Sunday, April 30, 2023

Soupe au Pistou #recipe @lucyburdette


**The winner of Leslie's Karst's memoir is Flora Church! Flora, please contact Leslie at ljkarst at gmail dot com to send her your address. Congratulations!

LUCY BURDETTE: If you're tired of Paris after this week, you will still enjoy this soup which is perfect for spring! This recipe is based on one from the fabulous David Lebovitz's newsletter. If you like reading about Paris and French food, I recommend you subscribe. He was a chef at Alice Water's restaurant Chez Panisse in Berkeley, but many years ago moved to Paris and is excellent at translating French ways for Americans.

Lucy with Notre Dame Gargoyles

I remember eating a soup like this when I was a student in the 1970s in France and terribly homesick. A French family used to invite my roommate and me to Sunday dinner every week because they knew we were lonely for home--wasn't that sweet? The mom would sometimes serve this soup so making it brought back some fun memories. John says I'd choose France for every vacation if I could--he's not far off! Anyway, back to soup...

I veered quite a bit from David's recipe and you can move back to his or further away from both of ours – the recipe is very flexible.  I used the vegetables that I either had in the garden or saw at the weekly farmers market. But you could also add potatoes, tomatoes, celery...

Ingredients for the soup

Two medium zucchini
2 to 3 leeks, well washed
Carrots, either three large or five or six smaller
Green beans
3 to 4 cloves garlic
1 cup dried white beans (I used Navy)
1 32 ounce box low sodium chicken broth
Handful of small pasta, if you like
Chopped tomatoes if you like
2 sprigs thyme (which I forgot, darn it!)

The day before you plan to make the soup, soak the white beans overnight in water. Rinse them, and then cover them with water in a large pot and simmer until soft with two bay leaves. (This could take an hour or so.) When the beans are soft, add the chicken broth to the pot and keep simmering.

Chop the leeks. Chop the green beans into bite-size pieces. Chop the zucchini likewise. Chop the garlic cloves. I used my food processor to chop the carrots, and didn't even rinse it before starting the pistou. And that explains the little flecks of orange you will see later.

In a large frying pan, heat some good olive oil and sauté the leeks, the garlic, carrots, onion, zucchini and saute until soft. Add the green beans and sautéed them a bit too. Scrape this mixture into the bean pot and simmer everything until soft, about 20-30 minutes. You may if you wish add a handful of pasta at the end, but you may have to add more liquid too.

For the pistou

One clove garlic
One small bunch basil, cleaned and leaves removed (my favorite veggie guy at the market had Thai basil so that's what I tried)
1/4 cup good olive oil
About an ounce Parmesan cheese

Chop the garlic in the food processor, then add the olive oil. Add the Parmesan cheese in smaller pieces and chop that in. Finally add the basil and pulse until everything is combined.


Serve the bowls of soup with a heaping tablespoon of the basil mixture dropped in the center. Then each diner can stir his or her pistou/pesto into the soup.

 Or pass the pistou in a separate bowl if you have concerned eaters...

Is there a soup or other food in your life that brings memories of an earlier time ?

Lucy writes the Key West food critic mysteries.  Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!

Saturday, April 29, 2023

Lucy’s in a Pastry Coma

LUCY BURDETTE: Wednesday you heard about our wonderful trip to Paris, and today I’ll wrap up with food. (Because I’m dreaming about writing a novel involving a Parisian pastry chef, I had to do my research.) There are a ton of glamorous French chefs on Instagram, looking dreamy and slightly grizzled, as they produce amazing things. Here’s one of them, Cedric Grolet. One of his shops was near our apartment—we didn’t eat there because there was usually too much of a line. That’s what 7.3 million followers on Instagram will do for you!

We set up two special events with special people who showed us food highlights that we might not ever have found on our own. The first, Frank Barron, a.k.a. cake boy Paris, I found on Instagram. He has just come out with a gorgeous cookbook called Sweet Paris. He also gives tours of chocolate or pastry shops—we chose pastry! 

Our last stop--considering how I could possibly consume one more gorgeous treat.

Our second special event was a market tour and lunch with the Real Emily in Paris. She met us at the market and led us promptly to the café next door to the bakery La Maison d'Isabelle to have café creme and the best croissants any of us had ever eaten. This bake shop was the 2018 winner of best croissant in Paris. Once a bakery has won, the French government makes them wait five years to enter the competition again. I'd say watch out in 2023!

