The Sound of Silence

by Sheila Connolly

Just back from a trip to West Cork in Ireland, where (in case you haven’t heard it seventeen times already) I own a small cottage, on a small plot of land. From anywhere on my quarter-acre property I can see a total of four houses, and one of those is a mile away. The ruined church up the hill where several generations of my ancestors married is almost exactly a mile, and I can see it out the back.

Coming back to “civilization” is hard after spending over two weeks in Ireland. The first thing you notice out in the country in Ireland is the absence of noise. It is quiet in my part of West Cork. By my rough estimate, based on agricultural reports, there are 542,000 people in County Cork, and 1,719,500 cattle. The cows don’t make noise at night. Most people don’t go gadding about at night because they’re exhausted from tending all those cattle.

Traffic past my cottage amounts to one or two vehicles per hour, including deliveries, milk and oil trucks, and school buses, as well as individual cars. There are no planes flying overhead. There are birds, of course, and when they squabble (most often various kinds of crows), their caws echo off the trees.


The peace is lovely. You can feel your blood pressure dropping day by day.

Then there’s the darkness. Across the road in front of my cottage, at night I can’t see a single light anywhere. Turn off the interior lights during the dark of the moon and you can’t see your hand in front of your face. In contrast, during a full moon it seems almost as bright as day, although the light shifts across the sky faster. In winter you’re lucky to have eight hours of sun, dawn to dusk; in summer it’s more than sixteen hours. Those of us who live in suburban places have forgotten those rhythms.


Silence and darkness seem to go together, It begins to make sense, why Simon and Garfunkel began their song, The Sound of Silence, with “hello darkness, my old friend.” Maybe they were depressed young men when they sang that, but that’s not true in Ireland. People have long memories, often stretching back generations. At the same time there’s a real curiosity about newcomers. Who are you? Where do you come from? And often, do you have people here? Their memory for recent events proves it: people I might have met once, a year or more earlier, remember my name and where I’m staying in Ireland. In some ways that’s unsettling, because it’s hard to be anonymous.

I’m not going to argue whether the silence of the countryside or the noise of civilization is better. I enjoy the energy of cities, at least in small doses. I’d seize the opportunity to visit a city I’ve never seen (especially if there’s a group of writers there!). But sometimes I need quiet, and a slower pace, as do most of us, I’m guessing. Would I go stir-crazy if I stayed in Ireland for good? I really can’t say, but it bears thinking about.


There’s another quotation that keeps running through my head, and it fits too: “The World Is Too Much with Us,” a sonnet by William Wordsworth written in 1802. In it Wordsworth criticizes the world of the First Industrial Revolution for being absorbed in materialism and distancing itself from nature. It’s all the more true these days, and living pretty close to nature for the past couple of weeks has been eye-opening for me.

How about you? Does fresh air, sunlight and quiet drive you crazy? Or do you crave a dose of tranquility?

BTW, the sixth book of the County Cork Series, Many a Twist, will be released in January 2018, but things are not exactly quiet in the book. Plus the paperback edition of Cruel Winter will be out in a week, if you’re thinking of a nice holiday gift . . .


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


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)



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?

The Promise of An Orchard

By Sherry. It feels like apple picking weather here in Northern Virginia

Today we continue to celebrate the release of Seeds of Deception by Sheila Connolly, the tenth book in her wonderful Orchard Mystery series. Here’s a little about the book: The New York Times bestselling author of A Gala Event returns with newlyweds Meg and Seth Chapin who should be worried about writing thank you notes, not taking a juicy bite out of crime…

seedsofdeceptionWith the bushels of time they spent organizing their wedding, Meg and Seth didn’t have a chance to plan a honeymoon. But now that winter has arrived, there’s not much to do at the orchard. So with their shared love of history and all things apple, they pick Thomas Jefferson’s orchards at Monticello as the perfect getaway.

While they enjoy the beautiful sights, there’s a rotten addition to the agenda when Meg’s parents discover their handyman dead in the backyard. With a bitter police chief eyeing Meg’s father as a suspect, Meg and Seth have to cut their honeymoon short to find the root of the problem.

