Happy Cruel Winter Book Birthday!

Happy Book Birthday to Sheila Connolly. Her fifth County Cork Mystery, Cruel Winter, is cruelwinterout!

Snow is a rarity in Maura Donovan’s small village in County Cork, Ireland, so she wasn’t sure what to expect when a major snowstorm rolled in around Sullivan’s pub. But now she’s stranded in a bar full of patrons–and a suspected killer in a long-ago murder. Over the next few hours, the informal court in Sullivan’s reviews the facts and theories about the case–and comes to some surprising conclusions. But is it enough to convince the police to take a new look at an old case?

To celebrate, I (Edith) decided to make one of Sheila’s many Irish recipes from her other group blog, Mystery Lover’s Kitchen. She’s over there most Fridays sharing dishes, both savory and sweet, that she has concocted. I’ve adapted the following recipe slightly, but what follows isn’t too far from her Feb 7 post of three years ago. As you can see, I didn’t have Irish whiskey, but figured I couldn’t go too far wrong with using bourbon, instead.

Irish Chicken and Cabbage

Ingredients

1/2 cup flour
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 bone-in chicken breast halves, with skin on
1/4 cup olive oil
3 cloves garlic,  minced
2 carrots, peeled and thickly sliced
1 medium onion, thickly sliced
1 T dried rosemary leaves, crumbled
2 cups shredded cabbage
1-1/2 cups chicken stock (homemade/canned/from a bouillon cube)
Sheila’s twist—a tablespoon or two of Irish whiskey (Edith’s substitution—an equal amount of bourbon)

irishchickingred

Directions

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.  Mix the flour, salt and pepper in a shallow bowl or pie pan and dredge the chicken pieces in it, shaking off the excess.

In a Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium-high heat.  Add the chicken pieces and sauté for 3 to 4 minutes per side, until lightly browned. Tuck the garlic cloves, carrots, onions and rosemary around and between the chicken pieces. Lay the cabbage in an even layer on top and season with salt and pepper.

Mix the whiskey into the broth and pour the liquid over the chicken and vegetables. Cover the contents of the Dutch oven with its oven-proof lid, or with foil (press it against the contents to make a fairly close seal), then place the pot in the oven and cook for 75 (remember, the heat is low). Peek once or twice and baste the top with the pan juices.

irishchickTo serve, place a piece of chicken on the plate and spoon the vegetables and sauce over it. I urge you to check Sheila’s original recipe for pix of the entire process and for the few ingredients I left out (because, oops, I didn’t have them in the house).

I wanted to serve the dish with new potatoes steamed and then lightly sauteed in olive oil and herbs – except somebody in my house used the last potato and didn’t put them them on the shopping list. So instead I made quick whole-wheat soda biscuits. Which went almost better with the dish than the potatoes would have.

Readers: Who has read the County Cork series up to now and can’t wait to get your hands on this one?  [Me! Me!] Anybody been to Ireland and, if so, what was your favorite meal? Your favorite Irish pub near where you live?

Guest: Leslie Karst

Edith here, happy to host my friend Leslie Karst again. And she’s giving away a copy of a-measure-of-murder-coverher brand-new book to one commenter here today. I loved the first book in the series and am delighted my copy popped up on my Kindle this morning. Check out this starred review from Publishers Weekly (it’s no mean feat to score stars from them):

“Engaging characters, terrific writing, and a savory blend of musical and culinary erudition…polymath Karst sauces her plot without masking its flavor. And she’s a dab hand with the red herrings.”

Take it away, Leslie.

I am especially thrilled to be a guest of the Wicked Cozies today, as this is the release day of A Measure of Murder, the second in my Sally Solari culinary mystery series. And in celebration of all things wicked, I present a post about telling lies.

When Is a Lie Really the Truth?

Not long ago during a morning bike ride, I stopped to chat with another cyclist as we lifted our skinny-tire road bikes over a section of railroad tracks. “Lovely morning!” she commented, and I responded in kind. “I’m not often out this early,” the woman added, “but it’s great.”

no-1

Self portrait

“Oh, this is when I usually go riding,” I answered, “because I have a dog who always wakes me up early.”

