Sharon is the author of the Global Securities Unlimited Series. You can learn more about her on her website, coffeeandeclairs.com, or by clicking here, read her last post here, and buy her books here.
Food is integral to every book I write, whether mystery, romantic suspense, or even much of what I wrote as a practicing historian. From orchestrating medieval feasts to writing culinary cozies, food is everywhere in my work.
I don’t remember when I first knew I was a foodie, but it was long before it was a word, or a concept. As a writer who is also a researcher, I looked it up before I made that assertion, just to make sure it had some early, unknown (to me anyway) origin.
“The foodie—as a word, a concept, a person—began life in the early 1980s. New York writer Gael Greene first used the term in a restaurant review, but it was Ann Barr and Paul Levy of England’s Harper’s and Queen who popularized it. In 1984 they published The Official Foodie Handbook, a lighthearted tome that explains that the foodie is not a gourmet, since she need not be a snob, a professional, or a man. She is not a gourmand, either, since she need not possess a pathological appetite. The foodie eats to meet the demands of her body from the neck up, not the neck down. Mind, mouth, soul: This is where the foodie lives.”—The New Republic, Jo Livingstone/March 18, 2019
I owned that book, along with the Official Preppy Handbook and the Official Sloane Ranger Handbook. I was into lifestyle in the early 1980.
My first solo cooking experience happened when I was eight. Mom took out two boxes of brownie mix, turned on the oven, and told me she needed to pick up a couple of things at the store. I followed the instructions on the box and put the pan in the oven. They were done just as Mom arrived home, so she took them out. What I didn’t know at eight was that for two boxes, I needed twice the water and eggs. Since I chose the fudgy rather than the cakey version, my brownies were, shall we say, very chewy. Good thing the boys across the street would eat anything.
By the time I was in my teens, my cooking had become more adventurous. No longer putting weird ingredients on frozen pizza (bottled French dressing with green olives was one variation), I recreated dishes from restaurants. Usually, I just found the appropriate recipe in a cookbook, but for eggplant stuffed with ground lamb from a memorable Greek dinner, no recipe showed up in any cookbook that I checked at the library and in several bookstores.
After some experimentation, especially with the topping that turned out to be egg beaten with parmesan (no Greek cheese was available to me at that time), my dish became a family favorite. I continued to make it for years after I married. Did my husband like it? He never tried it, telling me that a friend had died because of eggplant. When I rashly asked how it happened, his response was, “He was walking down the street and a crate of eggplant fell on his head.” In fact, that was his story any time I suggested a food he didn’t like or refused to try. No wonder he had so few friends when we met!
Mom discouraged me from trying bread, telling me that working with yeast was tricky. But I went ahead anyway. Except for the fact that I disliked the kneading (if I’d had vinyl gloves in those days, I might not have minded) bread was something I did well. When we received a Kitchenaid mixer as a wedding present, complete with dough hook, I made bread every week for several years, going through much of Bernard Clayton’s Complete Book of Breads, published two years before our wedding in 1975.
From frozen squid (a disaster) to crepes suzette (a success), I would try anything. My husband, however, lived in a realm of casseroles and jello. He didn’t eat most of my creative offerings, so we normally at two different dishes, both cooked by me. Peter disliked cooking as much as he was disinterested in food.
While we had some excellent restaurants in Champaign, where we lived for forty years, Peter always wanted less expensive and more accessible food. While I ate sushi, he ordered shrimp fried rice.
When, as a widow, I moved back to my hometown of Chicago, the amazing restaurants called to me. Eating alone, however, is not one of my pleasures. Fortunately, I have found friends who also want to try great restaurants and I have some memorable meals. Some of them have shown up in my romantic suspense series. At First Sight opens at Everest, a celebrated Chicago restaurant, sadly closed now. In At the Crossroads, London and Parisian pubs, bars, cafes, and restaurants get their share of wordage.
At the Ready, which will be released in August, has more Chicago spots as well as a few from Vancouver. With a French-Canadian hero, dishes like poutine are also on the table.
When I finally managed to write a mystery, Dead in the Alley, is more culinary. The murdered man is a baker, and his wife is a chef. I created a spectacular menu to start the book and there is plenty more after that as the police in a small northern Michigan town search for a cold-blooded killer.
My current project, Murder at the Great Jane Austen Cook Off, speaks for itself. Tasked with recreating recipes of the Regency, my chefs are pushed to the limit in more ways than one. I now know more than I ever expected about white soup and Bath buns. And one dish has a surprising role to play.
These days, having lost my kitchen help, I don’t cook up fancy dishes very often. Instead, I cook up books with mouthwatering visions of food and stir in a bit of suspense and death, a perfect combination for the culinarily inclined mystery reader.
Here’s one of my recent, throw-together dishes. My husband would have told me about so many friends dying with this one.
Asian-Inspired Green Soup
32-oz box of low-sodium Chicken Broth or Ramen Broth with Chicken and Soy (or more depending on the quantity of vegetables)
1 container of sliced mushrooms
1 clamshell of Super Greens
Other vegetables like snow peas, bean sprouts, water chestnuts, shredded carrots, baby corn, etc.
If you use chicken broth, add ginger and garlic to taste
Sauté mushrooms, celery, and onion. Add broth. Bring to a boil. Turn down to a simmer and add the greens. When they are wilted, add the rest of the vegetables. Cook for ten minutes or so. Eat as is or add heated soup dumplings to each bowl.