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Posted on September 3, 2018 - by

Channeling my Inner Hemingway

LUCY BURDETTE: Death on the Menu is in bookstores! Finally! One of the things I had to do while writing this book was to channel Hemingway

What does that mean? I’ll tell you…but a little background first. Sometimes I go in directions I never imagine when I’m writing, and end up adding a subplot that I certainly didn’t plan. For example, in DEATH ON THE MENU, food critic Hayley Snow is checking out a suspect and discovers that he is a Hemingway wannabe.

And then while googling and studying up on Hemingway, I learned that there actually was a contest for “Really Bad Hemingway” in which contestants submitted a page of bad Hemingway-esque writing and prizes were awarded. So then of course I had to write a page that this character had supposedly written.

Here’s how it went, starting with Hayley chatting with her suspect:

“Fun fact: did you know there is a contest for bad imitations of Hemingway’s writing?”

I shook my head.

“You should Google it—there are some snippets posted online and they’re a hoot. I entered a couple of years ago and got an honorable mention.”

“You entered a bad Hemingway contest? Do tell!”

He laughed. “Of course I have it memorized for moments like this. I called it ‘A Farewell to Harm,’ and it went like so:

He had hired the guide again after one too many women gone wrong. ‘You drink too much,’ the woman said. ‘You stink of beer and fish.’
The man and the guide had been at sea for hours, and reeled in two marlin. Both of them were big as Spanish bulls and that strong too; heaving silver bodies, that glinted in the sunlight and left the man and the guide breathless.
‘Let’s have a drink,’ the fishing guide said, though he knew the man’s history. ‘One drink won’t hurt you.’
‘OK, but only if it’s rum and beer. And only if you pour the rum slowly so the foam resembles the beach at low tide.’
‘Not until five. The tide won’t run out until five PM,’ the fishing guide said. ‘That’s when you see the foam.’”

By the end of Rusty’s recitation, I was laughing too hard to speak.

Lucy again: Are you a fan of Hemingway’s writing? why or why not?

About the book: Lucy Burdette, Death on the Menu from Crooked Lane Books
Food critic Hayley Snow is thrilled to be working at a three-day international conference at the Harry S. Truman Little White House. But things get off to a bad start when Hemingway’s Nobel prize gold medal (which belongs to Cuba and is on display for this weekend only) disappears. And they only get worse when a body is discovered in the storeroom.Hayley must spring into action before the killer adds another victim to his menu.

Posted on August 31, 2018 - by

The Chugs of Key West

LUCY BURDETTEAbout 10 years ago my sister and her husband were visiting us in Key West, but had taken two days to camp on the nearby Dry Tortugas National Park. My sister called me from the boat on the way back. 


“You’d better get over to the dock quickly,” she said, “we picked up a group of Cuban refugees.” 

Photo from Wikipedia

We hurried over. The refugees were huddled on the bow of the boat, faces impassive, dressed in clothing and blankets loaned by the staff of the Yankee Freedom. Who knows how long they’d been at sea, and on what craft? And it was chilly! A group of their relatives had gotten the word about their rescue and gathered on the dock. The tears and the joy were amazing to witness.

Since Key West is only ninety miles from Havana, we hear a lot about the island and many Key Westers have an intense curiosity about Cuba and what life might be like for its inhabitants. Up until 2014, when the wet-foot, dry-foot policy (in which Cubans who reached the US were allowed to stay,) changed in the Obama era, frequently we heard news stories about Cubans who attempted to reach the US in a variety of homemade, unseaworthy vessels— even windsurfers—with some disastrous results. Many of these crafts are on display at the Key West Tropical Forest and Botanical Garden on Stock Island. I’ll show you a few–hope you get a sense of the shakiness!

When I wove some of that backstory and conflict into DEATH ON THE MENU, I had no idea that immigration would become such a national hot button issue. But whatever a person might think about the special Cuban  policy that was in place for years, it seemed to me that it would be hard not to be moved by the dangerous attempts immigrants made crossing the Straits of Florida. 

