Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Thistle Make You Hungry @LeslieKarst

LUCY BURDETTE: I loved Leslie Karst's Sally Solari mystery series, and was sad to hear no more would be published. But luckily for us, Severn House picked up the series and a brand new one is coming. Welcome Leslie!


LESLIE KARST: You may notice that the cover of my newest Sally Solari mystery, The Fragrance of Death—which releases on August 2nd—depicts artichokes. No, it’s not the murder weapon (though that’s there, too), but the noble thistle does play an important part in the story. 

Because I adore artichokes. I love plucking off the leaves one by one, dunking them in melted garlic butter, then scraping off the tender flesh with my teeth; and I love the way they cause everything you eat or drink them with taste surprisingly sweet. Given my love affair with artichokes, I decided it would be fun to include them in my new book, which revolves around both an artichoke cook-off as well as an artichoke farm up the coast from Santa Cruz, where the series is set. 


I come by this passion honestly, through both nature and nurture. As for the nurture part, I’m a second-generation Californian (almost third, as my grandparents all moved to Los Angeles in the 1920s when they were in their twenties), and artichokes could be considered the unofficial state vegetable of California. 

Artichokes are thought to be one of the oldest foods, and the plant likely originated in the Mediterranean region. Historians believe they were cultivated by North African Moors beginning about 800 A.D. and that the Saracens then introduced the plant to Italy. This would explain how the Arabic al-qarshuf—meaning “thistle”—became articiocco in Italian and eventually “artichoke” in English. They were first brought to California by the Italians (such as the Solari family featured in my books) who emigrated to the Golden State back in the late 1800s.

In 1922, Andrew Molera, a landowner in the Salinas Valley, decided to lease to Italian farmers the land he’d previously dedicated to growing sugar beets, encouraging them to try growing this “new” vegetable—the artichoke. His reasons were economic, as artichokes were fetching high prices and farmers could pay him triple what the sugar company did for the same land. And it paid off.

Now, one hundred years later, Central California, with its Mediterranean-like climate, produces virtually 100% of the artichokes sold in the US, and of that, more than 80 percent come from Castroville, the self-proclaimed “artichoke center of the world.” (Fun fact: Marilyn Monroe was crowned the very first “Artichoke Queen” of Castroville at age 22 in 1948, two years before she hit the big time with All About Eve and Asphalt Jungle.)


So artichokes are a big deal in California. And they’re also far less expensive here than in other locales. It’s not uncommon to see those baby artichokes on sale for as little as twenty-five cents each at roadside stands. 

As for the “nature” part of my artichoke obsession, this comes from my mother, who was born and raised in Pasadena, California. Till her dying day, Mom was passionate about artichokes, and even at age 91 when I’d bring them to her at her assisted care facility—steamed with a side of mayonnaise, another one of her passions—she would devour them greedily. 

Mom loved to tell a fun story about artichokes. My older brother was born at the Ohio State University hospital, during my father’s tenure as a law professor at OSU. As was the norm back in 1954, Mom stayed the night at the hospital, even though the birth was uneventful. That evening, the hospital cafeteria for some bizarre reason had steamed artichokes on the menu for dinner, and all the new mothers were presented with half of a large artichoke, over which melted butter had been poured. 


Now, this is most certainly not the proper way to serve artichokes (one pulls off the leaves and dips them in a separate bowl of butter), and the Midwestern women were unanimously repelled by the strange, ugly, and messy vegetables they had been presented with for dinner. 

Except Mom—the home-sick Californian who hadn’t set eyes on an artichoke for years. The other women gladly gave all theirs to her, and my mother forever claimed that she ate every single artichoke served in the maternity ward that evening, gorging herself until she nearly popped. 

Readers: Are you a fan of artichokes? When was the first time you tried one of the noble thistles, and what did you think? Leave a comment to be entered in the drawing for Leslie's first book, DYING FOR A TASTE.