My pal Yvonne with Emily

Then we strolled through the market and picked our lunch out, white asparagus (in season and very popular,) green beans, salad, a baguette, cheese, wine, and an amazing duck confit which I had never tasted. We put that all together back at her apartment, and also started the preparations for raspberry soufflé. I will share that recipe another day after I’ve made it at home.

Carol and Lucy

NB. I went back to La Maison d'Isabelle later in the week to have one of their coffee flavored eclairs. So what if it will cost me a month’s worth of extra gym sessions, it was worth every bite. 

What food memories have come from your trips, near or far?

Friday, April 28, 2023

From Mystery to Memoir @LeslieKarst

LUCY BURDETTE: I love our guest Leslie Karst's culinary mysteries starring Sally Solari. But she's branched out into something almost entirely different with her newest book--I'll let her tell the story!

LESLIE KARST: As soon as the big event was over, I wrote down all I could remember of how I finagled my way into hosting an intimate dinner party for Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her celebrated tax professor/attorney husband, Martin, as well as all the planning and preparation—and angsting and obsessing—that went along with the experience. But then there it sat on my computer for many years as I was sidetracked, first by my work as a research and appellate attorney, later by writing and promoting my Sally Solari mystery series.

Leslie and Ruth, the night of the dinner

Finally, after much egging on by my wife, Robin, and other people who knew of the document’s existence, I decided that the extraordinary story needed to be out there, for others to read. But once I opened the file and began to read what I’d written all those years earlier, I saw that I had a problem: the manuscript wasn’t ready for publication. Not by a long shot. For although I’d set down the facts—all that had happened to me along the way to finally sitting down with Ruth, Marty, Robin, and my mom and dad on that memorable evening—I’d failed to include much anything about how the experience had affected me personally. 

The issue, I realized, was that this story was a memoir, something I’d never attempted before. 

But I do have five mystery novels under my belt, I said to myself. And memoirs are similar to novels, right? Both tell a story, have a narrative arc, and tend to contain the same elements of dialogue, discrete scenes, dramatic highs and lows, and a payoff at the end. 

So what would be the big deal, switching from one to the other?

As I set out to revise Justice is Served, however, the process felt far different from writing my Sally Solari series. For this story was about me; I had to be honest about myself in a way not required of fiction. No easy feat. Although my mysteries are written in the first person (and many are convinced that Sally is, in fact, simply my far braver and riskier alter-ego), I’d never before had to delve deep within myself and then share those innermost thoughts on paper—for the world to read. 

But, of course, it is this very personal nature of memoirs that sets them apart from other writing—and what makes them so very compelling. Stories of love, loss, and lessons learned. Stories that allow the reader to peek into the one’s soul, to experience the author’s journey towards awakening, or redemption, or simply the discovery that she’s exactly where she wants to be, after all. 

the table is set for the big event

In order for my memoir to truly resonate with others, I had to be completely honest and open about my personal journey and about how the experience of cooking for RBG had affected me—as a lawyer, as a romantic partner, as a daughter, as a person. 

So I set to work. And it was only after this emotionally arduous re-write that the book came truly alive, transformed from merely the story of a fancy dinner into one of simultaneously searching for delicious recipes as well as purpose in life—and a reminder that it’s never too late to discover and follow your deepest passion. 

Readers—For a chance to win a signed advance reader copy of Justice is Served, answer this question in the comments: Are you a fan of memoirs? If so, what is it you enjoy about them?

About Justice is Served:

In this true-life Julie and Julia meets Notorious RBG mash-up, former attorney Leslie Karst recounts how finagling her way into hosting an intimate dinner party for Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg sends her on a journey of culinary discovery—and, ultimately, completely changes her life. 

Justice is Served is Karst’s light-hearted, earnest account of the journey this unexpected challenge launched her on—starting with a trip to Paris for culinary inspiration, and ending with the dinner itself. Along the way, she imparts details of Ginsburg’s transformation from a young Jewish girl from Flatbush, Brooklyn, to one of the most celebrated Supreme Court justices in our nation’s history, and shares recipes for the mouthwatering dishes she came up with as she prepared for the big night. 

