Posted on December 17, 2014 - by Lucy
|Photo by Raymond L. Blazevic|
LUCY BURDETTE: In a year of unusual experiences, we had one more last month, the opportunity to take a trip to Cuba.
In Key West, only ninety miles from Havana, Cuba, we hear a lot about the island. In fact, frequently we read news stories about Cubans who’ve attempted to reach the US in a variety of homemade, unseaworthy vessels— even windsurfers. “Cubans who do not reach the shore (dry land), are returned to Cuba unless they cite fears of persecution. Those Cubans who successfully reach the shore are inspected by Department of Homeland Security and generally permitted to stay in the United States.” (Wikipedia)
Whether it’s fair or not, it saddens me when they take such a risk to attempt to make a new life, get so close, but get sent back to whatever they were running from. Or worse yet, die of exposure or rough seas. At any rate, that line of news has led us to an intense curiosity about Cuba and what life could be like for its inhabitants.
As you may know, Americans are not allowed to visit that nation on our own. However regulations have recently loosened up to allow American tourists to visit as part of an educational group. So when the chance came to travel over with the Florida Keys Tree Institute, we grabbed it.
I thought I’d share just a few things that after this trip, we realize we take for granted in our country:
We can leave the country any time we have the money and a passport.
We can start our own businesses. As Cuba is not a democracy, entrepreneurship is not officially condoned. However, the regulations about running a private business are also loosening, of course with the understanding that the government taxes them heavily. Raoul Castro apparently cares much less about the specifics of what people do than that they pay their taxes. He was aware that things had to change for the island to thrive. But the government still owns many hotels, restaurants, and museums.
We expect good food and good service in a restaurant. We ate several unimpressive meals at a government buffet or restaurant. But when we visited private restaurants, called paladars, the food was immensely superior to the government buffet.
We expect email, and wifi and iPhone service. More about that tomorrow, but though the Cuban folks who could afford it were answering phones and checking email, we had none. Nada, nothing.
In Havana all the old cars are a big draw, many of them serving as taxis or else as stages for tourist photos –for the right price of course.
We expect doctors to make a lot more money than waiters. In Cuba, everyone is paid the same salary regardless of their job—an amount that is roughly twenty-five dollars per month. Of course, underneath the surface is a thriving black market and system of barter. The folks who work in the tourist industry and have access to tips do much better. (And by way, we expect the same money to be used for everyone–not so in Cuba, where tourists must use a special money called “Cucs”.)
We expect Hemingway’s home to be in Key West! But one of my highlights was visiting Finca Vigia,
|photo from Wikipedia|
his Cuban oasis outside the city of Havana, where he lived for twenty years with his fourth wife, Mary. The house is now a museum. The weather was rainy so they were not willing to open the doors and windows to risk damage to the history they are working hard to preserve. We were able to peer into the window and see the typewriter on which he wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls. Also his private bathroom where he weighed himself daily and recorded the results on the wall… His fishing boat, the Pilar, was there, too.
|Photo by John Brady|
Hmmm, do we expect our capital city to be in good order? The city of Havana is a complicated place, gorgeous facades still stand but many are crumbling into ruins. Many also are being restored.
We expect art to be on walls in museums. One of our last stops brought us to the neighborhood of Jose Fuster, whose ceramic work pays homage to Barcelona architect Antonio Gaudi. He has gradually replaced the facades of the homes in the area with the most fantastical ceramic murals. We were enchanted!
|Batista’s Gold Phone|
I won’t try to summarize the politics and history of this island–I’m sure I could not do justice to the complications of the Spanish American war (which name our guide noted should have included Cuba, as it was fought there,) Batista’s reign of terror, the Revolution, the US embargo, the emergence of the Soviet Union, the effects of the collapse of the socialist countries, the entrance of Venezuela into the picture. There is a lot of chatter about when or if the embargo will be lifted, and how a country which is way behind in terms of infrastructure and technology could handle the influx of tourists.
