Friday, December 4, 2020

What We Talk About When we Talk About Weather (and Gingerbread) a guest blog by Priscilla Paton

 JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Today's guest, Priscilla Paton, writes tough-minded novels about a pair of mismatched Twin Cities detectives. She writes about addiction, and alienation, and identity, but, like all of us who live in northern lands, she knows it's all about the weather. Where it's coming from, what it's going to do when it gets here, and how we're going to make it through.

 Fortunately, it's not all snow tires and shovels. There's also gingerbread. And this winter, at least, book events you can enjoy without having to bundle up and drive through the cold - like the launch for Priscilla's second book, Should Grace Fail, on Tuesday, December 8, at 8pm Eastern. You can register here - and be sure to leave a comment today, because one lucky person will be winning a copy of a Twin Cities Mystery!

 

Wherever you are, there’s weather, whether you like it or not. I had to get that sentence out—forgive me. Being in a Minnesota winter does something to a person. Think Fargo.

I write the Twin Cities Mystery series, and like the movie Fargo (minus the woodchipper), the books twist conventions of the genre and Midwest behavior. The weather is inevitably central not only to the setting but to character and plot.

In Minnesota, weather creates limitless opportunities for the humble-brag: “Yeah, I’m a bit stiff. Just shoveled three feet of snow off the roof.”  Moderate people turn competitive and rush to be the first to post the October blizzard on social media. Weather aids and abets passive-aggressive exchanges: “Saying inside, bummer”; “Well I have to go outside, double-bummer.” The repressed go crazy. Meaning, they ice-fish. On a frozen lake, on ice, over water, for something slimy and inhuman, like an eelpout, aka, a lingcod, mud shark, and “lawyer.” These ice fishers drive out a two-ton pickup. They unhitch a small house. They say the houses have heaters, booze, poker games, and TVs. Sure. Doesn’t change that it’s twenty below outside and your nose hairs are icicles. Then they leave the house on the lake, on ice, over water, until the state makes them haul it off, or the house falls through the ice and into spring muck. That’s somebody’s idea of fun.

All right, other places have Polar Vortexes. Wisconsin next door. Maine where I grew up, and as a shrimpy kid had my eyeglasses broken playing king-of-the-hill on monster snowbanks. I’ve been on New Hampshire’s Mount Washington, home to 200 mph winds, where I’ve felt to the bones weather weaponizing itself. At the peak, it turns in no time from sunny with a view to freezing fog with the warning that death happens. On the other hand, in the warmth of the tropics, hurricanes happen. Weather everywhere can be sublime and deadly.

 

Back to the Midwest famed for extremes of cold and hot, tornadoes and thunder snow, the weather can be contorted in fiction to do almost anything. To adapt a Norwegian saying, weather, like a potato, is useful for anything. For a mystery writer, weather can be a deus ex machina, the unexpected event that gets you out of a plot hole. Noir master Raymond Chandler said of crime writing, “when in doubt, have two guys come through the door with guns.” In Minnesota, you could have two trees, felled by the natural catastrophe of your choice, come crashing through the roof to trap the bad guys with guns. Then the good people (good people receive weather updates) can triumph.  A vehicular pursuit can be impeded by flash flooding. With ice, no one’s going anywhere—unless it’s a hockey mystery (a figure skating mystery if you’re a wuss). In June, you could have a murderer hide in the woods, only to die of hypothermia on an unseasonably cold night. Seasonable—what an unreliable concept!

Definition of Paradise: that one day in late May when you trip along outdoors without a puffy coat and rescue kit. The best part—the mosquitoes have not hatched. Yet.

The cold always cycles back. Now Minnesota and Maine are unlikely settings for an Agatha Christie murder with the social classes unnaturally mixed in the posh drawing room while Poirot reveals the murderer. But a group could be snowbound in a church, a supper club, not to mention an effing ice-house.

 Being snowbound is a good thrill for a day. More, and the real threats increase. At the least, those who remain safe yearn for warm comfort. During the worst Nor’easter of my childhood, our family dairy farm had to dump milk, had to drain the cooler and lose that paycheck, because for nearly a week the milk trucks could not get through. We made puddings, but we didn’t have chickens and eggs ran out. Then my mother pulled out a depression-era recipe, an eggless, butter-free gingerbread whose character depended on molasses. (Farms stocked bulk molasses to pour over mediocre hay for the cows.) Hoarded cream, whipped to softly drape over a serving, tempered the strong dark taste.  The gingerbread was a homey treat to have while sitting by the woodstove. It also makes a spicy accompaniment to the murder mystery of your choice. Please enjoy my family’s recipe with your holiday reading.

