featuring guest authors; crafting tips and projects; recipes from food editor and sleuthing sidekick Cloris McWerther; and decorating, travel, fashion, health, beauty, and finance tips from the rest of the American Woman editors.

Note: This site uses Amazon affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Monday, November 30, 2015


Award-winning author Vinnie Hansen fled the South Dakota prairie for the California coast the day after graduating high school. Her eventual home in Santa Cruz serves as the backdrop for most of her Carol Sabala mystery series. She also loves to write short stories. Learn more about her and her and her mysteries at her website. 

When my mystery series starts with Murder, Honey, my protagonist Carol Sabala is a baker who fantasizes about becoming a private investigator. I didn’t set out to write a “foodie” mystery. At the time, the sub-genre didn’t exist. Rather I made my heroine a baker so she would be something other than the English teacher I was. I didn’t want readers to envision Carol Sabala as me. Little did I know back then that everyone who knows me would picture Carol as me even if I made her a green Martian.

Writers are admonished to write about what they know, or to know about what they write. My husband at the time was a baker/sous chef at a fancy restaurant here in Santa Cruz, the model for Archibald’s in Murder, Honey. I was able to pick his brains for the inner workings of a restaurant and baking tips.

My choices became problematic when my husband and I divorced. Good thing I gave Carol Sabala the dream of becoming a private investigator. One arc of the series is her transformation into a detective. However, to make ends meet, Carol continues to work at Archibald’s. Many of the mysteries flit back into the restaurant, and all of them contain a recipe related to the theme of the book.

Since Death with Dessert, the fifth book in the series, takes Carol to Mexico, I wanted a Mexican recipe for the book.

If you’ve traveled to Mexico, you’ve probably noticed the absence of abundant desserts. Mexican culture does not emphasize baked goods like pies and cakes, possibly because of the tropical heat or because wheat is not the commonly used grain. Many of the desserts that do exist are made on the stovetop rather than baked. Even the classic flan was traditionally cooked on the stovetop.

My own “flan” is nothing more than the custard from Betty Crocker. For Death with Dessert, I wanted a recipe for a traditional Mexican flan, the type the Mexican-American parents of my students made, a heftier and more substantial dessert. Put it this way, the flan I consider “real” Mexican flan can be cut and served like a cake.

So I hounded a worker at “my” school for her recipe. She was enthusiastic about helping but took a long time. She finally forked over a scrap of paper with a list and basic directions. I realized that she made her flan by heart. Rather than pester her for specifics, I experimented, using the most common sizes for the “cream cheese,” “condensed milk,” and “evaporated milk.” From the delicious results, my calculations must have been correct. Here’s what I came up with:

Sylvia’s Flan 
8 oz. cream cheese at room temperature
5 eggs
8 oz. can of sweetened condensed milk
12 oz. can of evaporated milk
1 tsp. of vanilla (I use more!)
2 cups of sugar to make syrup (Or less. See directions.)

Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Blend all of the ingredients except the sugar. (In spite of a ton of whisking on my part, the mixture was never 100% smooth.)

Prepare the syrup by melting the sugar slowly in a saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly. (In my opinion, this creates more syrup than necessary. One could halve the amount.) Once the sugar has melted, pour the resulting syrup into an 8-inch square pan. Let the syrup harden for 10 minutes.

Pour the mixture of the other ingredients over the syrup. Place the 8-inch pan in a larger pan. Fill the larger pan with hot water to within a half inch from the smaller pan’s top. Bake for about an hour. To test the doneness of the flan, insert a knife into its center. The blade should pull out clean.

Chill. Unmold at serving time by inverting the pan.

Death with Dessert
A dead mother.  A missing father. A mysterious man.

They all spell trouble for private investigator Carol Sabala. When Carol’s mother dies unexpectedly, Carol is left with no family—only money, grief, and an envelope. Her mother has charged her with a mission: deliver the envelope to her long-lost father. En route to Zihuatanejo, Mexico to track down her father Carol encounters the alluring Mark Escalante, who snares her in a deadly pursuit of his own.

Buy Links

Want to win a free copy? Vinnie is offering five copies of Death with Dessert through Goodreads. Click here for details.

