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Recipe for a Cozy Winter by Sharon Pape

I gripe a lot about winter – the snow, the sleet, the ice, the hail, not to mention the blizzards! I used to dream about living in a place where it was warm all year round, but the older I get, the more I’ve come to appreciate the change of seasons, especially the turning of winter into spring. Would I appreciate spring as much as if I hadn’t endured an endless winter? I don’t know, but in the interest of science I’d be willing to give it a try. Three seasons might be the best of all worlds.

Yet there are good things about winter. Just ask the people passionate about winter activities like skiing, snowboarding, and ice skating to name a few. My winter passion is all about staying inside, warm and cozy in a big sweater with a cup of tea beside me while I work at the computer or curl up in my favorite chair to read. Of course snuggly pets of all sizes are great at amping up the coziness factor.

Winter is a great time to entertain too. I love to invite close friends over for a cozy evening featuring a yummy homemade soup.  One of my favorites I learned from my mother-in-law. She called it Pasta Ceci Soup. You may know Ceci beans better as Chickpeas or Garbanzo beans – one bean, many names. Served with a fresh crusty bread and sprinkled with shredded Romano cheese, this tomato based soup is great at chasing away the winter chill and giving you a big old hug of coziness from the inside out! And it’s super easy.

Continue reading “Recipe for a Cozy Winter by Sharon Pape”


Spinach and Goat Cheese Totally Non-Murderous Quiche by Kirsten Weiss

Owning her own business seemed like pie in the sky to Valentine Harris when she moved to the coastal California town of San Nicholas, expecting to start a new life with her fiancé. Five months—and a broken engagement—later, at least her dream of opening a pie shop has become a reality. But when one of her regulars keels over at the counter while eating a quiche, Val feels like she’s living a nightmare.

After the police determine the customer was poisoned, business at Pie Town drops faster than a fallen crust. Convinced they’re both suspects, Val’s flaky, seventy-something pie crust maker Charlene drags her boss into some amateur sleuthing. At first Val dismisses Charlene’s half-baked hypotheses, but before long the ladies uncover some shady dealings hidden in fog-bound San Nicholas. Now Val must expose the truth—before a crummy killer tries to shut her pie hole.

Spinach and Goat Cheese Totally Non-Murderous Quiche


1 T olive oil
2 cloves minced garlic
½ thinly sliced small red onion
1 diced zucchini
10 eggs
2 C reduced fat milk or almond milk
1 tsp fresh chopped thyme
1 ¼ tsp coarse salt
½ tsp fresh ground pepper
¼ C crumbled goat cheese
1 C chopped baby spinach
1 T grated parmesan
Baked, 9-inch pie crust Continue reading “Spinach and Goat Cheese Totally Non-Murderous Quiche by Kirsten Weiss”

Q&A with Mandy Mikulencak,  Author of The Last Suppers

1. You’ve been a non-fiction writer and editor your entire career. What made you decide to write fiction?

About seven years ago, I attended a women’s writing retreat sponsored by A Room of Her Own Foundation because I yearned to use words in a different way. I took a week-long workshop on short fiction and was hooked. After writing short stories and flash fiction, longer stories demanded to be told and I complied.

2. You don’t shy away from tough subjects and themes in your writing. Why is that?

I like to write (and read) stories that illuminate the dichotomy in the human condition: that joy and redemption (and sometimes humor) can exist alongside pain and tragedy. Writers like John Irving, George Saunders and Donald Ray Pollock have inspired me to take chances. There’s a wonderful freedom in writing novels that capture real life in all its beauty and ugliness.

3. What inspired you to write The Last Suppers? A very good friend of mine told me about a website that listed the final words of death row inmates. Some of the entries also listed what the inmate had for his last meal. She told me about a young man who only wanted Frosted Flakes and milk. This one detail got me thinking about all of the emotion and memory behind those requests. It’s rarely about the food itself. I then wondered what it would be like for a prison cook to become obsessed with finding the perfect meal for each death row inmate, even going as far as interviewing the inmate’s relatives. I also wanted to explore how a complicated relationship between a warden and the prison’s female cook could ensure their emotional survival in such a horrific setting.

4. Why did you choose Louisiana in the 1950s? What type of research did you conduct?

I thought it’d make a richer story to place it during a time period when prisoners were often denied their most basic human rights; a time when poverty and racial inequality were so visible. While the prison in the book is fictitious, I researched the Louisiana correctional system from the 1800s through the 1960s to find details that would make the lives of the characters more authentic. But I also took some liberties (since it’s fiction) and placed two female cooks in the prison kitchen even though a penitentiary in 1950s Louisiana wouldn’t have hired women.

5. Do you have a set writing schedule? Tell us more about your process.

All the advice out there says to write daily, but I’ve never been able to do that because of other work and life commitments, and sometimes because of those self-doubts that tell me I’ll never be able to finish another novel. (I’ve hit that point at about the 35,000 word mark in each of the five novels I’ve written.) But there are days when I can write for seven hours. Because I started my career as a journalist, I’ve learned to write quickly and on deadline, so when it counts, I get the work done.