 

Snowbound Gingerbread

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8 or 9” square pan. Ingredients:

½ C melted shortening                       2 C flour

½ C granulated sugar                          ½ tsp salt

½ C molasses                                      1 tsp baking soda

1  C hot water                                     1 tsp each cinnamon and ground ginger

 

Combine shortening, sugar, and molasses in mixing bowl. In separate bowl, blend dry ingredients. Add dry ingredients, alternating with hot water, to molasses mix. Pour into greased pan.

Bake 8” pan for 35-45 minutes

Bake 9” pan for 30-40 minutes

Cake is done when sides pull away and a skewer comes out clean.

Serve warm with whipped cream. The cake also be dusted with powdered sugar or frosted with lemon icing.

 

Should Grace Fail - Staying alive depends on knowing whom to trust and when to run.

When a man who saves lives has his own brutally taken, Greater Metro Detectives Erik Jansson and Deb Metzger have their strengths pushed to the limit. The murdered man rescued trafficked teen addicts from a vindictive crime boss, but he was also an alcoholic who left the police force under suspicion. Is his murderer a drug dealer, a pimp, a corrupt police colleague, all of the above? Or could the killer be a victim who lashed out at her savior?

You can find out more about Priscilla Paton at her website. You can discuss books with her on Goodreads, friend her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter as @priscilla_paton.

73 comments:

  1. Brrrr . . . I can’t imagine having to shovel snow off the roof. Nor can I imagine going ice fishing. [I’m not at all happy when I am cold.] I’ll take that one day in late May, please.

    Gingerbread is delicious, Priscilla . . . thank you for sharing your recipe --- family recipes are the best!

    “Should Grace Fail” sounds quite intriguing . . . I’m definitely looking forward to reading it . . . .

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    1. Thanks, Joan. I didn't even mention ice dams, which occur in eaves and gutters when there's a thaw, refreeze, thaw. That's when water begins dripping down the inside walls!

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  2. That gingerbread sure looks delicious, Priscilla. Thanks for the recipe. I’m a fan of weather playing a part in a mystery story, especially the snowbound stories. I just got through reading One by One by Ruth Ware, which features heavy snow and an avalanche. Perfect. Your Twin Cities series sound so interesting. I will have to check it out. Thanks for visiting here today.

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  3. I'd been fortunate to only visit Minnesota (Minneapolis only, to see my favorite tattooist and friend) in good weather - several seasons, but never deep winter and never stormy. I do enjoy books wherein weather is one of the characters, and yours definitely sound intriguing! Can't wait to try out that gingerbread. Yum! Thanks for sharing :)

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  4. Priscilla, I can relate to plenty of weather extremes!

    Winter has been slow in coming this year but Ottawa, ON is known as the coldest capital city in the world, so we have to be prepared for -40C/F temperatures, wind chills and plenty of snow, and unfortunately a lot of freezing rain for 4-5 months. And we have had record spring flooding in 2017 and 2019 as well as two tornadoes that hit the city in the past 2 years!

    Minnesota is one of the few US states that I have NOT visited (yet). Bouchercon 2022 is scheduled to take place in Minneapolis and I would love to attend and explore the area.

    And, of course, I have to check out your Twin Cities series. I already enjoy other mysteries set in Minnesota by Brian Freeman and David Housewright.

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    1. I took a class from David Housewright, which started my mystery career, and I've met Brian who loves to use severe winter weather in his thrillers.

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    2. Here's to Bouchercon 2022, Grace! It's on my calendar. Fingers crossed we'll all be there then.

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    3. Yes, let's hope the world is back to "normal" by 2022, Amanda. I would love to meet you and some of the other JRW and readers in Minneapolis.

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  5. As a faithful listener to Prairie Home Companion for decades, I feel I know Minnesota! But not the darker sides, and you are so right about the potential for bad when people are forced to be cooped up. You book sounds fascinating, and thanks for the recipe!

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    1. Thanks! My fictional detective Erik Jansson comes from a Lake Woebegone type background (as does my husband's family). Erik says in book 1 that surrounded by goodness he ran to crime (investigation, that is).