Sunday, November 29, 2015


Author Lucy Maud Montgomery
Normally Mondays feature craft-centric blog posts, but I thought I’d change things up a bit today in order to wish Lucy Maud Montgomery a happy 141st birthday. Young girls for well over a hundred years now have Lucy to thank for many cherished hours spent reading about and bonding with Anne Shirley, the heroine she created in 1908 when she wrote Anne of Green Gables.

Anne is an eleven-year-old orphan mistakenly sent to live with the middle-age Cuthbert siblings after they requested a young boy to help them on their Prince Edward Island farm. Lucy based Anne and the story of her life on a similar event she remembered from her own childhood and infused the book with her many memories of growing up on Prince Edward Island.

You know a book has definitely stood the test of time when after 107 years children around the world are still reading it and both movies and television shows continue to be made from the book and its sequels. There have also been various stage adaptations over the years, include a musical.

Evelyn Nesbitt
More than 50 million copies of Anne of Green Gables have sold since the book was first published, and it’s been translated into 20 different languages. Anne of Green Gables became so popular that Lucy went on to write a series of sequels.

Here’s an interesting fact about Anne that I discovered—Montgomery based Anne’s looks on Evelyn Nesbitt. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because Evelyn was the original Gibson girl. Her face and figure appeared nearly everywhere in the early part of the 20th century. Evelyn was America’s first celebrity, paving the way for the likes of Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian. She was also indirectly responsible for what was called the Trial of the Century back in 1906 when her jealous millionaire husband Harry K. Thaw murdered her ex-lover, famed New York architect Stanford White.

Gibson Girl
It’s ironic that the scandalous Evelyn Nesbitt was the physical model for the sweet Anne Shirley, but as any author will tell you, when inspiration strikes, you run with it. Generations of young girls, myself included, are quite happy Evelyn had a hand in inspiring Lucy to create Anne.

Thursday, November 26, 2015


It’s that time of year again. Today is Black Friday, the official start of the holiday shopping season. Have you been staring at your gift list, wracking your brains, trying to figure out what to give your nieces and nephews? Your sisters-in-law? Your son-in-law’s mother? The coworker whose name you drew in the Secret Santa gift exchange?

Think books! Here are a few suggestions that I can pretty much guarantee won’t be duplicated by someone else, and even better, you don't have to buck the Black Friday crowds. Pour yourself another cup of coffee and shop right from the comfort of your computer:

If you’ve got 6-10 year olds on your list, consider The Magic Paintbrush:

When nine-year-old Jack and his seven-year-old sister Zoe are snowed in for days with nothing to do, their complaints land them in every guy’s worst nightmare—the kingdom of Vermilion, a land where everything is totally pink! At first Jack is mistaken for a spy from the neighboring kingdom of Cobalt, but Zoe convinces Queen Fuchsia that they’re from New Jersey and arrived by magic.

Queen Fuchsia needs a king, but all the available princes in Vermilion are either too short, too fat, too old, or too stupid. Jack and Zoe suggest she looks for a king in Cobalt, but Vermilion and Cobalt have been at war since long before anyone can remember. Jack and Zoe decide Vermilion and Cobalt need a Kitchen Table Mediation to settle their differences. So they set out on an adventure to bring peace to the warring kingdoms—and maybe along the way they just might find a king for the queen.

Without being preachy, TheMagic Paintbrush addresses the issue of differences, in this case, a kingdom that is all pink at war with a kingdom that is all blue for longer than anyone can remember—so long that no one even knows what started the feud. It takes two children from another land to point out to the rulers of both kingdoms the benefits to getting along and how we're really all the same inside.

Who doesn’t love desserts? In Bake, Love, Write, an Amazon bestselling cookbook, 105 bestselling and award-winning authors present dessert recipes along with advice on love and writing:

What do most authors have in common, no matter what genre they write? They love desserts. Sweets sustain them through pending deadlines and take the sting out of crushing rejection letters and nasty reviews. They also often celebrate their successes—selling a book, winning a writing award, making a bestseller list, or receiving a fabulous review—with decadent indulgences. And when authors chat with each other, they often talk about their writing and their lives. Recipes. Writing. Relationships. In this cookbook 105 authors not only share their favorite recipes for fabulous cakes, pies, cookies, candy, and more, they also share the best advice they’ve ever received on love and writing.