The daughter of a law professor and a potter, Leslie Karst waited tables and sang in a new wave rock band before deciding she was ready for “real” job and ending up at Stanford Law School. It was during her career as a research and appellate attorney that she rediscovered her youthful passion for food and cooking, and she 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, observing cocktail hour promptly at five o’clock, and of course writing. 

In addition to Justice is Served, she is also the author of the Lefty Award-nominated Sally Solari Mysteries, a “snarky cozy” series set in Santa Cruz, California. Leslie and her wife and their Jack Russell mix split their time between Santa Cruz, California and Hilo, Hawai‘i. 

Visit Leslie’s website to learn more about and purchase the book

Thursday, April 27, 2023

Learning French (again!)

LUCY BURDETTE: You already know this by now, but I confess, I’ve got a thing for France, especially Paris. When I was a junior in college, I took a half year study abroad, spending one month in Paris, and four in Avignon. I was devastatingly homesick, and did not take the best advantage of my time there. I feel like I’ve been trying to make up for that ever since! This time out, I was headed to Paris for a week with two girlfriends. Carol, my copine on a previous food tour in Paris, has visited the city many times, and like me, can’t get enough. Yvonne visited only once many years ago.

In January, I decided that it was time to up my French speaking game. There are a million ways to try to learn a language, including Rosetta Stone, Duolingo, Pimsleur, Babbel,…I ended up going with a company called Comme une Française that focuses on speaking. There are five or six teachers who hold about 21 weekly classes on zoom. You choose how many and when you attend, like a gym membership.

Our theme of the week

There is a theme of the week with vocabulary and YouTube videos so you can study ahead. At the beginning of each session, the professors give a little talk about this subject. Then we are divided into groups of two or three where we stumble through 20 minutes of conversation (hopefully all in French no matter how halting!)

The prof of the day lurks with each of the groups and then we gather together again for feedback and corrections. Then on a new sub group, and more chatting.

my chat buddies, David and Rowna

A major challenge has been deciding when to attempt to move up from the debutant to intermediate. So scary!

I love many things about this style of teaching – first of all, it forces me to speak French, which compared to listening and reading, is my absolute weak spot. Second, the students are from all over the world and it’s a lot of fun to learn about their experiences and why they’re interested in speaking this language. The teachers are patient and focused, and some quite funny. But it’s so much harder to learn at this age than it would have been to persevere when I was young! 

I’ve been rereading FLIRTING WITH FRENCH, by William Alexander—the story of his attempts to “master” the French language. And also David Lebovitz's The Sweet Life in Paris. It’s reassuring to hear that both of them struggled mightily too.

Back from Paris now, I have to say I was very pleased with how it went. It was easy to panic and lapse into English under stress, but I was not shy about trying to speak French. As far as I know, I made no major gaffes:). Okay wait, that's not quite true. There was the early-in-the-trip reservation at a small cutting edge restaurant where I inadvertently added an extra reservation rather than changing the date. The owner (I think) called me, quite irate (clearly) and informed me (I'm pretty sure) that would be charging me a 60 euro no-show fee. He also, in a fit of French pique (I learned,) cancelled my second reservation.  Our new friend the real Emily in Paris kindly tried to intervene, explaining that I was a tourist without much French and was extremely désolée. Interesting to hear from her that she feels she's hit a ceiling with her French. She speaks perfectly fluently from what I heard, but she told us she'll never sound like a Paris native. She'll forever be pegged as Australian!

Your turn Reds...Do you speak another language? Or are you tempted to learn one? Any tips or failures or success stories?

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Paris?? No Really, It's Research! @LucyBurdette

LUCY BURDETTE: You might remember when I wrote about a nubbin of an idea for a women’s fiction a.k.a. book club book mostly set in Paris. Last week I was thrilled to start thinking about the novel while actually on the scene. A Recipe for Paris or The Paris Recipe (working titles) isn’t a sequel to The Ingredients of Happiness but it takes off from (will take off from!) one of the subplots from that book about a girl given up for adoption as a baby, her birth mother, and her unknown birth father. Once the mother, Betty, finds her daughter, Winifred, she gives her a box of clippings she’s been keeping for 20 years about the biological father, who is a patisserie chef in Paris. Winifred decides she has to go meet him in order to understand herself. You can see why I had to go back to Paris to do the research!