The woman chuckled and gave me a knowing smile before riding off. Now, this may not seem like an out-of-the-ordinary exchange, and you may in fact be wondering what point it could possibly have. But here’s the thing: My dog, Ziggy, almost never wakes me up in the morning. She pretty much always sleeps in—well past the time I ever get up.

So the point is, I lied to the cyclist. And for no apparent reason. The fib just flew out of my mouth, unwarranted and unplanned. Now, why the heck did I do that? I wondered as I pedaled off in the opposite direction.

Weeks later, I was contemplating a suitable subject for this Wicked Cozies blog post and decided it would be fun to write about something “wicked.” And then, remembering my interaction with the woman at the railroad tracks, it occurred to me that telling lies is certainly considered wicked—at least in most circles.

Okay, then: Why did I make up that story about my dog?

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What my dog really looks like in the morning

Perhaps the first thing to do is recognize the difference between outright lying and embellishing. Or exaggerating. Or telling tall tales. Every story-teller wants to spin a good yarn, so the tendency is to embellish. And if your audience is enjoying what you’re doing, you kick it up a notch. Just look at the tales of Paul Bunyan and his giant blue ox. Or the “news” stories reported by Mark Twain when he worked as a journalist, which often failed completely to distinguish between fiction and fact.

So maybe when I told my fellow cyclist about my dog waking me up, it was simply because the real story—that I just seem to wake up early these days—was boring. And even though I wasn’t consciously thinking about it, my unconscious self wanted something better. (My previous dog, by the way, did wake me up early every single morning, so wasn’t an out-and-out lie.)

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The urge to tell a good story never ends

But tall tales don’t exist solely for their entertainment value. They serve a far greater purpose, and are often “truer” than the literal truth. When used as metaphor, exaggeration can make a point far better than any real account ever could. This is what archetypes and mythology are all about. Through embellishment, they cut straight to the essence, to those attributes which make us human, make us “everyman.”

Okay, so my little fib about Ziggy doesn’t rise to the level of the adventures of Odysseus, or of his modern incarnation, Leopold Bloom https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leopold_Bloom . But the urge to tell a compelling story comes from the same place.

And maybe that need to embellish, to tell that tall tale, to create that metaphor, is what makes us writers. Because when done well, stretching the facts—or even making them up whole cloth—isn’t lying about what happened. It’s actually telling the truth.

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Child’s rendering of a Greek hero

Readers: Have you ever caught yourself telling a fib for no reason other than to make your story more interesting? At what point do you think this moves from mere “embellishment” to actual “lying”? (Remember, one commenter wins a copy of the book!)

 

In A Measure of Murder, chef Sally Solari joins her ex-boyfriend Eric’s chorus, but at the first rehearsal for the Mozart Requiem, a tenor falls to his death on the church courtyard—and his soprano girlfriend is sure it wasn’t an accident. Now Sally’s back on another murder case mixed in with a dash of revenge, a pinch of peril, and a suspicious stack of sheet music. And while tensions in the chorus heat up, so does the kitchen at her restaurant Gauguin, set aflame right as Sally starts getting too close to the truth. Can Sally catch the killer before she’s burnt to a crisp, or will the case grow as cold as yesterday’s leftovers?

karst-headshotThe daughter of a law professor and a potter, Leslie Karst learned early, during family dinner conversations, the value of both careful analysis and the arts—ideal ingredients for a mystery story. She now writes the Sally Solari Mysteries (Dying for a Taste, A Measure of Murder), a culinary series set in Santa Cruz, California. An ex-lawyer like her sleuth, Leslie also has degrees in English literature and the culinary arts. She and her wife and their Jack Russell mix split their time between Santa Cruz and Hilo, Hawai‘i. Visit her online at http://www.lesliekarstauthor.com/ and at https://www.facebook.com/lesliekarstauthor/

 

BIRTHING THAT SECOND BABY WHILE LIFE CONTINUES TO HAPPEN – Guest C. Michele Dorsey

Sherry, here. We are so happy to have Michele Dorsey visit us on her book birthday! If you haven’t read No Virgin Island add it to your TBR pile immediately! And then grab a copy of her second book Permanent Sunset. Michele is giving away a copy of Permanent Sunset to someone who leaves a comment by midnight tonight!

permanentsunsetfinal1Michele: About a year ago, I blogged about “birthing a book” (http://cmicheledorsey.com/blog/131727) and predicted that No Virgin Island, my first mystery, would have siblings. Today, Permanent Sunset joins the Sabrina Salter family. I had no idea how difficult writing that second book would be, although there were many colleagues who tried to warn me. But I wouldn’t listen. For those of you who have gone through the adventures of pregnancy, followed by the agony of labor and delivery, you may recall that once you see that beautiful little creature you’ve birthed, all memories of the pain you suffered bringing it into the world are instantly erased. So it is with birthing a book, it seems.

