LUCY BURDETTE: I do so love introducing readers and book groups to my Key West series. Earlier this fall, I received an email from a Connecticut acquaintance. She told me that her book group was reading AN APPETITE FOR MURDER and wondered if I could “visit” by Face Time? Of course I could! I was blown away by the enthusiasm of the group, and the Key West decorations, and the hostess’s menu. I thought it would be fun to show you what they did. Luckily, Cindy Cartier, the hostess, agreed!
It makes sense to choose the first book in a series if many of the members aren’t familiar with the series, which is what Cindy did. I asked her a few questions about the evening–you will really enjoy reading what she cooked up–she’s amazing!
Lucy: How did you choose AN APPETITE FOR MURDER?
The book club (Cindy is 3rd from left)
CINDY: I LOVE culinary mysteries because I LOVE food!! Growing up in an Italian household, I truly benefited from standing at the apron strings of my mother who excelled at both cooking and baking. There was always something cooking on the stove and baking in the oven. I also love to read murder mysteries. Having a demanding career (I am an attorney/partner at my own law firm) and juggling children 14, 5 and 2 (yes, I am changing diapers at 50 – more later,) when I can escape with a good book, it is truly a treat. So, when I started looking up books for our meeting, I came across your books and loved the character and location. It being summer, I thought this would be a nice escape for everyone as well. I had no idea that you lived so close to us – a real bonus!!
LUCY: Tell us about the fabulous menu and decorations that you cooked up!
Lucy’s Leaning Tower of Eggplant
CINDY: As I love food (did I say that), I also enjoy watching Giada on the cooking channel – in fact, I have her on in the background as I am chasing my little ones – she reminds me so much of my mom (who I lost too young – she was 43 when she passed) and it makes me feel a little connection to her. So, Giada had an episode where she cooked a meal for her book club around the theme of the book. So, me channeling Giada, I wanted to do the same. I did go a little overboard with the food, decorations and drink – but I also love to entertain and share my love of food (I do so love food). I had the members bring some appetizers (fruit platter including pineapples and coconut; various dips with a Caribbean theme), drinks (Mojitos, Hemingway Cocktails – apparently he loved to drink these and Smore Martinis), and dessert including a key lime pie of course and a key lime dip with fruit.
Decorations included a hot pink/lime green theme. I haven’t been to Key West yet, but from the description in your book and others who have described the area, I imagined bright colors. I included plates, napkins, etc. keeping with this theme. I also had jelly beans (pink/green) in large glasses on the table, drink glasses with straws in the same color theme, flowers, etc. In addition to appetizers, drinks and dessert, menu was as follows:
1. Key West Chicken – I combined a few recipes
2. Caribbean Rice
3. Eggplant Towers from your book, but I grilled eggplant instead of frying. (I had a health moment.)
4. Watermelon/Arugula salad
5. Tossed salad
Recipe – Caribbean Rice:
• 2 cups long-grain rice
• 14 ozs unsweetened coconut milk
• 2 garlic cloves (minced)
• 11/2 tsps sea salt
• 1/2 tsp allspice
• 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
• 1 tbsp butter
• 1 1/2 cups yellow, orange, red and purple bell peppers (diced)
• 1/2 cup diced red onions
• 15 ozs pineapple (canned, tidbits, drained and juice reserved)
• 41/2 ozs Old El Paso™ chopped green chiles
• 1/4 cup jalapeno chilies (Old El Paso Sliced, diced)
• 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1. Add the rice, coconut milk, garlic cloves, salt, allspice, cayenne, and reserved pineapple juice to a medium sauce pot. Use the coconut milk can to add 14 ounces water to the rice. Stir well. Set over medium heat and cover. Bring to a boil, then stir and lower the heat. Cover and allow the rice to cook until the liquid is absorbed and air holes form in the surface of the rice, about 15-20 minutes. Remove from heat.
2. Meanwhile, add the butter to a large deep skillet and set over medium heat. Add the diced bell peppers and onions. Sauté for 2-3 minutes, to just barely soften. Then remove from heat and add the pineapple tidbits, Old El Paso Green Chiles and Sliced Jalapeños to the skillet.
3. Once the rice is tender and fluffy, dump it into the skillet and toss well to combine. Toss in the fresh chopped cilantro. Taste, then salt and pepper as needed. Serve warm as a side dish, or serve with shrimp of chicken on top!
