Armchair Travel

The Solace of Bay Leaves

“There is no Frigate like a Book / To take us Lands away,” Emily Dickinson wrote, and though she rarely left Amherst or even her home, she was so right. Many of us had trouble reading when the pandemic first hit—days at home with no appointments, no running around, seems like the perfect time to read until it descends, dusted with anxiety and uncertainty. But that sense has eased for me, and I hope for you, too.

Mr. Right and I had a grand adventure in January, traveling to Paris to see the Louvre’s exhibit commemorating the 500th anniversary of the death of Leonardo DaVinci in France, in 1519. Besides spending the day at the exhibit, which was truly magnificent, we walked, wandering Paris, getting lost, finding churches and statues and gardens we might never have found with a plan. So in May, I found myself craving a touch of Paris. The only unread book on my shelves set there was an ARC (advance review copy) of Mission to Paris by Alan Furst, historical espionage set in 1938-39, following an Austrian-born American actor in Paris to make a movie who finds himself the target of German operatives who need a mole in the industry. I have no idea how I got the book—most likely a promo copy in a mystery convention book bag—but it was great fun. The actor’s home base in Paris is a hotel in the First—la Premiere—the district where we stayed, and I enjoyed tracing his travels through the city with the map on the frontispiece and my own memory. Furst has written a series of novels set in Europe in the run up to WW II and during the war, and they’re worth searching out.

Then a friend gave me The Little French Bistro by Nina George, author of The Little Paris Bookshop. Though Bistro starts and ends in Paris, much of the book is set in a small town on the Breton coast, a part of the country I haven’t visited. Not in person, anyway. It’s delightful—the story of a woman blossoming at 60 after a lifetime of oppression, finally making her own choices and finding joy in happy accidents.

I loved New Orleans on my one visit and am eager to return with Mr. Right, but visiting on the page is great—no heat, no bugs! Plus it’s so easy to get out of the city—just turn the page! The Orion Mask by Greg Herron is an homage to the gothic mysteries of Victoria Holt and Mary Stewart, following a young gay man who discovers that the mother he never knew came from a family with a grand history and a terrible secret that could have consequences for him all these years later. Set partly in NOLA and partly on a plantation a short drive away. Spooky, atmospheric, and fun.

If there were a prize for best title, The Murderess of Bayou Rosa by Ramona DeFelice Long would win. How can you not pick that up? Set in the early 1920s in a small town southwest of NOLA, with later scenes in Baton Rouge and Memphis, it’s the story of Geneva Amais, a young teacher, and her mother, Joelle, the murderess. Family secrets drive this book, too, and it’s a great trip.

Where to next? So many choices! Where are you booking your travel these days?

The Saturday Creativity Quote

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“The Barn” pastel on garnet paper by Leslie Budewitz

The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.
— Albert Einstein, quoted in Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind by Scott Barry Kaufman & Carolyn Gregoire

Pepper’s Shopping List: Ten Spices for Every Kitchen Cupboard

Any cook can tell you how easy it is to overstock the spice cabinet! You try a new-to-you recipe and buy an ounce of this and a pinch of that, but what do you do with the rest of the jar? Well, search a good cookbook or online recipe source for more options.

But if you’re stocking a new kitchen, or you want to pare down to basics, here’s Pepper’s list of essential dried spices. (Okay, it’s mine, but we’ll pretend she isn’t fictional for a few minutes.)

Of course, your preference and how you like to eat play a big part. If you enjoy Mexican dishes, add more peppers and some dried cilantro. If you eat a lot of Italian, add rosemary. If you love making soups and stews, you need bay leaves.

And of course, blends are a great way to add a lot of flavor in a hurry.

In alphabetical order:
Basil
Chili Powder
Cinnamon (ground, but sticks are great, too)
Cumin
Ginger
Nutmeg
Oregano
Paprika (sweet or spicy; smoked is a fave in our house)
Red Pepper Flakes
Thyme

Plus a good sea salt* and black peppercorns and a grinder.

assault and pepper

What’s the difference between sea salt and table salt? Sea salt is formed by evaporation of ocean or lake water, with minimal processing, while table salt comes from underground salt deposits. (“I’m going to the salt mine,” my father used to say before descending to his basement office.) Each has a different crystal structure. In addition, most commercial table salts also include iodine, which before the early 20th century, was often difficult to get in a diet, particularly for Midwesterners. That’s no longer the case, with changes in how we eat and where our food comes from. Table salt can oxidize to form iodine, and give food an acrid flavor.