I knew it might be considered risky to weave this subject into a cozy mystery, but it felt more impossible not to do so. Despite our differences in politics, I think we need to remember that the policies that governments make affect real people with sometimes heart-breaking results. 

across from the Statue of Liberty

When it came time to choose a dedication for this book, this is the only thing that came to mind:


Where did your family come from and how did they get to the US? 


Posted on August 26, 2018 - by

Mojito Cake #recipe #booklaunch @lucyburdette

LUCY BURDETTE: In the eighth Key West mystery, Hayley and her mother Janet are catering a Key West/Havana conference at the Truman Little White House. This is the dessert they serve for the final dinner. And it is the perfect recipe to celebrate the arrival of DEATH ON THE MENU!

The basis of this recipe came from a cookbook called Cuba! – Recipes and Stories from the Cuban Kitchen. I love lime cake and yellow cake and whipped cream, so you can imagine that this recipe was irresistible. I know Mojitos require rum, and yet I am not a big fan of alcohol-flavored desserts. So I chose to leave the rum extract out of the cake, and instead add a teaspoon of rum. This gives it a little soupçon of flavor without overwhelming the cake. I also reduced the salt in the batter and the rum in the frosting. You can adjust the rum upward to a tablespoon if you choose.

 

Ingredients for the cake

3 cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder (low-sodium works fine)
1/2 teaspoon salt
Two sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups sugar
Four eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons lime zest
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
Half cup whole milk
1 teaspoon rum

For the lime mint syrup

1/4 cup water
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, tightly packed
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice

2 cups heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 teaspoon dark rum

Thin slices of lime, or lime zest, or mint leaves, for decoration

Prepare two 9 inch cake pans by buttering them and lining with parchment paper. Butter the paper too. Preheat the oven to 350. Mix the dry ingredients for the cake together and set this aside. In your KitchenAid, food processor, or with an electric beater, beat the butter well with the sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Mix in the vanilla extract, the lime zest, and the rum. Fold in the dry ingredients, don’t overmix. Stir in the milk.

Divide the batter into the two prepared pans and bake about 30 minutes until the cakes spring back when touched. Cool for 10 minutes in the pan, and then remove them from the pans and cool completely.

For the lime mint syrup, heat the sugar and water in a small pan until the sugar is dissolved. Turn off the heat and stir in the mint leaves. Let them steep for 10 minutes, then strain them out and stir in the lime juice. Paint this glaze onto each layer of cake with a pastry brush.

Whip the cream and sugar until stiff, and stir in the rum. Drop half of the whipped cream onto the first layer. Place the second layer on top and spread the remainder of the cream over that. Decorate with thin slices of lime or mint leaves as desired.

Death on the Menu, the 8th Key West food critic mystery, hit bookstores on August 7 from Crooked Lane Books. You can buy it in hardcover, e-book or audio book, wherever books are sold.


Posted on July 5, 2018 - by

FOR BOOK CLUBS: Death on the Menu

Food critic Hayley Snow is attending a three-day international conference at the Harry S. Truman Little White House. Things get off to a bad start when Hemingway’s Nobel prize gold medal (which belongs to Cuba and is on display for this weekend only) disappears. And they only get worse when a body is discovered in the storeroom. Hayley must spring into action before the killer adds another victim to his menu.

The book features some history, especially that of Harry Truman’s Little White House, and the conundrum of Cuba/US relations, and Hemingway, and lots of food, but in the end it’s always about families. Hayley Snow’s family is front and center, of course, but also the Cuban families that have been torn apart by acrid relations between Cuba and the US. Lots to talk about in this book, and here are some questions to get you started…

Book Club questions for DEATH ON THE MENU by Lucy Burdette

1. Much of the action in this eighth Key West mystery is set at the Harry S. Truman Little White House. In the course of the book, some of the history of this structure is woven into the story. How do you feel about the presence of history in your mystery fiction, especially if it isn’t billed as historical mystery? What did you learn about Harry Truman as you read?