Yoda recommends the book too
LUCY: Thanks again to all of your book club members for reading AN APPETITE FOR MURDER. And thanks to Cindy for her fabulous celebration suggestions!
If your group would like to discuss AN APPETITE FOR MURDER at one of your meetings, here are some questions to get you started. Also feel free to contact me about “appearing” at one of your book club events. LucyBurdette at gmail dot come
(Note to self: Review the book before you talk to the ladies so you know the answers to their questions LOL!)
And here are a few other book club posts to consider if you’ve already done AN APPETITE FOR MURDER:
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 to 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. It’s good for someone on a low sodium diet, because the pistou (essentially pesto without the nuts) packs a big flavor punch. 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
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…
Recently I read a book of essays called “true confessions from both sides of the therapy couch”–and this got me thinking about how I started in this writing business to begin with. And part of it was my dismay at the way shrinks have been portrayed in books and movies. Often we were shown as crazier than our patients or sleeping with our patients or merely bumbling fools… You get the idea. Two movies that come to mind are “What about Bob?” (crazier shrink than patient) and “Tin Cup” (shrink nuttier than her patient and sleeping with him too!)
From the very beginning, I wanted to use my training in clinical psychology by including reasonable psychologists in my novels. The challenge was to dream up characters who could use the principles of psychology to help solve mysteries without imploding with self-importance, stumbling over personal issues, or crossing ethical boundaries. If I put shrinks in my books, I wanted them to be complicated people with possibly difficult backgrounds, but aware of keeping boundaries and the general weight of their work. I didn’t want them to scare off readers or watchers from trying psychotherapy if they needed it. I wanted to do it right.
For that reason I loved Judd Hirsch’s gentle but firm therapist in Ordinary People. Did you believe in that breakthrough moment when Timothy Hutton, the younger brother of the dead boy, finally realized what happened the night his brother died? I sure did!
And even Tony Soprano’s psychiatrist felt real to me, though I wouldn’t have chosen to take on a mobster patient LOL. I can remember so clearly the moment when she struggled with the urge to use her patient, Tony, for revenge after she was raped, but ultimately chose not to.
Stephen White’s series featuring a clinical psychologist in Colorado was another great model for me. And Hallie Ephron’s first books, written with Don Davidoff as G. H. Ephron, were wonderful examples of a decent psychologist. (And of course that’s why we met!) I hoped that my psychologist characters, like Rebecca Butterman in Deadly Advice, would spring to life like those.
Do you notice mental health professionals in the books you read or movies you see? Which are your favorites?
LUCY BURDETTE: I know I’ve mentioned my supper club on this blog here in the past–we are six couples who try to get together 3 to 5 times a year for dinner and chatter. The hostess (and host) are responsible for the main course and the table setting, and each of the other couples brings a dish. The hostess can assign certain recipes or leave it open-ended. For various reasons, this year got away from us so we wanted to throw together an easy summer supper. We ended up with a mixed grill, potato salad, salad, grilled vegetables, and a lemon and orange-glazed angel food cake from 4 and 20 Blackbirds bakery in Guilford CT for dessert. Everyone loved our shrimp and the peaches so I’ll share those recipes with you!
Ingredients for the the shrimp
Three large shrimp per person (33 for my event), shelled and deveined
1/2 cup good olive oil
One large lemon
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 to 2 large cloves of garlic, choppedMix the ingredients, olive oil to brown sugar, and taste to see if you need more lemon. Stir in the chopped garlic. Let the shrimp sit in the marinade in a glass dish for 2 to 4 hours, stirring from time to time. Meanwhile, soak bamboo skewers in water. I had the 8 inch kind, which fits three large shrimp.
Thread three shrimp crossways onto each skewer so they will lie flat on the grill. Grill on medium high heat for three minutes each side. The brown sugar should result in a nice glaze.
For the peaches: Pit six peaches and slice them lengthwise. (We all agreed there was no need to peel them!) Brush the peach flesh with lemon juice and then a bit of olive oil. Sprinkle with fresh rosemary. Grill for 6-8 minutes in a grill pan, flipping once.
I served the shrimp with grilled sausages and grilled peach halves–A very very mixed grill!