Orchards are wondrous places full of change, new beginnings, and falls full of fruit. Wickeds, have you visited any orchards? Do you have a favorite memory from one?

Edith: I’ve gone apple picking every fall for years. Lately I only have to go a mile away toimg_2778 the fabulous Cider Hill Orchard, where I stopped in yesterday for fresh eggs and cider, and where I take my young friends on our days together. I used to live across the street from Long Hill Orchards in West Newbury, and they had a img_1056late fall apple to die for. The variety is Spartan, and the flavor is so rich and winey, the texture perfectly crisp and not too watery – but alas they don’t pick them any more! I’ve searched for that apple at other orchards with no luck. So I might have to plant one.

Liz: Love orchards. I worked at one in college – Mann Orchards in Methuen, Mass. There was just something about the atmosphere in there that made fall come alive, from the smell of the apple pies to watching the bakers make the homemade apple crisp. I have some great fall memories from working there.

Sherry: My grandfather had a wonderful orchard on top of a hill at his farm in Novinger, Missouri. I loved walking through it and climbing the trees. It was ever changing bare branches, bud, blooms, tiny apples, trees laden with apples. My grandfather would graft branches from one tree to another to create new varieties. Their back porch was always full of bushel baskets of apples. It was a magical place.

Jessie: A neighboring town to mine, across the border into Maine, has many orchards. My favorite of these is Kelly Orchards where for many years my family has purchased  a crate of apples with which to make cider. We have an antique cider mill and invite friends and family for a potluck event every year at which we turn the 14 bushel of apples into gallons and gallons of cider. It is one of my favorite things to do each October. Everyone helps to grind, press or bottle and everyone takes home fresh, sweet cider.  That being said, my very favorite orchard of all has to be Old Orchard Beach, Maine!

violaapplepickingBarb: When they were young, we always took our kids apple picking. Our favorite spot was Tougas Family Farm in Northboro, MA. There was a lot of good-natured arguing, and cautioning, and carrying a tired child up from the bottom of the orchard–along with the apples. But it remains one my happiest fall memories. My son and daughter-in-law have continued the tradition with our grandchild. Last weekend they went apple-picking and did a corn maze and a hayride, and best of all–made an apple pie afterward.

Julie: OK, I wasn’t sure if I should admit this or not. The closest I’ve ever come to apple picking are stopping by a farm stand on the North Shore, getting a bag of apples and some cider donuts. Pitiful, I know. (I write about a town called Orchard for heaven’s sake.) Working on changing that this fall, though I’ve heard the drought has been tough on the apple crop.

Readers: Have you been to an orchard? Apple or some other fruit or nut?





A Delicious New Book by Sheila Connolly

seedsofdeceptionBy Sherry — I’ve been baking in Northern Virginia but not because it’s hot out!

Happy Book Birthday, Sheila! Today we are celebrating the TENTH book in Sheila’s fabulous Orchard Mystery series, Seeds of Deception! To celebrate I decided to try making a couple of recipes from Sheila’s earlier books. Since I’m not the greatest cook in the world, I decided I’d share the good, bad, and ugly of the whole process.

The first recipe I made was the Toffee Crunch Blondies from A Gala Event, the ninth book in the series. After reading the recipe and seeing ingredients like chocolate chips, white chocolate chips, and toffee bits, I decided I had to try this one!


What better way to keep the book open than to use a couple of Granny Smith apples? This recipe was easy to follow. Of course I forgot to set the butter out so I put it in the microwave for 15 seconds. It might have needed a bit more.

I mixed it all up and stuck it in the oven for the recommended twenty-five minutes. The house smelled like heaven!

Sheila says in the instructions for the book: Try not to eat them all at once. My husband couldn’t even wait for them to cool completely. But there were some left at the end of the evening — perhaps because I made a pie too.


img_1082img_1086Next I decided to make Apple Cream Pie from Picked To Die, the eighth book in the Orchard Mysteries. My husband is chief pie maker at our house, but I wanted to do it myself. That meant a store bought crust instead of homemade. And yes, I forgot to take the pie crust out to get to room temperature so it was back to the microwave. This recipe is also really easy — the most time intensive part is peeling the apples. (I’m guessing Sheila has one of those cool apple peeler/corer devices.) I used my vegetable peeler.