2. Hayley says: “In my mother’s family, lovingly prepared food meant comfort and care and even hope. A warm snickerdoodle cookie, for instance—maybe with a little chai spice added in for mystery—was a declaration of heartfelt affection. Great meals couldn’t save my mother’s marriage to my father because he didn’t speak her language. For him, food was fuel—the dinner table merely a quick stop at the human gas station.” If you had to sum it up, what would you say food meant to your family?

3. Hayley compares the work of her Tarot-card-reading friend Lorenzo to that of a therapist, or even a cop: So many problems are presented to him over the course of a work day, that he can’t help but absorb some negative energy along the way. And even Hayley turns to him as a kind of therapist. Have you ever had your cards read, or perhaps your palm? How do you feel about the work of fortune-tellers in general, and Lorenzo in particular?

4. One of the serious issues raised in this mystery involves the immigration of Cuban citizens to the US, and the former US policy called “wet-foot, dry-foot.” What was your reaction to this part of the story—particularly hearing about the Cuban chugs, and Gabriel’s family story?

5. Hemingway plays a small but significant part in this book, though Hayley admits she is hardly a student of his writing. And Dana Sebek has a view of the writer that is quite different from that of his adoring fans—in a nutshell, she says people admire the lore that has grown up around the man, more than his actual prose. Have you read Hemingway’s work? Are you a fan? Why or why not?


Posted on June 10, 2018 - by

Easy Yellow Cake for a Working Day

LUCY BURDETTE: I wanted to make a cake for a small dinner party, but I didn’t have a lot of time. (Big deadline looming for food critic mystery number nine.) I Googled “easy yellow cake” and came across the recipe on which this cake is based. It was simple, because everything gets added into the food processor in turn– No sifting, no separating of eggs, no alternating liquids with dry. And it was very good, light but dense. Maybe not my favorite yellow cake for all time, but very good!

Ingredients

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened

1 1/2 cups sugar

3 large eggs, room temp

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 1/2 teaspoons low sodium baking powder

1 1/4 cups whole milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350. Prepare two 9-inch cake pans by buttering well and then flouring lightly.

Combine the butter and sugar in the food processor and beat until pale yellow. Beat in the eggs. Add the flour, salt, and baking powder and mixed that minimally. Beat in the milk and vanilla, again don’t overbeat.

 

Bake in a preheated oven at 350 for about 25 minutes, until the cake springs back when touched lightly.

Then cool for 10 to 15 minutes and then remove from the pans to cool completely.

Frost as desired– My desire was whipped cream and sliced strawberries, but chocolate or mocha butter cream would be wonderful as well.

(Sorry about the photo–we were quite a ways into the cake when I remembered!)

Death on the Menu, the 8th Key West food critic mystery, will hit bookstores on August 7 from Crooked Lane Books.

Here’s a pre-order the book link from Amazon–and here’s a link to preorder a hard copy from RJ Julia in CT, where you’ll be able to get a signed copy.

Or you can order it from Books and Books in Key West, or call Suzanne Orchard at Key West Island Bookstore ((305) 294-2904)–she’ll be delighted to order you a copy!

Or really, wherever books are sold…

 


Posted on June 3, 2018 - by

Booked for Lunch! at the South Windsor Library

Please join me and the staff of the South Windsor Public Library in Windsor CT on October 2 at 12:30 for lunch and book chatter!


Posted on June 2, 2018 - by

Death on the Menu: Coming soon!

66 days to be exact! While I’ve been tapping my fingers and toes waiting, some pretty thrilling feedback has been rolling in:

I love this series! You’ve revitalized my love of cozy mysteries.” Laurell K. Hamilton, New York Times bestselling author

Burdette’s loving descriptions of food and the appended recipes are an added fillip for readers who enjoy some history and romance with their mysteries.”—Kirkus Reviews

Hayley Snow is one of my favorite amateur sleuths… This was a fabulous peril in paradise read that I simply could not put down.”—Jenn McKinlay, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Cupcake Bakery mysteries

A travel guide woven through a page-turner of a mystery, Death on the Menu is a love letter to Key West.” —Barbara Ross, author of the Maine Clambake mysteries

In her latest Key West Food Critic Mystery, Death on the Menu, Lucy Burdette skillfully balances a well-crafted plot with a vivid portrayal of Key West.”—Sheila Connolly, New York Times bestselling author of the County Cork mysteries

You can pre-order the book wherever books are sold–it will be out as an ebook, hardcover, and audio book!