About The Fragrance of DeathRestaurateur Sally Solari is a champion, both in the kitchen and on the case, but after getting mixed up in one too many murders, her nonna’s friends have taken to crossing themselves every time they meet. Sally’s determined to stay out of trouble and focus on her cooking. It’s too bad the food scene in Santa Cruz is cut-throat—sometimes literally.

When a head cold knocks out Sally’s sense of taste and smell, at the same time her old acquaintance Neil Lerici is murdered at the annual Artichoke Cook-Off, her powers of investigation are once again called into action. Could Neil have been killed by the local restaurant owner who took his winning spot at the competition? Or maybe by one of his siblings, who were desperate to sell the family farm to a real estate developer?

Sally plunges headfirst into the case, risking alienating everyone she knows – including the handsome Detective Vargas, who finds her sleuthing both infuriating and endearing. And soon it’s not just her restaurant and her tentative new relationship that are on the line—it’s her life . . .


About Leslie: 
Leslie Karst is the author of the Lefty Award-nominated Sally Solari culinary mystery series. The daughter of a law professor and a potter, she waited tables and sang in a new wave rock band before deciding she was ready for a “real” job and ending up at Stanford Law School. It was during her career as a research and appellate attorney in Santa Cruz, California, that Leslie rediscovered her youthful passion for food and cooking and once more returned to school—this time to earn a degree in culinary arts. Now retired from the law, Leslie spends her time cooking, cycling, gardening, singing alto in her local community chorus, and of course writing. She and her wife and their Jack Russell mix split their time between Santa Cruz and Hilo, Hawai‘i. 


70 comments:

  1. Congratulations, Leslie [and what an intriguing family story . . . I can just picture your Mom in the maternity ward enjoying all the artichokes!] . . . it’s so exciting to know there will be a new Sally Solari mystery . . . .

    Although we’ll take artichokes almost any way at all, an artichoke/spinach dip is a favorite around here . . . .

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    1. Thanks, Joan! And you won't have to wait long, as the new book releases on August 2nd! And I too adore a good artichoke/spinach dip--especially when served along with with a crusty French bread!

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    2. Oops--that was me posting as Anonymous--thanks, Joan!

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  2. Kathy Boone ReelJuly 20, 2022 at 1:58 AM

    Congratulations on your new book, Leslie. I love the cover. I first became acquainted with artichokes through artichoke/spinach dip, which I just realized I haven't had in a while. I discovered that I like artichokes just for themselves, too. Oh, and artichokes on pizza is great. It's really been too long since I had artichoke in any form. I intend to rectify that this weekend. And, the story about your mother eating all those artichokes in the maternity ward is a hoot. I remember when I was in the hospital for my hysterectomy, someone at the nurses' station had made and brought in a chocolate cake. They offered me a piece, and it was such a great treat from the hospital food.

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    1. Lol, Kathy! I think someone needs to put together a book of stories (including recipes, of course) about maternity ward meals.

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    2. Yep, me again as Anonymous. Oy. Thanks, Kathy!

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    3. Kathy Boone ReelJuly 20, 2022 at 4:45 PM

      Oh, I'd buy a book like that, Lesley!

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    4. Kathy Boone ReelJuly 20, 2022 at 4:50 PM

      Oh, Leslie, I just remembered that when my first child was born, the mother and father were treated to a steak dinner the night before she went home. It was in a room with a little table fixed up, white tablecloth and rose on the table. It was so nice. When my second child was born three and a half years later, they were no longer doing the steak dinner for the parents.

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  3. Raising my hand as a certified fourth-generation Californian! So I grew up eating artichokes and still love them, although they're hard to find in the east. My dad also loved them with mayo, but I prefer melted butter. Can't wait to read the new Sally installment, Leslie!

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    1. Reading all these comments about artichoke hearts - I never ate one apart from the rest of the artichoke until I moved to the east coast. Because you can buy them in a jar or a can, they're much more prevalent here than the whole thing.

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    2. And in Hawai'i, if you're lucky enough to find whole artichokes for sale, they'll likely put you back at least five dollars each!

