Saturday, November 30, 2019

Book pairings: Jungle Red gift ideas

HALLIE EPHRON: One of the most fun events I did for my book launch was book talk paired with a wine, chocolate, and cheese tasting, hosted by Adventures by the Book in San Diego. They do such a great job pairing experiences with books--just for instance, coming up next fall they have a New England Foliage Adventures (Oct 12-20), a four-state journey featuring New England authors.

Their approach got me thinking about how pairing a book with a food, an experience, or another book makes a great gift.

So as we all look toward the Christmas shopping season, we Reds are here to help you with some creative gift giving, pairing our books with… 

I’d recommend pairing CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR with a copy of Marie Kondo’s THE LIFE-CHANGING MAGIC OF TIDYING UP, and a bottle of Prosecco (just don't drink too much).
DEBORAH CROMBIE: I’d recommend pairing A BITTER FEAST with a bottle of Cotswold Dry Gin (or best substitute available,) a cheese board with artisan British cheeses, and a book on Cotswold Secret Gardens. A plane ticket would be nice, too, for those very special friends!

LUCY BURDETTE: If the person you’re gifting is going to make it to Key West this winter, a perfect gift would be A DEADLY FEAST, plus tickets to the Key West seafood and walking tour that’s featured in the book. Or you could meet the real chef Martha Hubbard at one of her tasting events:

If all else fails, a key lime pie goes with any of the books!
JENN McKINLAY: Well, for the romantics in your life, you could give a copy of THE CHRISTMAS KEEPER with an ugly Christmas sweater, it’s a thing in the book. Or for the mystery lover, a copy of WORD TO THE WISE with a nice charcuterie board or some roses, although they might send a mixed message, so be careful with that.
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Ooh, a copy of THE MURDER LIST feels like it might come with a bit of baggage. So I’d make it fun, and include a gorgeous indulgent notebook--ostensibly for keeping track of the books your recipient reads, or maybe journaling, but maybe for a list of something else….   And a beautiful pen, or a box of those wonderful Blackwing #2 pencils.
RHYS BOWEN: I’m not sure what I could pair with LOVE AND DEATH AMONG THE CHEETAHS, my most recent book. Certainly not a book on how to host a wife-swapping party! Or a bag of cocaine. Or even a pair of tickets to a safari. 
So I think I’ll stick with the safer THE VICTORY GARDEN, my stand-alone from earlier this year. It’s about a garden in Devonshire, herbs, healing, so I think I could pair it with a book on the uses of herbs, plus a jar of Devon clotted cream to have with scones and jam. And I’d throw in a copy of my THE TWELVE CLUES OF CHRISTMAS to make it festive, as that is all about celebrating Christmas in Devonshire.

HALLIE: So wishing everyone a happy Saturday-after-Thanksgiving and JUST THREE WEEKENDS BEFORFE CHRISTMAS!

Friday, November 29, 2019

Hallie's day-after turkey noodle and mushroom soup

Turkey Soup: Jerry Touger
HALLIE EPHRON: Turkey leftovers made into soup? It's as delicious as Thanksgiving dinner! Just be sure to SAVE every bit of of skin and fat and bone (the whole carcass) and *JUICES* that didn't get eaten at Thanksgiving. For the frugal among us, this will feed you for days on end with barely any additional cost, and freeze for future thawing. 

I make mine with a not-quite-picked-clean turkey carcass, vegetables, flat noodles, and a ton of sliced mushrooms.

Start this in the early afternoon so you have time to cook it, cool it, pick out the bones and gristle and herb stems -- then add the noodles and mushrooms and cook another 30 minutes or so.

Leftover turkey carcass broken into pieces: bones with most (but not all) of the meat removed; also any any skin or innards you might have left, too; also gelatinous sludge from the turkey platter... all that good stuff
2 medium onions, chopped
3 celery stalks chopped
3 large carrots, chopped
Leftover gravy, if there is any that you're willing to sacrifice
2-3 chicken bouillon cubes (the cubes I use are supposed to flavor 2 cups of broth each, but they do add a lot of salt - you can use less and then throw in more at the end if the broth isn't poultry-flavored enough)
2-3 Tablepoons of tomato paste (or throw in a couple tomatoes (chopped) if you have some sitting around) - optional but Ii think it gives the soup a richer flavor
Water to cover
Whatever fresh herbs you have on hand -- ideally parsley, thyme, sage, bay leaves
To be added later...
1/2 pound of mushrooms, sliced
Flat noodles - about 1/3 of a pound