Posted on May 16, 2018 - by

Mango Lassi Recipe

LUCY BURDETTE: While in India for two weeks, we ate lots and lots of wonderful Indian food, most of it very spicy. Not necessarily hot–unless you asked for that, but definitely spicy. A man we met explained it this way: Indians don’t like plain food. That was certainly our experience! (We did not eat street food or uncooked vegetables–did not want to risk the dreaded Delhi belly.)

One day I noticed that two of the other travelers in our group – both originally from England – were sipping tall white drinks at both lunch and dinner. They explained that this was a yogurt drink called a lassi, good for calming stomachs that might be a little bit distressed by traveling and unfamiliar flavors.

So I tried one and was instantly hooked. Apparently there are salty lassies as well as sweet, which can contain fruit, especially mango. I only tried the plain one as we were being very cautious about eating fruit too. But I determined I would make one and share it when I got home. So here is the simple recipe for a mango lassi.

Ingredients

One ripe mango
About 3/4 cup plain whole milk yogurt
Sprinkle of cardamom
Ice cubes

Peel and pit the mango and whirl it in your blender or food processor until puréed. Then add the yogurt and whirl that in too. If it’s too thick to drink, add a couple of ice cubes and grind them up with the yogurt/mango mixture. Or you can just add the ice cubes to the glass. Sprinkle with a little cardamom and enjoy!

Are you a fan of Indian food? Or an adventurous eater?

 


Posted on May 12, 2018 - by

Magnificent, Mind-boggling India

LUCY BURDETTE: If you say you’re going to Paris on vacation, people don’t ask why. Paris speaks for itself. But India? When I mentioned our upcoming vacation to friends and relatives, I most frequently got one of two reactions. 1. Oh that’s on my bucket list and I’d love to see it. Or 2., and much more commonly, why on earth would you travel to India?

I’ve been fascinated with novels about India for a while  I have loved short stories and novels by Jhumpa Lahiri and Sujata Massey, novels and memoirs from Thrity Umrigar, especially The Story Hour and First Darling of the Morning, No One Can Pronounce My Name by Rakesh Satyal, The Golden Son by Shilpi Somaya Gowda, The Orphan Keeper by Camron Wright, and one of my favorites, Mira Jacob’s The Sleepwalker’s Guild to Dancing. Many of these books are set in the United States, or a combination of the US and India, but with Indian characters torn desperately between their old life and a new life in America.
And now perhaps I have the smallest sense of how hard it would be to leave India, contrasted with the powerful pull of the United States. I think that was the call of India to me – the absolute foreignness of the country – the other. Not wishing to be the annoying relation who insists on running her slideshow and home movies ad nauseum, I’ll give you a few snapshots of the fascinating things we saw. (Of course we saw many beautiful temples and historic sites, but I’ll concentrate on the people.)
As you saw in an earlier blog, first we took a harrowing rickshaw ride through Old Delhi. We were overwhelmed by the noise, the colors, the fierce jockeying for position on an incredibly narrow road, which set the standard for travel. Whether on bike, foot, motorbike, car, bus, or some kind of animal, you mustn’t hesitate. The road belongs to the fearless and to the loudest horn.
Out in the country, we tended to see people living as people have probably lived for years – washing their clothing and their bodies in lakes and rivers, women in beautiful saris working in the fields, men in more western clothing.

photo by John Brady


We saw people living under tarps, sitting around open fires; cement block homes with clay tile roofs, their insides open to passersby. Everywhere along the highways and the smaller roads were people scratching out a living with tiny stores and even smaller kitchens. We often saw groups of men standing around chatting and sharing cups of chai. Where are the women we would wonder? (Probably working.) We saw scooters carrying entire families, five was probably the maximum. Or sometimes women riding sidesaddle on the back of the scooter in their beautifully colored saris.