The recipe says to: Prepare your apples and pile them into the shell. I may have been a little over enthused with the piling part of the instructions. My pile turned out to be a small hill.


I think because my pile was so high that the top apples got a little browner on top than they might normally. But the pie tastes delicious, a fabulous combination of tart and sweet! I know what I’m having for breakfast tomorrow!

Read A Gala Event and Picked to Die to find the recipes. I can’t wait to read Seeds of Deception and see what happens to newlyweds Meg and Seth (they are on their honeymoon in Western Massachusetts) and to get more recipes!

Readers: Have you ever made a recipe from the books you read? How did it turn out?



The Fourth of July

Sheila here. Today we celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia, when the American colonies took the first formal step in separating themselves from England.

Picture a group of men, all formally dressed, locking into a relatively small room in Independence Hall in Philadelphia, with the windows nailed shut so nobody outside could overhear what they were planning. It’s a wonder they didn’t all pass out from the heat. But they came up with one of the most significant single documents in modern history.

That gathering doesn’t lend itself to great art. But! We in Massachusetts have a work of art that defines our concept of patriotism: the Minute Man statue that stands by the river in Concord, designed by Daniel Chester French. Yes, I know—it represents an event that took place a year earlier, on the 18th (or 19th) of April in 1775, but it conveys the same message, in a more personal way. It’s the ordinary man, standing up against a one of the major powers of the world as it was then—and winning.


Photo by Dave Pape [Public Doman], via Wikimedia Commons

Daniel Chester French is well known now (and his statue of Lincoln in Washington DC is magnificent), but when he created the Minute Man, he was just starting out. In a fictionalized biography written by his daughter Margaret, called Journey into Fame, published in 1947, the author reports that Daniel’s first sculpture was a carving of a frog wearing trousers, made from a turnip. Unfortunately for the history of art, this youthful work did not survive. But it did convince his family of his talent, and his father purchased a quantity of clay at an art supply store in Boston and presented it to his youngest son, and the rest is history.

It is astonishing now to think that the Minute Man statue was Daniel’s first commission. He was 23 at the time. In 1872 the town of Concord appointed a committee to plan for a monument for the Centennial of the famous battle, and provided $1,000 through a bequest from a local resident. The committee asked Daniel to make a model, which he began in his studio in Boston in April 1873. The model was approved and he was officially awarded the commission in November. (The fact that family friend Ralph Waldo Emerson was on the committee may have helped.)

The statue was unveiled on April 19th, 1875, and the dedication was attended by President Ulysses Grant, as well as Emerson and James Russell Lowell.  Strange to say, French was NOT present at the unveiling, and was in fact in Italy.

The statue depicts a modest farmer, who is at the point of abandoning his plow and taking up his musket, to respond to the call to arms. The statue has become the iconic image of the Revolution, or at least our romanticized version of it. Even though the statue is a single figure, it embodies the conflict between the simple colonists who really wanted nothing more than to go on with their farming and raising families and so on, and the larger, better equipped and better trained English forces (who in their arrogance thought they could squash that puny rebellion in the colonies and go on collecting taxes from them).

So we’re celebrating the triumph of the ordinary people over a powerful antagonist they had little hope of beating—but they did. As a long-time genealogist, I can count at least thirteen ancestors from Massachusetts who took part in the Revolution in some way. They weren’t heroes—in fact, family legend says that one of those heard the alarm for the Battle at Concord said, “forget it—I’ve got to finish plowing.” How American that sounds: I’ll defend my new country against all odds, but let me get my crop planted first–my family needs to eat!

But here we are, 240 years later, still going strong. Happy Independence Day!