If you bake, you’ll want kosher salt, so named because it’s used to draw out water in the koshering process. It’s got a coarser structure than sea or table salt, and is particularly good for baking. I have read that professional bakers prefer Diamond Crystal over Morton’s, that lab tests have shown it to be more consistent in structure and therefore salinity, and that most recipes are written expecting the cook to use Diamond Crystal. So that’s what Pepper and I do!

Why didn’t I mention garlic? Because you should use fresh when you can, though the chopped garlic in a jar is a lifesaver, as is jarred ground ginger. But dried minced garlic and garlic powder have a place, too, unless you’ve got a super-small kitchen!

The Saturday Creativity Quote

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Clematis “Etoile Violette”
photo by the author

By replacing fear of the unknown with curiosity we open ourselves up to an infinite stream of possibility. We can let fear rule our lives or we can become childlike with curiosity, pushing our boundaries, leaping out of our comfort zones, and accepting what life puts before us.

– Alan Watts, quoted in Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind by Scott Barry Kaufman & Carolyn Gregoire

Pepper’s Bookshelf — The Solace of Bay Leaves

Pepper Reece loves a good mystery — on the page, or in real life! She also enjoys selling culinary cozies along with the cookbooks and chef lit on the shelves in the Spice Shop, the shop she owns in Seattle’s famed Pike Place Market. So when Assault and Pepper came out and a reader asked for Pepper’s reading list, I was happy to oblige. Here’s Part One and Part Two.

In The Solace of Bay Leaves (out in ebook and audio on July 21, 2020 and in paper on October 20), Pepper once again mentions her love of the Brother Cadfael series by Ellis Peters, triggered by the discovery of a book of the books and videos among the things her parents stored with her before decamping to Costa Rica. Sadly, the Seattle Mystery Bookshop is closed in real life, but I’ve kept it alive on the page, and Pepper credits a former law firm staffer now working there for feeding her love of medieval mysteries with the Sister Fidelma mysteries by Peter Tremayne and the Dame Frevisse mysteries by Margaret Frazer. She’s also enjoying the Crispin Guest Medieval Mysteries by Jeri Westerson, which she discovered herself, and is just finishing the first, Veil of Lies.

Another series she’s recently discovered, through her friend, Seetha, are the Perveen Mistry series by Sujata Massey, set in 1920s India and featuring the first woman solicitor in Bombay. The series starts with The Widows of Malabar Hill and continues with The Satapur Moonstone. When Pepper visits Maddie in the hospital, she takes her two UK historicals, In Farleigh Field by Rhys Bowen and the latest in the Dandy Gilver series by Catriona McPherson.

Pepper also mentions Drinking French, a new cookbook from David Lebovitz, an American living in Paris, and new foodie mysteries from Cleo Coyle, Laura Childs, and Vicki Delany.

And the book about the Armenian genocide that she remembers reading in high school is the much-acclaimed Passage to Ararat by Michael J. Arlen, originally published in 1975.

PS: Looks like I may not have done a post on Pepper’s Bookshelf for CHAI ANOTHER DAY. Here’s what she was reading there:

— Spice: The History of a Temptation by Jack Turner

Soul of the City: The Pike Place Public Market, by Alice Shorett and Murray Morgan

A Rare Benedictine by Ellis Peters, a trio of Brother Cadfael short stories

Murder in Union Square, Victoria Thompson, the Gaslight Mysteries

— Edith Maxwell’s Quaker midwife mysteries

— The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Private Investigating, by Steven Kerry Brown

— The latest culinary mysteries by Barbara Ross, Ellie Alexander, Cleo Coyle, and Lucy Burdette

Bigfork Festival of the Arts — update

One of the highlights of summer in my town is the Bigfork Festival of the Arts. I’ve been going nearly every year for decades, and loved taking my late mother through the streets – street, singular; town is very small – on her visits, browsing the booths of pottery, jewelry, soaps, and other handmade items. When my first mystery, Assault & Pepper, came out in 2013, Mr. Right and I had a booth right outside our favorite art gallery. The number of books we sold still astonishes me – the Food Lovers’ Village mysteries are set in a fictional version of the town, and the real-life residents have been my biggest supporters.

