Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Halloween Mixology

I hosted a Halloween mixology event with friends where we made and invented drinks to pair with our favorite Halloween themed mysteries and TV episodes. You can see the results of our labors over on Criminal Element, but here's a special drink to commemorate the scene where the little girl's body is found in the bobbin for apples tub in Agatha Christie's Hallowe'en. Enjoy!

Bobbin' for Apples

3 parts champagne
1 part apple liqueur
5 fresh cranberries floating at the top of the glass to simulate the apples for bobbing

For a nonalcoholic version, try Martha Stewart's Shrunken Heads in Cider.

Because Halloween girl cannot live by drink alone, here are a few of my favorite Halloween themed dishes:

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins, I found these yummy delights over at Food Fixe.

Rachel Ray's cheese, prosciutto and phyllo dough Yummy Mummy appetizer.

I prefer the ice cream version of Dirt and Worms but many people favor the pudding version.

Spider Turtles from the Food Network let the carmel cool a little before you before you pour it over the pecans (about 5 minutes).  You can use a cold water bath instead of the candy thermometer, as my friend Janet did to make these lovely little guys.

Photo and actual spider making by Janet Kuchler

Also, our Facebook page is up and running. Come find us on Facebook at Mystery Playground.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Once Upon a Time: Dr. Frankenstein I Presume

I'm still obsessed by Once Upon a Time and tonight's Halloween-themed episode opened the storytelling possibilities even further. (For a recap of the entire episode go here and if you haven't watched the episode yet, come back later.)

Tonight we learned that Dr. Whale (David Anders) is really Victor Frankenstein. Dr. Whale has been working hard, as most mad scientists do, to create monsters and bring people back from the dead. He tried to bring Daniel, Regina's true love, back to life.  He managed to do it for a short time before it backfired on all of them, almost making Regina, the Evil Queen, the bride of Frankenstein. What a concept. 

I've been wondering who Dr. Whale's character is in fairytale land since last season. Since Victor Frankenstein is a literary character and not a fairy tale character, he was not on my list. A quick Internet search revealed that the director of the 1931 movie, Frankenstein, was named James Whale. So the writers did take the trouble to make a connection, although tenuous, and this reveal seems to have been planned long in advance of tonight's episode. 

The really interesting part about this was how they established that they can bring in almost any character from literature that they want.  Before it was just fairy tales (or retold stories that Disney adapted like Alice in Wonderland - Jefferson is  the Mad Hatter and I think Emma is Alice, but she doesn't know it, and Mulan.)

The writers and producers have created a storytelling playground and any classic character could come into play. What fun. 

I also loved seeing Regina come to Jiminy Cricket for psychotherapy. It does seem like she is giving in too easily to her good side and giving up magic pretty easily. This may mean that Cora and Rumple are the real villains of the story, although I hope Regina isn't this nice every episode. 

For those of you on Facebook, Once Upon a Time has a great app there for Untold Stories. Go to the regular Once Upon a Time Facebook page and follow Rumple's instructions.  He will exchange stories for objects you bring him (found in a game) just like he did with Jefferson (the Mad Hatter) in this episode. 

Next week Emma and Captain Hook traverse the Bean Stalk and run into the giant (Jorge Garcia formerly of LOST and the ill-fated Alcatraz). The promo is below. 

What did you think of this week's episode? Are you watching Once Upon a Time? 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

DC Speakeasy: The Gibson

When prohibition outlawed alcohol in the U.S. in 1919 an entire industry formed to serve it behind closed doors, away from the law. One of the most popular ways to to this was the "speakeasy," essentially a secret bar. Most speakeasies were housed in secret locations, many required a password to get in, they lacked signage because they were intentionally hard to find and may have even moved from place to place to stay ahead of the law. 

Today, there are many modern speakeasies that retain some of these traditions. Usually they feature fresh ingredients, and though the secrecy is no longer needed, many are in discreet locations that lack signage. 

Recently, I visited a speakeasy called The Gibson in Washington DC. This speakeasy serves well-crafted drinks with an unexpected mix of ingredients and is very low key.

I had the "Bren on the Patio" drink (on the left above) and ingredients included: St. Germain, Pilsner, St. Elizabeth's Allspice Dram (I had seriously never heard of this before), Lemon Juice, Sugar, Bitter Truth Jerry Thomas' Decanter Bitters (I had never heard of this either).

