Thursday, July 16, 2015

Penny Pike Takes on Tough Research

RHYS BOWEN: If you love chocolate as much as I do, then you're going to want to read today's guest post!
 Penny Pike has done some interesting things in the name of research--visited graveyards, tried out par courses, but this assignment takes the cake... or rather the chocolate. 
Penny Pike bears a remarkable resemblance to my good friend, Agatha-winner Penny Warner, writer of the successful Code Busters Club children's series, as well as two former cozy mystery series. I'm delighted to host her today to tell you more about her fun new food-truck series, so take it away Penny!

Chocolate Research – Someone Has To Do It
By Penny Pike AKA Penny Warner

            I’ll do anything for chocolate—even write a book like DEATH OF A CHOCOLATE CHEATER just so I can do the research. I’m highly addicted to the substance, but have found no support groups for my illness (other than a group that meets at Sees Candy, where we get free samples.)
I’ve done a lot of research on my problem and found that chocolate offers many health benefits. It’s a valuable energy source (one chocolate chip gives you enough energy to walk 150 feet, the length of your average Sees store.) Unfortunately, it takes me about seven billion chips just to get out of bed in the morning.
Other health benefits include alleviating depression, lowering your blood pressure, and relieving PMS (it cures crabbiness.) According to my go-to source, Wikipedia, chocolate “contains iron, helps prevent tooth decay, has antioxidants, minimizes aging,” and probably cures morning breath, soccer flop, and irritable bowel syndrome.
            Of course, none of this is written on a chocolate bar label. Doesn’t matter. Even if it came with a warning label that said, “This will kill you instantly,” I’d ignore it. Because everything tastes better with chocolate. Bacon? Potato Chips? Pizza? Carrots? All better if they’re dipped in chocolate.
            My chocolate counselor said I needed to channel this obsession or I might find myself eating chocolate more than seven times a day (a sign of a serious problem.) So I immediately signed up for the three-hour Chocolate Tour of San Francisco. Again, for research.
First we had to listen to a lecture on where chocolate comes from, which took the mystery out of it for me. Contrary to popular belief, chocolate was discovered by the Aztecs, not Mrs. Mary See.
            Back then they took the drug in drink form and believed it gave them super powers (which it sort of does, right?) Then “Hershey” Cortez got hold of it, took it to Spain, and added a bunch of fat and sugar so it would be more addicting. Finally, the Americans added even more fat and sugar, and voila—the Mars Bar was born!
            I won’t go into all the “bean to bar” details. That’s way too much information, sort of like knowing where babies come from. We learned words like conching (stirring) and lecithin (chemical), but not anything you’d use in daily conversation or see on a crossword puzzle hint.
            Next we learned how to eat chocolate. Apparently I’d been eating it all wrong. You’re supposed to use all the senses. Listen—it should snap when you break it. Look—it should be brown (unless it’s white chocolate which isn’t really chocolate). Smell—it should smell like, well, chocolate. Touch—if it melts in your fingers, you’ve been holding it too long. And finally taste—see if you can identify a “lingering banana with pound cake flavor” or “a rich green forest that’s been fertilized with sugar.” Or just eat it.
Finally we got to the good part—tasting gourmet chocolates by Recchiti Confections, Cocoa Bella, Chocolatier Blue, Neo Cocoa, and dozens more. We ate chocolates “infused” with ganache, cardamom, chili pepper, Nutella, quinoa, flax, and Dom Perignon (Oprah’s favorite!)
By the time I was done, I felt like Lucy Ricardo working on that conveyor belt and stuffing in as many chocolates as her mouth would hold. But all of this research went into my newest food truck mystery, DEATH OF A CHOCOLATE CHEATER. And while writing the book, I found another chocolate bonus—chocolate cures writers block.

Penny Pike AKA Penny Warner is the author of the food truck mystery series, DEATH OF A CRABBY COOK and DEATH OF A CHOCOLATE CHEATER, featuring Darcy Burnett and set in San Francisco. Her next book, DEATH OF A BAD APPLE, comes out in 2016. Contact Penny at

Penny will be stopping by today to answer your comments and to give away a copy of Death of a Chocolate Cheater to one lucky winner.


  1. As I nibble on my dark chocolate topped with espresso sugar, I feel compelled to thank you for your sacrifice, taking on all that chocolate research, just to reward readers with a wonderful new book [which, of course, I simply cannot wait to read] . . . .

  2. Some authors will go to any lengths to ensure authenticity in their writing. Thank you, Penny, for going that extra mile. Your book sounds, well, delicious, of course!

  3. Oh what fun Penny! I like chocolate but I sure wouldn't fight you for a piece:). We'd love to hear more about the series and the new book!

  4. Hi Penny! So, do you prefer dark or milk? Plain or with add-ins? What about this bacon addition to chocolate bars I keep seeing? Chile? Sea salt?

  5. That chocolate tour sounds divine!

    I have to be careful because chocolate is a major trigger for my migraines, but I will tell you, when I get a migraine for whatever reason, I always indulge in the chocolate. Might as well have something positive about suffering through the pain.