Lucy Burdette writes the Key West food critic mysteries. Are you all caught up? This easy dinner will leave you plenty of time to read… and then for all the latest news, follow Lucy on:
We’ve had a zucchini extravaganza in our garden this summer. As my friend Gina says, tis the season where people lock their garage doors and car doors to prevent gardeners from leaving baseball bat-sized zukes on the premises…
But in case this happens to you, here’s a yummy recipe for zucchini/blueberry bread.
3 large eggs
½ cup unsweetened applesauce
½ cup butter
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
½ cups granulated white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 cups shredded zucchini, squeezed with a paper towel
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp no sodium baking powder
1/2 tsp no sodium baking soda
2 cups fresh blueberries
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Oil two 8×4 inch loaf pans.
In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, applesauce, vanilla, sugar and zucchini.
In a food processor, whisk together the flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, and baking soda. Cut in the butter.
Mix a tablespoon of the flour mixture into the blueberries.
Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and stir gently. Carefully stir in the floured blueberries.
Divide the batter between the two prepared pans. Bake for 55 to 60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool for at least 20 minutes, then turn out bread onto wire racks until it has cooled completely.
I’m looking forward to participating in Mysterium, a one-day conference at Wesleyan University (Middletown, CT) focused on mystery writing (October 8.) The conference is organized by Amy Bloom and is awash in big names like Laura Lippmann, Stephen Carter, and Ann Hood, and includes several of my cozy-writing friends, Barbara Ross and Liz Mugavero, and fellow Jungle Red Writer, Susan Elia MacNeal. Hope to see you there!
LUCY BURDETTE: My cousin Tom is a limerick genius. (In photo to left, they must be laughing at one of his wondrous poems!) He also works as a professor at a school in NC–I won’t say more as he thought they might not appreciate this kind of publicity. Lucky for all of us, he’s agreed to help us get started on JRW limerick mania. Thanks for agreeing to visit, Tom! Is there a certain structure that the limerick should follow?
TOM ISLEIB: Generally, a limerick has five lines with syllable content and rhyme scheme 8a, 8a, 5b, 5b, 8a. If you read a lot of limericks, you will find that there is some variation in the numbers of syllables in lines, usually within one or two of the eight or five. As for the rhyming, I have seen some real stretches, and I think it unsporting when the fifth line simply repeats the last word of the first or second line, e.g., one attributed to Rudyard Kipling:
“There was a small boy of Quebec
Who was buried in snow to his neck.
When they said, “Are you friz?”
He replied, “Yes, I is,
But we don’t call THIS cold in Quebec.”
I imagine that Kipling would punch me out for calling that “unsporting.”
LUCY: When you, Tom, are beginning a poem, how do you start? With the important rhyming words for lines 1, 2, and 5, or somewhere else?
TOM: I usually start with a word that is critical to the particular limerick, say, a name, and try to think of words that rhyme with it that could end lines 1, 2, and 5. Some names are hard to rhyme, for example, “Martha” (my newly married cousin) although the shortened version “Mart” or “Marty” is easier. If a critical word is difficult to rhyme, you can bury it within a line that ends with a more easily rhymed word, e.g.,
“When Martha was going to be wed
She asked, “Will it go to my head?
I caught me a mister
Then gloated to Sister.
Should I have just shacked up instead?”
LUCY: Any other tips for limerick novices?
TOM: A memorable limerick is off-color, some of them downright nasty dirty. We all know the famous dirty one about the man from Nantucket, although I have heard a perfectly clean version of that one. “There once was a man from Nantucket who kept all his cash in a bucket…” If not off-color, a limerick usually has a pun, a joke, or some other cleverness built into it that makes the reader groan. Consider Mark Twain’s famous one:
“A man hired by John Smith and Co.
Loudly declared that he’d tho.
Men that he saw
Dumping dirt near his door
The drivers, therefore, didn’t do.” **
See how he did that? Jot down your first try, then let it fester in your subconscious mind for a day or two. You may come up with a better variation or rhyme if you do.
LUCY: And ps, in case you think my cuz can’t take a harder name like “Martha” and do something with it, here’s the limerick he dashed off just before the wedding:
“There once was a woman named Martha
Who was hunting a guy like Siddhartha,
And then she met Rich,
A nice sonofabitch,
Now they’ll marry and snooze by the heartha.”