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  4. LESLIE! As your foodie twin, it should be no surprise that I LOVE artichokes. Alas, fresh artichokes are ridiculously expensive in Ontario ($5 each) so I enjoyed eating fresh ones when in southern California (near Monterey). I'm looking forward to reading the newest Sally book soon!!

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    1. Yay for the Foodie Twins, Grace! And yes, outside of the western US, artichokes can be pricey, indeed. Come back to California soon!

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  5. Leslie, welcome to JRW. Thanks for giving us the history of the artichoke and the family artichoke anecdotes, too. I love them and use artichoke hearts in recipes all of the time. Sometimes I substitute them for other ingredients that I don't like as well, and so far, wow!

    As a youngster, I heard about steamed artichokes served with butter long before I ever tried one. A friend told me that her family was serving them at dinner and described the ritual of dipping the leaves and it sounded very sophisticated to me. I told my mother all about it and she marveled at the tale. Although she was not against trying new fads in eating, and she thought this might be a fad, artichokes never made the menu until I was cooking for myself.

    Congratulations on your new publisher and you new book.

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    1. That was probably when they served artichokes in the Columbus, Ohio maternity ward--when they became so popular all over the country. Ha! And thanks, Judy!

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  6. Congratulations on the new book! I love artichokes, but don't really make a point of seeking them out: now I want to! The plants too are beautiful. My neighbor has one that is peeking over the fence.

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    1. I have a plant in my back yard, and once in a while (when I'm willing to give up the glorious vegetable) I let one go to flower--such a grand, beautiful thistle!

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  7. I have never had an artichoke, I'm not sure I've even seen one not in a picture. I remember my mom talking about my birth and how that night the new mothers were given a big plate of warm chocolate chip cookies. By the time my sister was born five years later the hospital had been taken over by a corporation and no more cookies.

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    1. Well, there are two artichokes on my book cover (shown at the top of this post), so now you've seen one, Alicia! And such sad news about the cookie-hating corporate take-over!

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  8. The new book sounds wonderful. Can't wait to read it. My mother's parents came to the L.A. area of California in the late early nineteen hundreds. My grandfather (also an alum of Standford) started out farming in the Hemet area. My mother introduced us to artichokes when we were kids and we had an artichoke growing in our front yard. We also ate the leaves with melted butter and they were a special treat - better than pizza night! Unless the pizza had artichokes!

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    1. Ha! Yes--artichoke pizza is pretty darn good!

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  9. Artichokes being a favorite food of mine, the book sounds fascinating to me. I was once told (I haven't verified it though) that the artichoke contains no humanly absorbable calories, so it's only the mayo or the butter that would contain any. When I worked in a law firm, I often brought a nice substantial globe artichoke to have for lunch at my desk. It can take forever to eat an entire artichoke, and if you limit what you are dipping it in to, say, a single one-teaspoon pouch of mayo, you aren't getting many calories, but you are filling the time allotted for your lunch hour with a pleasant eating experience.

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    1. As a one-time attorney, myself, I absolutely ADORE that image of you eating an artichoke in your office surrounded by Federal Reporters and deposition transcripts. Ha! And yes, they are a very healthy food....if you limit the mayo.

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  10. Congratulations on your new release! I have an artichoke question.
    I bought and steamed the biggest artichoke I had ever seen, bigger than a grapefruit. I had to steam it in a pasta pot with a sieved insert. The flavor was fine, the heart magnificent. I suspect bigger is not always better and I'm curious if there's an ideal size.

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    1. As you'll learn in my new book, Margaret, chefs prefer the baby artichokes, because they're easier and faster to cook, and are far more tender--you can eat virtually the entire thing. Each plant contains one big, globe artichoke, and several of the smaller ones, lower down. In California, it's easy to find the baby ones, but not so much elsewhere.