1. In a soup pot, sautee onions, celery, and carrots in a little vegetable oil until soft
2. Dump the broken-up carcass and turkey scraps and juices into the pot
3. Cover with water
4. Add herbs, bouillon cubes
5. Bring to a boil and simmer for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, stirring occasionally
6. Refrigerate until cool enough to handle
7. Working with clean hands, pick through removing bones and herbs, saving ALL the bits of meat and broth and vegetables

YOU CAN STOP HERE and take a victory lap. Have a glass of wine. Toast yourself! Eat some leftover pie.

1/2 hour before serving
8. Return the pot to the stove, heat to a boil, add the mushrooms and dry noodles and simmer until the noodles and mushrooms are tender
9. Season to taste and serve
(I like to add soy sauce, sesame oil, rice wine vinegar, and hot sauce to my portion, giving this a spicy Chinese flavor)

FREEZE any you aren't going to eat in the next few days. It's such a treat on a day when you don't feel like to cooking, to find a quart of delicious turkey noodle and mushroom soup waiting to be thawed.

Do you make soup from leftovers? Other brilliant Thanksgiving leftover ideas??

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Happy Thanksgiving from the Jungle Reds!

HALLIE EPHRON: Happy Thanksgiving! We're putting this together the weekend before, because today most of us will be "off duty" and on family/friends time. 

I’ll be in Brooklyn having Thanksgiving dinner with my daughters and son-in-law and my two grand grands (3 and 6 years old). It will be a wonderful exercise in chaos and overeating. 

Here's my granddaughter at Thanksgiving three years ago admiring the pies. She's got her eye on the vanilla custard pie, her dad's favorite and the one we added to the rotation in his honor.

Otherwise, our Thanksgiving dinner menu is pretty much what I grew up with:

  • Butternut squash soup topped with toasted almonds, scallions, and a dollop of sour cream 
  • Roast turkey with Pepperidge Farm stuffing
  • Gravy
  • Green beans
  • Mashed turnip (rutabaga)
  • Mashed potatoes
  • Cranberry sauce (canned, both with and without whole berries)
  • Pies: Pumpkin (with whipped cream), apple (with vanilla ice cream), and vanilla custard
  • Prosecco and sparkling cider

What I miss from my table growing up was a casserole of sweet potatoes and sliced apples, baked with maybe brown sugar, butter, and cinnamon, and probably something like apple cider. I’ve never been able to duplicate it so I'm not sure what the ingredients were. If anyone has a recipe that sounds right, please post!

Where will you be, with whom, and what’s on your table?

LUCY BURDETTE: I haven’t even gotten that far, can you imagine? We’ll be having two feasts, one with John’s tennis pals and one with our neighbors. I will do what I’m told! I have a new oven waiting for me--after 3 years of limping along--so I’m looking forward to lots of desserts! Maybe a pumpkin roll stuffed with whipped cream, or maybe go off the reservation and make a chocolate cream pie?

RHYS BOWEN: We’ll be celebrating as usual with daughter Clare and her family as well as daughter Anne from LA. Our menu will be, as usual. It will be at her house so she’ll be doing most of the cooking.

Roast turkey (organic, humanely raised)
Two types of stuffing: sausage meat and vegetarian
Mashed potatoes
Green bean casserole (at the request of son-in-law)
Roast sweet potatoes
Cranberry sauce

Apple crumble, pumpkin pie, cream, ice cream, English custard.

JENN McKINLAY: I will be driving to Flagstaff with the Hub and the Hooligans to play in the snow, hopefully, and plan to eat at a restaurant in the mountains, where someone else does the cooking and the cleaning! A perfect day!

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Well, good question! And right now, writing this, I don’t know!  But no matter what, or where, there’ll be stuffing, because even the fragrance of it and roasting turkey makes me swoon with happiness. One Thanksgiving, Jonathan and I decided to skip it, because we had no plans, but then, the day before, I couldn't stand it and raced to the grocery, and got EVERYTHING! Yum. 