I can say that my impression of Cuba as a land where people are suffering and waiting their chance to escape a communist dictator has many more shades of gray than expected. But I can also say that the people were thrilled to hear Obama’s speech on immigration while we were visiting, especially this line: “We were all immigrants once.”
And I’ll end with our fabulous guide Renier’s steady refrain over the week: “In Cuba, everything is possible, but nothing is guaranteed.” (Kind of like life, right?)
Posted on December 7, 2014 - by Lucy
LUCY BURDETTE: I am so excited about DEATH WITH ALL THE TRIMMINGS hitting shelves this week! So of course, I spent a long time thinking about what recipe would be festive enough for the launch of a brand new book.
First I looked at the recipes in the back of the book. But you’d already seen Chef Edel’s cheesy polenta with spring vegetables and Parmesan crisps, as well as the decadent Key lime parfaits, and Hayley’s mom’s spaghetti Bolognese recipe. Obviously, a recipe for hot dog casserole was not up to the big day, LOL. (Though I did get some fan mail last week in which a reader told me her husband had already made that dish and the whole family gave it a thumbs up!)
Then it hit me – coconut shrimp! In the fifth Key West mystery, Hayley’s mom is working as a caterer at Small Chef at Large for the winter season. (Based on the real-life Jennifer Cornell.) During one of the scenes, they are preparing coconut shrimp for a wedding:
My mother, swathed in a white apron, stood before an eight-burner gas range, fishing shrimp out of boiling oil and placing them on paper towels to drain.
“It smells wonderful in here,” I said. “What’s on the docket tonight?”
“It’s a wedding at the Oldest House on Duval Street,” Mom said. “The bride is a woman after my own heart—after choosing her man, she’s focused her heart and pocketbook on the menu.” Mom clapped her hands. All business.
“Will you taste this sauce, honey?” she asked, clip-clopping across the kitchen in her green clogs to grab two bowls of dipping sauce. “Jennifer usually serves the coconut shrimp with mango chutney, but I was thinking something a little more spicy and Asian might be a fabulous contrast.”
She handed me a small plate containing a piping-hot shrimp coated in a crispy coconut crust.
So here’s my attempt to replicate that recipe and celebrate the new book.
Ingredients (dinner for two people, hors d’oeuvres for four)
1/4 pound large Key West pink shrimp, peeled and deveined (You may leave the tails on for a little extra visual oomph)
1/2 cup flour
One egg, beaten
1/2 cup dried unsweetened coconut, with more as needed
Vegetable oil (I use canola)
Prepare the shrimp by washing and peeling and deveining, and then pat them dry. Prepare three shallow bowls, one for the flour, one for the beaten egg, and the third for the coconut. (If you notice in the photo with the raw shrimp, the ones on top are Argentine pinks, while on the bottom are the Key West local pinks. We preferred those!)
I served the shrimp with two sauces, one simple mango chutney from a jar.
The other, a combination of 2 tablespoons of Thai sweet chili sauce mixed with 2 tablespoons of orange marmalade.
If you plan to serve these for dinner, add white rice and a green salad.
DEATH WITH ALL THE TRIMMINGS can be found wherever books are sold.
DON’T FORGET: Mysteries make great stocking stuffers!
Posted on December 5, 2014 - by Lucy
This has been a whirlwind week–so exciting to celebrate the launch of a new book. #13 for me–but it never gets old! I thought you might enjoy this interview from Jungle Red Writers…
Today all the Reds are humming Christmas carols and wearing Santa hats to celebrate the launch of Lucy Burdette‘s fifth Key West food critic mystery, DEATH WITH ALL THE TRIMMINGS. Lucy herself is simply floating so we thought of some questions to ask about the new book…although she did edit out some of our best suggestions like: What do you really think of skate? (Hallie) and Have you ever eaten cod cheek? (Hank)
REDS: Seriously, tell us what are the best–and hardest–things about writing a cozy mystery series?