6. What are you currently working on?

My next novel is about a teenage girl in 1960s Mississippi who kills her father to stop him from abusing her little sisters. She’s sent away to a psychiatric facility where she has to come to grips with her own abuse and how three generations of women have lived with their own secrets. See? I like messy and complicated stories. And I like Southern voices and settings. There’s a richness to the culture that makes the setting one of the most interesting characters.

Download Recipes here.

Continue reading “Q&A with Mandy Mikulencak,  Author of The Last Suppers”

Red Velvet Whippersnapper Cookies by Joanne Fluke

DO NOT preheat your oven quite  yet— this cookie dough needs  to chill before baking.

1 box (approximately 18 ounces) red velvet cake mix, the kind that makes a 9-inch by 13-inch cake (I used Duncan  Hines)

1 large egg, beaten (just whip it up in a glass with  a fork)

2 cups of Original  Cool Whip, thawed (measure this—a  tub of Cool Whip  contains a little over 3 cups and that’s too much!)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup semi-sweet MINI chocolate chips

(I used Nestle)


1⁄2  cup powdered (confectioners) sugar (you don’t have to sift it unless it’s got big lumps)

small jar of red maraschino cherries, cut in half vertically and without stems

Pour  HALF of the  dry cake mix into  a large bowl.

Use a smaller  bowl to mix the  two cups of Cool Whip with the beaten egg and  the vanilla extract. Stir gently with a rubber spatula  until  everything is combined.

Add the Cool Whip mixture to the cake mix in the  large  bowl. STIR VERY CAREFULLY with a wooden  spoon  or a rubber spatula.  Stir only until  everything  is combined.  You don’t want to stir all the air from the Cool Whip. Continue reading “Red Velvet Whippersnapper Cookies by Joanne Fluke”

The Bone Chiller Halloween with Ghost Peeps by Carol J. Perry

Ghost peeps and a new book from Carol Perry. What could be a better way to prepare for Halloween today on Drinks with Reads…

For folks in Salem Massachusetts, the day after Halloween usually means empty candy wrappers, sagging pumpkins and a community-wide identity crisis. That is until Lee Barrett’s TV production class suggests extending the spooky season with the traditional Mexican celebration, Dia de Los Muertos.

A series of graveyard visits convinces the class that not all of Salem’s dead are resting in peace. Lee and her detective boyfriend, Pete Mondello connect a fresh body with an unsolved missing person case. Driven by a series of chilling visions, Lee calls on her cleverest allies including her shrewd cat, O’Ryan and her tech-savvy Aunt Ibby for help.

Together they go underground and dig up the evidence needed to put a lid on a cold case forever. . .before the latest headstone has Lee’s name on it.


Aunt Ibby is still working on writing her recipe book and she came up with this tasty, if caloric, drink to celebrate the release of Carol’s newest Witch City Mystery—Grave Errors. It’s a candy-loving grown up Trick-or-Treaters dream come true. . . with Godiva White Chocolate Liqueur, sugar, a huge dollop of Reddi Wip, topped off with a marshmallow Peep! Continue reading “The Bone Chiller Halloween with Ghost Peeps by Carol J. Perry”

Scottish Shortbread by Amy M. Reade

My favorite kind of research is first-person, up close and real (with the obvious exceptions of being murdered and riding in the back of a police cruiser). I’d rather walk the streets of a city or village than do online or book research; I’d rather eat the food of a particular region or culture than leaf through a cookbook; I’d rather go kayaking in the ocean than watch someone else do it.

In-person research brings a feel to a book that can’t be faked. What does it smell like inside an Irish pub? How does the humidity in South Carolina feel against your skin? What color is the St. Lawrence River on a cloudy day? You can imagine these things, sure, but if you’ve experienced them firsthand you can add layers of realism to your stories that pump up the richness of your words.

When I go on a trip one of my favorite things to do is sample the regional cuisine. If possible, I try to take a cooking class to learn more about local foods and meet area residents. One of my favorite vacation memories is a trip our family took to Ireland. My husband gave me a birthday gift of a cooking class in a Norman-style castle (bonus: he entertained the kids that night). I met a handful of locals and got the opportunity to talk to them for several hours. We talked about everything: food vocabulary in different parts of the world; where to get the freshest langoustines and mussels; and how ridiculously easy it is to make your own vanilla extract. We all cooked, then ate, a meal together. It was unforgettable (in a good way).

There was also a decidedly un-British meal in London that was unforgettable in a bad way, but I digress… Continue reading “Scottish Shortbread by Amy M. Reade”

The Secret Ingredient by Sharon Struth

“The name garlic is of Anglo-Saxon origin, derived from gar—a spear, and lac—a plant…”

We hung on Roberto’s words while inhaling in the universal aroma of good cooking. Our Sienese guide led us to a doorway in a blemished, white stucco building with aging-evergreen shutters. A sign read Trattoria. Long gold fabric cords hung from the top frame and danced with a breeze, but Roberto confidently pulled them aside and motioned us through with a wave of his hand.

