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Tuesday, August 28, 2012


We're giving Cloris a much needed day off today and welcoming mystery author and foodie Lucy Burdette (aka Roberta Isleib.) Lucy is a clinical psychologist and the author of ten mysteries. Death in Four Courses will be available September 4th. Publishers Weekly has said, "Anyone who's ever overpaid for a pretentious restaurant meal will relish this witty cozy."  You can learn more about Lucy and the Key West food critic series on her website or facebook or on Twitter. She also blogs at Jungle Red Writers and Mystery Lovers Kitchen. -- AP

My Mysterious Foodie Life
by Lucy Burdette

When people ask me if I'm a great chef (which happens more and more since I've started writing about food), I tell them I'm a good solid cook but that I really excel as eating. And this came in my DNA, as a short vignette will illustrate.

Several years ago, my extended family was gathering for a weekend. When we visit my husband's family, we must remember to take golf clubs, tennis rackets, ping pong paddles, whiffle balls and bats, and so on. So quite naturally, my husband was concerned about what to pack for my family's get-together.

"What kind of sporting equipment will we need?" he asked my cousin.

"With our crowd, all you need is a knife and fork," my cousin told him.

With that level of foodie enthusiasm in my blood, joining the ranks of culinary mystery writers felt like a natural to me. I'm a long time fan of Diane Mott Davidson's culinary mystery series. Her main character, a caterer named Goldy, makes cooking sound so satisfying and pleasant. She never seems to grow tired of mixing up enormous batches of cookies or casseroles or scones or chili. Cooking is her job, but it's also her passion and her way of containing anxiety or fear or sadness.

I too wanted to create a character with a powerful emotional connection to food and family. Hayley Snow's job is to review Key West restaurants for a new style magazine, Key Zest. But when she's not eating out, she's cooking for her friends and talking food with her mom.

In book two of the Key West series, Death in Four Courses, Hayley is sent to report on a conference of important food writers. As a new reviewer, she's terrified that she'll be compared to her writing idols and found lacking. And she's made the mistake of inviting her mother down from New Jersey for the weekend. As she puts it, having her mom tethered to her side while tackling her first major journalistic assignment feels like watching a falling soufflé through the oven door.

By the end of story, she's come to some conclusions about her job; I'll let her tell you about them:

"While food did mean life and death in its most elemental form, most often we in the food writing industry were talking about food as the pleasure of connections. When we wrote about simmering a stew or a sauce for hours or days, we were really talking about how much we owed to the folks who came before us and the importance of cherishing their memory. And how much we yearned to give to the people in our present who'd be gathered around our table. We were writing about food as family history, and love, and hope, and sometimes a little splash of guilt."

And now, with no guilt at all, I give you Hayley Snow's strawberry-rhubarb cake:

Strawberry-Rhubarb Cake with Streusel Topping
1-1/4 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 egg
1 cup milk or buttermilk
1 tsp. baking soda
2 cups sifted flour
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups rhubarb, chopped
1 cup strawberries, chopped

For the topping:
1/4 cup butter
1/3 cup brown sugar
3 tbsp. flour
4 tbsp. rolled oats

Cream the butter and sugar, and add the egg. Sift together flour and baking soda and add this to the creamed mixture with the milk and vanilla. Fold in the rhubarb and strawberries. Pour into greased 9-by-11-inch pan. Blend topping ingredients with a pastry blender until pea-sized and sprinkle on top of the cake. Bake at 350 degrees F for 30 to 35 minutes

Oh, how I wish my rhubarb crop had survived last summer's hurricane! This recipe sounds so wonderful, I may have to break down and buy some rhubarb at the supermarket. What about you, readers? -- AP 


DanielSmith said...

This seems to a very new kind of recipe..Good to see you tried something new.

Kathleen Kaska said...

Great story, great food, great post. Thanks Lucy and Lois for starting my day with this entertaining blog. Now I'm hungry.

Lucy Burdette said...

Thanks Daniel--hope you enjoy it!

Kathleen, I know, I should have made coffeecake for everyone this morning! And thank you so much for the kind words...

Jan Brogan said...

I'm running out to the store and hope they have rhubarb!

Sounds like a great recipe, as well as a thoughtful philosophy on why we like to cook and feed people so much!

Deb said...

Lucy, can you send us some virtual coffee cake? My grandmother loved rhubarb, but I think the only times I've had it since have been in England.

What a great quote from the end of Four Courses: it illustrates so perfectly one of the many things that makes the Hayley Snow books special--that sense of the deep connection between food and emotions.

Lucy Burdette said...

Thank you Jan, and you would know as you are a great cook! I have a huge rhubarb plant in the garden so happy to share:)

Lucy Burdette said...

thanks so much Debs--coffee cake on its way! xo

Hallie Ephron said...

I've had the pleasure of reading this book - between the Key West setting which is tailor-made for a mystery, great food writing, and wry humor, it's such a winner. The recipe looks great -- sort of a rhubarb upside down cake.

Lucy, did you lose your rhubarb too in the hurricane flood waters or did it come back?

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

What a lovely quote from Haley!

My mother used to make rhubarb pie from rhubarb in the garden..with apples! Maybe its time to try it..xoo

Hurray for the book! (And for the pie...)

Cindy Sample said...

I love eating but for some reason that has never translated into a love of cooking. But I always enjoy culinary mysteries where I can vicariously pretend I know my way around the kitchen. The recipe sounds great and I'm going to forward it on to my foodie friends so they can serve it to me:-)

Love this new series as well!

Lucy Burdette said...

Cindy, how clever to forward recipes to cooking friends!! Hope you enjoy the book!

Hallie and Hank, rhubarb came back just fine. I've not looked out there lately to check whether it's too tough to eat...will do!

Anonymous said...

LOL! Your family sounds like mine!

~ Krista Davis

Rosemary Harris said...

I've never eaten rhubarb...it's always looked to me like celery that's gone bad or been spray-painted. But I may break with tradition..this recipe sounds yummy. AND, I had the pleasure of eating a salad lucy made a few weeks back and it was almost too beautiful to eat! She's an artist.

Cathy Pritchard said...

Hi Lucy,
I'm a big fan of the Diane Mott Davidson Goldy mysteries too! I've also enjoyed your advice column mysteries and recently read "Deadly Advice", which was great. Good luck with the new release!