LUCY: I’ll start with the hardest part: Suspension of disbelief. My readers must be persuaded to suspend disbelief in every way—characters, plot, setting, everything! For example, what business does a food critic have solving murders? Since Hayley Snow’s profession does not explain her involvement with criminal investigation, the sleuthing must evolve because of her relationships with other characters and because of her own personality and history. Challenging!
What I enjoy most is learning more about the characters with each book I write. Do you know that I had no idea Miss Gloria would become such an important character when I started out? A series is always full of surprises…and so is the Key West setting.
REDS: Speaking of relationships, this story has a lot to do with Hayley and her mother. What do you find most interesting about this duo?
LUCY: I love writing about the push and pull of the mother-daughter relationship over time. Hayley is “finding herself” as a true adult, and her mom is revealing herself as a regular person with flaws and fears, not just a mother. I lost my mother when in my early twenties so I think I get extra satisfaction imagining the transition of Hayley and Janet Snow’s relationship–how it changes and matures in ways that I didn’t have the chance to experience.
REDS: What’s so special about Key West during the Christmas season?
LUCY: So many things! It’s funny how just a string of white lights around the trunk of a palm tree looks festive. But Key West does a lot more than that. They hold a lighting decoration contest, a lighted boat parade, the hometown holiday parade..
And don’t let me forget to mention the Winter Wiener Wonderland which is a parade of costumed dachshunds. (I marched in that last year with John and Tonka—we all wore hot dog costumes.) It was so much fun to work all of those events into the book!
REDS: What was the best thing you ate while in training for this writing this book and the book launch?
LUCY: Now you’re getting to the heart of the matter:). The recipes in the back of the book are mine, except, of course, for the Jungle Red cocktail, which is Susan’s brainchild. And I’m crazy for the Scarlet O’Hara raspberry cupcakes (which are also wonderful with mocha icing…)
Thank you readers for all your support! The new book can be found wherever books are sold, including independent bookstores, Barnes and Noble, and Amazon.
Burdette infuses the mystery with Key West spirit and holiday fun along with delicious food references and recipes. This strong series continues a unique blend of island mayhem and sparkling characters surrounding a layered mystery. Booklist, December 1, 2014
Posted on November 30, 2014 - by Lucy
LUCY BURDETTE: These are what I call special occasion biscuits, because they are loaded with butter and sour cream, so you wouldn’t want to eat them every day. Not that you’ll have the chance, because they are most likely to be snapped up right after you serve them. They are definitely lovely enough to find a place on your holiday table, but could also accompany a hearty soup–and call that dinner!
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup white whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
four scallions, cleaned and chopped
one half teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons butter
1 cup sour cream
1 Tbsp or so of milk as needed
Measure the dry ingredients into a bowl. Add the chopped scallions and mix well. Cut the butter in with a pastry blender until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
Now add the the sour cream and stir lightly until the mixture is moistened and holds together in a shaggy dough. You may need to add a tablespoon of milk, if the mixture is too dry.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead a few times, then shape into a rectangle about one inch thick.
Serve hot with more butter, and honey if you like!
And don’t forget, DEATH WITH ALL THE TRIMMINGS will hit bookshelves on December 2–just in time for Christmas stockings! You can preorder the book here.
(PS, we’re really excited about the first review: Burdette infuses the mystery with Key West spirit and holiday fun along with delicious food references and recipes. This strong series continues a unique blend of island mayhem and sparkling characters surrounding a layered mystery. )
Booklist, December 1, 2014
Posted on November 20, 2014 - by Lucy
CAT HAIKU by Lucy Burdette, in honor of Yoda on Cat Week!
White whiskers on gray
Purr box sputtering to life
What else but Cat Week
Cats are smart and secretive and mysterious and quiet stalkers–and yet so adorable that we forgive them anything. And so they go together with cozies like butter with hot biscuits, or chocolate cake with cold milk, or fresh tomatoes with basil and olive oil… You get the picture!