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  6. Thanks for the early morning laugh. I grew up in northern NY state,serious snow country. I don't remember ice fishing but - this is true- I do remember when there were horse races, with special horseshoes, right on frozen Lake Ontario. Cara were parked on the ice. Obviously, I must go look for your books right away!

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    1. Thanks, Triss, and enjoy your Snowbelt holidays!

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    2. I have lived in New York City most of my adult life, and write about it too. Often unpleasant weather, but not the extremes of the "real" upstate - or of MN. Sometimes I miss the snow...I think. Happy holidays right back!

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  7. My favorite nephew (shh, don't tell the other three) lived in the Cities and then St. Cloud for 30 years. He's just moved back to SW Ohio with his Minnesota-born wife and two daughters and they all marveled at the puny 2" snow and comparatively mild temperatures this week.

    I was in Minneapolis for a convention several times, but the last time was poorly scheduled for the second week of November. Our hotel was across a couple big parking lots from the hall and restaurants, and battling our way to dinner in blizzard-like conditions was no picnic.

    I'll tell my nephew's wife about your books, too, Priscilla. She's also a mystery fan.

    Thanks for the stories, and for the family gingerbread recipe. That sounds like a good one to have in our pockets this winter, with the virus getting worse.

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    1. Thanks! BTW, I taught at Denison in Granville in the early 2000s. Winter was described as overcast, 100 days of gloom.

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    2. Lucky you! Granville is such a pretty part of the state.

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  8. Side note: thanks, everyone, for your good wishes and prayers for my mom. She's being transferred out of the COVID unit today to a skilled nursing and rehab facility. Almost 91, and surviving this crazy thing. She's a miracle.

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    1. wow, she is one tough cookie Karen. so glad to hear this news!

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    2. My hand clapping ans snoopy dance is not to keep warm, it IS to share your happiness. Thanks for letting us know Joan's progress.

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    3. Oh Karen, that is the best news! Thrilled to hear it!

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    4. So glad to hear that your mom has come out the other side of this. Keep us posted on her progress. We are all pulling for her complete recovery.

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    5. Snoopy dances gratefully appreciated, Coralee!

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    6. Oh that is SUCH a relief! Tell her she’s getting a whole truckload of hugs from us!

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    7. Brava for her! A true tough cookie.

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    8. Yay for amazing 90+-year-old mothers! All the best to your mum with the move on and out from the COVID unit...

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    9. What great news, Karen!!! I've been thinking about her. Tell her we all send hugs and get well wishes!

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    10. Great news, indeed, about your mom, Karen!

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  9. Priscilla, welcome to Jungle Red! I kind of like the idea of extreme weather, but not the reality. So on the page is perfect! Can't wait to check out your series...

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    1. Thanks, Lucy. I'm skipping out for Southern California this January.

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  10. Good Morning. At 8 AMish it is 62 degrees in Tampa. Sunbathing weather for those in the Twin Cities. The airline I worked for was head quartered in Minneapolis. Accordingly we spent a lot of time chatting with supervisors, and also customers from MN. This was when I would hear about the bone chilling tales, "Not a problem we tied ourselves to the snow plow and got to church" etc. When the tropical storms come, and they do.. I close my eyes and think..At least it is not blowing ice sideways.
    Now this book has been quickly added to by TBR mountain. Thanks for the gingerbread recipe too!

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  11. Priscilla, I don't know how I've missed your Twin Cities Mysteries, but they sound great! Also, thank you so much for the gingerbread recipe. I find as I am getting older, a lot of the more over-the-top desserts appeal to me less than when I was younger. But this molasses-cinnamon-ginger creation sounds absolutely mouthwatering to me!

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    1. My father preferred not-rich desserts, so after apple pie gingerbread was his favorite.

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  12. I can totally relate to this. I live in NE Iowa, within walking distance (literally) from the Minnesota border. My aunt in Arizona used to complain about temps in the 70s being too cold, while we were in the middle of a blizzard or weeks straight of -30s. Always got a laugh out of that. The weatherman just said that anything above zero is above average temp this time of year, and though I never thought about it before, it's pretty true.
    I'll have to check out the Twin City mysteries, I like to read about places nearby and it's fun to recognize the landmarks or regional things that someone elsewhere might not think twice about.

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    1. Alicia, my husband and I have moved a lot, and we lived in Decorah for a few years. His parents and brother attended Luther College. In my series, Detective Deb Metzger grew up in Mason City and Erik Jansson in Iowa City.

