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Murder and Lemon Pudding Cake

2 Jan

Some of my favorite activities involve either reading or cooking, or reading about food. When the two are combined into one, I am in heaven. I love it when authors include food as integral parts of the story. The food consumed by the characters, including the types of food, the amount, and how it is prepared provide vital clues to the plot, and can be important parts of the setting.

At my local library this week, I picked up a Swedish murder mystery and a cookbook on Swedish bakery. I’m not exactly sure why the Swedish theme was going on, maybe because it’s winter and Sweden is in a cold climate, but I came home with my two books related to Sweden.

The murder mystery, Killer’s Art by Mari Jungstedt, turned out to be a real page-turner. I read it in two days, often carrying it around the house with me so I could read a page or two, or three or four, in odd moments while I was doing other things. Killer’s Art begins with the murder of the owner of an art gallery on the Swedish island of Gotland, when the man is found hanging from one of the medieval gates to the town. The story follows the police investigation into the lives of the victim, his family and associates in the art world. Other crimes are committed, and the lives of the police officers as well as the journalists who are clamoring for the gruesome story, become entangled. The conclusion is a nail-biting and unexpected twist. This is the first of Mari Jungstedt’s novels that I have read, and I will be looking for more.

However, her descriptions of food were not enough to make me hunger for a good Swedish meal. By page 50, the most exciting food items were protein drinks and meatball sandwiches, and of course coffee. You can’t travel in Sweden, even literary travel, without copious amounts of coffee. Later in the book, two of the detectives are treated to warm apple cake with vanilla sauce in a museum cafe in Stockholm, which sounds delicious, but the boiled cod with egg sauce that is an entree in a later chapter I’m not so sure about. Maybe — I would have to try it.

Turning to my Swedish cookbook, Scandinavian Classic Baking by Pat Sinclair, I chose a recipe for lemon pudding cake.  I had all the ingredients on hand, and it looked relatively simple. The most challenging part was beating egg whites and then folding them into the pudding mixture while retaining the volume of the beaten egg whites. The recipe was a success, and a nice treat after a dinner of leftovers. My husband proclaimed that it tasted like lemon merimg_3198ingue pie.

As you read, think about food. It is not often a primary part of the story, but it can be an important setting detail.

Food, Drink, and Travel

19 Dec

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Fresh squeezed pomegranate juice!

On a recent trip to Israel, my husband and I had an opportunity to stroll through the Turkish market in Akka, or Akkó. After running into a falafal restaurant to escape a rainstorm, we found fellow travelers from Peru, and enjoyed our lunch with a Spanish conversation. We parted ways and headed into the market to explore. The sights, sounds and smells drew us deeper into the ancient narrow streets.

Stalls were piled high with fruits, vegetables, fish, meat, spices and more.

exploring is thirsty work, and we soon stopped for fresh squeezed pomegranate juice. What a thrill to see he vendor slice off the top of the fruit, place it in a press and produce cups of the dark purple juice. Healthy — yes. Tasty — definitely. But you can’t beat the sense of adventure and fun.

On returning home, I delved into Emile Zola’s novel, The Belly of Paris. Zola tells the story of a man newly returned to Paris from a penal colony to the gastronomical riches of the Parisian market Les Halles.

Both our meandering a through the market in Akka and The Belly of Paris demonstrate the richness of beautiful food, and an appreciation of the bounty.

What is the most beautiful food you have eaten lately? Think of all the senses of beauty — visual taste, and the wholesome of its production. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to eat and drink food that is real, and not from a can, package or bottle?

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How About a Slice of Papaya Bread?

18 Mar

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In my first novel, The Gate House, Nara laments the lack of tropical fruit as she prepares a typical English breakfast at her aunt’s bed and breakfast. I lived in Costa Rica for seven years, where I, too, learned to appreciate the huge variety of exotic fruits available year round.

Although Nara’s home, St. Clare, is a fictional island country in the Caribbean, the foods she enjoys are very typical of the tropics. I have enjoyed many fresh fruits, both whole and in smoothies (known as “refrescos” in Costa Rica) during my time there. One of the most common is papaya, and I don’t mean the small Hawaiian variety.
Papayas in Central American and the Caribbean can be as long as twenty inches, and their sweetness is indescribable. They are cheap and available everywhere, from supermarkets to small produce stands on the street. A main ingredient in a fruit salad or on a lunch plate, they also make a great smoothie with milk. Although not a traditional recipe, the following recipe for papaya bread is moist and delicious. It will work with either type of papaya, just make sure it’s ripe.

Papaya Bread

Cream together until light: 1 cup sugar, 1/2 cup butter

Add and beat until fluffy: 2 eggs

Add: 1 cup mashed ripe papaya, 1/4 cup chopped walnuts, 1/2 cup raisins

Sift together: 1 1/2 cups flour, 1/4 tsp. baking powder, tsp. soda, 1/2 tsp. salt, 1/2 tsp. cinnamon, 1/2 tsp. allspice, 1/2 tsp. ground ginger.

Add flour mixture to butter mixture. Pour batter into greased and floured 9×5 loaf pan.

Bake at 325 degrees for about 1 hour 5 minutes.

In my new novel, Hotel St. Clare, which is due out in the summer, you will see what Nara was doing in the islands before she and her father moved to England. She was a girl of the tropics, walking barefoot on the beach and eating fresh fruits with rice and beans. No wonder she had difficulty adjusting to life in England!

A Full English Breakfast with Variations

25 Jan

On the first page of my novel The Gate House, the main character, Nara, bemoans having to prepare a full English breakfast at her aunt’s bed and breakfast. If you have not had the opportunity tuck into one of these artery clogging delights, I will describe it for you.

A full English breakfast consists of thick British back bacon, eggs, sausage, baked beans, tomato, mushrooms and toast. Just so you don’t have the impression that the tomato and mushrooms add a healthy touch to the meal, these are cooked in the frying pan in the grease left from the bacon and sausages, hence another name for these concoction, the fry-up.

There are many regional variations in England itself, before moving on to Scotland and Ireland. Every region has its own sausage and bacon, and chips (French fries) are often included. In the north of England, as well as Scotland, you will likely find a slice of black pudding on your plate. The Irish prefer white pudding (same as black pudding but without the blood), and a slice of thick brown bread. The bread is the best part of the whole deal in my opinion.

In my travels around the British Isles, I have learned to order only a part of an English breakfast, if at all. Scrambled eggs, toast, maybe a sausage. Or eggs, toast, tomato and mushrooms. I first encountered a Scottish breakfast in a bed and breakfast in Lincolnshire. It was the original Gate House, for which my book is named. The proprietor, who was Scottish, prepared the whole meal for us, including the black pudding, which I passed on. By the time I reached Ireland, I had learned to order only portions of the meal, but I do love that brown bread. I also learned that in Ireland, and probably Scotland too, I could order porridge (oatmeal) and clean out my arteries once in a while.

My character Nara, who grew up in the Caribbean, craved the fresh fruits of the islands. She has my tastes.