Need a gift for someone always pressed for time? We’d Rather BeWriting is chockfull of quick and easy dinner recipes and tips for saving time:

Have you ever wished you could find more time to do the things you want to do, rather than just doing the things you have to do? Most authors juggle day jobs and family responsibilities along with their writing. Because they need to find time to write, they look for ways to save time in other aspects of their lives.

Cooking often takes up a huge chunk of time. In this book you'll find easy, nutritious recipes for meat, poultry, pasta, soup, stew, chili, and vegetarian meals. All of the recipes require a minimum of prep time, freeing you up to read, exercise, garden, craft, write, spend more time with family, or whatever. The authors who contributed to this book are a rather creative and resourceful bunch when it comes to carving out time from their busy lives. So in addition to timesaving recipes, within the pages of this book you'll find timesaving and organizational tips for other aspects of your life. And if you happen to be a writer, you'll also find a plethora of great ideas to help you organize your writing life.

NOTE: A percentage of the profits from both cookbooks will be donated to NoKidHungry.org.

If you’re an author, you might be in need of a gift for your critique buddies or the gift exchange at your local writers group. Top TenReasons Your Novel is Rejected offers advice from a publishing insider:

Over the years Lois Winston has given workshops and talks to several thousand aspiring writers. As a literary agent, she’s listened to hundreds of pitches and read through tens of thousands of query letters and manuscript submissions. Being both a published author and a literary agent gives her a unique perspective on publishing. She knows what it’s like to be the writer whose only desire is to sell a novel, and she knows what it’s like to have to crush someone’s hopes with a rejection letter. It wasn’t until she started sending out those rejection letters that she began to have a better understanding of why so many writers receive them.
What she’s come to realize is that most manuscripts are rejected by agents and editors for one or more of ten basic reasons. Writers have control over some of these reasons but not all of them. This book will discuss these ten reasons and how writers can control more of their destiny by not falling prey to them.

Whether your goal is to be published by a legacy publishing house or you plan to self-publish, this book contains invaluable information about self-editing, grammar, punctuation, point of view, telling vs. showing, passive vs. active writing, dialogue, narrative, voice, style, hooks, query letters, and synopsis writing.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Tuesday, November 24, 2015


Over the river and through the woods,

To grandmother's house we go;

The horse knows the way to carry the sleigh,

Through the white and drifted snow, O!
Over the river and through the woods,

Oh how the wind does blow!

It stings the toes, and bites the nose,

As over the ground we go.

Over the river and through the woods,

To have a first-rate play;

Oh hear the bells ring, "Ting-a-ling-ling!"

Hurrah for Thanksgiving Day, Hey!
Over the river and through the woods,

Trot fast my dapple gray!

Spring over the ground, like a hunting hound!

For this is Thanksgiving Day, Hey!

Over the river and through the woods,

And straight through the barnyard gate,

We seem to go extremely slow.

It is so hard to wait!
Over the river and through the woods,

Now grandmother's cap I spy!

Hurrah for the fun! Is the pudding done?

Hurrah for the pumpkin pie!

To all those traveling today, safe journey!

Monday, November 23, 2015


Jackie King spent many years in the corporate world and now writes full time. Her apartment in Tulsa, Oklahoma looks out onto Riverside Parkway, and just beyond the treetops she can see the Arkansas River. Her latest hobby is watching the changes in foliage and the nesting of Eagles. Learn more about Jackie and her books at her website and the Murderous Musings blog.

One of the great joys of writing is recycling a happy memory from my own life in a scene I create. Like most authors, I use personal experience to spin my fictional stories. For example, I drew from my own blissful memories of cookie baking to portray Grace Cassidy’s pleasure when she baked cookies for her guests in a B&B.

I suppose that I’d better add (tongue in cheek) that all of my murders so far have been vicarious. I have enjoyed murdering my ex-husband several times on paper. And for anyone, male or female, who has been dumped unceremoniously by a long-time spouse (31 years for me), I must say that this is a most therapeutic exercise.

