Thursday, March 23, 2017

For the Love of Scones

from Summer Jacobs of the Highland Bookshop Mysteries by Molly MacRae

Hi, Summer Jacobs, here. Newspaper reporter turned baker, Midwesterner turned . . . well, I can’t call myself a Scot, but I’m living in Inversgail, Scotland, and isn’t there a saying about a thistle by any other name? I first came to Scotland, for an undergraduate year abroad, eighteen years ago. I fell in love with the people, the landscape, the hairy cows, and scones were love at first bite. The day I flew back home to Illinois, I promised myself I’d get back here somehow, someday. It took a while.

First I did everything that was expected of me – got my degree (in journalism), landed a job (feature writer, for a medium-size city newspaper, covering community events, arts and entertainment), and fell in love a few times with guys (instead of baked goods). Have you heard about the plight of newspapers these days, though? I managed to hang onto my job by the skin of my teeth and by reinventing my “expertise” as often as I needed to. For instance, five years ago I started writing a food column. I couldn’t cook worth a flip, but that didn’t stop me. In fact, there was no stopping me at all. I actually took a cooking class.

And then I took another. And then I worked out a deal for trading services with a local bakery. I remade the bakery’s website and launched a blog for them, and the baker first let me watch, and then he let me work alongside him. Bread? We mixed, proofed, kneaded, and let it rise. Cookies? Baked and decorated. Cakes and pies? Yup. And scones – oh my – I fell in love with scones all over again. I thought I loved the baker, too, but then one day, between the yeast and the icing, we lost the magic. That’s when another kind of magic happened – a bookshop.

My old friend Tallie Marsh, and her mother Janet, and Janet’s friend Christine dreamed up a somewhat fantastic change-of-scenery / change-of-career / reinvention / retirement scheme that involved the four of us going into business together to run a bookshop / tearoom / bed-and-breakfast. Janet had it all worked out. She claimed it was doable. It was also in Scotland.

With my profession disappearing and my love life dead and gone, I felt as though I’d been cast adrift. For years I’d read every gritty Scottish crime novel, romance, and time travel book I could get my hands on. I’d also read Burns, Scott, Stevenson, and multiple volumes of Scottish folktales. So I did the crazy thing, which was also the only thing it made sense to do. I ran away to the Scottish Highlands to lose myself in books, tea, and scones, and ultimately find myself.

Yon Bonnie Books, the bookshop third of our business, was up and running when we bought it (and had been for almost ninety-nine years). We’ll open Bedtime Tales, the B&B above the shop, in another couple of months. Today, I’m excited to let you know our tearoom, Cakes and Tales, is opening its doors. It’s fledgling, and so is the Pinterest page I made for it, but here’s a question I’m so happy to ask you – what kind of scone would you like with your tea?

Molly MacRae is also the author of the award-winning, national bestselling Haunted Yarn Shop Mysteries.  Visit Molly on Facebook and Pinterest, connect with her on Twitter @mysteryMacRae, or find her the first Monday of each month at Amy Alessio’s Vintage Cookbooks and Crafts

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

A Duke, a Bell and a Cathy Ace

New-fangled bell-push

Meet Henry Devereaux Twyst, eighteenth duke of Chellingworth.

Welcome to my home, Chellingworth Hall. It’s kind of you to visit. Let me ring for some tea. It won’t take long. This bell? Ah yes, a new-fangled device in its day, this was installed by the sixteenth duke after the The Great War. I’m sorry to say the button itself is made of ivory, something that would not happen today, of course. Where does it ring, you ask? Downstairs in a hallway which connects all the rooms below-stairs…so the bells can be heard by all. There are connecting wires and thingumabobs which mean the right bell rings to tell them which room they need to come to, then Edward will arrive and ask what I require and he’ll go off to sort it out. Edward? Wonderful butler, been here my whole life because his father was my father’s butler. Nice to keep it all in the family, you know. Tradition and continuity are even more important in the world today where everything seems to change so quickly, don’t you think?
A clever system

There, that didn’t take long at all, did it? Tea will be with us before we know it. 