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Oh, Jenn, that does sound like a perfect day! I’m having a delightfully easy one as well - going to a friend’s house, which means I only have to cook a side dish and bring a bottle. The Sailor and Veronique are staying in Virginia, which also takes some of the usual work load off me, as I won’t have to prep for any overnight guests. (Youngest is coming home from university, of course, but she gets her own previously messed up room.)

We tend to rotate Thanksgiving; hosting one year, traveling to DC for a family holiday the next, and guesting with friends the third. I must say I LOVE the last; it means I get to watch the Macy’s Parade and the Kennel Club show once every three years!

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I will be just one day home from London, still jet-lagged, so happy not to be cooking. We will go to my my Finnish aunt, who took over our big family Thanksgiving years ago when my mom got too overwhelmed by it. She does everything ahead except the turkey and gravy--much more organized than I am! I'll bring wine, and my signature cranberry relish if I can manage to make it. We'll have turkey, gravy, cornbread/sage stuffing (dressing, we say in the south!), sweet potato casserole, and hopefully some other veggie sides. The last couple of years my daughter's sauteed Brussell's sprouts with shallots have been highly requested. Hopefully afterwards we'll get in a visit with my in-laws as well, as they are only a few blocks from my aunt.

HALLIE: So where will you be and what will you be eating? (And Debs, hope you'll post your cranberry relish recipe!)

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Back in style... not so nostalgic for the 80's

HALLIE EPHRON: Recently I emailed this picture to my daughters. It's me and the other day care moms, taken back in the 80's when all of us were working at Curry College. My daughter's response: "All of your clothes have come back in style!"

This was, of course, news to me. Baggy T-shirt with rolled sleeves? Belted jeans? Last time I wore those, my kids cringed and told me I had on "Mom jeans." Not a good thing, apparently. 

All of which got me looking back at old photos to see what else I'd been wearing in the 80s...

Yikes. Baggy, high-waisted pants. Tucked-in shirts. And who thought it was a good idea to wear an extra-large T-shirt over a bathing suit, and then knot the side? A horrifying thought: if high-rise jeans are in, can low-rise jeans be far behind? 

At least big hair isn't making a comeback... please, tell me it isn't. 

I had a hard time believing that those pants were back in style, and yet it didn't take me long to find these, currently available for a mere $400...  Sadly (or not), I no longer have the waist I once had to wear them.

"Too bad you didn't save anything," my daughter tells me, looking at old pictures of me. To which I say: BITE YOUR TONGUE. 

I am hard pressed to come up with a single thing from my old wardrobe that I wish I still have. Except maybe a poncho I bought in college, handwoven wool, pink and red yarns, fringed edges and a cowl neck. My daughter 'borrowed' it and wore it for a few years until the moth holes grew to the size of nickels. 

So what do you think? Belted baggy pants with a tucked in oversized T, anyone?  Ponchos?  Are 80s fashions back? And if they are, is that a good thing or an abomination? And is there anything that you wish you'd kept from way back when?

Extra points if you know who this is... and what movie it's from.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

For Mark de Castrique, the past warps into fiction

HALLIE EPHRON:  It's so strange, the way past incidents can inspire a made-up tale. I once went to a yard sale and came back with an idea for a murder mystery. 

Today we're happy to welcome Mark de Castrique. The latest in his well received Sam Blackman mystery series, Murder in Rat Alley, comes in December from Poisoned Pen Press. He recalls an anecdote that inspired his imagination and led to his remarkable series. 

MARK DE CASTRIQUE: The three rode together down the western North Carolina mountainside in the old truck —a Model T converted into a hearse. One man was black, a funeral director from Asheville. One man, the driver, and his ten-year-old son were white and from the neighboring town of Brevard. The black man had come to the white man, also a funeral director, desperately seeking help to transport a body to Georgia. All he had were a horse and wagon. None of the white funeral homes in Asheville would help him. So, in 1919, through the heart of the Jim Crow South, the three made an eight-hour trek on a mission of mercy.
Rampant segregation meant no public place where they could eat. Arrangements had to be made with the deceased's relatives for lunch along the journey. At noon, they pulled up to a sharecropper’s cabin. An intergenerational gathering greeted them. The patriarch of the black family led the white man and boy into the cabin’s front room. They saw no furniture except for a plank board table and two chairs. There were only two place settings.

“You and your son will eat first and we will wait out in the yard.”