The Bed and Breakfast mystery series I write has the word “corpse” in the title of each book. In Book one, Grace starts out as a somewhat spoiled, very naïve woman from a wealthy background. When everything she depends on in her life is gone, necessity forces her to evolve into a stronger, more resourceful woman. She finds she never really knew her authentic self before, and sets out on a journey to explore her own strengths and weaknesses. She develops her skills with each book while dealing with murder and mayhem.

In The Inconvenient Corpse Grace finds a dead body in her B&B room. Stranded with no money, she turns to inn-sitting (temporary help for owners needing a break) to support herself. In the midst of a murder investigation, she rediscovers the satisfaction of baking cookies. (See her newest recipe below.)

With one solved murder under her belt Grace continues changing from the lady-like people-pleaser she has always been into someone she likes better. In The Corpse Who Walked in the Door her son is accused of attempted murder and rape; and Trouble, her cat, finds a dead body in the bathtub. As if that isn’t enough, her ex-husband Charlie returns and wants to reconcile.

Grace’s newest adventure takes her back to her hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma. In The Corspe and the Geezer Brigade Grace struggles through a quagmire of murder stemming from a 50-year-old agreement between her father and his buddies. She learns more than she ever wanted to know about her parents’ past and faces danger once again.

When dead bodies show up in Grace Cassidy’s life, she bakes cookies to relieve the stress. Like me, Grace’s specialty is chocolate chip-pecan cookies. However she also enjoys discovering new recipes. Below is her newest recipe, cranberry-macadamia nut cookies, the newest sensation at the B&B. She will bake a huge batch to serve on Thanksgiving.

Grace’s Cranberry-Nut Cookies

3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 sticks butter
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
2 tsp. orange extract
2-1/4 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
12 oz. pkg. white chocolate chips
1/2 cup macadamia nuts chopped
1 cup dried cranberries

Mix butter, white sugar, and brown sugar until fluffy. Add eggs, vanilla and orange extract. Add in flour, baking soda, salt, white chocolate chips, nuts and dried cranberries.

Beat until mixed. Bake at 325 degrees for 13-16 minutes or until golden brown.

Grace and I wish everyone in cyberland a very happy Thanksgiving!

The Corpse and the Geezer Brigade
In the heady atmosphere of testosterone and too much booze, ten new fathers make a solemn pact that benefits those who live longest. As the day of reckoning approaches, the survivors are being murdered one by one. Grace Cassidy’s son is on the list. Can she solve the mystery in time to save his life?

Sunday, November 22, 2015


Gisant: Knight in Armor, c. 1500
Nestled on the campus of Princeton University is the Princeton University Art Museum, an absolute gem that houses an amazing collection of art from ancient times to the modern day, including works from the Americas, Europe, Africa, and Asia.
I’ve always been fascinated by medieval art. One of my favorite pieces in the museum’s collection is Knight in Armor, a Spanish gisant figure from the early 1500’s.
Gisant tombs (the word derives from the Old French verb “gesir,” meaning to lie horizontally) were a type of royal tomb that first became popular in the twelfth century. The figures were depicted as awaiting the Last Judgment, and no matter the age of the deceased when he or she died, the figure was always shown as thirty-three years of age, the same age of Jesus Christ when he was crucified.
What fascinates me most about this particular sculpture is the detail the artist was able to capture in the stone carving. I’ve seen many gisant figures in various museums, but I’ve never come across one as intricately carved as this one.

There are also some interesting anomalies regarding this particular figure. His gauntlets don’t match, and the animal that traditionally would be at his feet is missing. The mystery writer in me is certainly piqued by this and wonders who this unidentified nobleman was. Chances are, we’ll never know.

If you happen to find yourself in the Princeton, NJ area at some point, check out the Princeton University Art Museum. Admission is free.

Thursday, November 19, 2015


Today we’re joined by Earl Staggs, a two-time Derringer Award winner for Best Short Story of the Year. Earl previously worked as managing editor of Futures Mystery Magazine and is a past-president of the Short Mystery Fiction Society. Learn more about him and his books at his blog. earlstaggs@sbcglobal.net

Fact, Fiction and Legend

I love history, particularly when it’s about how people lived, loved, and died and what they did to earn a place in the archives of life. The facts are there, documented in stories handed down through generations or recorded by historians and writers.