I’ve had a cat in my life ever since the year I turned 13. I was desperate for a date with Mickey Dolenz for my birthday, but my mother was smart enough to give me a kitten instead. (Yoda, seen above doing his best trick, is our current feline denizen.) All my fictional characters have had cats too–Cassie had Cashbox, and Dr. Rebecca Butterman had Spencer, and Hayley has Evinrude, of course!
|Evinrude posing for DEATH WITH ALL THE TRIMMINGS|
We each put our own special spin on Cat Week, but to my mind this theme cried out for a fishy recipe. Yoda the cat loves tuna fish, so I thought he would love crab meat too. And that would give me the chance to snap a photo of him eating daintily from a treasured crystal goblet that belonged to my mother. Right?
He’s a cat after all, so this is the closest he came to posing.
Now on to the recipe…
Yoda’s Crab Cakes
One pound crab meat, picked over to remove bits of shell
1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs
Two scallions, finely minced
One half small hot pepper, minced
1/4 teaspoon celery salt
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon red and black cracked pepper
About 4 tablespoons mayonnaise
One egg, well beaten
Lucy Burdette is the author of the Key West food critic mysteries. Murder with Ganache is in stores now.
Death with All the Trimmings will be on bookshelves December 2. Pre-order it here.
Yoda the cat says: “Buy the darn books so she can get off my case and keep me in catnip.”
Posted on November 17, 2014 - by Lucy
LUCY BURDETTE: After I describe what I’ve been up to, you might wonder that I’ve written anything in the last two months.
As you know by now, DEATH WITH ALL THE TRIMMINGS will be published on December 2. (Pre-order link right here!) The modern way to publicize a new book, especially a cozy mystery, seems to be the blog tour. So I’ve been writing blogs—lots of them—about Christmas in Key West, writing a foodie character, why I love cozy mysteries, and a day in the life of Hayley Snow, just to name a few.
|Lucy Burdette and John Talbot|
Three of us Reds also had a fantastic long weekend at the New England Crimebake, a conference founded to celebrate crime fiction, especially from New England. I had the honor of co-teaching a class with agent John Talbot on writing and selling the mystery series, doing manuscript critiques for aspiring writers, and attending many wonderful panels.
|Angelos Pompano, Lucy, Craig Johnson, Chris Falcone|
We all enjoyed the folksy humor and good nature of our guest of honor, Craig Johnson.
|Lucy with Lorenzo, aka Ron|
But woven around all these activities, I’ve been working on the sixth food critic mystery, called FATAL RESERVATIONS. I tried to take a little of my own writing advice, LOL, and think deep and long about Hayley’s stake in a sixth mystery. Why would it be her business to get involved in solving yet one more crime? Why does she care? And who would listen to a food critic’s suggestions about clues and suspects anyway? The answer came from finding one of her Key West friends in trouble—Lorenzo, who reads tarot cards at the sunset celebration every night on Mallory Square. Here’s a little snippet:
A noisy rustling burst out in the audience and the man with the palm frond hat staggered up toward the podium, shouting. “You people have been looking for any excuse to take over. Damn it, this is none of your business! The trouble with the Artistic Damn Preservation Society is right here in this room.” He spun around to point a shaky finger at a tall man several rows behind me: my friend, the tarot card reader. Lorenzo.
“You need to sit down or you’ll be removed from the premises,” said Commissioner Greenleigh. But the palm hat man darted down the center aisle, heading for Lorenzo. He flung himself across two startled women and circled his hands around my friend’s neck. Lieutenant Torrence and a uniformed cop yanked him off Lorenzo, whipped his hands behind his back, and cuffed them. He fought and cursed as they ushered him out of the room and down the stairs.
“Are you all right, sir?” the mayor asked Lorenzo.
“I think so.” Pulling a white handkerchief from his pants pocket, he patted his face and neck, now mottled red, and smoothed his hair.
“If you’re able to speak, sir, it’s your turn at the microphone,” said the mayor.
Lorenzo nodded, adjusted his collar, and came forward. By dress alone, he stood out from most everyone in attendance: long-sleeved white shirt, high-waisted black pants, black tie. All very proper and distinguished. But his face shone in the spotlight and large damp circles spread from his underarms to the body of his shirt. He looked very hot. And rattled.