As we walked and walked and walked the city streets, I tried to keep Winnie's story burbling in the background. What would she see and feel and taste?

(I'm not sure how she'll end up hearing a concert like the one we did, but it will happen...)

Many of the Paris novels I’ve read over the past few years involve a secret inheritance, maybe a high couture dress or a fabulous apartment left languishing for years. I don’t expect to find either of these in the book I’m planning, but there will surely be an unexpected upper crust grandmother. I had such fun, figuring out where she lives (the seventh arrondissement), which is old money, and very formal. Maybe it would look something like this? 

or this? 

(Photo from the Sotheby’s booklet of Parisian apartments for sale.)

When Winifred arrives in Paris to work for her biological father (who knows nothing about her), I’m pretty sure she’ll be assigned to live in a bunk on a houseboat on the Seine until she gets her bearings. It might very well look like this: 

I’ll be telling you lots more as the story evolves, but if you’re heading for Paris for real, or want to go in your imagination, I recommend these blogs: David Lebovitz, Heather Stimmler's Secrets of Paris, Cake Boy Paris on Instagram, the Real Emily in Paris, Dorie Greenspan, Paris by Mouth. Here are a few of the novels and memoirs I’ve enjoyed: there are so many more!

Hidden in Paris

Almost French

The Paris Wife

My Life in France

The Sweet Life in Paris

Paris is Always a Good Idea (Jenn!)

The Paris Dress

The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris

The Paris Dressmaker

Jacqueline in Paris

The Paris Library

The Keeper of Happy Endings

The Paris Key

Cara Black's mysteries

Sophie Valroux's Paris Stars

and of course...

Rhys's THE PARIS ASSIGNMENT, which kept me glued to my kindle app on the long trip home...


Meanwhile, THE INGREDIENTS OF HAPPINESS, where Winnie makes her first appearance will be in bookstores July 4 –I'm so excited! Reviewers, you can get your copy on NetGalley now.

Reds, do you share my Paris obsession? Or have a place you visited or yearned to visit that would make a great story?

PS Reds, Barnes and Noble is running a big 25% off sale on all pre-orders (print, ebook, and I think audio--for two days only! You can pop over and preorder any of the upcoming Reds' titles!

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Treadmills, and the Stories We Tell About Ourselves @LauraHankin

LUCY BURDETTE: You will have met today's guest before because I loved her first two books, HAPPY AND YOU KNOW IT and A SPECIAL PLACE FOR WOMEN. She has a new book out this week and we're delighted to have her back--welcome Laura!

 LAURA HANKIN: Recently, during a podcast interview, the host asked me about my author bio. In addition to listing my writing work, my bio also mentions that I once fell off a treadmill twice in one day. As we laughed over the anecdote, I started thinking about the stories we tell about ourselves, and how they change over time.

First, the treadmill details. I was in high school and, as an anxious kid, worried that I wasn’t “well-rounded” enough to get into a good college because I didn’t do a sport. This was me back then, preparing to go on a long walk, the extent of my athletic ability.

But I thought maybe I could learn to run, and join the cross-country team. So after school one day, my friends and I went to the gym, and I tried out a treadmill. A few minutes in, I was feeling good, fantasizing about my sure-to-be-successful running career. And then I tripped over my shoelace.

I grabbed onto the treadmill’s handlebars while the belt dragged me backwards, the machine making a horrific squealing sound. Everyone turned to watch as I finally let go, flying off the back and collapsing in a heap on the gym floor. It was the most embarrassing moment of my life. But I’d read in a magazine that in moments of shame, you should dust yourself off and try again. So, determined, I stood up and got back on that treadmill, ready to show everyone that I wasn’t daunted! 

But I didn’t realize that you couldn’t just step back on to a fast-moving treadmill. I immediately fell off again, at which point the kind older man next to me said, “Maybe you should consider trying something else for a while?”

I went to the locker room and cried. I went back home and cried. I felt completely ashamed about it for weeks, and hoped I’d never have to talk about it again.

But maybe a month or two later, I was getting food with some classmates, and someone asked me about it. And instead of crying or covering my face, I told them. Somehow, it was fun, spinning it all out, including the most ridiculous details, making the listeners laugh. I felt an unexpected power, taking back the story. And now, it’s one of my favorite anecdotes about myself, so much so that I include it in my author bio! 

