Lucy Burdette (aka Roberta Isleib) is the author of twelve mysteries, including the latest in the Key West series featuring food critic Hayley Snow. Her books and stories have been short-listed for Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity awards. Learn more about Lucy/Roberta at her website.
Eating Key West
As of today, with the release of Murder with Ganache, I'm four books into writing my Key West food critic mysteries. This series has really tweaked my interest in food and cooking because I have to think the way that my character, Hayley Snow, thinks. I have to cook what she might cook and eat where she might eat. Since Hayley came on the scene, my family and I have enjoyed her shrimp and grits, key lime cupcakes, strawberry rhubarb coffee cake, and many more ravishing dishes. There's only one problem. These days, if I don't photograph dinner before putting it on the table, my husband worries: Maybe it's not going to meet Hayley's standards.
Along with the home cooking, we've tried about every restaurant in Key West. (I know, hard life.) But Hayley not only visits restaurants and writes reviews, she uses food as a way to connect with people, and to calm herself down, and to seduce the folks she’s trying to get information from that may solve the mysteries. I think more than I ever did about what food and cooking might mean to people.
I like what Hayley wrote for the style magazine, Key Zest, at the end of Death in Four Courses: “I’d summed up by saying how important it was to remember that 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.”
Hayley doesn't believe that food has to be fancy to be good. She would say that a grandmother’s recipe for chocolate cake scratched out on a notecard can hold its own with a fancy chef’s menu. We'd love to share my grandmother's recipe for a simple chocolate cake. But first, I'll leave you with a bit of conversation from Hayley and her mother in Murder with Ganache:
"Why is it that cooking always makes things feel a little less hopeless?” my mother mused as the vegetables softened.
“At least we’re doing something,” I said, as she whipped the eggs with a splash of water and stirred them into the pan.
“We feel like we’re taking care of people when there’s really nothing to be done.” I grinned. “That’s what you taught me anyway.”
Lucy Burdette's One Bowl Chocolate Cake
1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup Hershey's cocoa
1/2 cup sour milk (or sweet, with one TBSP vinegar added)
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp baking soda
1 and 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup boiling water
Beat softened butter and sugar until well combined. Then add the other ingredients one at a time, mixing after each. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a bundt pan, add the batter, and bake for about 30 minutes until cake springs back when touched. Cool for ten minutes and then invert onto a cake plate. Once it's completely cool, sprinkle with powdered sugar.
Murder with Ganache
Hayley Snow, the food critic for Key Zest magazine, has her plate heaped high with restaurant reviews, doughnut and sticky bun tastings, and an article on the Hemingway cats. But this week she’s also in charge of her best friend’s wedding. And then someone adds a side of murder…
For better or worse, Hayley has agreed to bake over 200 cupcakes for her friend Connie’s wedding while still meeting her writing deadlines. The last thing she needs is family drama. But her parents come barreling down on the island like a category 3 hurricane and on their first night in town her stepbrother, Roby, disappears into the spring break party scene in Key West.
When Hayley hears that two teenagers have stolen a jet ski, she sets aside her oven mitts and goes in search of Rory. She finds him, barely conscious, but his female companion isn’t so lucky. Now Hayley has to let the cupcakes cool and assemble the sprinkles of clues to clear her stepbrother’s name—before someone else gets iced.