And in case (like me) you didn’t get Mark Twain’s cleverness, here’s the key:
Co. = Company
Tho. = Thump any
Do. = Dump any
To see all the wonderful limericks written by friends and fans after this post, jump to Jungle Red Writers.
I don’t think it has much to do with either the quality of the books or the sales. Lots of mass-market cozy folks are ending up in the refugee boat with me—it’s a mysterious corporate decision over which we have no control.
It’s happened before and I’ve survived and thrived.
I will most likely continue the series in another form in the future.
The support and enthusiasm of readers has been a huge comfort!
But I thought it might be interesting to look back on my reaction to the news that the golf lovers’ mystery series was not getting renewed. (Hint: devastated.) I called this essay “Character Assassination.”
Losing a special friend hurts, even if you’re mourning a figment of your own imagination.
I’ve been getting to know my protagonist, professional golfer Cassie Burdette, since scratching out the opening paragraphs of my first mystery in January 1998. As with most fictional detectives, Cassie wrestled with skeletons in her closet: her father’s desertion, a melancholy, alcoholic mother, a fog of self-doubt. Ambivalence infused her relationships with men and she tended to defer soul-searching in favor of the anesthetic effects of Budweiser. Notwithstanding these conflicts, I imagined Cassie eventually thriving on the professional golf circuit through a combination of talent, spunk, and the right friends.
With five golf mysteries in print by March 2006, Cassie and I have spent the better part of eight years together. I finally talked her into starting psychotherapy (with the help of a couple of other characters) to address her low self-esteem and self-destructive tendencies. She began to play better golf, choose kinder men, drink less, and reconnect with her dad.
Meanwhile, researching Cassie’s world took me on some amazing adventures. I spent most of my first (modest) advance paying to compete in a real professional-amateur LPGA tournament so I could absorb the correct ambience for book two.
And I played golf at Pinehurst, Palm Springs, and in the Dominican Republic—all tax-deductible without stretching the IRS code. I met and corresponded with professional golfers, and many fans—mystery fans, golf fans, and best of all, fans of both. These people worried about Cassie: how can she drink that much before a tournament? How can she eat like that and stay in shape? Lose the boyfriend—he’s a bum! Over coffee, my friends were more likely to ask what was new with Cassie, than with me. And reviewers hailed Cassie as “a character readers can root for.”
I’d begun plotting the skeleton for the sixth installment, involving a golf reality show, a hunky cop, and murder, of course.
Then the word came from my editor: “We’d rather see a new idea—the numbers just haven’t been that good…”
Surprised or not, I was flooded with sadness and disappointment. No more Cassie Burdette mysteries? Like the end of a souring romance, I wished I’d been the one to call it quits.
Days later, waiting to sign books at the Malice Domestic mystery convention, I sat next to an older man with a soft voice and a full beard. He introduced himself as H.R.F. Keating—the Malice honoree for lifetime achievement, including twenty-five novels in his Inspector Ghote series. In response to his kind interest, I spilled the news that Cassie’s series was being killed. I’m quite certain that I cried. He assured me that he’d often thought his series went on too long, that perhaps years ago he’d said all he really had to say, and that seven books might be the optimum length for a series. Then the doors opened and a crush of fans queued up to have him sign books that spanned forty years.
Twenty-five novels, each one nudging back a little further the curtain obscuring Inspector Ghote’s personality: I realized there are many things I’ll never know about Cassie. Will she win a tournament? Have a relationship with golf psychologist Joe Lancaster? Get married? Overcome her fear of kids? Hey, I’ll never know if I’m a grandmother.
But life in the publishing business lumbers on: I’ve signed a contract for my next writing adventure. The new series will feature psychologist and advice columnist, Dr. Rebecca Butterman, a woman who made cameo appearances in several of the golf mysteries.
Cassie wasn’t crazy about her—I can hear her voice now: “You’re writing about a psychologist? Rebecca Butterman? Bor-ing.”
And PS, back to me in the present, wasn’t I so lucky to be seated next to that sweet man at the exact moment I needed his calm? And ps, Cassie did make a brief appearance in ASKING FOR MURDER and DEATH WITH ALL THE TRIMMINGS. I am a fictional grandmother.
Meanwhile, I am working madly on several projects, but I’m feeling very superstitious. So I decided not to say much about them…I’m not being a tease, I swear, just nauseously nervously anxiously cautious.