But sometimes facts and truths foster legends and, once born, legends develop an enduring life of their own. Was there really a King Arthur or was he only a compilation of various myths and legends? Did George Washington really chop down that cherry tree, or is that only a legend created to teach children the importance of telling the truth?

How do we separate legend from truth? Fortunately, as a writer, I don’t have to. My job as a writer is to write an interesting and entertaining story even if I have to mix fact, fiction, and legend together.

As an example, I came across an interesting legend about Billy the Kid. According to the local lore in Hico, Texas, Billy wasn’t shot dead at the age of twenty-one by Sheriff Pat Garrett in New Mexico as claimed in history books. The story in Hico is that Billy lived out his final years there and died in 1950, a month after his ninetieth birthday. I visited the museum devoted to him and stood on the exact spot where they say he dropped dead of a heart attack. 

I took their legend, added a few facts, blended in a large amount of fiction, and produced a short story titled “Where Billy Died.” 

Now, I don’t write westerns or historicals. I write contemporary mysteries. In this story, a modern day bounty hunter named Jack goes to Texas to bring back a young bail jumper named Billy Joe Raynor. Jack has no idea he's been tailed by the chief enforcer for a major mobster. Is it because Jack roughed up the mobster's brother, or because of something Billy Joe did before he skipped town? In trying to stay alive and do his job, Jack also has no idea he'll get tangled up in a legend of the Old West about another young outlaw named Billy which will save his life and fix his marriage problems back home. 

I’m proud of how “Where Billy Died” turned out and even prouder that it brought home a Derringer Award from the Short Mystery Fiction Society as Best Story of the Year. It’s a long short story (9200 words) available as a 99 cent ebook.

Something strange happened as I wrote that story. The research I did for “Where Billy Died” sparked an interest in me. It occurred to me there were other stories from the past in which fact didn’t match legend and I began digging into them. That led me to write a series of articles called “History’s Rich With Mysteries.” For these articles, I put fiction aside and concentrated on separating fact from legend. Kevin Tipple was kind enough to invite me to post them on his blog site. 

The first article, "The Mystery of Billy the Kid", had to do with Billy the Kid and further research led me to uncover several truths which had been twisted into legends. For instance, I’d always thought Billy the Kid was left-handed. Not true, I found out. I discovered a few other things in the legend surrounding his life that were not true. 

Next, I wrote "Who Was Etta Place,", the girl who traveled with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.  Etta Place was not her real name and her entire life before and after she hooked up with Butch and Sundance is veiled in mystery.

After Etta, I took on Albert DeSalvo in, the man who confessed to being The Boston Strangler in 
“Albert DeSalvo – Was He Really the Boston Strangler?” Was he really the man who killed thirteen women in the Boston area? There are a number of reasons to believe he was not.

The next in turn was Frank James, Jesse’s brother, in "Frank--the Other James." A lot has been documented about Jesse but very little about Frank. He had a very interesting life.

In the most recent article, “She Cried For Help and No One Came,” I took a look at the horrific murder of Kitty Genovese in 1964. Legend and urban myth have always told us thirty-eight people watched her get stabbed to death and did nothing. That’s not the way it happened. 

More articles are planned for the future. 

Our world overflows with legends, and they’re often more provocative and interesting than what really happened. One legend, for example, offers that Butch Cassidy escaped his storied death in Bolivia and lived to a ripe old age back in the US. Another one proposes that John Wilkes Booth lived in Texas many years after that night at Ford’s Theater. 

Whether these and other legends are true or fanciful leaps from the facts, as a writer, I find them irresistible. To me, they’re tempting nuggets in the gold mine of history begging to be explored. I hope I live long enough to dig out the truth in many more of them. 

Where Billy Died
When Jack, a Philadelphia bounty hunter, goes to Texas to bring back a young bail jumper named Billy, he has no idea he's being trailed by the chief enforcer for a major mobster. Is it because Jack roughed up the mobster's brother, or is it because of what Billy did before he skipped town? In trying to stay alive and do his job, Jack also has no idea he'll get tangled up in a legend of the Old West that turns everything he knows on its ear.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015


In the second grade, Jessie Clever began a story about a duck and a lost ring. Two harrowing pages of wide ruled notebook paper later, the ring was found. And Jessie has been writing ever since. Armed with the firm belief that women in the Regency era could be truly awesome heroines, Jessie began telling their stories in her Spy Series, a thrilling ride in historical espionage that showcases human faults and triumphs and most importantly, love. Learn more about Jessie and her books at her website.  