Books are never written in vacuums. Permanent Sunset was created, written, edited, and re-edited while my husband and I excavated layers of debris from the 33 years we had lived in our home, which we were now selling in an effort to downsize our lives and our possessions. Anyone who has gone through this exercise can tell you that it is not as simple as sorting into three piles:  sell, throw, or keep. There are emotions attached to so many items. What was I supposed to do with my mother’s wedding gown? The rock painted green by my son who insisted in nursery school that his mother was going to have a real sham-ROCK for St. Patrick’s Day? My father’s formal Navy cap and epaulets?

michelehouseI became a little unhinged with the rush of emotions flowing on my daily trips to donate stuff at Savers. What I hadn’t expected was that there would be a collision with the feelings I was experiencing while simultaneously writing my second book.

Who was Sabrina Salter? She certainly wasn’t satisfied to be merely the person through whom the story was told about a lavish island villa and the family that is nearly destroyed because of it. Sure, she had a life and had experiences in No Virgin Island that defined her at the time, but she now faced new circumstances, which were revealing an emerging Sabrina. Sabrina refused to be stagnant. The woman was becoming a handful for me.

When Sabrina resisted pressure from her business partner, Henry, to add an opulent villa to their management company, I found myself cheering for her. When she caved, I was disappointed and ready to scold her. I endured her smug satisfaction when it turned out she was right and Henry had been deadly wrong, but was a little disappointed in her.

Sabrina’s tragic motherless childhood had her questioning everything she did, for without role models or a library full of self-help manuals, she was ill equipped to handle the challenges that a powerful and wealthy family present when one of their own has been murdered. She agonized over every decision, doubting herself while trying to muster the courage to figure out what is “normal.” I was having enough trouble trying to make decisions in my own life and now Sabrina was asking me to make hers.

I hadn’t planned on my second baby being so difficult. I thought I knew Sabrina and Henry, and even Neil Perry, her sort-of boyfriend, pretty well. When even Neil began to surprise me with his secrets, I knew this second baby would be no more predictable that the first.

Once we’d nearly emptied our house and had a signed purchase and sales agreement, my husband faced a serious health challenge. Again, ripples of fear and doubt raced through me, while I continued to resist being drawn in by the perils of my second baby. I had enough on my plate.

But it turns out, that’s not how writing goes. Until I learned to stop fighting my characters efforts to draw me in because I was trying to deal with what was going on in my own real world, I would never be able to tell their story. I began to tell my husband I was “going on in” when I set off to write.  What I meant was that I was surrendering to Sabrina, Henry, and Neil and shutting out the rest of the world. They could give me what they had. I would feel their pain, joy, confusion, and anything else they would give me. I was ready to accept them all as gifts and birth this second baby.

Once I yielded, the story flowed. The house sold. The husband was okay.

“Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.”
Steven Pressfield

micheleC. “Michele” Dorsey is the author of No Virgin Island, a Sabrina Salter mystery published in 2015 by Crooked Lane Books set on the island of St. John in the US Virgin Islands. She is also a lawyer, mediator and adjunct professor of law. Michele finds inspiration and serenity on St. John and on Cape Cod. Permanent Sunset, the second in the series, will be published in October,  2016.

Readers: How do you feel when you are ready to read a second in a series book? Writers: Did you feel the way Michele did about your second book?

 

Guest: Leslie Karst

Edith here, busier than heck, but not too busy to welcome Leslie Karst! Leslie and I met when we roomed together at Left Coast Crime in Monterey, California a couple of years ago. We’d only known each other online previously, but in person we learned we both had a taste for a spot of whiskey and good conversation. I am SO thrilled her debut mystery is coming out, and she’s giving away a hardcover copy to one commenter today.The story is set in Santa Cruz, California – where I almost went to college – and when I read an advance copy, I was able to unreservedly give it a glowing endorsement:

“You won’t want to push away this delicious plate of mystery from debut author Leslie Dying for a Taste coverKarst. And you’ll be Dying for a Taste of sleuth Sally Solari’s family’s cooking, both Italian and Polynesian. Don’t read while hungry!”