And that’s only the beginning of his troubles…
Before I get back to working on the story, I can’t help sharing this advance review of DEATH WITH ALL THE TRIMMINGS, from Booklist:
Burdette infuses the mystery with Key West spirit and holiday fun along with delicious food references and recipes. This strong series continues a unique blend of island mayhem and sparkling characters surrounding a layered mystery. Fans of Julie Hyzy and Laura Childs may also enjoy.
Readers, picture me dancing…
Posted on November 13, 2014 - by Lucy
|Chicken and Dumplings in Tomatillo Sauce|
When I’m looking over recipes, I seem to vacillate between garden vegetables to decadent cakes, with comfort food in between.
Now that I’m headed toward the launch of DEATH WITH ALL THE TRIMMINGS, I’m in the comfort food phase. If you happen to have some frozen green tomatillo sauce, this recipe is so easy. Also easy to whip that sauce up, so if you see tomatillos in the supermarket, grab them! I’ll link to the recipe for the sauce below. This is chicken and dumplings with a Tex-Mex twist–oh my mouth is watering…
Half a cooked chicken deboned and broken into pieces (could also use leftover turkey, about 2 cups)
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup flour
2 1/2 cups salsa Verde, also called tomatillo sauce *See Cook’s note
1/2 cup milk
1 cup milk
3 tablespoons butter
One and a half cups all-purpose flour unbleached
1/2 cup cornmeal
1 tablespoon baking powder
One bunch scallions, cleaned and sliced
One handful (about 1/4 cup) fresh cilantro, chopped
To make the chicken, melt the butter in a large saucepan, and stir in the flour to make a paste. Cook for a minute or two longer, being careful not to burn the butter or flour.
Mix in the half cup milk and stir until slightly thickened. Then add the salsa Verde and cook a little longer, until the mixture is bubbling and thick. Add the chicken pieces. Set aside. Preheat the oven to 400.
To make the dumplings :
In a medium pan over low heat, heat the milk and butter until steaming. Then stir in the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, scallions, and cilantro.
Pour the hot salsa Verde and chicken mixture into a well buttered Pyrex bowl. Drop hunks of dough into the chicken. Cover the casserole and bake until the dumplings are cooked through. This may take 20 to 25 minutes. Keep checking.
*Cook’s note: I’ve made a similar recipe using jarred green salsa and it was salty to the point of being inedible. So, worth it to make the salsa yourself if you can find the tomatillos. Recipe here.
DEATH WITH ALL THE TRIMMINGS will be out on December 2, just in time for Christmas stockings!
Posted on November 8, 2014 - by Lucy
Blog by Dr. Rebecca Butterman from Roberta Isleib’s (aka Lucy Burdette’s) advice column mysteries
My name is Dr. Rebecca Butterman. I’m a psychologist and I also write an advice column for the brokenhearted readers of Bloom! magazine. Family dysfunction? I know about this both professionally and personally LOL.
And don’t you find that the holiday season sometimes makes problems feel worse? Hollywood movies and Norman Rockwell paintings twist us up by having us believe that everything should be perfect for Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Year’s and Hanukkah. The holidaze, I like to call them. You pull together full-grown members of a family and put them in close contact for days—they are going to fall back into ugly, old patterns. I promise you that!
Even my friends at our picture-perfect church on the town green aren’t exempt from problems. I found that out recently when our minister called me at midnight to talk about the death and possible murder of another church member. Whoa! And naturally, he wants me to help figure things out.
Some people wonder how I—being a professional—handle my stress. One of my favorite distractions is cooking. It doesn’t have to be fancy, as long as it’s good old-fashioned comfort food.
Here’s my easy recipe for baked apples, which will make your house smell like you’ve scored the best of Christmas. And make your stomach happy and turn your heart in that direction, too.
This recipe serves two, but it’s easy to double or triple it up.