To be clear, I know that falling off a treadmill (twice!) is no big deal. But it’s an example of how we all go through tough things, and it can help to remind ourselves that someday, our current mess will make a really good story. I feel this way now about some past break-ups, career failures, and so much more. How wonderful, how healing, when you can take something that caused you pain, and tell it to other people to make them laugh, for catharsis, or to help others (and yourself) feel less alone. 

Have you found this to be true in your own life? And do you have any similar “treadmill moments," things you like to talk about now even though they once made you feel bad? If so, I’d love to hear about them in the comments. And thank you to the Jungle Red writers for having me today!

Bio: Laura Hankin is the author of The Daydreams, Happy & You Know It and A Special Place for Women. Her musical comedy has been featured in publications like The New York Times and The Washington Post, and she is developing projects for film and TV. She lives in Washington DC, where she once fell off a treadmill twice in one day.

The Daydreams synopsis: A deliciously entertaining novel about the stars of a popular teen show from the early 2000s—and the reunion special, thirteen years after their scandalous flameout, that will either be their last chance at redemption, or destroy them all for good.

Back in 2004, The Daydreams had it all: a cast of innocent-seeming teenagers acting and singing their hearts out, amazing ratings, and a will-they-or-won’t-they romance that steamed up fan fiction forums. Then, during the live season two finale, it all imploded, leaving everyone scrambling to understand why.

Afterward, the four stars went down very different paths. But now the fans are demanding a reunion special. The stars all have private reasons to come back: forgiveness, revenge, a second chance with a first love. But as they tentatively rediscover the magic of the original show, old secrets threaten to resurface—including the real reason behind their downfall.

Will this reunion be a chance to make things right? Or will it be the biggest mess the world has ever seen? No matter what, the ratings will be wild.

Monday, April 24, 2023

Judy Blume has her moment...and so should we all!

LUCY BURDETTE: John and I attended a fundraiser for the Tropic Cinema in Key West several weeks ago, the premiere of the movie based on Judy Bloom’s “Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret.” The stars came out, including Rachel McAdams who plays the mom, Barbara Simon, and Abby Ryder Fortson, who plays her daughter, Margaret. It was written and directed by Kelly Fremon Craig who was also in attendance, along with several producers and Judy Blume herself who lives in Key West. We had a blast watching the limousines drive up and drop off the stars, who were then interviewed on Eaton Street by Entertainment Weekly. (I also spotted Jeffrey Brown of the PBS NewsHour and managed to get his attention long enough to tell him that as PBS superfans, we thought he was a real star, too.)

After the notables were settled, ticket-holders trooped into the three theaters to watch the screening. For those of you who haven’t read the book, it’s the story of a 12-year-old girl in suburban New Jersey, wrestling with both the onset of puberty and her feelings about boys, mean girls, and religion. It’s been the target of numerous attempts at book banning since it was published in 1970. I was a little too old to have reaped the benefits of reading that book when I was going through puberty (my parents were mortally embarrassed by the topic,) but it’s hard to imagine wanting to ban a book or movie that helps confused teenagers understand rocky transitions.

(FYI, attempts to ban books have doubled over the past year.) 

One of my favorite parts of the evening was watching how much Judy (who is 85) enjoyed the experience. She maintains that she’s finished writing, and is focusing now on the bookstore that she and her husband were instrumental in founding. But Margaret was her third published book, and I think she had given up on ever seeing it filmed. Watching how happy she was, I imagined this might have been one of the peak moments of her long career.

Can you picture what a peak moment in your life and or career might be? (Maybe some of us have already had it!) (Here was one of mine:)

Lucy with Judy B at Books and Books

HALLIE EPHRON: I LOVE Judy Blume!! So jealous, Lucy.

My goal is modest. I’d like to walk to the bathroom on an airplane or Amtrak and pass someone who’s engrossed, reading one of my books. In hard cover. It has happened once, but I knew the person so that didn’t count.

