Camille Minichino (aka Margaret Grace aka Ada Madison aka Jean Flowers aka Elizabeth Logan) is a retired physicist. When her inspections of commercial nuclear plants post-Three Mile Island became boring, and her book on nuclear waste management wasn’t very popular, she turned to writing mysteries. She’s the author of twenty-eight mystery novels, plus many short stories and articles. Her latest series, written as Elizabeth Logan, is the Alaskan Diner Mysteries. Learn more about Camille, her nom de plumes, and all their books at her website.
Moose and Mousse and Murder
Culinary mysteries abound, and there’s reading pleasure for every taste. What’s your addiction? Chocolate? Soup? TexMex? Tea? Donuts? Did I mention chocolate? Or how about cherry cheesecake mousse, the recipe I offer here.
Let’s face it, cozy mystery sleuths have time to eat and drink. Sure, they typically solve a mystery in about a week, but in general they’re not rushing to abort the assassination of a world leader or keep greater Los Angeles from falling into the Pacific. Can you imagine an action hero in a cave, ready to face an army of villains, pulling a spinach and cheese soufflé out of the oven? Or stopping at an outdoor café to order a double espresso or herbal strawberry tea?
But cozies, or traditional whodunits, are designed for comfort, with nothing too graphic to deal with. Simply give the sleuths a good puzzle to figure out, snack break, and justice for all in the end.
Sophia Loren, nee Scicolone, said, "Everything you see I owe to spaghetti." I doubt it. Not with that body, but let’s humor her.
Food and drink are the writer's friends, setting-wise. They hit all the senses and immediately establish the ambience. We feel the textures in a mouthful of cracker and avocado dip, see the array of colors in a fruit salad, breathe in the aroma of fresh baked bread, and taste everything. We can hear the bubbles of sparkling water and the sizzle of a burger on the grill. A few food words—coffee and an almond bear claw, French toast with thick multi-berry syrup—and we've got the reader salivating.
Menu choices are also a giveaway device to identify characters. We build expectations about the person who orders the shrimp salad as a main course vs. the one who craves a steak and baked potato. In life, the same person may enjoy both at different times. But in fiction, it works better to nail down a food trope.
I did my first protagonist, Gloria Lamerino, a favor by giving her a love of garlic. I’m allergic to it and fortunately, don’t like the taste. All my life I’ve had to answer the question, "How can you be Italian and not like garlic?"
In my defense, I've come up with Italian G words that I do love: Galileo, Ghirlandaio, Ghirardelli, Gilda in Giuseppe Verdi's Rigoletto, maybe even Garibaldi. (But not Garofalo, though I think she'd be great as Gloria in the movie version I've dreamed up.)
There also seem to be gender roles with regard to food in books and movies. Men make pancakes; women make salad. Men carry six-packs home from grocery shopping; women have a baguette sticking out of the bag. Men take a big bite out of a donut; women pick off a few molecules of a muffin or a mini-sip from a pan of sauce and utter "Mmm." And of course, with some celebrity exceptions: men are chefs; women cook.
The mousse in the photo, however, was made by two women, me and a good friend. Only one of us really knows how to cook. I’ll let you guess which one.
Cherry Cheesecake Mousse
Serves 8 to 10
1 lb. fresh pitted sweet cherries, fresh or frozen
1-1⁄2 tsp unflavored gelatin
8-oz. package cream cheese
1⁄2 C powdered sugar
4 oz. white chocolate baking squares, melted
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 C heavy whipping cream
Chop cherries in food processor or blender. Pour into saucepan; stir in gelatin. Let stand for 1 minute. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat. Cook and stir for 1 minute or until gelatin is dissolved.
Pour into bowl. Refrigerate for 45 minutes or until mixture begins to thicken.
In separate bowl, beat cream cheese until smooth. Mix in powdered sugar, melted chocolate, and vanilla. Fold in cherry mixture.
Beat whipping cream until soft peaks form. Fold whipping cream into the cherry-cream cheese mixture. Pour into large dessert bowl or separate dessert dishes. Cover and refrigerate about 3 hours, or until set.
Mousse and Murder
Alaskan Diner Mystery, Book 1
A young chef bites off more than she can chew when she returns to her Alaskan hometown to take over her parents’ diner.
When Chef Charlotte “Charlie” Cooke was offered the chance to leave San Francisco and return home to Elkview, Alaska, and take over her mother’s diner, she didn’t even consider saying no. For the past year, she’s built a comfortable existence, spending her days making sure the restaurant runs smoothly and that her cat, Eggs Benedict, is appropriately pampered. But soon life at the diner starts feeling a little one-note.
Determined to bring fresh life and flavors to the Bear Claw Diner, Charlie starts planning changes to the menu, which has grown stale over the years. But her plans are fried when her head chef Oliver turns up dead after a bitter and public fight over Charlie’s ideas—leaving Charlie as the prime suspect.
With her career, freedom, and life all on thin ice, Charlie must find out who the real killer is, before it’s too late.