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  13. Back in the Stone Age, when I studied theatre, we had a tongue twister we used to limber up our voices:
    Whether the weather be cold,
    Whether the weather be hot,
    We'll be together whatever the weather
    Whether we like it or not.

    At least now we can all be snowed in with tasty gingerbread! Thanks for sharing, Priscilla!

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  14. Congratulations on your new release! I'd rather read about extreme winter weather than experience it. I remember visiting Sioux Falls, SD for a soccer tournament. The bike trails were swarming, the local organizers chatty and friendly as they celebrated summer. Great place to visit in June.

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  15. Hi Priscilla, welcome to JRW and congratulations on your newest book. Your books sound perfect for me and are going straight onto my TBR pile. I'm going to look for the first one as soon as I finish telling you about our family connection to the Twin Cities.

    Our daughter moved to Minnesota shortly after finishing school in Virginia. She got a job teaching in the Twin Cities and stayed there for close to 15 years. We would visit about 3 times a year. Because she was teaching, we only went to visit during her vacations and the one we inevitably chose every year was the Martin Luther King Holiday weekend in January. We saw some truly ugly storms during those visits and bone chilling cold. Being from the north east and well equipped for weather, we used to laugh about it. We'd say, "If it's January, it must be Minnesota," to our friends heading for Florida. We probably spent a dozen cold January weekends mostly in St. Paul.

    During the summer when she was still single, we would take some extra time and go on our own little explorations. One time we took a canoe trip down the top of the Mississippi River from it's source. About two minutes into the mid-summer journey, we were attacked by the most vicious insects in creation. In 90+ degree heat, we pulled our sweatshirts on, covered our heads and paddled so fast that we made a 4 hour float in 2 hours. Gah.

    Our daughter finally decided it was time to move to Delaware to be near her mom the winter that, when we visited in late January, had already had 50 days where the thermometer never rose above zero all day and school had to be cancelled because it was too cold for kids to wait at the bus stops.

    I just finished reading Within a Shadowed Forest by Jeffrey Briggs which was a great read. That takes place on Lake Superior in an area where we also vacationed during one of our visits. It's so interesting to read a book that features a place where you have been where the weather and the place itself play major roles. I am going to try to make your book launch on Tuesday night.

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    1. Thanks for your comments. Yes, one winter stretch it was colder in Minnesota than in Antarctica. Northern New England and Northern Minnesota and Wisconsin are on par for vicious bugs.

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  16. Nothing like the weather to complain-brag about! My sister now lives in WA state and she loves to lord it over me that she doesn't get the wicked snow storms we get here and how she doesn't even own a snow shovel, poor thing. But at least here we do get some marvelous sunny days while she always has gloomy rain. Or so it seems.

    Your recipe looks just like the one my mother always made and to this day that is the recipe I use to make one of my son's favorite desserts, the more whipped cream the better, although I think my mother liked to make lemon sauce for it too.

    The book sounds great and I'm looking forward to reading it, Priscilla.

    All of this cold weather talk reminds me of a list I read recently - countries where people are the happiest or have the best quality of life. I think all of the top ten, Canada was number one, are northern countries. Isn't that interesting?

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    1. The cold weather protects Canada from being overrun by disgruntled Americans, I suppose. That's how they stay nice.

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    2. LOL, says this Canadian! The cold up here does, often, come with bright sunshine that makes up for the sub-zero temps...

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    3. I would believe Canada would be in the top 5 but this Canadian doubts we were listed as #!, Judi, in terms of quality of life. Maybe one of the Scandinavian countries?

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  17. Talk about timely! We are expecting our first nor'easter of the season tomorrow. They say 12-15" of snow. I've printed the gingerbread recipe and plan to make it in the morning. Hubs is allergic to ginger - that means more for me. I'll make him chocolate chip cookies.

    The book sounds wonderfully ominous. Looking forward to reading it.

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  18. Growing up in Buffalo, NY I know all about shoveling snow off the roof. Or making an impromptu refrigerator out of a snow bank because the power is out and you don't want to lose the contents of your fridge. Or making a beer run dragging a sled behind you. :)

    That gingerbread sounds delicious. Congrats on the new book!

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    1. Buffalo! I'm from Watertown! Do you miss the exciting weather? If we ever meet IRL we can trade stories.

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    2. I'm familiar with impromptu freezers--the porch in particular.