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: My career highlight so far might seem funny - it’s an editing experience. My manuscript was running behind (surprise!) and in danger of losing its slot on the publication schedule, so my then-editor and I hatched an idea. I had to come to NYC for a marketing meeting; I would stay an extra day and we would do the edit together in person. I arrived at the Flatiron building at 9am; in order to be undisturbed, we were allowed to use Thomas Dunne’s office - he was away. This was on the 17th floor, at the very tip of the triangular building, with spectacular views of Broadway, 5th Avenue, and the expanse of midtown.

My editor sat at the huge monitor on one side of the desk, and I sat with the printed manuscript at the other, and we went through the whole book, page by page, with me dictating changes while she added them in to the computer. We ordered out for lunch, and then for dinner, and I got to see the sunlight shift and slide over Manhattan until it disappeared and a million lights came on. We finished a little after ten that night. She had ordered the car service to take me back to my hotel; I remember sitting in the luxurious back seat, watching the streets fall away, feeling like a character in a movie about a writer in New York. It was an extraordinary, one-time-only experience, and I’m so glad I had it.

JENN McKINLAY: I feel like the plow horse here. LOL. I haven’t had a peak moment yet. I’m hopeful that someday I will, so I keep writing. If Judy had to wait that long then I guess I can be patient.

As for Judy Blume’s books, I was too young to be one of her readers – although I do remember a battered paperback copy of Forever - the pertinent parts highlighted in yellow - being passed around on my school bus by the older kids. So many of her books have been challenged and it’s just crazy because it’s not like parents were telling their kids the facts of life back then. Sheesh! I’m delighted the movie has been made. As Lizzo says, “About damn time.”

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Oh, Lucy, that sounds amazing! I was too old for Judy Blume, but I see the adoration, and that’s so lovely. Hm, like Jenn, I’m thinking/hoping that the transcendent moment is still to come. I have had some wonderful amazing times, though. Like once, at a book event, someone tapped me on the shoulder, and said “Will you sign your book for me?” And I turned around, and it was SUE GRAFTON.

RHYS BOWEN: I remember my daughter asking if she could read Are You There God because it was controversial at the time. I let her, of course.

And I’ve had more than my share of career highlights: 3 Edgar nominations have been amazing. Guest of honor at conventions. And being #1 on Kindle was heady. However I don’t feel I’ve ever written that definitive book, the one that will last and people will say “ Oh Rhys Bowen. She wrote xxx.” Maybe that’s wishful thinking.

LUCY: Oh no Rhys, reach for the stars!

DEBORAH CROMBIE: What a fun event that must have been, Lucy, and I love that Judy is so committed to her bookshop. I remember you taking me there the first time I visited Key West.

As for career highlights, I suppose I'd include getting an Edgar nomination for Dreaming of the Bones (although I was much too nervous to enjoy the banquet) and finding out that The Sound of Broken Glass had debuted in the top ten in the New York Times. I was in a hotel room somewhere on book tour and ordered a half bottle of champagne with my very glamorous room service dinner. I still keep the cork in my carry-on bag.

Lucy again: Your turn Red readers...can you describe a peak life moment, or do you have one in mind? If you don't like that question, we'd love to hear any Judy Blume or banned books stories!

Sunday, April 23, 2023

In Praise of Cocktails.

RHYS BOWEN: As you found out yesterday, I’m in Hawaii for a few days of rest and relaxation (which I’m now getting after a traumatic first day: bags took an hour and a half to arrive. Fire alarm went off at two in the morning at the hotel. Strong winds dropped black stuff from the ceiling vent onto my counter etc etc)

One of the treats in Hawaii is COCKTAILS. I love the look of that pretty tall glass with colored liquid inside, an umbrella on the top with a chunk of pineapple and a cherry. So fun. So festive. So far I’ve had a mai tai (naturally), a passion fruit something… (forgot the name) and a pina collada. And I love the cool fruitiness of a long drink (with a touch of alcohol, of course)

And the good thing about cocktails is that they have now become fashionable at home. When I first arrived in America drinking was all about hard liquor. Men at business lunches had a martini or two. (I shudder to think about the deals made)

Then it was all about wine. America became a country of wine lovers. We went from white Zinfandel to boutique Sauvignon Blancs. And that was fine with me.

But now every good restaurant has a fun cocktails list with interesting and different ingredients. I’m a fan of the lavender mojito, as well as classics like the Moscow Mule.  Recently I had a Dark and Stormy, which was a dark rum with ginger beer and lime juice. Good.