So, you were asking about the old place. The construction of the original Hall was begun back in the fifteenth century and “finished” in the eighteenth, with additions made in the nineteenth…though the truth is that there’s always building work going on here; there certainly has been for my entire lifetime. Most people don’t seem to understand that about what they call “Stately Homes” – one always has builders underfoot. It’s a part of my reality, I’m sorry to say. You see, the place looks all well and good, on the outside, but there’s dry rot, rising damp, flaking plaster ceilings, roof tiles that have seen better days and all sorts of things that require an investment of such extraordinary proportions that one has had to open one’s doors to the public. They've even got us fitting things like smoke detectors and suchlike now, and that's only because the public comes here, so there's even a cost involved with opening one's doors at all!
Newly installed smoke detector - in priceless plaster ceiling

We’ve managed to avoid the ultimate horror of accepting PGs (that’s Paying Guests, in case you don’t know) a situation which tells all and sundry that one is flopping about at the bottom of a particularly empty barrel; it’s a fate that’s been visited upon some some I know, and I do not envy them one iota. It’s bad enough that my wife and I have to scamper off to various outposts of the estate to avoid the hoards for several hours a day across a number of months, let alone having them actually spending the night under one’s roof…albeit a rather leaky one.  

Yes, this bit of roof leaked until last week!
When I refer to the hoards I don’t include you in that description, of course, you’re an honored guest. I’m always delighted to have someone come to visit who’s interested in the books we have in our library. And here they are – delightful, aren’t they? Have I read them all? Well, no – one would need more than one lifetime to achieve such a goal, I’d have thought. But these bibles, these are our pride and joy. This one, The Chellingworth Bible, is even older than the Hall itself, and dates back to the late 1300s or early 1400s. Just look at it – written and illuminated by hand when Geoffrey Chaucer himself was walking on this earth, and written in a form of the English language he would have understood. Designed to help explain biblical tales to the illiterate peasants. Just let me pop on a pair of these gloves – yes, you too, please – and we can have look at the magnificent illustrations…oh my word! Oh no! What’s all this water on the shelf? Good grief – what’s happened here? Just a moment, let me call for Edward again – no, no, please don’t touch – this might be a disaster…that book’s been here for almost six hundred years and now it’s…oh dear me….

From The Holkham Bible - similar to the Chellingworth Bible

Find out how Henry inviting book restorer Bryn Jenkins, who also runs the "Crooks and Cooks" book shop in Hay-on-Wye, to work on the damaged bible ends up leading to THE CASE OF THE CURIOUS COOK. The ladies of the WISE Enquiries Agency are called in to investigate some "strange shenanigans" at the book shop by Bryn and, as they try to unravel this puzzle from their base at stately Chellingworth Hall, they then get embroiled in another when they come across a valuable book of miniatures which seems to be the work of a local famous artist, murdered by her own brother. Are the cases linked and why do both mysteries lead to a nearby old folks’ home? The WISE women are on the case – and nothing will get in their way . . . Or will it?

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Great News! And other 'Vaguebook' teasers!

By: Jaymie Leighton

Title: Leave It To Cleaver
Pub. Date: June (Exact Date TBA)
From: Vintage Kitchen Mysteries
Website: Victoria Hamilton Mysteries

I have awesome news... that I can't share just yet!

Don't you love Facebook or blog posts like that? NOT! They have a name for them. It's called 'Vaguebooking', and it's a social media no-no.

I know, I know. Sometimes something happens and you're just so excited you can't bear to not say anything, and yet you can't talk about it yet. It's a promotion, or a new job, a baby or a wedding or a big move. You feel like you're going to burst, your news is so very awesome, and you're torn. It's maddening and exhilarating at the same time!

That's what's happening to me this very minute. So... I have to say it. I just have to! I have AWESOME news, life altering, exciting, wonderful news... that I can't share yet. Something happened a while ago, and... no, no... I just can't share it.

But some of you may be able to guess, and that's okay. I mean... what are a few guesses between friends???

It doesn't mean I'll verify your guess. Maddening, right? But I just can't help it.

All will be revealed... soon.

Giveaway Alert!

Leave It To Cleaver, Book #6 of the Vintage Kitchen Mysteries, will be released in June... details will follow very soon!!

But until then... what do you think Jaymie's exciting news is?? It isn't the cover of Leave It To Cleaver, I'll tell you that much, though I'll have that soon, too! No, this is JAYMIE'S exciting news!! Comment to enter with your guess, and I'll choose one winner for YOUR CHOICE of ONE of the Vintage Kitchen Mysteries so far, 1 thru 5.

If you've never read the series, this is a great way to get the first book, A Deadly Grind, or... any one of the first five books!!

US and Canadian addresses only, please! Comment to enter to win by Midnight, March 23rd.

See my website for ALL the Vintage Kitchen Mystery titles and more!!