What Happens in Portland, Maine…

When She Knows came about as I said a rocky goodbye to my 20s, and dove head first into the new responsibilities and headaches of my 30s. I found myself looking back on those carefree days of my 20s with longing only to adjust my view to the present, and wish for nothing to change.

But it got me thinking. And thinking often leads to a book—in this case, my first contemporary romance.

The story of Shannon Wynter, a twenty-something year old grappling with the pressures of work, family, and a love life (if you could even call it that!) could not have been told without the proper backdrop. That backdrop was the very city in which I played out my own crazy 20 something-year-old days: Portland, Maine.

Portland is the last cluster of civilization before Interstate 95 disappears up into the great unknown that is most of the state of Maine. People often say that once you’re past Portland, you’re in the wilderness. I was fortunate enough to go to school in Portland and land my first job there, leading to four incredible years in an incredible city.

Portland is not a big city, but it’s big enough to have all the sights and attractions you expect from a city: Theater, restaurants, and a hopping music scene, beautiful sights and historical districts. But while any city can boast a long list of tourist traps, Portland carries with it something else—the feeling of a small town in a metropolis.

When you travel into Portland, you can escape down to the waterfront and the Old Town. Once you’re there, you’ll forget that you’re in a city at all. You’ll forget the highway zipping by you in all directions and the industrial sector just over the water. It all falls away as the comforting spirit of Old Town surrounds you, wrapping you in its small village feel. With cobblestone streets, intriguing shops, and an array of restaurants, Old Town can almost be called quaint. But as the life oozes from between the old buildings, as it moves in waves through the pedestrian ways, it does not feel like a little village at all.

That is the enigmatic ways of Portland. The city that’s not quite a village, and the village with too much life to be just that. The divide between the two perfectly mirrors the conflict faced by Shannon Wynter in When She Knows, making Portland the perfect location for a little shake-up in an otherwise ordered life.

When She Knows
A Franconia Notch Trilogy, Book One

His latest problem is her newest assignment.

Shannon Wynter has it all figured it. Abandoned by her mother and left to care for her agoraphobic father, Shannon focuses on building her career as a journalist to the detriment of all else including her love life.

Ian Darke has his own problems. Battling past failures, Ian sets his eyes on launching a new factory for his father’s defense firm. But it’s the very father he failed that will do anything to sabotage Ian’s progress.

And when Shannon follows an anonymous tip that leads her to Ian’s factory door, the last thing she expects to discover is what she already knows.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015


Tips to Avoid Thanksgiving Dinner Disasters

Thanksgiving is next Thursday. If you’re hosting the family dinner, you know there are all sorts of dinner disasters you worry about. Here are a few tips to deal with some of the more common ones.

Turkey didn’t defrost completely in time, or worse yet, you forgot to defrost it? No worries. Leave Tom in his plastic wrapper and submerge him in a sink filled with cold water--or use your cooler. Figure 30 minutes per pound if he’s completely frozen, less if partially frozen. Change the water at least once to keep it cold.

Undercooked poultry is a huge no-no. If your bird looks pink as you’re carving it, place those undercooked portions on a baking sheet and pop them back in the over to roast until the pink is completely gone.

Turkey has a tendency to dry out quickly after it’s carved. Keep it moist with a sprinkling of hot chicken broth.

No one likes lumpy gravy. Avoid the lumps by pouring the gravy through a mesh strainer.

Squeeze some lemon juice into your cranberry sauce if it’s too sweet. 

Monday, November 16, 2015


Multi award-winning author Judy Alter writes the Kelly O’Connell Mysteries series, the Blue Plate Café Mysteries, and The Oak Grove Mysteries. She returns to Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers today to talk about a very unique and luxurious form of travel she discovered. Learn more about Judy and her books at her website and her Judy’s Stew and Potluck with Judy blogs.