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  11. I *AM* a huge fan of artichokes... of course coming from California, the artichoke capitol of the States. (Marilyn Monroe was crowned “Artichoke Queen” of Castroville, home of the Giant Artichoke). My local market sells grilled roasted artichoke hearts from actual fresh artichokes - pricey but oh my so delicious. Congratulations on the new book, Leslie - and lovely to find you here on Jungle Red!

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    1. Ooo...those grilled artichoke hearts sound yummy, Hallie! May have to try that. Maybe basted with a garlic, balsamic vinegar, and butter glaze.... And thank you! I'm tickled GREEN to be here today!

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  12. Congratulations Leslie! I enjoy artichokes. What an indulgence. I season and grill them and they are so delectable. When I first was introduced to them I realized that artichokes are what I have been missing my entire life.

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    1. I so love that: "I realized that artichokes are what I have been missing my entire life." Should-a put that in my book, lol!

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  13. I do love artichokes, steamed and dipped in butter or garlic aioli (mayo? Have to try it!), packed in water, packed in oil, hearts, in dips, etc. That slightly sour taste is addictive.

    The story about your mom is a hoot, Leslie!

    The first time I saw the plants I was strolling around one of the gardens at Gibbs Farm in Tanzania with our guide, whose aspiration was to own a farm. I couldn't believe how exotically beautiful the plants are, all silvery and spiky, and huge. And Rhys, remember the garden on the way to the town square in Castellini? They had some gorgeous artichoke plants.

    I've grown them in my Kentucky farm, but didn't realize they could be perennial and I chopped them down at the end of the season. I'd love to see if I could overwinter some here. There is a winter-hardy relative called a cardoon, but I keep seeing conflicting info about whether the artichoke-looking fruit is edible or not.

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    1. Cardoons are absolutely edible--and delicious--but different from an artichoke (though they are closely related). Whereas you eat the flower of the artichoke, you eat the stem of a cardoon. I say try growing them--and then let me know how it turns out!

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    2. I don't know about your farm, Karen, but in New England we have to grow them as an annual. So you could try leaving it in the ground and see if it survives the winter (Kentucky, right? It might).

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    3. Actually, Edith, I've abandoned my garden at the farm because it was too difficult to care for it at an hour's distance. Now all my gardening efforts are at the new house, where I have more than a half-acre of garden, and can keep my eye on it every day. We are in zone 6 here, almost a 5, and cardoons are supposed to do okay. However, I've never seen them in any gardens here, nor have I ever seen them in garden centers for sale.

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  14. Artichokes are a staple in our house. I am addicted to this yummy veggie. My favorite method is to broil or bake it with a drizzle of oil, lemon, and I am in heaven. Congratulations on your new book.

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    1. Yes, they are delicious with olive oil and lemon! And thank you!

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  15. I adore artichokes! Lots of seasoned butter in our house. Rhys

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    1. Well if that's the case, then I definitely need to visit your house, Rhys! Ha!

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  16. Nor Cal/SF bay area reporting in - we had artichokes a couples times a year while growing up. Boiled in plenty of water and served with mayo for dipping, though I just remembered, we didn't have mayo when I was a kid, it was that other white sandwich spread (Miracle Whip [She says sadly]). I like plain old mayo better. I add a squeezed out lemon to the water when I cook mine now. I didn't like the hearts as a child, neither did my siblings, so we would eat all the leaves and clean the heart of all the fuzz for our mom to enjoy. I remember it seemed like a big deal to get that heart prefect for mom. Congratulations on your new book.

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    1. It's funny how some folks don't like the heart--too intense, I guess. (They can all give them to me!) I add herbes de Provence to my boiling water--a trick my mom taught me, so you don't notice if there happen to be any bugs in the artichokes.

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  17. This is wonderful--and what a terrific idea! To answer your question--I love them, LOVE! And there is such a difference between a great one and a stringy one. But every time, I wonder--who could possibly have figured out how to eat this? And what a perfect conveyance for lemon and butter....
    Congratulations!

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    1. I know, Hank--it's SO disappointing when you get a tough and stringy one. I believe they get that way if they're picked too late, or if they sit around in the grocery store (or my fridge) for too long. And yes, as a friend of mine likes to say, "I'd eat shoe laces if they were served with lemon and butter."