I don’t make cocktails at home apart from margaritas or bloody marys in the summer, but as I’m writing this I think that I should try and invent my own. Yes, that will be my quest for the summer. A signature cocktail to be served at future Rhys Bowen signing events!  The Rhys’s Piece?

Or how about the Jungle Red? What ingredients would go into that? It could be a twist on a bloody mary, couldn’t it? But if we wanted sweet? Marachino cherries definitely. Cassis? Passionfruit juice?  Suggestions, please?

Are you a fan of cocktails? If you invented one what would it contain?

Saturday, April 22, 2023

It's In the Genes

 RHYS BOWEN:  I’m writing this from a beach in Hawaii. (This is a consolation trip after the same cruise had to be cancelled four years in a row, including having to cancel two days before we were due to fly in March when we both came down with a horrible virus)

It's not a bad consolation. Not a bad place to work and one of the perks of a writer, that I can write from anywhere in the world. As a lifelong traveler I found the Covid years really stressful. Stuck at home. Nowhere to go.  No chance encounters to spark creative juices. No research trips for future books. Now the world is opening up again and I’m free to spread my wings again. Yipee.

I often wonder where this innate wanderlust came from. My family lived in quiet country villages for generations. I can trace both sides back to around 1600, living their peaceful lives. Except for one great grandmother: Josephine. She was French. She married my Welsh great grandfather when she was 17. He was 34 at the time. She produced 14 children, outlived my great grandfather, married again. Outlived him. And when she was over eighty she sailed out to Australia to be with her daughter.  I know nothing of her background, what part of France, what she was doing in England or Wales, and how she ever met an older Welshman. And anyone who could tell me is long dead. But she fascinates me. I stare at her photograph, wondering if I see myself in her at all. And I think I owe my wanderlust to her.

Because it was definitely in my genes somewhere. The first time I went to a beach, about the age of two, I was told that I headed for the water, wearing only my sun hat. I started to walk into the waves. My mother waited and watched to see what I would do. It was only when I was up to my neck and still going that she rescued me. Clearly I needed to see what was on the other side of that sea.  

As soon as I learned about the rest of the world I knew I had to travel. I joined the Girl Guides because they had a trip planned to Belguim. I went to stay with a girl in Austria, crossing the continent alone when I was 13. And I was always fascinated by planes. On Sundays my brother and I could choose a family day out. His were always to a zoo or a beach. Mine always to London airport. There was an observation tower in those days. I’d stand up there and listen to the commentary: Now arriving an Air India super constellation from Bombay! And I’d watch that dot in the sky grow into a tiny plane and then it would come roaring in to land. That giant, unwieldy bird had flown all the way from India. How exciting was that?

Years have passed and I still get that thrill every time I watch a plane take off or land. It’s almost magic to me. And small wonder that I married a man who worked for an airline (and yes, we got free flights for many years). I’ve traveled much of the world, regret the places I haven’t been, and still want to see more. It was definitely in my genes from somewhere, wasn’t it?

Do you have some part of you that you know must be an inherited trait? I do know that I inherited the creative gene: grandfather orchestra conductor, mother and aunt both studied piano to performance level, uncle art director for ad agency, brother also ran ad agencies and great aunt was a natural story teller, entertaining me during my early years with real stories of the family and made-up ones. So it was also destined that I become a writer, I suppose.

How about you? Do you have an inherited trait, or a trait that is so far removed from your family that you wonder if you were a changeling? Those of you who write: when did you know you were going to be a write

Friday, April 21, 2023

My Team

 RHYS BOWEN: I’ve been watching a lot of tennis lately. And one thing I notice is that the players all have their TEAM with them. Their coach, their trainer plus other unidentified hangers-on.  So I’m wondering whether we need a team?

Writing is such a solitary profession. We sit, staring at a screen, trying to pull words out of our heads and onto paper.  

What if we didn’t have to go it alone? So if you had a team, who would it be?

A coach–to remind you to keep up the pace of the plot, to remind you of the looming deadline and whether you have enough white space on the page (thanks Hallie. I can’t forget this now)

A trainer to remind you to get up and stretch, to shake out your shoulders, to walk enough steps every day?

A massage therapist to massage those tight shoulders and make you feel good after you have been sitting for hours?