Two of your favorite apples (I like Mcintosh or Macoun)
2 tablespoons butter
2 to 3 tablespoons rolled oats
1 tablespoon brown sugar
Half a teaspoon cinnamon
Core the apples, making sure not to cut all the way through to the bottom. In a small bowl, mix the butter, oats, sugar, and cinnamon well. Divide the mixture into two parts and stuff into the apples. Bake for about 45 minutes in a 350 oven, until the filling is crispy and bubbling, and the apples soft. You can add ice cream or whipped cream if you wish, but I find these apples are perfect by themselves.
The first advice column mystery, DEADLY ADVICE, is also available as an ebook. And Lucy Burdette’s fifth Key West mystery, DEATH WITH ALL THE TRIMMINGS will be in bookstores December 2. You can preorder it now!
More breaking news! If you *forgot* to buy your ebook copy of AN APPETITE FOR MURDER, it’s on sale for $1.99 through the weekend!
Posted on October 30, 2014 - by Lucy
People have funny ideas about the life of a writer–imagining clamoring throngs of readers, enormous checks, and movie deals. But like many writers, I call myself “midlist.” That means I’m delighted to have a contract for sure, but still toil away in the trenches, hoping to spread the word about my books. So honestly every fan is a big deal. And a fan who works at a bookstore? Fabulous! Thought you might enjoy this story by email about a fan/clerk at the Barnes and Noble bookstore in Milford, CT.
Dear Ms. Burdette: I have some interesting news for you concerning the Key West Food Critic series. At my store, the employees each chose a book that they think they can sell 100 copies of. It’s called the 100 club. I chose “An Appetite for Murder” and so far, I’ve sold 37 copies. Who says you can’t profit from murder? CP
Dear Ms. Burdette: Just wanted to keep you updated on the staff recommends 100 club at Barnes and Noble in Milford,CT. I am very guilty of sales with Hayley’s first book “An Appetite for Murder,” which is up to 81 copies sold. CP
August 12, from Community Relations Manager Karen Dydzuhn:
Charles Pigaty, one of my co-workers, is a huge fan of yours! I’m sure you know he hand-sold more than 100 copies of one of your books! At his urging, I am writing to ask if we could schedule a time for you to do a book talk and signing at our store.
September 18, at the bookstore:
LUCY: The photo at left is from the September 18 celebration and signing, where the BN district manager presented a certificate of congrats to Charles for selling over 130 copies of An Appetite for Murder. (From left to right, Patrick Thornton, Charles Pignaty, Lucy Burdette)
Who says fans aren’t important? You guys are the ones who give meaning to what we write. Thank you Charles and Karen and Patrick and every one of you for every bit of support! xo Lucy
Posted on October 25, 2014 - by Lucy
by Lieutenant Steve Torrence from Lucy Burdette‘s Key West food critic mysteries
People seem to have this idea that cops in paradise (the island of Key West in this case) have an easy life. Shovel in a couple of doughnuts, walk along the beach, drink a cup of Cuban coffee, ride our (fill in the blank) cruiser/bike/horse up and down Duval Street–plum assignment right?
What they probably don’t know is that our little island gets a couple million visitors a year. That’s right, a couple million. Spring breakers, New Year’s Eve revelers, FantasyFest attendees–we’ve got a party for every occasion and all the trouble that goes along with that.
We attract a lot of homeless “tourists” too. And believe me, our residents and visitors don’t care to see those folks on the streets. They don’t want to see them panhandling or drinking or sleeping or worse…it’s a delicate balancing act, keeping the peace.
|The real Steve Torrence|
I have a little extra on my plate too, in the form of a new island resident named Hayley Snow. She’s a nice kid, with a nice family–and I’m glad I was able to help out with her brother this spring. But she scares me–she’s gotten the idea that she notices things the way a cop might. And she takes that further than she should.
How many ways can I think of to say “stay of out of it” in a nice way? Got any ideas about how to get the message across so she stays safe?
MURDER WITH GANACHE, the fourth Key West mystery, is in stores now!
DEATH WITH ALL THE TRIMMINGS will be out on December 2, but you can pre-order wherever books are sold…
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