The pronouncement caught the guests by surprise. “There’s more room at the table,” the white man protested. “Or we can all eat outside.”

“No, sir. You’re doing a favor for our family. This is the way we want to honor you.”

So, the man and his boy sat down and ate while everyone else stood in the dusty yard.

The man who told me this story was ninety years old. He had been that ten-year-old child. His adventure was a haunting indictment of my native South and the historic racism that seems to refuse to die. Also, that one-hundred-year-old lunch is garnished with irony – the three stopped because they couldn’t eat together and they wound up not eating together. But what struck me the most was the lesson my elderly friend learned. His father told him later, “Son, sometimes the only thing people have to offer is their hospitality, and you always, always take it.”

His story stuck with me and I needed to exorcise it somehow. The Faulkner quote has a companion from the last line of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

My friend’s story fit how the past pulls us back as we struggle in vain against its relentless presence. So I created a contemporary story featuring a white Iraqi war veteran and amputee, Sam Blackman, who meets an African-American woman, Nakayla Robertson, whose sister has been murdered. The only clue, a 90-year-old journal written by a boy about his trip with his father as they help a black funeral director transport a body from Asheville to Georgia. Blackman’s Coffin provided the means for me to use the true story as the genesis for a mystery novel.

I was pleased with the result, the reviews were good, but then my editor informed me that I wasn’t finished with Sam Blackman. She knew before I did that Sam had more stories to tell. I decided to continue looking at events in the past that create crimes in the present. The rich history of Asheville, North Carolina, and the surrounding mountains have provided opportunities to use factual events to create fictional consequences. And Sam and Nakayla became an interracial couple and co-owners of The Blackman and Robertson Detective Agency.

Their cases have highlighted F. Scott Fitzgerald's visits to Asheville when Zelda was in psychiatric treatment. They've solved a mystery involving Carl Sandburg's mountain farm and its history dating back to the Confederacy. As an interracial couple, they've faced a killer from the days when such relationships were banned by law, and they've untangled the complexity of crimes motivated by a miscarriage of justice that released a guilty man to prey upon innocents.

My new Sam Blackman novel, Murder in Rat Alley, features two little known facts of western North Carolina history: the Apollo Space Program built a tracking station sequestered in Pisgah National Forest that later became a classified Department of Defense secret operating station; and Asheville houses our country’s largest collection of weather data, now so critical in the debate over climate change.

These facts become the fuel of fiction when the skeletal remains of an Apollo-era scientist are unearthed near the site of the tracking station.  The nearly half-century cold case flares white-hot as the investigation triggers murderous consequences in the present.  The trail leads from the stars to South Vietnam to Asheville’s Rat Alley, putting Sam and Nakayla in jeopardy as they face the reality of Faulkner’s quote, "the Past is never dead. It's not even past."

HALLIE: We all have incidents in the past that have stayed with us. As writers, they're gifts, because the incidents that stick are the ones that have a particular resonance... particular and personal, perfect for inspiring a novel. 

As I was reading Mark's essay, I thought back to Apollo and the first space walk that we all watched on our television screens so many years ago. It's a touchstone. What past events would you suggest that mystery authors look to for warping into fiction? (And I can't wait to hear what Mark has to say about "Rat Alley" - is there really such place? Because it makes a great title.) 

Mark de Castrique grew up in the mountains of western North Carolina where many of his novels are set. He’s a veteran of the television and film production industry, has served as an adjunct professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte teaching The American Mystery, and he’s a frequent speaker and workshop leader. He and his wife, Linda, live in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Writing in a woman's voice: "She has to be more than a mane of hair and a cup size"

HALLIE EPHRON: At a recent mystery conference, a very well-liked guy who writes bestselling thrillers was asked to talk about writing in the voice of the “other” - he’d written at least one book with a woman main character/narrator. The moderator asked what kind of work he’d done (or thought one had to do) in order to get that character's (female) perspective right. 

He said he’d talked to women friends, especially focusing on areas that were a mystery to him: how women put on makeup and get dressed. 

I think he was joking. But it took me back to one of my first books in which the main character was a man. Every time someone had an issue with him, he apologized his way out of it. That’s what *I* do. 