Happy Book Birthday: Museum Style

Wicked Accomplice Sheila Connolly’s Dead End Street, her seventh Museum Mystery, is released today!

deadendstreetHere’s the blurb:

When the Pennsylvania Antiquarian Society discovers it owns some unique real estate, a deadly plot unfolds . . .

Society president Nell Pratt believes life is finally going her way. Everything’s running smoothly at work, and her love life is thriving. Then some unexpected news rocks her foundation. Two members of a local neighborhood rescue program, Tyrone Blakeney and Cherisse Chapman, inform Nell that her society owns an abandoned row house in a rundown area of Philadelphia and they insist on taking her to see the property before its date with the wrecking ball.

But soon after they arrive at the house, Cherisse is fatally shot and Tyrone is badly injured. The police believe it’s just random violence in a bad neighborhood, but Nell thinks there’s more to it and is determined to find answers before someone else becomes history . . .

In celebration, we Wickeds are thinking about museums. Wicked, what is the first visit to a museum you remember and what made it memorable?

Liz: Congrats, Sheila! Another one to add to the reading pile! The first museum I remember visiting is Boston’s Museum of Science when I was six or so. My parents were big on education, even during vacation, so off we went. It was a big weekend – we were staying overnight in the city and everything. I loved looking at the dinosaur bones, but cool as those were it wasn’t the most memorable part of the trip. What stands out to this day is the fire alarm that went off in our hotel in the middle of the night. My father slept right through it, and I remember standing at the window listening to all the sirens coming our way and wondering if we were going to make it out of the building. I don’t think there really was a fire, but it certainly was a weekend to remember!Lake Pit Hero

Edith: I’m excited to read this next installment, Sheila! I grew up near Los Angeles, and I remember going to the museum of the La Brea Tar Pits. In our family, we were fond of saying “The the tar tar pits,” since that’s what La Brea means. Anyway, the museum had ice age animal models and bones that had been preserved by the tar, as I recall. And that’s about all I recall.

Jessie:You never cease to amaze, Sheila! Congrats! The first museum I remember visiting was when I was in kindergarten. The thing I vividly remember about the place was an exhibit of human fetuses floating in jars. They were at all stages of development and it was really disturbing. It took me a long time to get so I wanted to visit a museum after that!

rembrandtBarb: Congratulations, Sheila! You’re an inspiration to us all. I have two memories of early museum visits and I honestly can’t say which came first. One was a class trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in elementary school. One skinny little kid, I wish I could remember his name, leaned all the way over an Egyptian burial urn, saw the desiccated body at the bottom, and dramatically threw up, much to the hysteria of the teachers, chaperones and museum guards. The second was also at the Met, seeing Rembrandt’s “Aristotle Contemplating a Bust of Homer” just after it was purchased, which the internet helpfully tells me was in 1961, when I was eight. There was a long wait, and I remember coming up some stairs, and the painting just punched me in the face, it was so dramatic and alive. It was the first time I’d experienced the emotional power of fine art and I’ve never forgotten it.

Julie: Congratulations Sheila! Happy Book Birthday! I love this topic, though I don’t remember! I suspect it was the Science Museum in Boston, though we lived near Plymouth growing up, and I remember going to some smaller Pilgrim themed museums, which count. I am a huge museum fan, and here in Boston you don’t have to go far without tripping over history. I am loving the Design Museum here in Boston, which includes nomadic exhibitions all over the city. Expanding the definition of what a museum is –I love that.

Sherry: I love museums and the different aspects Sheila tackles in this series! I grew up in Davenport, Iowa and we were lucky enough to have a wonderful museum (it was opened in 1867 and was one of the first museums west of the Mississippi) and Davenport Municipal Art Museum (now the Figge Art Museum). I was always fascinated with the geological section of the museum and you could buy a bag of polished rocks! When we were allowed to do that it was like taking home a bag of treasures. The art museum has the archives for Iowa artist Grant Wood — the painter of American Gothic. I love that the cover artist for Edith’s Local Food series, Robin Moline, does some paintings in a similar style to Wood. You can see more of Robin’s work here. I was lucky to live in a town with two such fabulous places to go.

Readers: Do you remember the first museum you went to?