A mental health therapist to tell you that you don’t have to be stressed. You are doing great!  All you have to do is breathe.

Or should that be a MINDFULNESS COACH:  reminding you to breathe, to meditate, to observe the beauty of nature around you.

Or should it be a CHEERLEADER telling you : You’ve been in this position before and you’ve always managed to write fifty pages in five days when necessary. All the fans love you. The book will be a huge success.


A personal chef so that the right meal is waiting when you emerge from your office, grumpy and hungry.

We are lucky. We have our fellow Reds to be our cheerleaders and mother hens. And the closest I’ve come to a team was at the Edgars when Amazon flew in six people to be with me!  I called John and said “Do

 you know I have people?”  That was rather heady.

But would I like it all the time?

Would I want an office full of people ready to wait on my every need or telling me I needed to get back to work every time I looked out of the window?

Probably not. 

So how about you, Reds? Would you want a team? And who would be on it?

I think I’d settle for the personal chef.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: This is the most brilliant thing, Rhys!  I’ll add a posture coach, who pokes you from time to time and says: SIT UP STRAIGHT!  I’d adore a cheerleader, and oh, a plotting consultant.  And ditto on the chef. SOLD.

 (Oh, and an accountant. Walk in, hand over the receipts, done and done. See earlier post about taxes.) 

JENN McKINLAY: I’m that weird extrovert who likes to be alone most of the time, so I don’t know if I could handle a team. If I could have a team to take over the social media aspects of the gig  - that would be fabulous. I do it but I don’t love it. And I’m with Hank on the taxes. Could I just have someone do my daily accounting? That would be awesome! 

LUCY BURDETTE: I lOVE this idea Rhys! Yes on the personal chef, masseuse, and someone to do all the errands. Yes on help with social media! But I agree, I work better without anyone around so I’ll have to pass the person who’s hovering over to one of you!

Ps every once in a while, as I’m leaving the apartment I say to John “Please write a few pages.” That would be kind of fun if it was real!

HALLIE EPHRON: What I’d love Love LOVE is a chauffeur. Take me where I need to go. Manage figuring out where to park the car. Pick me up at the airport even if it’s 1 in the morning. Heaven. 

But really I do think we all HAVE teams. For me, a supportive husband who never questioned it when I quit my day job. Neighbors who (as we are speaking) are moving my empty garbage bins (that I forgot about) from the sidewalk to my backyard. Grandchildren who provide a laugh track to my life. Love my “team.” I know, I sound like a Goody Two-shoes, but that’s what I’m feeling like these days.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Yes to all of those Rhys, especially the personal chef! But like everyone else, I don't really want any of that support team AROUND. We must all be extrovert/introverts. I like the house to be quiet and I won't get any work done if I'm interrupted. But a virtual cheerleader and plotting consultant, and posture coach, would be great!

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I’m laughing at all of us who would love to have people taking care of us… as long as they stay out of sight! Who could I use? Someone to sweep and vacuum daily so I’m not annoyed by the sight of dog hair, cat hair, and bits of ash and bark - remember, I’m heating with a woodstove! (Of course, I’m not annoyed enough to actually DO the vacuuming myself until things get really dire.) A groundskeeper, who could tackle the three acres Ross left me so I can go outside and take inspiration from nature instead of wrestling with it (although the latter does leave me feeling murderous…)

Who would I’d like most on my team? A clever secretary/social media manager, so I don’t have to open my email inbox and groan - and who would ensure I never have to look at Facebook/ Twitter/ Instagram etc. again!

RHYS: Ah, Julia... that is a team member I already have. Brilliant Lisa does handle my social media for me, except that I like to check my own Facebook page, only leaving it to Lisa to handle crazy spammers and strange African men for me (she's ruthless.)

 I agree with what the others have said. We are so lucky that we all have/have had supportive husbands. It makes a huge difference to have that cheerleader on your side.  And mine does cook sometimes. This would be even better if he didn't use 25 different pans and bowls and the kitchen didn't end up with flour on the floor.

And here is my best team! Advisers, cheerleaders, therapists and cooking experts all rolled into one.

So let's hear from you, dear friends. Who would you have on your team, or would you rather go it alone?

(And the winner of Edith's book is Meg. Please contact her at