My friend, Meg, had the "Senioritis" which was made of Herradura Blanco Tequila, Averna, Raspberry Syrup, Lime Juice, Bitter Truth Celery Bitters, Fever Tree Club Soda.

The Bren on the Patio was good, but the Senioritis was better.

The inside of the speakeasy was beautiful and moody. The only light to speak of was by candle and it had lots of dark wood.  The light was so sparse, none of the other photos of the interior came out. The seating was comfortable and intimate. It was easy to hold a conversation when we were there about 8pm.

The Door to The Gibson
In typical Speakeasy fashion, the door is unmarked and there is no sign above. The address is plainly marked and when we arrived there was a greeting who stood in front of the door.  The Gibson prefers that people make reservations, but my DC friends tell me they are not always necessary. No password is required (which makes me happy).

Directions: The Gibson's address is: 2009 14th Street, NW between U and V Streets. They are open nightly starting at 6:00 pm. Next time I'm in DC, I hope to go again.

You can read about other Mystery Playground speakeasy adventures here.

After dinner we went down the street to Busboys and Poets, a combination book store and restaurant. The food was fabulous.  We had vegan nachos (not sure how they made the cheese but it was good) with black eyed peas for the appetizer and for the entree, meatloaf with wine sauce. According to their website, the bookstore here focus on books that, "encourage children and adults to question, challenge, and re-think the world beyond the headlines." What a great concept.

They have musicians and readings here as well.  One friend recently won a storytelling contest here (Go Owen!).

Busboys and Poets has three locations but the one down the street from The Gibson is at 14th and V. I highly recommend you check it out. 

And just because it's October and beautiful in DC...

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Once Upon a Time: Captain Hook and Too Much Rumple

Colin O'Donaghue does make a fine Hook, but he needs a swell hat.

Once Upon a Time, in my estimation, has done a great job of deconstructing favorite fairy tales and making them modern and relevant. Tonight the show bravely tried to pay homage to the iconic and misunderstood Captain Hook. And I've bravely set out to recap the episode below.

Turns out Rumple had a rather shallow wife before he met Belle and he was “The village coward.” Hmmm. A coward because he didn’t go to the Ogre Wars. I didn’t go to the ogre wars either – did you? But I digress.

Now this Hook, he has a swell hat.

Rumple, branded a coward loses his wife, to the Captain who ‘takes her’. This does not sound legal or nice, but Hook is a pirate, so what do you expect?  Rumple tries to get his wife back. But he doesn't try very hard. His only worry is “what will my boy say”. Right. Because you don’t care if a pirate kidnaps your wife. It’s all about the kid. Rumple and his weak defense is not mentioned in the original Peter Pan story by J.M. Barrie in case you were wondering. 

So far this episode has too much Rumple and not enough Hook (Colin O'Donaghue).

We flash to Storybrooke. The Prince is working in the mines with the dwarves looking for magic dust. They haven’t found any. Just to warn you, there is a lot of back and forth in the episode between times and none of it involves Emma or Snow.

Belle starts Ice Teaing herself to death. Red and Granny take her in. Belle needs a job and the library needs someone to take care of the books. Excellent. But then she gets kidnapped. Not excellent.

Hook! Where is Hook? I was promised Hook. We flash back to Rumple and Hook battling it out in a bar. Rumple is now the Dark One. Hook is not pleased. He liked the coward better. Hook says Rumple’s wife, Mila, is now dead. Rumple wants a duel.

Back in our time, Mr. Gold asks Prince Phillip to help him find Belle. Of course Phillip does it because that’s what nice guys do.

Back in the olden times, our dear Captain is sword fighting Rumple. As the Dark One, Rumple has a bit of an advantage. Rumple starts to rip the Captain’s heart from his chest to retaliate for Mila’s death. But then she shows up and asks him to stop. At this point we can rule Mila out for Mother of the Year.  

None of this has tracked so far to the Captain Hook I know and love. Where is the alligator? Where is long hair? The foppish clothes? Where is Peter? Where is Smee?

In present day, Belle was kidnapped by someone who brings her back to her father - the one who was willing to trade her for a beast for his kingdom in the first place. Her father immediately tells Belle she doesn’t love Rumple, which she would have realized on her own, but since he forces the issue things get bad.