Victoria Hamilton Mysteries

Monday, March 20, 2017

Colcannon a la Ruth

By Ruth Clagan from the Clock Shop Mystery series by Julianne Holmes

I am not a good cook. I have a few recipes I make passably, but there are few things I cook that could be called brilliant. Luckily for me, I am surrounded by great cooks like Nancy Reed and my step-grandmother Caroline Adler, so I only have to contribute a side dish or a bottle of wine to typical meals. One of the few things I do cook well is Colcannon. Most Irish families have a recipe for this potato, cabbage mixture. Mine was passed on from my grandmother, but I've added my own twist to it. Truth to tell, I make a huge pot of it and eat it for days, sometimes as a solo meal.
Here's my recipe:
Boil potatoes until just tender. Mash them with plenty of butter. Heat up milk, and mix it in until fluffy. Salt and pepper. Basically make mashed potatoes with a bit extra moisture. Use plenty of butter. Heating up the milk is critical to the fluffy part.
Chop up some cabbage. I use an entire small head, but you can use less. Put butter in a frying pan, add an onion, and the cabbage. Cook for about 15 minutes until the onions are clear, and the cabbage is softer. I like mine a little crisp, but this is up to you.
Mix the potatoes and cabbage together. Now, here's my twist. Grate some cheese--whatever kind you like. My favorite is a sharp cheddar. Maybe a little Swiss. I use a cup or two, depending on how much potato/cabbage mixture I have.
Put the whole thing into a baking pan, sprinke some cheese on top, and put it in a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes or so.
This is a perfect side dish any time of the year, but especially for winter meals.
Do you make Colcannon? What twist do you add?

Julianne Holmes writes the Clock Shop Mystery series. Chime and Punishment will be out in August!

Sunday, March 19, 2017


By Bridgy Mayfield from the Read ’Em and Eat Mysteries by Terrie Farley Moran

Happy Feast of St. Joseph to everyone! St. Joseph’s Day arrives hot on the heels of St. Patrick’s Day (March 17th) so when Sassy and I were children in Brooklyn we’d barely finished the last bite of Irish Soda Bread slathered with butter when our mothers began baking Pan di San Giuseppe (St. Joseph’s Bread) which we ate for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Dessert, of course, was Sfingi di San Giuseppe (St. Joseph's Cream Puffs) 

Last year Sassy gave you a fabulous recipe for Pan di San Giuseppe and today I am here to share the easiest recipe I have ever seen for Sfingi di San Giuseppe. I found it a few years ago in The Washington Post and it has been my go-to recipe ever since.

  • For the sfingi
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup water
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
  • For the filling and assembly
  • 16 ounces fresh ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 to 3 teaspoons almond extract
  • 1 tablespoon rum or rum extract
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest
  • 2 tablespoons mini semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1/3 cup whole or low-fat milk, or as needed
  • 16 raspberries or strawberry halves, for garnish

For the sfingi: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Use cooking oil spray to grease 16 muffin tin wells.
Combine the flour and salt in a medium bowl.
Heat the water and butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Once it comes to a boil, add the flour mixture; immediately reduce the heat to medium-low and stir vigorously, scraping the sides and bottom of the saucepan, until the dough comes together in a cohesive ball that appears fairly dry. Remove from the heat; cool for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the eggs one at a time, thoroughly incorporating each one into the dough before adding the next. The dough will appear wet at first, but keep stirring, and it will absorb the egg. Fold in the sugar and the orange and lemon zests.
Use a large spoon to portion the dough evenly among the 16 muffin pan wells. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes or until the sfingi are a light golden brown, then rotate the pan(s) front to back, reduce the temperature to 350 degrees and bake for about 30 minutes or until they are nicely puffed and golden brown. Turn out the sfingi onto a rack to cool completely.
For the filling and assembly: Combine the ricotta, sugar, almond extract, rum, cinnamon, orange zest and chocolate chips in a mixing bowl. If the filling is stiff, gradually stir in milk as needed to form a smooth but fairly firm filling. (Don't add too much, or the filling will be runny.)
Slice the tops from the cooled sfingi. (The tops make a great snack!) Spoon filling into each of the sfingi, mounding it slightly.
Although the photograph shows a maraschino cherry atop each sfingi, I prefer the fresh fruit as I indicated in the recipe. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours and serve chilled.
Have a fabulous day and if you feel like baking....