Afternoon Tea
In Murder at Peacock Mansion, the eccentric recluse who feels threatened delights in serving afternoon tea. It turns out to be what Americans generally call “high tea,” and Kate looks forward to those cucumber and salmon sandwiches, as well as the scones and tiny cakes. But at best, according to the British, who gave us the tradition, it’s not high tea—it’s either afternoon tea or low tea.

Traditionally in 19th century Britain, high tea was served on a high table and was a substantial meal designed to feed the working class. It was heavy with meat and fish, crumpets, and potato and onion cakes, perhaps baked beans or a cheese casserole.

Afternoon or low tea, on the other hand, didn’t come about until the mid-1800s when kerosene lamps had made it easier for Brits to have their dinner as late as eight or nine. Supposedly, the Duchess of Bedford complained of feeling light-headed from hunger in the late afternoons. She requested small cakes and pastries be sent to her room. Then she began to share her afternoon repast with other high society friends, and the custom became fashionable. Eventually it spread beyond high society to other socio-economic populations.

A typical afternoon tea features light foods designed to appeal to ladies of leisure. There are often scones, sort of the quick bread equivalent of American biscuits but made without yeast. They come plain or in a variety of flavors such as cinnamon/raisin, cheddar/herb, and gingerbread and are often served with Devonshire or clotted cream, a thick cream made by heating whole cream cow’s milk, then letting the cream rise slowly to the top as the mixture cools. As it does so, clots or clumps form. In England it’s a great luxury, although you don’t hear much about it in the U.S. Scones however have become quite popular in this country.

A second course would be finger sandwiches—small, crustless sandwiches made to be eaten in two or three bites. They may be cucumber sandwiches, smoked salmon (Kate Chambers’ favorites in Murder at Peacock Mansion.) Chicken, tuna, egg or shrimp salad may be used as sandwich fillings as well as pimiento cheese—let your imagination run wild.

Some typical sandwich directions:

Cucumber sandwiches – spread one slice white bread with butter, cream cheese or mayonnaise, and thinly sliced peeled cucumber. Top with second piece of bread. Cut off crusts, and slice diagonally twice to make four triangular sandwiches.

Egg spread sandwiches – again, use white bread. Mix two finely chopped hard-boiled eggs with one Tbsp. mayo, one Tbsp. plain yogurt, one Tbsp. Dijon, one tsp. dried dill, one tsp. chopped parsley. Assemble sandwich as above for cucumber sandwiches.

Curried chicken salad – Two cups finely shredded chicken, one half cup mayo, 8 oz. can crushed pineapple, thoroughly drained, one-fourth cup mango chutney, a tsp. or two of curry according to taste. Use wheat bread for this.

Smoked salmon – layer smoked salmon on one piece of pumpernickel bread and add a bit of horseradish and some dill; or add cream cheese. With the latter, try to also add thinly sliced cucumber.

Radish and goat cheese – Thinly slice small bunch of radishes. Toss with a small amount of salt and let sit about ten minutes, then drain and rinse. Make sandwich as you would cucumber sandwiches. For other uses, salting radishes softens their taste.

And then top it off with sweet cakes and pastries—probably what we’d call petit fours.

Of course you must serve hot tea, never iced (an American abomination)—usually at least one different variety with each course. There are 1500 types of tea in Britain, many imported from India and some from China. Most popular teas include Ceylon, Twining, Darjeeling, Taylors of Harrogate. Of course you must do as the Brits—brew loose leaf in a proper teapot and add milk, never cream or lemon, in your tea.

Murder at Peacock Mansion
Arson, a bad beating, and a recluse who claims someone is trying to kill her all collide in this third Blue Plate Café Mystery with Kate Chambers. Torn between trying to save David Clinkscales, her old boss and new lover, and curiosity about Edith Aldridge’s story of an attempt on her life, Kate has to remind herself she has a café to run. She nurses a morose David, whose spirit has been hurt as badly as his body, and tries to placate Mrs. Aldridge, who was once accused of murdering her husband but acquitted. One by one, Mrs. Aldridge’s stepchildren enter the picture. Is it coincidence that David is Edith Aldridge’s lawyer? Or that she seems to rely heavily on the private investigator David hires? First the peacocks die…and then the people. Everyone is in danger, and no one knows whom to suspect.