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    2. Isn't that the secret to escargots? Garlic and butter? Why else?

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  18. I am comforted by Alicia's response, so that I am not the only one reporting that I have never eaten an artichoke, other than canned artichoke hearts. In fact, I wasn't quite sure how one DID eat them. Love the hearts in dips and other recipes, though!

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    1. It's clearly a regional thing (and I'm sure there are MANY foods from New England that I've never laid eyes on, lol.)

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  19. I'm not very familiar with artichokes. I've only had artichokes in spinach artichokes dip. I'll have to try steaming an artichoke,, the dipping sauce sounds delicious. Looking forward to reading you latest book.

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    1. Thank you, Dianne! And good luck with your steaming adventure!

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  20. Leslie, I didn't know anything about the origin of artichokes other than "vaguely Mediterranean," but I love them any way I can get them. (And now I can impress dinner guests with the info you've shared with us, too!) I'm also so happy you're continuing on with the Sally Solari mysteries - I know a lot of fans will be chomping at the bit to read THE FRAGRANCE OF DEATH.

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    1. And isn't that what it's truly all about--impressing our dinner guests? :) Thanks for your kind words, Julia--I'm so exciting that the series is continuing!

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  21. Native Californian here and I don’t eat enough artichokes. I will get some at the farmers market this weekend.

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  22. Leslie, so happy to see you here, and so happy you've found a new home for the Sally books! I can't wait to dive into this one. And artichokes, what fun! As much as I love lemon butter I actually prefer my artichokes with good mayo. But my latest find is Trader Joe's (California company!) grilled marinated artichokes. So good.

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    1. Ooooo..thanks for the tip, Deborah! Gonna have to tried the TJ grilled chokes! Are they frozen? And yes, I'm definitely on the mayo side of things, too, though I sometimes do squeeze a little lemon juice into the mayo to class it up (another trick my mom taught me).

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    2. Leslie, they're in the olive oil/pasta sauce aisle. Oil packed, refrigerate after opening. I had to go eat a couple, lol!

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    3. Yes, Deb! I keep a few jars of the same and use them for everything! (Susan Shea)

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  23. Hi Leslie! I hate to admit it but I have never cooked and eaten an artichoke. I used to see them in the store all the time but was never tempted to give them a try. I think the specific eating instructions scared me off!

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    1. Lol, Pat! Eating them is FUN! (Unless you're like my father, who detested eating anything with his hands...)

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  24. Hi Leslie! I too love artichokes and the sweet aftertaste they share with the rest of the meal, but I can never figure out how to work with the small but not baby ones - peel off everything or...? There's one in my refrigerator right now from my bi-weekly delivered box of fresh produce. I figure you'll know. (Susan Shea)

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    1. I boil the entire thing--no matter the size--and then work my way inside pulling off the leaves from the outside and eating them. The primary difference between the small, medium, and large chokes is how much of each leaf you can eat. For the babies, you can eat the entire leaf once you get near the heart, as they's so tender.

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  25. Artichokes, marinated in a good balsamic vinegar, olive oil and garlic, then grilled, Serve with a balsamic glaze to dip them in - YUM!!! makennedyinaz(at)hotmail(dot)com

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    1. That sounds amazing, Marcia! Thank you! (Drooling a little on my keyboard now...)

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  26. Artichokes are a big favorite at y house, but I only buy them when the price is good. NOT $4/

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  27. I love artichokes and think they are delicious! I don't remember the first time I ate them. I do remember the first time I cooked fresh artichokes. It was more work that I had anticipated, but it was worth it.

    Nancy
    allibrary (at) aol (dot) com

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    1. They are pesky little veggies, non? But so worth it!

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  28. Enjoy them... especially if someone else does the work. Congrats on the new publisher picking up the series (I'm very fond of it!)

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    1. Thanks, Debra! And yes, isn't it always nice when someone else does the work?

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