After the busyness of the city, we enjoyed celebrating the Holi Festival of colors in the small town of Narlai…children of all ages love throwing colors on visitors…
Even the animals are decorated for the holiday…
Later that afternoon, we visited Kahrda or Desuri, depending who you ask, a small village not that familiar with tourists. Some of the villagers followed us around their town…
Others were busy with their own affairs.
These men in turbans are the heads of villages all talking about the problems of their towns…notice that their white outfits have been painted too.
Our guide explained that the women wearing veils over their faces are daughters in law. Best not to show their faces when mother-in-law says something…
At the end of the afternoon, the women and children sang us a welcome song…
We wanted to sing them something in return but what? Frere Jacques? Why would Americans sing in French?? For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow? Maybe too British and therefore unwelcome. We droned through Yankee Doodle Dandy…
Then on to the bustling streets of the pink city, Jaipur, where we saw vendors selling bolts of bright colored cloth for saris. Below is a wedding party deciding on the wedding sari. It is said that all the women must agree on the final choice.

Sewing a sari right out on the sidewalk

Next we enjoyed visiting Kanota Castle where The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel was filmed, though we’re not ready to retire there…

One of the reasons we chose this itinerary was to have an opportunity to see a Royal Bengal tiger in Rathambore National Park. And honestly, some of our friends familiar with the park were quite discouraging about our chances.

After the worst bumpy dirty jeep ride for three hours the first afternoon, where we saw no sign of a tiger other than some old poop, we got discouraged too. We decided to give it one more try on the early morning ride. Our guide explained that deer and monkeys work together to spot the tigers and warn the other animals in the forest that they are approaching. So listening for calls of distress from the monkeys is how the guides decide where to drive and wait. So glad we went as we saw this lady tiger and her sister not ten yards from the jeep. They are truly stunning animals.

Of course at our next stop, the Taj Mahal was beautiful, both evening and morning.

Finally, we drove back to Delhi and then flew to our last stop, Varanasi. The drive from the airport was difficult, as poverty was on full display.

Early the next morning, we walked with the pilgrims through the narrow streets of the town to the river. Many Hindu Indians long to end their days getting cremated at the Ganges River and having their ashes deposited there. But people also bathe in the river and do their laundry.

One of the most remarkable sights we saw was that of ten cremation fires burning on the banks of the river. The bodies, wrapped in bright colored cloths, were carried down the steps on stretchers, dipped into the river by their relatives, then left to dry, and finally placed on the fire with family in attendance. Out on the river, a fleet of primitive boats jammed with tourists watched the process. We were grateful that our guide was sensitive to the feelings of the mourners, and encouraged us not to photograph the process.

Every night, there is a big celebration where the people put the Ganges River to bed.
photo by John

It’s kind of like the Sunset celebration in Key West, only the river is the living being, rather than the sun.

On the way to our long flight home, these two ladies wanted to take my picture, so John was able to get all three of us.

This trip touched me in ways I never could have imagined, leaving me awed and horrified and grateful and exhilarated and exhausted and humbled all at once.

Where have you been, or where might you like to go, for the trip of a lifetime?