Our day tour from Siena, Italy was filled with promises of the historical, natural, and culinary treasures awaiting us in Tuscany. Roberto delighted us at every turn with word origins, stops at old Etruscan tombs, and jaunts up narrow alleyways constructed in the dark ages.

And now it was time for lunch at his friend Marcello’s place.

The tiny trattoria had a seating capacity of no more than fifteen. Terracotta-colored walls showed the cracks of age, but managed to hold a few ceramic plates and yellowed photographs.

It wasn’t printed anywhere, yet I knew this was a place for the locals…

Traveling is my hobby. I can never get enough of moments like the one described above.

When I wrote The Sweet Life, I couldn’t stop thinking about my visit to Marcello’s restaurant, a mere dot on a map in the small town of Staggia, Italy. It might have been the best meal I’ve ever eaten.

Marcello served us Tuscan Bread Soup, Pappa al Pomodoro. Pungent garlic, flavorful basil leaves soaked in sweet tomato juices, all surrounding thick chunks of hearty bread. Next came a boar stew. Tender meat drenched in a flavorful broth of rich wine, rosemary, garlic and tart tomato presented on a bed of thick, flat pappardelle noodles. Simple. Nourishing. Unforgettable.

How does a meal evoke such strong memories six years later?

Maybe it was the endless glasses of Chianti. Or learning our chef and host loved to write poetry.

After we ate, he’d appeared with a sheet of paper in his hands, cleared his throat, and said, “Il Chianti.”

He read his poem. I didn’t understand a single word (although Roberto later translated). Yet the rhythm of the beautiful romance language sang in my ears, its flavor satisfying my heart much like the Tuscan soup had nourished my hunger.

Or perhaps I recall the meal so vividly due to the awe on my daughters’ faces while Marcello read aloud. Their attentive gazes drank in appreciation for the special moment; a stranger sharing his heartfelt love of Tuscany and his belief that visitors are always considered new friends.

Marcello gave us copies of his poem, signed and dated. His beautifully written words describe the splendor of Tuscany…the fields yielding their fine wines and olives, hilltops lined with cypress trees – reminiscent of an era gone by, a country table filled with delectable gifts for our taste buds.

It’s his last line, though, that resonates in my heart: Whilst the visitor – always a friend and never a stranger – drinks with joy this sincere wine.

Thinking about that meal, my soul fills with love for my family, a fresh understanding of the pleasure found in new friendships, and cherished taste bud recollections. All brought to me through a secret ingredient…the joy Chef Marcello spread to us through his love of cooking.

If you are salivating after reading this (like I am), here’s a recipe for Tuscan Bread Soup. Now start cooking…

Continue reading “The Secret Ingredient by Sharon Struth”

Tabitha Trumbull’s Vanilla Bread Pudding by Carol J. Perry

Tabitha Trumbull’s Vanilla Bread Pudding

(adapted by Aunt Ibby)

1 quart of milk
2 ½ cups firm bread cut into ½-inch pieces
½ cup of sugar, divided into two ¼ cups
4 eggs
½ teaspoon of salt
3 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 ½ cups thinly sliced peeled apples
½ cup seedless raisins

Scald milk in medium saucepan, stir in bread and set aside. In mixing bowl beat two of the eggs plus two egg yolks, setting aside two whites. Stir in ¼ cup sugar and the salt. Slowly pour in the cooled milk mixture, stirring constantly. Add butter and vanilla extract. Stir in apples and raisins. Turn into 1 ½ quart buttered casserole and set it in a large baking pan. Pour hot water into the pan within an inch of the top of the casserole. Bake in 350-degree oven about one hour, 15 minutes and remove from oven. With clean bowl and beaters, beat reserved egg whites and remaining ¼ cup of sugar until soft peaks form. Spoon meringue over pudding, spreading well. Return to oven and bake until meringue is light brown—about 15 minutes.

Serves 6 to 8

Continue reading “Tabitha Trumbull’s Vanilla Bread Pudding by Carol J. Perry”

Comfort Food By Sally Goldenbaum

Are there frustrating days in your life when the only thing that brings relief is a generous helping of your favorite comfort food? Days that you would give up winning the lottery for a helping of your mother’s mac and cheese or Aunt Eunice’s mashed potatoes?

Nell Endicott feels this urge in Murder Wears Mittens when the seaside knitters are faced with a grisly death—a crime that pulls a young mother of two into its suffocating web.  To bring calm and focus while they ponder the perplexing murder of Dolores Cardozo, she arrives at Thursday night knitting with Izzy, Cass, and Birdie carrying her favorite comfort food.

 Q: Is Nell’s comfort food the same as yours? Can you identify it from this sprinkling of details?

  • A splash of red wine. . .
  • Sweet, caramelized onions. . .
  • Bacon and savory tomato sauce?

 It proves to be the perfect choice one Thursday in autumn in Murder Wears Mittens.

A: Nell’s wine, bacon, and caramelized onion meatloaf (Serves 6 to 8) Continue reading “Comfort Food By Sally Goldenbaum”

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