  6. I like your attitude, Kristopher! Can't wait to savor your new book, Penny! Sometimes my desk drawer contains a bag of chocolates--for medicinal purposes. And it doesn't have to be fancy--my go-to for extremely stressful times is a bag of Hershey's dark chocolate minis. Once I scoured the house in need of chocolate and in desperation went back to the bare cupboard for the umpteenth time. There in the middle of the shelf was a Hershey mini! I'm sure my dad, who's been gone for many years, put it there. He knew his daughters well--my mom at one point was in the Cleveland Clinic for several weeks. It fell to my sisters and I to take turns ferrying my dad to and from the hospital. Each time, it seems, we would watch storms roll in from the lake and, sure enough, have to drive Dad home through them. My baby sister especially was nervous enough just driving through rush hour traffic--but rush hour and storms? She pulled off under an underpass during one particularly horrendous thunderstorm, hands white on the wheel. My dad, bless him, whipped out a huge Hershey's bar he'd stashed in the van. "Here, Sis," he told her, "eat your chocolate!" And by the time she finished it, the rain had slackened, her nerves had quieted, and they enjoyed a tranquil ride home.

  7. If anything could get me to San Francisco, this would be it. Oh, the trials we writers endure in the name of research, right?

    Susan, bacon and salt are great with chocolate, especially dark chocolate. For me, it's that combination of silky smoothness and salt.

  8. For a long, boring reason I lost the taste of salty and sweet for many years. One thing I could still taste was dark chocolate, so I replaced my morning OJ (which had no taste to me at the time) with a square of very good quality, 70% or better cacao chocolate. That was more than 28 years ago.

    My cholesterol numbers are outstanding; my doctor says she's never seen such "good" cholesterol numbers before, and my triglycerides are super, too. I credit the chocolate. Why not, right?

    We have an artisanal chocolatier here in Cincinnati who makes a bar of Rosemary Sea Salt Almond dark chocolate, using local rosemary. It's absolutely incredible, even to me, who's tried dark chocolates from all over the world.

  9. Oh, gosh, I love my square of evening chocolate. Susan, I just saw dark chocolate with POTATO CHIP bits!! I am so trying it.. I am a big add-in fan.

    But in general, I'd rather have pizza than chocolate. Huh.

  10. My current favorite is dark chocolate with sea salt crystals. Love the blog post, Penny

  11. I'm afraid gourmet chocolate is lost on me. I like it fine, it's just that I like Hershey's bars just as well. And dark chocolate, sadly, leaves me cold. I want mine milky and sweet.

    My favorite ever chocolate bars were the Cadbury Fruit and Nut bars I used to eat when I was going to school in England in the early 80's. Since the rest of my diet was bread, cheese, and wine from Sainsbury's, I relied on the Cadbury bar for my fruit! I was thrilled when I saw them for sale in the US, but of course it turned out they were licensed and made by another company and they didn't taste anything like the original.

  12. No chocolate for me except on the pages of a good book. This sounds like a good book.

  13. Chocolate--the food of the gods!
    Dark chocolate, please.
    And what is the trick that makes some have that marvelously unctuous quality when melting in the mouth?

    Hank, I'll take good pizza (quality, otherwise why bother with the grease and calories?), followed by chocolate, thank you.

  14. I do appreciate your sacrifice. My best friend and I belong to the Mary See Fan Club as well; maybe we need to take that tour.

    If this book is half as funny as this post it will be wonderful. Can't wait to read it.

  15. As a fan of your books, I truly do appreciate the sacrifice you made in your research.

    And if you haven't read this book yet, go out and buy a copy today. It's wonderful!

  16. Oh, Julia, me, too! When I go to England, the first thing I do I buy a Cadbury's Fruit and Nut bar. One will last me the whole trip, but I love them, and I was so disappointed the first time I bought one made in the States. No comparison.

    I do like some dark chocolate, and I like the sea salt added, but I don't think you can beat plain, really good quality milk chocolate.

    Penny, I love food trucks! What fun. I'm going to check out your series a.s.a.p!

  17. Sweet story FChurch. No pun intended. I prefer salty to sweet but I enjoy chocolate. In fact there is a medicinal dark chocolate covered walnut calling my name right now. Penny, I know chocolate research is hard work but keep on slogging through it.

  18. In my opinion, chocolate is a Miracle Drug. I like dark chocolate best, but would NEVER turn down milk chocolate, which is also quite wonderful.

    Just finishing up a really bad day, and when I get home, I'm scarfing down a See's chocolate walnut chew that someone gave me last week. I KNOW I'll feel better! (and I have more See's chocolate set aside for other situations that require treatment by chocolate.)

  19. Thanks for all the yummy comments! I just came home with a bag of See's dark raspberries and will treat myself to one for no reason at all! Love the Jungle Red writers and blog! Think I'll put chocolate in all my books from now on. And cats. -Penny (Pike) Warner

  20. Death of a Crabby Cook was such a fun read! Love all the research and I'm volunteering for tasting...


  21. Penny, See's dark raspberries alternated with See's still my heart!
    And Hank, what exactly is a "square of chocolate"? I'm envisioning a petite piece of a Hershey bar but anything smaller than a business envelope is just a chocolate tease.

  22. To thank you all for your sweet comments, I'd like to send a copy of DEATH OF A CHOCOLATE CHEATER to anyone who doesn't have a copy yet and wants to. Just send your mailing address to me at and I'll put a signed copy in the mail. Enjoy with a box of chocolates (that's on you...sorry.)
    Thanks, everyone! -Penny (Pike, which I'll never get used to) Warner

  23. I went on a tour for Taza chocolate - best part was tasting their products.

  24. Penny, I love chocolate! I would love a copy if the chocolate cheater book.

    Susan, my favorites include peppermint chocolate.


    ps my name is in Penny's other books like learning to sign the fun way