Once Removed is the captivating first mystery in the Ancestry Detective series, in which Texas genealogist Lucy Lancaster uses her skills to solve murders in both the past and present.
Except for a good taco, genealogist Lucy Lancaster loves nothing more than tracking down her clients’ long-dead ancestors, and her job has never been so exciting as when she discovers a daguerreotype photograph and a journal proving Austin, Texas, billionaire Gus Halloran’s great-great-grandfather was murdered back in 1849. What’s more, Lucy is able to tell Gus who was responsible for his ancestor’s death.
Partly, at least. Using clues from the journal, Lucy narrows the suspects down to two nineteenth-century Texans, one of whom is the ancestor of present-day U.S. senator Daniel Applewhite. But when Gus publicly outs the senator as the descendant of a murderer—with the accidental help of Lucy herself—and her former co-worker is murdered protecting the daguerreotype, Lucy will find that shaking the branches of some family trees proves them to be more twisted and dangerous than she ever thought possible.

Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Goodreads, and Pinterest:  @SCPerkinsWriter
Amazon Author Page:
Social media links (separately listed)

DEBS: Stephanie will be stopping in to chat, AND will be giving away a copy of MURDER ONCE REMOVED and some fabulous tea to a lucky commenter!

REDS and READERS,  have you found anything interesting or unexpected in your family history?