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Another Murder?

by Carrie Kennersly, veterinary technician and owner of an adjoining barkery and bakery, whose adventures are memorialized in the Barkery & Biscuits Mysteries by Linda O. Johnston

Those of you who know who I am are undoubtedly aware that I helped figure out who the killers were in two murders.  I had to get involved the first time since I was the main suspect, and a good friend was the primary suspect in the other one.

Well, guess what.  Another murder has occurred in my wonderful adopted town of Knobcone Heights, California--and, yes, I'm involved again.

That story is going to be told in a book that will be published in May of this year: Bad to the Bone.  I won't tell you any of the particulars now but I'm sure you can guess that another friend, or at least an acquaintance I care about, is the main suspect.  I've learned a little about how to find a real killer, but even so I never set out to become an amateur sleuth.  Being the owner of Barkery & Biscuits, the wonderful bakery of healthy dog treats that I created, and its adjoining human bakery Icing on the Cake, is time-consuming enough, especially since I still work part-time at the Knobcone Veterinary Clinic as a vet tech.  That's where I developed my recipes for the Barkery.

Anyway, whether or not I set out to get involved, I am involved.  You can find out more in a couple of months.

BAD TO THE BONE, the third Barkery & Biscuits Mystery by Linda O. Johnston, will be a May 2017 release.  And yes, there are more to come.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Heirloom Gardening - and Giveaway!

By Chloe Ellefson, Curator

From the Chloe Ellefson Mystery Series

by Kathleen Ernst

I really didn't know much about the importance of heirloom vegetables, fruits, and flowers until I started working at a large living history museum, Old World Wisconsin. What I've discovered is that botanists believe we've lost over 90% of our genetic diversity in the last century or so.

For centuries, people saved seeds to replant their gardens, or obtained seeds locally. With the advent of long-distance food transportation, that began to change. Growers favored varieties that looked good after spending a week on a train car.

Losing varieties means losing diversity in terms of taste and texture and interest. (Isn't the Glass Gem Popcorn shown below gorgeous?)

(Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds)
Losing varieties also means that the plants which could have resisted the next blight might be extinct. Think of the Irish potato famine, when a terrible blight decimated crops.

Historic sites play an important role in preserving some of these rare varieties. The apples below were displayed as part of a recreated Agricultural Fair at Old World Wisconsin.

My friend Dellyn, who manages the gardens at the historic site, carefully chooses varieties that reflect the time period and ethnic group of the restored home or farm. Shown below is the Pedersen Farm, home to a family that emigrated from Denmark.

Dellyn is involved with a group called Seed Savers' Exchange (SSE), which helps home gardeners network and swap seeds. SSE began in 1975, when a man who had brought seeds from his native Bavaria passed some on to his granddaughter and her husband.

Interest grew among home gardeners. Want to participate? You'll have a hard time choosing among all the seeds available through SSE.

Heirloom seed packets aren't nearly as rare as they used to be. I discovered Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds while visiting the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home & Museum in Mansfield, MO.  Baker Creek is right up the road.

I plant a few new varieties in my own home garden ever summer. It's fun to taste different types of heirlooms.

Some are just plain interesting. The Queen Anne Pocket Melons shown below have a sweet fragrance. Victorian women carried them in their pockets to stave off less pleasant odors.

I also feel as if I'm doing something good by perpetuating endangered varieties. You can too!

If you prefer to grow flowers, lots of heirloom varieties are available.

And if you're not a gardener, you can support the cause by looking for heirloom varieties for sale at farmers' markets and some grocery stores.

However, I should warn you: there is a dark side to the business of heirloom gardening.  A few agribusiness corporations have decided that they want to control global food production, and eliminate diversity.  I recently ran into some ruthless people who so lusted for profit and power that they'd do just about anything to achieve their goals.  Even murder?  Well, I'll let you read all about that.

But don't let that cautionary tale discourage you from planting some heirloom seeds in your garden this year.  You just may preserve something important!

# # #
GIVEAWAY! Leave a comment below by midnight on March 19th for a chance to win a copy of The Heirloom Murders. Please include your email (such as reader -at-  Good luck!

Author Kathleen Ernst worked at Old World Wisconsin for twelve years.  What she learned about heirloom gardening helped inspire The Heirloom Murders, the second Chloe Ellefson Mystery.  The Heirloom Murders won the Ann Powers Award for Best Novel from The Council for Wisconsin Writers.  

To learn more about the Chloe Ellefson series, please visit Kathleen's website.