And every year since, we’ve been there. Regular readers know I usually have a new book out, and come by to pick up a copy and get it signed. We all look forward to it.

This is a tourist town, and the Festival draws many visitors on their first visit to the valley. They haven’t met me or the books yet, and I love chatting with them. With “Playhouse kids,” the young actors who get giddy at picking up a copy of Butter Off Dead, featuring the theater lobby on the cover, for their mother or grandmother. The planning-ahead Christmas shoppers. The readers who say “Oh, are these like the books by the woman who writes about the food?” and aren’t the least bit surprised that I know exactly who they mean. (Diane Mott Davidson. Every time. And it still makes Mr. Right smile and shake his head in wonder.)

By four-thirty on Sunday, we can barely speak. We pack up the booth—everything, even the canopy, fits in the back of my Subaru—call our favorite restaurant for a pizza to go, and head home. Hot, exhausted, and happy. So happy.

This virus has disrupted my publication dates as well. The Solace of Bay Leaves will be out in ebook and audio on July 21, and in paperback on October 20. (The publisher was forced to delay the paperback by disruptions in the supply chain, which meant it couldn’t guarantee that distributors, booksellers, and libraries would have the book by October 20, but those problems don’t affect the ebook or audio, and we didn’t want to make you wait any longer than necessary.) I do hope we can safely meet by then; watch my website and newsletter for updates.

So you can imagine how sad I am to miss the Festival this year. At this writing, it is still planned for August 1-2, in the village of Bigfork. It will have a different configuration, and no doubt fewer vendors and shoppers. But I won’t be there. Mr. Right is a doctor of natural medicine, and we can’t risk unwittingly spreading the virus to his patients. Social distancing isn’t possible at a festival, especially for me. Books aren’t like pottery or soap. Yes, you might visit with the soap maker and ask the potter questions about glazes and designs, but books—you gotta talk, up close and personal! Especially if you don’t know the books, you want to visit and hear about the book from the author. And I want to talk with you. I want to sign the book and smile for a selfie with you and my bright colorful booth.

Just know that I miss you, that I’m still writing, and that I’ll be back next year.

Until then, be well.

Leslie

PS — If you do pop into the Village at any time, you can find signed copies of my books at the Bigfork Art & Cultural Center gift shop (next to the library) or at Roma’s Kitchen Shop.

The Solace of Bay Leaves is out today!

From the cover: Pepper Reece never expected to find solace in bay leaves.

But when her life fell apart at forty and she bought the venerable-but-rundown Spice Shop in Seattle’s Pike Place Market, her days took a tasty turn. Now she’s savoring the prospect of a flavorful fall and a busy holiday cooking season, until danger bubbles to the surface …

Between managing her shop, worrying about her staff, and navigating a delicious new relationship, Pepper’s firing on all burners. But when her childhood friend Maddie is shot and gravely wounded, the incident is quickly tied to an unsolved murder that left another close friend a widow.

Convinced that the secret to both crimes lies in the history of a once-beloved building, Pepper uses her local-girl contacts and her talent for asking questions to unearth startling links between the past and present—links that suggest her childhood friend may not have been the Golden Girl she appeared to be. Pepper is forced to face her own regrets and unsavory emotions, if she wants to save Maddie’s life—and her own.

Audio book cover

Ebook and Audio: June 21, 2020
Trade paper: October 20, 2020

Published by Seventh Street Books and Tantor Audio

Available in the US and Canada at:
IndieBound
Barnes and Noble
Amazon
Fact and Fiction
Books-A-Million
Bookshop.org
And your local booksellers!

Enjoy the trip to Seattle with me — on the page or screen, or through your headphones!