 


Posted on May 6, 2018 - by

How Not to Travel to India (or Anywhere, Really)

I can so clearly remember my grandparents disappearing into our guest room one afternoon during a visit in the early 1980’s. When they finally emerged, it turned out they’d been worrying in advance about the trip home, looking for their keys. They searched and searched, more frantic by the moment. My little grandmother finally found them— pinned to the inside of their suitcase where she’d put them before they left home. I knew that would never be me.
Fast forward thirty-some years…
Rickshaw ride in Old Delhi
After touring two days in Delhi, the time came to pack up and join our group in the hotel lobby in order to catch the plane to Udaipur. You can imagine my despair when I found my passport missing. John ran downstairs to fetch the group leader and a hotel employee and they rooted through every item in our room, including my cotton unmentionables. The passport was gone. And soon after, so was our group. We were left to twiddle our thumbs for four hours until a driver and translator could be dispatched to help get my documents replaced. (No one drives their own car in Dehli – the traffic is heinous and you must be fearless in cutting off other cars, bicycles, rickshaws, ever present tuktuks, and the occasional cow or water buffalo.)
First stop, the Delhi Police Department. Outside the building, a long discussion ensued between our driver and guide, with consultations with other people by phone–in Hindi so we couldn’t understand a word. It boiled down to this: Tell the police you were walking around the hotel and then when you looked, your passport was missing. Do not mention the rickshaw ride in old Delhi (where I suspect I lost it) because then they will send us to that police station to make the report. Okay, my passport is gone and now I’m fibbing to the authorities.
Lucy with her saviors
The interior of the station reminded me a little of places I’d seen in the Caribbean. There were fierce, unsmiling, uniformed men in berets, carrying rifles. There was a woman in a sari who was seated at a desk providing “women’s services.” The back of the office opened out to a dusty courtyard where a set of black metal seats welded together were placed facing the sun, along with what looked like a beach umbrella stand covered with a ratty towel. And behind that was a row of scooters. A dirty black and white dog wandered the courtyard, pausing to lift his leg on one of the bikes. Eventually we emerged with a police report. “I think we should look at this as an adventure,” I told John. “One day it will make a good blog.”
Here’s the photo taken at the moment we left the station with our copies of police report in hand. All still cheerful, in other words.  “Just think,” I added, “if I hadn’t lost my passport, we never would have seen that police officer scratch his nose with the tip of his assault rifle.”
Next we visited the American embassy. It was around 3:30 when we called from the old-fashioned phone stationed at a table on the sidewalk. I was told that the cashier had gone home at noon and there was no way to get help until the next morning. At this moment, our good cheer begin to ebb.
As we trudged toward our car, the sidewalk phone rang again and the guard waved me over. “Do you have exact change?” “Yes!” “Do you have passport photos?” I explained we had just stopped to get them taken. “Without spectacles?” the woman asked. Of course that’s not what we had.
“If you can get pictures retaken and return by four we will try to help you.”
So off we went to our second photography studio, this one stationed inside a tiny dry cleaning establishment. Two men banged on the back metal door, and the photographer came out and hung a white cloth over the front window. And then took the worst photo of me I have ever had taken in my life. I considered posting it here for you but could not bear to do it. An hour later, I emerged from the embassy with temporary passport. Still, we were short one document, the exit visa.
We arrived at the visa office the next morning, and were advised by a lovely Australian man to visit the “office” on a nearby street where my documents could be uploaded and added to my application. (You might have had such equipment in your office in the 1990’s. I was taking this picture from the sidewalk.)

 

Then we returned to the visa office and waited, hearing nightmare stories of people who’d been waiting 10 days to three weeks—returning each day to try to resolve another mysterious technical issue. (Luckily, I had Rhys’s new book on my phone or I might have gone mad.) The workers buzzed around, seeming to accomplish little as people poured in but none went out. We heard rumors that the office closed down for lunch and I began to get seriously worried. Finally we were called in and given my papers, and then rushed off to catch a plane and join our group.
The next morning as we woke up exhausted. John said: “I’ve been thinking about document discipline. We are going to have one zippered pocket for our documents, no lip balm, no hand sanitizer, no iPhones allowed in that pocket.”

 

“Document discipline? I’m all in,” I said. “How about we pin them to the inside of the suitcase?”

Soon I’ll share a little of what was actually on our tour of India, rather than Lucy’s private tour of Indian bureaucracy…meanwhile would you care to share one of your traveling disaster stories??

And PS here’s John’s take on the “incident” with practical suggestions about how to stay organized when traveling…



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