Here’s what the book’s about: After losing her mother to cancer, Sally Solari quits her job as an attorney to help her dad run his old-style Italian eatery in Santa Cruz, California. But managing the front of the house is far from her dream job of being a real cook.

Then her Aunt Letta is found murdered at Gauguin, Letta’s swank Polynesian-French restaurant, and Sally is the only one who can keep the place afloat. When the Gauguin sous chef is accused of the crime, however, Sally is forced to delve into the unfamiliar world of organic food, sustainable farming, and animal rights activists—not to mention a few family secrets—to help clear his name and catch the true culprit before her timer runs out. 

Take it away, Leslie!

Food Revolution or Food Fad?

Santa Cruz, California—my home town, as well as that of my protagonist, Sally Solari—is probably best known for two quite different things: its historic roller coaster (take a ride on it here https://beachboardwalk.com/Giant-Dipper !), and its high population of hippies and

The Giant Dipper

The Giant Dipper

hipsters.

The juxtaposition of these contrasting cultures—as played out on the food scene—provides the backdrop for my culinary mystery, Dying for a Taste. Sally, who practically grew up in the kitchen of her family’s old-school Italian eatery, knows little about the “food revolution” that has recently descended upon her sleepy seaside resort town. But when her aunt is found murdered at her trendy restaurant and the sous chef is accused of the crime, she is thrown into the unfamiliar world of organic farming and animal rights activists in her quest to find the true killer.

This plot line stems from beliefs that are dear to my heart. I’ve long been a proponent of sustainable and humane food practices, and do my best to buy pastured meat, sustainable fish, and local produce when I can. But at the same time, I’m well aware that

Santa Cruz Farmers' Market

Santa Cruz Farmers’ Market

aspects of the current food movement could be seen as completely unrealistic, or just another food fad. There are, no doubt, those out there for whom buying local and organic food is merely a status symbol—rather like owning a Versace purse.

And let’s face it: Most folks couldn’t become pure locavores no matter how much they wanted to (try getting “local” citrus or bananas in New England, for example, or “local” coffee or maple syrup in California). And for countless inner-city residents, finding fresh vegetables at all—not to mention organic ones—is a near impossibility.

Hawaiian chameleon blending in

Hawaiian chameleon blending in

That said, I don’t think we should simply dismiss the change that is now occurring around the world in how we look at food. For the last fifty years (I’d date it from the advent of the TV dinner) we, as a society, have become disconnected from what we eat. We haven’t known—or cared—where it came from or how it was produced, being under the thrall of the convenience and cheapness caused by its mass-production. We have no idea what it took to produce that dollar meal cheese-burger, and it would require a chemist to translate the dozens of artificial ingredients that are in that “shake” (they can’t call them milkshakes, because they contain no milk).

But lately people seem to be waking up. Once more they’re starting to see the connection

Egg farm near Santa Cruz

Egg farm near Santa Cruz

between the foods they consume and the health of themselves and the planet. Just five years ago, for instance, I had a hard time finding eggs from pastured hens in Santa Cruz; now Safeway carries them.

And Walmart is selling organic foods, a sure sign that even “middle America” has become concerned with the amount of hormones, antibiotics, pesticides, and herbicides in our food.

Fad or not, I see these as good signs.

Readers: What are your views of the “food movement”? How much is fad and how much is true concern for the health of people and our planet? What do you think of Walmart and other giant corporations jumping on the organic/sustainable food bandwagon? Remember, Leslie is giving away a hardcover copy to one commenter!

karst headshotLeslie Karst is the author of the culinary mystery, Dying for a Taste, the first of the Sally Solari Mystery series (Crooked Lane Books). A former research and appellate attorney, Leslie now spends her days cooking, gardening, reading, cycling, singing alto in the local community chorus, and of course writing. She and her wife, Robin, and their Jack Russell mix, Ziggy, split their time between Santa Cruz, California and Hilo, Hawai‘i. Visit her at Leslie Karst Author http://www.lesliekarstauthor.com/ for more.