I cringe now at how little I thought I needed to do to realistically conjure a male viewpoint. In particular, how would he feel/think and what would he do if his authority were questioned by a man? By a woman? In private? In public? How would he feel walking through into a park at night and hearing rustling in the bushes? And so on… 

So my question: What’s your advice to male writers trying to get it right, writing in a woman’s voice, allowing from the outset that “a woman’s voice” varies so much from individual to individual. Still… what questions would you think they’d want to ask?

RHYS BOWEN: My first series, The Constable Evans novels, featured a male protagonist. I made every effort to put myself into Evan’s head, and would run the book by my husband who would sometimes say “No man would ever say that.” This made me retort, on occasion, “You forget, Evan is a sensitive man, unlike you.”

But I believe that women understand men much better than men understand women. This is because our nature compels us to make connections, show empathy, help other people with their problems. We all know too well that a man can be rude to a woman and if she responds with anger he’ll immediately say she is moody because of the ‘time of the month’. So advice I’d give to any male writer, writing in a woman’s point of view, is to run the manuscript by several women and take their comments to heart. We probably do more internal agonizing than men do. We are more observant of the emotions of others. We pick up small signals that men don’t. And most of us care little about lipstick and make-up.

LUCY BURDETTE: I’ve yet to have a published novel with a male lead character, though I’ve done my best to show male characters truthfully and realistically. I realized when struggling with a book that had multiple POV that I tended to make the default reaction from a man angry. I’m sure this isn’t accurate or fair!

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Oh, gosh, I don’t think about that. I don’t. .I think about what does this person want, and who are they--a cop or a teacher or a banker?--and what do they know and what would they really do. I suppose..if I had to list one difference, I would say it’s how men and women are different in listing specifics. A woman might say: an ivory chiffon Vera Wang tea-length cocktail dress and a man might say--a white dress. But see how that would still depend? It’s the individual, not the gender.

Advice? AH, well, through a woman’s eyes--is that even a thing? Huh. There are experiences that women have that men don’t, and I guess that’s what he meant by makeup--if you don’t wear mascara, you wouldn't know what it felt like to get a clump of it in your eye just as you finish your whole face and the whole thing is ruined.  Or how uncomfortable tights can be (or not) or how it feels to think: why do I have to be the one to decide what’s for dinner?

Stll. I think it’s about the individual character. So I’d say--ask what the woman wants--and WHY.

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I’ve written nine books with pretty much equally split male and female POVs, and can honestly say I’ve never had any character putting on make-up.  Sounds like the sort of scene someone might include of the male protagonist shaving, the purpose of which is to look into his soul via the mirror. It’s just bad writing, male or female, and no one should do it.

In fact, I suspect a lot of “men writing bad female POVs” is simply bad writing, period. She looks into a mirror and admires her abundant red hair and pert breasts - really, does any human being behave like that? Or the classic female vamp/bad girl - a one-dimensional antagonist is always a writing fail. The converse might be his buddy asks him what’s wrong and he spills his emotions for three pages. Show, don’t tell, and that includes what people are feeling. 

The one huge real difference male writers need to absorb is the one Rhys and Hank already mentioned - the feeling of vulnerability every woman walks around with every day and in almost every situation. 

JENN McKINLAY: Oooooh, great question! I write in the male POV in most of my rom-coms. My dudes are cinnamon rolls, a comfort food, if you will. Personally, I have never understood the attraction to the alpha male. The second a man tells me what to do, our relationship is over. I’ll take the supportive, smart, funny guy in the back, please. 

As for writing females if you’re a man, I think the same rule applies. You have to write a woman you understand completely, what makes her tick, what she cares about, and what pisses her off. She has to be more than a mane of hair and a cup size, this seems to be where male authors fall down judging by some of the bad writing that’s been shared on Twitter. 

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I've written in both male and female viewpoints all through my career and honestly I've never really thought about it that much. Duncan's was the first voice I almost literally heard in my head, and it never occurred to me that there was anything odd in writing from a male viewpoint. I see as my characters as whole people, each with their own needs, likes, dislikes, and vulnerabilities. We are all so much more complicated and complex than our gender.

I do agree, though, that women have an advantage in writing from a male viewpoint, as we are wired to be observant and to pick up emotional cues from everyone around us, male or female.

HALLIE: So what about you? What do you think male authors need to pay attention to when they try to write from the viewpoint of a female character?