LUCY BURDETTE: In 2007, my sweet husband retired from his regular job and moved home to start a website for Baby Boomers trying to figure out where to retire. As most of you know, I’m a writer. And I had grown accustomed to having the house to myself, except for the pets. In other words, lots of space—and peace.
On that first day, he clattered up from the garage with boxes crammed with file folders and photographs and mementos from trade shows–all the junk packed up from his previous office, which he proceeded to unload in the dining room.
his desk, I kid you not!
I caught him spreading his computer and piles of other miscellany out on the dining room table—the first thing every visitor to our home would see.
“Oh no you don’t,” I said. “You can’t set up your office there.”
“It has to be somewhere,” he said. “And don’t think I’m going to be eating lunch with you everyday, either.”
“I wouldn’t dream of having lunch with you.”
Mr. Top Retirement’s summer office
After some more heated discussion, we agreed that he might enjoy sitting out on the porch—a nice view for him and out of sight for me.
“But what will I do when it gets chilly?” he asked.
“Think layers,” I said
Nine years later, things have settled down quite a bit. He still has his spot on the porch, but he also has a perfectly nice office upstairs out of view. And sometimes when he sees what I’m making for my lunch, he asks if he can join me.:)
Besides that, he’s developed his idea into a major retirement website (with 20,000 subscribers to his weekly newsletter), having written thousands of articles about every aspect of retirement ranging from all kinds of best places to retire lists (best towns for bookstores, best places for walkability, etc.) to when to start taking Social Security, over 4,000 reviews of places to retire. I’m very proud of what he’s done and thought you might like an inside look.
LUCY: When you started out, how were you imagining the shape of the project? Are you surprised at how far you’ve come?
JOHN BRADY: I wanted it to be a project available on the Internet and pertinent to baby boomer retirement, since I am a Boomer and I had just retired from my longtime job. My initial goal was a little vague: Get it started and see what happened. The process of conceiving it and watching it become a real website with real people coming to visit has been really fun. My financial goal was that if it made enough money to pay our taxes that would be great. It turns out that lots and lots of people found it useful. We get over 140,000 visits a month and sometimes close to a half million page views – that is pretty good. And the revenue is a lot better than I ever imagined. Pretty lucky.
LUCY: how about sharing some advice about the process? What were some big turning points? Or ideas you had that didn’t pan out?
JOHN: My previous experience in online publishing was a big help. Without a disciplined process of putting down on paper what each web page would look like, and how each page would lead to the next in the navigation, the project never would have gotten anywhere. To save money I outsourced the technical development to a firm in India. I had to imagine and write down every detail very precisely, because they, or no one really, can read your mind. It was a great exercise in imagination and in follow-through. Of course sometimes I was way off, but the team was able to either interpret or suggest a better way.
I thought that most of my revenues would come from active adult or 55+ communities purchasing enhanced listings. Turned out that Google Adsense was a much more important revenue source, and easier. I also had a lot of ideas for developing other sites – BestAssistedLiving.com, BestPlacesinUSA.com, etc. Although I thought they were great ideas, not many visitors agreed! They still exist, but they are only marginal compared to Topretirements. What I learned from that is that getting a big idea is lucky – enjoy it if you are fortunate enough to get one!
Hackers are a problem I didn’t foresee. Having been hacked several times, I’ve learned there are people in Russia and China whose full time job is trying to hack into successful websites, either to steal traffic or plant malware. Finding a web developer who can successfully defend against these villains is absolutely critical (I have been lucky to find one, this time in Connecticut, not India).
LUCY: I know this is impossible, but can you give some quick tips about how to figure out the best place to retire? And maybe some links to a few of your favorite articles?
JOHN: I am always getting asked, what is the best place to retire? And I always try to respond that it is a very personal decision. It is all about knowing the criteria that are important to you – do you want to be near your grandchildren; how cold can your winters be; how important is culture, town size, walkability; how important are taxes and what is your budget. The answers to all of these questions and more help you narrow the possibilities and point you to some good choices. Lucy helped me write this free Ebook, which has been probably been downloaded 1 million times by now –
It contains short checklists which are designed to help you (and your significant other) narrow down the other possibilities.
In 10 years I and some faithful contributors have written a lot of articles. Here are some all-time favorites: