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.

Monday, December 31, 2018

Friday, December 28, 2018

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY--GUEST AUTHOR JON DALTON ON CHRISTMAS IN FLORIDA

A journalist, and former attorney, Jon Dalton lives in Southwest Florida with his wife (the novelist Tymber Dalton), Kiwi the dog, several cats intent on world domination, and Sheldon the wonder tortoise. Learn more about Jon and his books at his website

Departure from tradition in Florida
As a non-native Floridian (still a tried and true Buckeye) who’s lived in this state for the past thirty-some years, adjusting to the lack of snow and bone-chilling temperatures took some time.

That said, it still doesn’t feel like Christmas when you have the sun shining and temps in the high seventies or eighties. But when the sun goes down and darkness begins to fall, I can behold a Christmas wonderland outside my front window.

You see, Floridians are no different that anyone else when it comes to decorating for Christmas, and some of us tend to take that further than others.

Yes, I’m one of those.

Nov. 1 is the magic day for me. Down come the few Halloween decorations around the house, and out come the tubs labeled “outside lights.” The yard gets mowed one final time, weeds around the shrubbery are weed whacked, and the area around the carport gets cleared.

Following a project plan developed over the years, the outside decorating proceeds with every tree, shrub and fence bedecked with festive lights. Then comes the placement of the myriad wire and grape animals, along with the three lit trees, and a cloth Frosty the Snowman.

Lastly, the inflatables take a place of honor in the front yard. The collection has grown to a dozen or more of these including Santa, snowmen, Hello Kitty (for my wife), Snoopy, penguins — you get the picture.

This is all made possible by my wife, who, after seeing the display grow and experiencing temporary power outages, steered me to these outside external thingamabobs that are connected to the electrical panel. Voila! No more outages.

The other magic behind this is the myriad extension cords and power strips situated throughout the yard to make it all happen.

The target date is always Thanksgiving night. When darkness falls, I plug in the eight extension cords and an ordinary yard transforms into what I can only describe as a magical scene.

In years past, I’ve used a music box to create a dancing light show, but alas, the music box died this year, so I had to settle for a more mundane, static display. Bad weather this year has also grounded the inflatables on many nights.

So, most nights from Thanksgiving through December, this wondrous scene is on display with the final night being New Year’s Day. That’s the other part of my new tradition. New Year’s Day is the final night absolutely, and on Jan. 2, back out come the tubs and everything gets packed up for another year.

I suppose in a way, going all out on my holiday decorations isn’t unusual as I can remember my father, when I was a child, hanging a string of lights across the front of our house. I vividly remember standing on the ground, holding the strands of lights, while he was up on the ladder stapling then to the house (can we say Clark Griswold?). Thus, I think I can safely say that I came by my all-out decorating honestly.

Ultimately, I look upon this decorating tradition as my way of sharing the joy of the holiday season with others. And sharing, treating others with kindness, is what Christmas is all about with me.

And that leads me to Dancing under the Mistletoe. Under another pen name, I write sweet romances typically set at Christmas. But I wanted a mystery set at Christmas involving my detective, Wolf Mallory. And thinking about the local VA facility in Tampa, the idea of the murder of a member of a VA support group evolved and the book was born with Wolf finding closure for a grieving family.

Best wishes for the New Year!

Dancing Under the Mistletoe
A Wolf Mallory Mystery

Wolf Mallory thinks life is going to settle down now that he’s proven Vicky wasn’t guilty of murder. Unfortunately, Wolf’s friend Vinnie volunteers him yet again to take a look at a case. And with the holidays approaching, Wolf gives in, hoping to bring a little closure to a murder victim’s family. But when even the police don’t have any leads, Wolf wonders how he’s going to pull a Christmas miracle out of his bag of tricks.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

DEBUT AUTHOR JODI RATH ON CREATING A COZY MYSTERY VILLAGE

Moving into her second decade working in education, Jodi Rath has decided to begin a life of crime in her Cast Iron Skillet Mystery Series. Her passion for both mysteries and education led her to combine the two to create her business MYS ED, where she splits her time between working as an adjunct for Ohio teachers and creating mischief in her fictional writing. She currently resides in a small, cozy village in Ohio with her husband and her seven cats. Learn more about her and her series at her website. 

A Guide to ‘Setting’ up a Cozy Mystery Village

I’ve loved to write as long as I can remember. One of the biggest hurdles for me to jump over is setting. I always look to authors like the late great Sue Grafton, as she spun amazing roads both literally and figuratively throughout her novels. Sara Paretsky personifies Chicago in her V.I. Warshawski novels. Chaucer’s pilgrimage in the springtime to visit Beckett’s shrine in Canterbury gives life to the setting. So, why do I always find myself staring at a page full of words that round out characters, create sensory details, and advance the plot but have little pebbles worth of information on the setting?

When I first set out to write a cozy series, I held back for the longest time. Why? You guessed it: setting fears! I understood the need to create a cozy little village that entices readers to feel they live in that setting as they read the book. Talk about giving me the nervous sweats. How would I ever be able to do this when I struggle with the setting?

I’ve never been huge into fantasy as a reader. I’ve always leaned toward mystery first with English Literature a quick second (I was an English Lit major in my undergrad years and taught English Literature to HS students for two decades, so…).

When I got serious about writing that cozy mystery, I decided to visit the fantasy section of my local library where I grabbed several books with maps in them. I found a quiet little cubbyhole in the corner of the library to study those maps and took some detailed notes. Next, I went and found a globe and circled it for a bit. I always have my handy-dandy journal with me wherever I go, so I got that puppy out and began jotting down some notes on mapping out a world, a town, a street, down to a room.  

I made lists. From those lists, I created descriptions using sensory details. I looked up places online and realized (and duh, I was an educator after all so I should have known this) that I learn best visually.  Seeing those maps first, then writing, helped me so much. Looking at actual pictures of exact places online or searching for places based off of detailed terms I created in my head, gave me more of a visual to work from. I now had a strategy for writing setting.

So, off I went, back home to my office with my seven cat staff to begin developing The Cast Iron Skillet Mystery Series, which is set in Leavensport, Ohio. This is a fictional village, but I live in Ohio in a small village myself.  Leavensport is partially modeled after the village I live in, but a lot of visual research also went into creating my little world. I found several pictures that I studied and spent hours free-writing, trying to get the right spots in the correct places to be able to help me write this fourteen book series.

Once I did all that, I created a really bad map online.  It was truly horrible to look at, but fun to make. So, after putting that atrocity in my first book, my editor kindly said: “Having a map is a great idea, but why don’t you have a professional set it up for you?” 

Um….yes, that would be good. Writers, don’t ever think you don’t need an editor. I was so proud and puffed up from my research and time I committed to making the crappy map that I couldn’t really see (or smell) how crappy it was.  So, I got a professional who made me a black and white copy for e-books and a colored map for my website and blog interviews like this one. It is beautiful. I do love it. I love all the names I’ve come up with for the village, and I look forward to murdering people in just about every place in town—on the page that is!

Pineapple Upside Down Murder
A Cast Iron Skillet Mystery, Book 1 

Introducing Jolie Tucker, an introverted yet passionate restaurant co-owner of Cast Iron Creations, who, at her best friend Ava’s request, steps out of her comfort zone, which leads her into the shade of a killer in the small, cozy village of Leavensport, Ohio.  The victim is the village’s beloved Ellie Siler who runs the village sweet spot, Chocolate Capers.  Jolie finds her grandma Opal is a prime suspect and goes on a search for answer only to find out that her family’s secret recipes may not belong to the Tucker family at all.  Jolie’s job, family, and livelihood are all on the line. The answers are assuredly lethal.

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Wednesday, December 26, 2018

MYSTERY AND THRILLER AUTHOR SIMON WOOD SHARES A CHRISTMAS MEMORY

Simon with Max, circa 1981
Simon Wood is the USA Today bestselling author of a dozen thrillers and mysteries. Originally from the UK, he resides in California with his American wife, Julie, a longhaired dachshund, six cats, five chickens, a few dozen tropical fish and several thousand bees. Learn more about Simon and his books at his website. 

Christmas with Max
I suppose my fondest Christmas memory was my first Christmas with my longhaired dachshund Max. It was 1981. I was thirteen, and it was his first Christmas. As someone new to this Christmas thing, he was quite excited to see the tree go up and the house get decorated.

However, the week before Christmas, he didn’t cover himself in glory. My mum had finished baking a Christmas fruitcake. She was letting it cool on the kitchen table so she could add marzipan and icing later. I wandered into the kitchen at some point to find this eight-month-old dachshund puppy had managed to hop onto a chair, then climb onto the table, and was now chowing down on the cake. This cake, which was still warm, was easily 5 lbs. or so and he was about 3 lbs. into it.  He stopped eating, stared at me and wagged his tail guiltily. I called out to my mum with the news. She told me not to tell tales (somewhat of a thing for me) but I said no, no, scout’s honor. My mum came out to see the carnage. I thought, along with Max, that he was going to get a walloping, but my mum said his punishment would come in about 6-8 hours when nature had taken its course.

Max made up for his indiscretion on Christmas morning. I guess our excitement of opening presents infected Max. As we tore the wrapping off our gifts, Max joined in. We stopped unwrapping our presents and let Max do it for us. If we showed him the corner where to start, he would carefully strip the paper off. We might not have had any Christmas cake in 1981, but that dog turned Christmas morning into a joyous occasion.

Max is long gone, but the memory of that morning has never left me.

Half-Inched
An Aidy Westlake Mystery, Book 1.5

Christmas has gone sideways for racecar driver, Aidy Westlake. Aidy’s grandfather, Steve, was just putting the finishing touches on a classic Ford GT40 he was restoring for a British millionaire when it was stolen from his workshop. They quickly establish that the supercar was stolen to order and is in now in Moldova in the hands of the notorious gangster, Lupul. There’s a wrinkle. The police in Moldova don’t care. The theft of a rich man’s toy doesn’t rank high on their priorities. The client’s ultimatum is simple—cover his one million pound loss or recover the car by Christmas Day. With the threat of financial ruin hanging over his grandfather’s head, Aidy’s crew has only one option—steal the car back.

Monday, December 24, 2018

'TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS

Cross stitch design by Lois Winston
featured in the December 2002 issue of 
The Cross Stitcher magazine
A VISIT FROM ST. NICHOLAS
Clement Clarke Moore

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there.

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap.

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below.
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer.

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name!

"Now Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! On, Cupid! On Donner and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!"

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of Toys, and St Nicholas too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.
A bundle of Toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler, just opening his pack.

His eyes--how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow.

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly!

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself!
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings, then turned with a jerk.
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose!

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,

"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!"

Saturday, December 22, 2018

ANOTHER CRAFTING SLEUTH--THIS ONE BY AUTHOR JOANNA CAMPBELL SLAN

(We don't generally post new blogs on weekends, but we just couldn't turn down a request for a spot by the author of a fellow crafting sleuth, and the weekend was all we had available.)

National bestselling author Joanna Campbell Slan has had five stories in the New York Times’ Bestselling Chicken Soup for the Soul series. She’s also won the Daphne du Maurier Award of Excellence for Literary Fiction. The author of nearly 40 books, Joanna lives on Jupiter Island in Florida. Learn more about her and her books at her website.

A Season of Creativity
(and a Beach Escape for Only 99 Cents)

The four female characters in my Second Chance Series hope for a second chance at love and life. MJ Austin, Skye Blue, and Honora McAfee all work for Cara Mia Delgatto in a store called The Treasure Chest, a décor shop that features upcycled, recycled, and repurposed goods. Because Cara Mia has a very tight budget, she and her employees are always looking for ways to turn simple items into desirable, one-of-a- kind pieces of merchandise. For me as an author that adds a fun challenge to each of my books, since I have to come up with cool trash-to-treasure ideas as well.

For example, later this week I’ll be decorating a Christmas tree made from pieces of driftwood I found on the beach. A friend drilled a hole through the pieces and threaded them onto a dowel, putting the large pieces of wood at the bottom and the smaller ones at the top. I plan to hang empty quail’s eggshells from the limbs, along with garlands of paper beads and ornaments of seashells. These are all items that Cara Mia might sell in her store.

My biggest creative project this year has been a dollhouse for the annual Creatin’ Contest run by Miniatures.com. I’ve been working on my entry for nearly a year. Not surprisingly, Honora is also a miniaturist. Like me, she creates one-of-a-kind dollhouses. Both of us make all the pieces for our house s by hand, including any dolls we use.

Here’s a picture of Amelia T. Byrd, the owner of the dollhouse I’ve made. She’s only five inches tall. I sculpted her from clay. Her hair came from a lock of my dog’s tail. (No animals were hurt while making this project. I promise!) Can you see the tiny bird perched on her finger?

If you like reading about women’s friendships, if you like a sweet romance along with your mysteries, and if you like crafts, I think you’ll enjoy my Second Chance Series. Right now I’ve put Book #1—Second Chance at Loveon sale for only 99 cents. Since the series is set in Florida, it might just be the perfect mental escape you’ll need this holiday season.

Happy Holidays!

Second Chance at Love
(Previously published as Tear Down and Die, Book #1 in the Cara Mia Delgatto Mystery Series)

At sixteen while on vacation in Florida, Cara Mia Delgatto lost her heart to Cooper Rivers. But her interfering parents didn’t approve. They moved Cara away from the Sunshine State and cut off all communication between the two young lovers. 

In an act of rebellion, Cara makes a nearly fatal mistake—and almost destroys both her family and their business. To make up for her rash behavior, Cara spends the next twenty years of her life being “a good girl,” working in her family restaurant. 

When her parents die within six months of each other, Cara decides to take a road trip and visit her son at University of Miami. On a whim, she buys a vacant building in Florida and opens a trash-to-treasure décor store. She believes with all her heart in second chances…but then Cooper Rivers walks back into her life. Can Cara and Cooper rekindle the love they felt that magic summer so long ago?

Friday, December 21, 2018

AUTHOR THERESA CRATER SHARES A CHRISTMAS MEMORY THAT INSPIRED HER LATEST MYSTERY

Best-selling author Theresa Crater brings ancient temples, lost civilizations, and secret societies back to life in her visionary fiction. Learn more about her books and short stories at her website

My favorite Christmas tradition as a child was the Moravian Christmas Eve Candlelight and Love Feast service. I was raised in a small Protestant church with the oldest history starting way back in 1415 in Prague with Czech national hero Jan Hus. It’s a long story how we ended up in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, but that’s where I come in.
Each Christmas Eve, I looked forward to the special service of music, treats, and candles. After a few hymns and the reading of the Christmas story, the Love Feast began. The doors to the side of the pulpit would open and out would come the women dressed in crisp, white aprons, carrying baskets of buns, each decorated with a big ‘M’ standing for Moravian. After the buns were passed from hand to hand down the pews, the men came out carrying trays of white mugs filled with sweet coffee. It was the only time I was allowed to drink coffee as a child, plus we were eating in church. We listened to the choir sing and enjoyed our little communal meal.

Then my favorite part came toward the end when the beeswax candles decorated with red crepe paper at the bottom were carried out on trays and passed to the congregants. The lights in the sanctuary were dimmed and the only light was the big Moravian star hanging in the front. These stars began in a geometry class in one of the German settlements in Neisky in the mid-1800s. The one we hung at home had 26 points, but the star in our church was bigger and had many more. It was glorious.

I sat in breathless anticipation until I received my candle. I immediately put it up to my nose and took a deep breath of the best beeswax you’ve ever smelled. Once everyone had a candle, the server lit the minister’s candle, then that light went to other servers who lit the candles of the first person in each pew. The light was passed until each person’s candle was lit. The sanctuary grew lighter until it was filled with the golden glow of candlelight. Then we sang the final hymn and on the last stanza, we held our candles in the air.

Each year a child led the congregation in a hymn called “Morning Star.” The child sings the first two lines, then everyone sings it back. Everyone sings the chorus. One year, I was picked to sing. Mother bought me a beautiful green velvet dress with little red roses on the bodice. I remember holding up my candle and singing, “Morning Star, O cheering sight. Ere thou camst, how dark earth’s night.” My favorite line.

As an adult, I discovered the Moravians had taught mysticism in the 1740s. I was fascinated. The teachings echoed metaphysical ideas I’d studied in Vedanta and then in Western Mystery schools. After a good deal of research, I wrote a novel about it called The Star Family. This novel ends with a Christmas Eve Love Feast and Candlelight service.

The Star Family
A secret spiritual group, a recurring dream, a 400-year-old ritual that must be completed before it is too late

Jane Frey inherits a Gothic mansion filled with unexpected treasures. A prophecy claims it hides an important artifact – the key to an energy grid laid down by the Founding Fathers themselves. Whoever controls this grid controls the very centers of world power. Except Jane has no idea what they’re looking for.


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Thursday, December 20, 2018

AUTHOR P.A. DE VOE SETS MYSTERIES IN MING DYNASTY CHINA

Ming Dynasty
Award-winning historical mystery author P.A. De Voe is an anthropologist with a PhD in Asian studies and a specialty in China. She has written several books and short stories featuring the Ming Dynasty. Learn more about P.A. and her books at her website. 

China is a highly diverse country whose diversity can be broken down in various ways, for example, by region (north, south, west), province, or language. Deadly Relations, A Ming Dynasty Mystery is a late fourteenth century story set in the southeastern province of Jiangxi in the market town of Jian.

While my Jian is fictional, I wanted it to reflect important characteristics of southern villages and towns and which I could use in developing the characters and plot line of my new Ming Dynasty Mysteries series. First, the majority, if not all, of the residents belonged to only one or two patrilineal clans. That is, the families were all directly related to one another through the father’s line. When women married, they married out of their patrilineal home and moved to their husband’s family’s house in another village. Therefore, all of the married women would normally be from other villages or towns. As a result of this living arrangement, the husband had lots of family around him, and the wife had no one around her from her own natal family. Another consequence of this pattern, intended or not, was that most women transferred their identity, loyalty, and attachment to the husband’s family and its interests. I pursue this idea in Deadly Relations, looking at both the positives and negatives that can arise from such a situation.

In Deadly Relations there are two main clans: the Gao and Xin. The Gao clan is the dominant clan; they have the most members, prestige, and control of the town. My protagonist Hong Shu-chang’s mother was a member of the Xin clan, the secondary clan in the village. Because Jian is a market town, however, there would also be non-Gao and Xin living in Jian. They would be immigrants and traders. The normal, everyday Chinese wanted to remain in their home area (the emperor also wanted this!) but famine or war would drive them away in search of economic survival. Nevertheless, no matter how long they stayed in Jian, they were always considered outsiders.

These tight vs. loose networks (i.e., men vs. women, clan members vs. outsiders) allows for interesting dynamics in character development.

Another issue related to north-south differences, is how schooling is treated. Although the emperor encouraged his magistrates to set up public schools for boys, in the south most boys received their education through clan-based schools. A clan-based school was set up and run by a specific clan for its members only. At the death of Hong Shu-chang’s father, his mother’s brother offered him a job as teacher in Jian’s Xin clan school. All of his students are cousins who can trace their family line to a common ancestor.

There were no schools for girls in either the north or the south. If they received any education, it was through home schooling. Shu-chang’s female counterpart, Xin Xiang-hua, is highly educated as a woman’s doctor because her medical family trained her through home schooling and an apprenticeship with her own grandmother. This professional training was highly unusual for girls. However, it did happen. Xiang-hua is based on a real, historical woman’s doctor who lived during the Ming Dynasty.

I invite you to take a trip to Jiangxi province in southern China during the late 1300s. Read Deadly Relations, where history and mystery meet!

Deadly Relations, A Ming Dynasty Mystery
As Hong Shu-chang struggles to move out of poverty, his father and uncle are murdered. Facing destitution, yet determined to find their killers, he takes a position as teacher in a nearby town where he meets Xiang-hua, the enigmatic local women’s doctor. Soon, a burned-out warehouse and two more mysterious deaths lead to his teaming up with Xiang-hua, and together they delve into the dark side of the town and its families, endangering both their reputations and lives.

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Wednesday, December 19, 2018

#CHRISTMAS MEMORIES WITH AUTHOR JANIS PATERSON

Janis Susan May/Janis Patterson is a 7th-generation Texan and a 3rd-generation wordsmith who writes in mystery, romance, and horror. Learn more about her and her books at her websites: www.JanisSusanMayAuthor.com and www.JanisPattersonMysteries.com.

Christmas Memories
Christmas! Just the mention of the word evokes images of snow and family togetherness and a decorated tree and presents... Some people don't like Christmas for reasons of their own, but I love Christmas because of all the happy memories involved.

When I was a child the entire family - aunts, uncles, cousins of several generations - would gather for Christmas day at my grandparents' house in a small town in North Texas. The house was built in the 1880s and was very cold, but we didn't care. Each family had had their 'tree' as we called presents and Santa in their own home, either on Christmas Eve or early Christmas morning, then all would trek up to the family home. My grandmother didn't decorate beyond a tree - usually a small one set on a table in the corner of the seldom-used parlor. One year it was made of blue net, which was very strange.

We had presents, but not very many and not very grand. Usually the children under 10 or so got presents from everyone, but the rest drew names. We weren't a wealthy family, at least not in money. What I remember most fondly, though, is not the presents - I cherish the memories of love and fun and togetherness... and the food. Especially the food.

Every family brought a dish and the old round table from the 1840s in the kitchen (which is now my breakfast table) couldn't hold it all, so the dishes spread out over the counters and stove. My mother made superb pies and always took six or eight - and none of them ever came home. Our cuisine was ample, but basically simple. Ambrosia salad. Green bean casserole. Several kinds of stuffing. Corn, either plain or in casserole, sometimes both. Turkey. Ham. Occasionally a roast. Sweet potatoes - yes, with pineapple and marshmallows. Green peas and pearl onions. Irish potatoes cooked in several ways. Sometimes fried okra, freshly cooked just before we started to eat. And of course, iced tea to drink. There was no alcohol of any kind at any gathering at my grandparents' house.

We had the tree first, all of us oohing and aahing over everyone's gifts no matter what they were, and then we migrated to the kitchen. Dinner usually lasted most of the day. After the first heaping plateful we would all sit around, talking primarily - ours was a 'talking' family - while our dinner 'settled,' then we would mosey back to the kitchen for a little snack. Sometimes several times.

So many children today miss the wonderful experience of an extended family. We did not. My grandparents' siblings came to dinner, and sometimes some of their children if they were in town. Some members brought friends who would have no place else to go. Boyfriends and girlfriends were welcome. My grandmother's sister had died in the Spanish influenza epidemic right after World War I, but her widower - and his second wife! - came to our Christmas regularly, and were very welcome. I was nearly grown before I figured out that neither of them was a blood relation!

There were games, too. We children spent hours playing cards or Chinese checkers on an ancient board that had been my grandfather's as a boy. Sometimes the men played gin rummy. The women talked. If the weather was nice, we children would run off our energy playing games outside, either in the yard or in the old barn on the back of the property.

When it finally got into late afternoon, the women would go into the kitchen; some would clean up while others divided the leftovers (usually enough for two meals for a family - I said there was a lot!) so each group would have some to take home. No leftovers since have ever tasted so good.

Lois asked for a photograph germane to my post, but there isn't one. Few of us had cameras, and if there were pictures made, I don't know of any that have survived. It's a pity, but the images in my heart can never fade. So - I must ask you to use your imagination to picture the scene; a Norman Rockwell-type image would do nicely, because it was just that lovely.

My grandparents' generation is gone now, as is my parents'. I am now the oldest on both sides of my family - a fact that never ceases to astonish me. The old house was sold long ago, and the younger generations have scattered across the world. Which is the way of things, and is perhaps good, because there is no way we could ever recapture that feeling of wonder, of family, of hope, of love.

By the way, my Christmas release this year is a tasty little novella of murder and mayhem called Killing Harvey, where on Christmas morning the most unpleasant family member was discovered stabbed. And garrotted. And possibly poisoned. It's sort of a funny story. However - please rest assured that my family was nothing like that one!

Merry Christmas!

Killing Harvey
It was a killer Christmas…

By all accounts it should have been a perfect holiday. A beautiful, elegant house. Rebecca’s future relatives all together, talking happily about her upcoming Christmas afternoon wedding to Peter. A gorgeous tree surrounded by presents. A Christmas-card perfect snowfall.

But the snowfall turned into a freak blizzard, trapping Rebecca and Peter in with his family. Then, once the house was completely isolated and no one could enter or leave, the most obnoxious member of the family is found stabbed. And garroted. And perhaps poisoned. Who really killed Harvey… and how?

Can Rebecca solve this murder? More importantly, does she really want to?

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

#COOKING WITH CLORIS--MYSTERY AUTHOR CAROLA DUNN WHIPS UP HOLIDAY TRIFLE

Carola Dunn was born and grew up in England but has lived in the US for the past 50 years or so. In spite of this, almost all her books are set in England, including twenty-three mysteries in the 1920’s era Daisy Dalrymple series, four Cornish Mysteries set around 1970, thirty-two Regency novels, and four collections of Regency novellas. Learn more about Carola and her books at her website. 

Holiday Trifle
Trifle is an English dessert dating from 1598 (first citation in print according to the OED). At that time the word referred to a mixture of cream boiled with other ingredients, more like what we call a “fool” today. By 1755, it was much like what we know today as trifle. My Aunt Margery (actually a second cousin a few time removed) used to make trifle for the holidays. I don't have her recipe, and in fact, I don't use a recipe at all, but this is how I make it yearly for Christmas Eve dinner with friends.

 I have to say, the first time I brought it on Christmas Eve, it was looked at askance by a few who aren't into desserts--but they are the ones who came back for more!

Ingredients – exact quantities are unimportant—guidelines below

Plain cake—I've used angel food from a mix, and bakery pound cake, but the most popular was homemade sponge cake that was actually a complete failure—the two layers each came out about 3/8” thick. For some things you really have to follow the recipe!

Raspberries—I freeze my own every summer, but this is one time frozen work better, because they have lots of juice.  (Some people use jam/jelly or jelly/jello, unsatisfactory in my opinion, or soak the cake in sherry, which I don't care for.)

Custard—I use Bird's Custard Powder, but vanilla pudding is more or less equivalent.

Whipped cream—Here I'm really fussy. Spray can cream does NOT work. Even grocery store whipping cream, which usually comes full of thickeners such as carrageen, is not that great. I use heavy cream (unadulterated) from a local dairy, or Trader Joe has an excellent heavy cream. If you love whipped cream, you probably have your own source.

Glacé cherries for decoration—or fresh raspberries if available.

Trifle is attractive in a glass bowl, but any bowl—preferably flat-bottomed—works well. The bowl in the photos is 6-1/4” x 3-1/4” deep. I made two roughly the same size using about ¾ of a small pound cake, a 12 oz bag of frozen raspberries, a pint of custard, and a ½ pint of cream. It would be enough for 6 or 8 people. Or it can be made in individual glasses such as sundae glasses.

Place slices of cake about 1” to 1½” deep in bottom of small bowl or 2 to 2½ in large bowl. I fill in gaps with scraps of cake.

Pour juice from bag more or less evenly over cake to soak in. Distribute berries in an even layer on top.

Make custard or pudding. Cool slightly (so it doesn't cook the berries) and pour on top before it completely thickens.

Chill.

Whip cream till really stiff—beyond stiff peaks (but don't let it turn into butter!) unless you're going to serve the trifle immediately and you know there won't be any left over. Even with the best cream, stiff peaks will weep after a few hours. Good cream doesn't need any flavouring. If you have to use grocery store whipping cream, you might want to flavour it with a spoonful of powdered sugar and/or a drop of vanilla.

Spread on top of cooled custard. Decorate.

Serve with a large spoon (a cake server doesn't work well), preferably in glass bowls.

Enjoy!

The Corpse at the Crystal Palace
A Daisy Dalrymple Mystery, Book 23

April 1928: Daisy Dalrymple Fletcher is visited in London by her young cousins. On the list of must-see sites is the Crystal Palace. Discovering that her children's nanny, Nanny Gilpin, has never seen the Palace, Daisy decides to make a day of it―bringing her cousins, her 3-year-old twins, her step-daughter Belinda, the nurserymaid, and Nanny Gilpin. Yet this ordinary outing goes wrong when Mrs. Gilpin goes off to the ladies’ room and fails to return. When Daisy goes to look for her, she doesn't find her nanny but instead the body of another woman dressed in a nanny's uniform.

Meanwhile, Belinda and the cousins spot Mrs. Gilpin chasing after yet another nanny. Intrigued, they trail the two through the vast Crystal Palace and into the park. After briefly losing sight of their quarry, they stumble across Mrs. Gilpin lying unconscious in a small lake inhabited by huge concrete dinosaurs.

When she comes to, Mrs. Gilpin can't remember what happened after leaving the twins in the nurserymaid's care. Daisy's husband, Detective Chief Inspector Alec Fletcher of Scotland Yard, finds himself embroiled in the investigation of the murdered nanny. Worried about her children's own injured nanny, Daisy is determined to help. First she has to discover the identity of the third nanny, the presumed murderer, and to do so, Daisy must uncover why the amnesic Mrs. Gilpin deserted her charges to follow the missing third nanny.

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(For a Daisy Dalrymple murder mystery, check out Mistletoe and Murder, Book 11.)