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  19. This winter when I'm wingeing about the cold here in New England, I'll read this again. Seriously cold! And I adore gingerbread. I've only made it from a mix so I'll be trying your recipe soon. The books sounds terrific -- thanks for sharing, Priscilla!

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    1. Hot food and down coats for survival! Stay warm.

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  20. I don't know how I have missed these books. Happiness is a new series to discover!
    My husband and I went with a group from our museum to visit the Twin Cities, their museums, etc. One evening we went out of the city to have dinner at my husband's law school roommate's home. It was April and they were so pleased it was Spring that we had drinks on their covered porch. By the time we went back inside for dinner, I was frozen. We had dinner in their dining room with a roaring fire in the fireplace.

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    1. Prince, a much missed Minnesotan, wrote a song about how it snows in April. And sometimes in May!

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  21. Such fun to read! I live in Boston, so the weather is epic! And that makes it easy to tuck into my novels. And I spent many a year in the middle of it, covering blizzards as a reporter. And hurricanes and flooding and you name it. I had a pretty astonishing collection of bad weather gear! But I am laughing out laughing at this – – you are such a wonderful writer

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    1. Thanks! I did graduate work at Boston College decades ago, and remember absolutely freezing waiting for a dinosaur--a Greenline trolley car.

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    2. My daughter's first year at Olin was their second year, and it snowed 3' in October. She was so bummed out!

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  22. Oh, the weather. Yes, it's a topic of endless fascination for those of us in the North -- and I'm further north than Minnesota, in Manitoba. Has it snowed? Will it snow? When will it melt? Ice over? Need to be shoveled. Etc. That first day without need of a serious winter jacket is heaven, as you well described Priscilla. I'm off to find your series, as it's new to me.

    And may I just say that that plate with the gingerbread displayed on it is *gorgeous*!

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  23. I’m still laughing, Priscilla! We lived near Faribault for six years by a lake while my husband commuted to Burnsville. I got a kick out of the fish houses popping up every winter and partially sinking one year in an unexpected thaw. Having lived in several different regions we experienced sand storms, dust storms, tornado threat, snow storms, hurricanes, melting heat, and those freaking mosquitoes. And I’ve been so impressed with the folks who live there and take it as it comes.

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    1. I'm in Northfield smack dab between Faribault and Burnsville. I'm spending part of winter in California, like a reasonable person.

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    2. We used to go to Northfield all the time to eat and drink at either the Cow or the Frog.

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    3. Both are hanging on, though the Contented Cow neighbor, the Archer House, was gutted recently by a fire.

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  24. I just have to say, ths is VERY timely, as we're getting storm warnings for our first snowstorm of the season tomorrow. I'm going to pop over to the Hanneford tonight and pick up the fixings to make Priscilla's gingerbread!

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    1. Ah, Hannaford. My brother worked at one for a while, and my Poland Spring sister shops at the one in Gray.

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  25. Hi Priscilla! What a great post. I'm still laughing about the fish houses. I love using weather to further the plot in novels, and even though the UK doesn't have a lot of extreme weather, I've managed to work blizzards into the climax of two books. And, come to think of it, I've driven through a hurricane in the UK, too. Ugh.

    Thanks for the gingerbread recipe--it's one of my favorite winter things. And I'm off to look up your books!

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    1. Thanks, Deborah. UK has dramatic fogs and early winter nightfall--poor visibility is great in a mystery.
      Today in Minnesota it's sunny, snowless, and nearly 40. Go figure.

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  26. What a delightful and amusing post which I needed at this time. Your recipe is enticing and the books captivating and special. Growing up and living in the Great White North tested my strength, patience and endurance with the lengthy, harsh and difficult winters. I could relate many nightmares which occurred but I realized that I had to leave at some point. saubleb(at)gmail(dot)com

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    1. One recurring nightmare is the slip on bare ice. Last time that happened to me, the dog had jerked the leash and down I went. No ice today, thank goodness.

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  27. Your gingerbread looks so yummy and irresistible. I will be looking for your intriguing books. Novels set in a harsh climate capture the story and the atmosphere and make the story come alive with those details. I could relate many sagas of life in the winter which was a daily onslaught but the norm.

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  28. I live in Minneapolis,Minnesota so I can relate to all of this. I love reading books set in Minnesota so your books sound interesting. Can't wait to read them!

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    1. Thanks! So far, though, I've avoided the winter months, and the newest one is set in June, with peonies.

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  29. I have lived in Northern CA my whole life and I'm glad that I don't have to shovel snow!!

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