Now let’s get down to business, as Bertha would say! Welcome to all you blog readers, and thanks for joining us today. This blog tour celebrates the launch of Nightshade, the sixteenth China Bayles mystery. China has traded her career as a criminal defense lawyer for a quieter life as the owner of an herb shop in Pecan Springs TX. Life in the garden is full of mystery, however, and China is often called on to solve them. But that’s what makes life fun, isn’t it? Mystery, gardens, and plenty of good food.
What’s Cooking? Food and Mysteries in the China Bayles Series
When I first started the China Bayles books, back in 1992, most authors didn’t include recipes in fiction. While China is always stirring up something with herbs (rosemary biscuits for breakfast, a tomato soup with basil for lunch, an herb-rich lasagna for dinner), it wasn’t until the fifth book, Love Lies Bleeding, that I included a recipe. This one was for Ruby Wilcox’s Hot Lips Cookie Crisps. The scene went like this:
To this day, I get more requests for this cookie recipe than for any other recipe in the series. One lady told me that she baked the cookies for her husband as a joke—and he ate the whole batch and demanded more. Chile-heads love them!
Ruby handed me a plate of cookies. "Be careful," she warned as I took one. "They bite back.
"Oh, yeah?" The cookie was small, I was hungry, and I popped it, fast. It was nutty, sweet, and hot. Very, very hot.
"Wow!" I went for the milk. "Those are incendiary," I said, when my mouth was cool enough to get the words out. "What the devil is in them?"
Ruby grinned. "I thought that would warm you up a little. I'm calling them Hot Lips Cookie Crisps. Did I put in enough habenero powder?"
"They're soul-searing," I said. "Cookie monsters. My palate may never recover."
The second most popular recipe in the series is for the herb quiche with thyme and lavender that China and Ruby serve in their tea room, Thyme for Tea. I always keep a couple of cans of condensed milk in my pantry just for this quiche—and of course, a supply of dried lavender blossoms, as well. Quiche is simple to bake and perfect for Sunday brunch or Saturday night supper. Garnished with lavender or chive blossoms, it’s a treat for the eyes, as well as the taste buds. No wonder people keep asking for the recipe!
Food plays an important role in most novels, and certainly in mysteries. In the first chapter of China’s new mystery, Nightshade, I use an eggplant dish to introduce China’s husband, McQuaid, and her stepson, Brian. (You can read the first chapter here.) Turns out that neither McQuaid nor Brian are eggplant lovers. Eggplant is a nightshade, so putting this dish on the table gives me a chance to introduce the nightshades, as well as a couple of major characters.
I love to set scenes in restaurants, like this scene in Spanish Dagger. China and McQuaid are having lunch at Miguel’s and discussing the death of Colin Fowler. Here’s what’s on the menu:
. . . chipotle enchiladas with spicy black beans and rice and another Dos Equis for McQuaid, an ensalada de nopalites and iced tea for me. Nopalites or nopales are the green pads of the prickly pear cactus, carefully stripped of their spines. They’re cubed, blanched, chilled, and tossed with thin-sliced red onions, corn, tomatoes, mild chile peppers, cilantro, feta cheese, and vinaigrette for a light, spicy salad.
Since this book is all about Southwestern herbs, prickly pear (which is both a traditional food and a medicine) certainly has a place on the table. Want to try making this salad yourself? You’ll find fresh nopales in the produce section of many large supermarkets, or canned nopales on the shelf in the Mexican food section. The recipe is here. And if you’d like more
information about nopales, the Gourmet Sleuth will help.
In many crime novels, deals are made over coffee, plots are hatched over tea and cookies, and mysteries are solved over dessert. But when I use a recipe in the China Bayles novels, you can bet it’s going to feature an herb—usually the “signature herb” for the book itself. So when you’re reading A Dilly of a Death, you can find out how to make “A Dilly of a Tomato Soup” (you’ll find the recipe here, at the bottom of the page). Or when you’re deep in Lavender Lies, you can enjoy some Lavender Muffins.
When China and Ruby opened their tea room, Thyme for Tea, they found out that things don’t always go right in the restaurant business. But I certainly had fun collecting recipes for their monthly tea parties. You can find them all by clicking on the “tea party” link on the Thyme for Tea website. April’s coming up, so why not check out China’s ideas for a “spring-thyme tea”? Please feel free to use their ideas for decorations and refreshments.
Food, cooking, and kitchens will always play an important role in this series. There are plenty of recipes on my website, and I’m always looking for more. Yes, I do test the recipes that appear in the book—that’s why they’re usually pretty simple. China and I don’t have time to stir up complicated dishes. If you have an idea for an herb-flavored favorite you’d like to see featured in a book, why don’t you leave a note here? We’ll see what China can cook up!
Well, that’s all for now. Thanks again, Susanna and Nancy, for hosting me. And
thanks to all you readers who’ve dropped in to read today’s post. I’ll be around today and tomorrow to answer your questions and read your recipe suggestions. Please don’t forget about the drawing. And do check the calendar to see where I’ll be blogging next. Hope to see you there!
About the book drawing and Susan’s blog tour
If you’d like to enter the drawing for a copy of
Nightshade go here to register. But you’d better hurry. The drawing for Rosemary’s Sampler closes at noon on March 28, 2008.
Want to read the other posts in Susan’s blog
tour? You’ll find a calendar and links here.