Philip, in the course of his detective work, discovers that Rumple has done some really bad stuff. He’s not super psyched about helping him, but he does anyway because that’s what nice guys do. It's the curse of the nice guy.

We flash back. Mila loves the Captain. Rumple says, “tic toc dearie,” to his first wife as if he was the croc, but really he’s just ticked, forget the toc. He’s going to kill our Captain. Mila has some magic bean and she is willing to trade it for her life and Captain Hook’s. Seems like a trade Rumple wants to make.

Back to Storybrooke Maine and to Granny's. Red is worried about Belle. Phillip wants to find her, but she is hesitant to help him because Rumple is with him. Red doesn't like Rumple and we don't blame her. 

Phillip offers the ‘Prince guarantee’ so Red agrees. Red tries to track Belle, but loses the scent at a flower shop. Her father’s flower shop. Her father is sending her across the town line, so she will forget. Her father is doing this to save her from the beast.

Back on Captain Hook’s ship in the past, Rumple takes Mila to task for leaving Bane…and him. Rumple pulls her heart out of her Sheriff-style and she dies. Then he chops off Hook’s hand. In this scenario, Rumple is the croc.  Rumple disappears in a puff of red smoke leaving our Captain with a Hook. Capital H.

Belle is now at the border of Storybrooke. She does not want to cross the town line and lose her memory. Am I the only one who wants to save our librarian from herself? Get her over the border PLEASE! But no, Phillip has to stop it. Rumple asks her if she remembers him. She does, but she has had it with both Rumple and her dad. She’s done. Well done, Belle. Finally!  

Rumple goes to Belle to try to win her back. He admits she was right about him. He is a coward.

Gold admits to Belle he is cursed because he can’t look for his son, Balefire, because if he leaves Storybrooke he will forget who his son is. He doesn’t want to lose Belle. Rumple says goodbye to Belle for her own good, knowing full well this is what will tug her heart and make her love him again. Now she wants to have a hamburger with Rumple at Granny’s. Oh Belle. None of your book learning can help you survive Rumple. A hamburger date will not change the fact that he is The Dark One. 

We flash back once more and learn that Mila knew Rumple better than we thought. She shorted him the magic bean right before he killed her. Our Captain now holds the magic bean and we suppose the way to control magic in Storybrooke. Turns out he got it from a gentleman named William. William Smee. I love Smee. Almost as much as I love the Captain. (It’s just so much fun to say the name, Smee. Try it now with an H between the S and the M, just like Captain Hook says it in the animated classic. You know you love it too.) So Smee gets an opportunity to join Captain Hook’s crew and the 
If the Once Smee had been wearing a striped shirt we all would have figured out his identity lightening fast.

Captain is taking them to Never Never land, so they will never age. We now recognize Smee as the man who kidnapped Belle on behalf of her dad.  I may have been the slowest person on earth to pick this one up.

Then Gold captures our precious Smee and keeps him in the antique shop. Smee says Hook isn’t in Storybrooke. The answer, my friends is blowing in the wind, the magic wind, because Hook is with Cora, Regina’s super evil mom, back in fairyland. Hook wants to get to Storybrooke. Cora wants to get back to her daughter, who is in Storybrooke. And Hook, adds that he wants to, “Skin myself a crocodile.”

Do we finally have a villain worthy of Gold? Not sure yet, but personally, I need more Hook episodes. More Hook! More Hook! Tic Toc.

PS: The previews suggest that we are in for a Halloween suitable episode where Regina tries to bring back her dead love. The one who’s death made her weirdly hate Snow who was a child at the time. I can tell you from watching Aladdin, that he can’t bring people back from the dead and these things don’t turn out well. Regina, my dear evil queen, you are in for a tough week.

As for the writers and producers of Once, I give you two words of advice: More Hook.

Friday, October 19, 2012

All Hallows Read

Neil Gaiman reminds me of Snape a little bit, maybe I'm the only one. 

Last year sci-fi author Neil Gaiman started a tradition buy making video to inspire people to give scary books away on Halloween, dubbing the new practice, "All Hallows Read." 

Neil talks about this great tradition in the video below. He also says that, "Candy is important, fake blood is important," but you'll just have to watch the video to see what else is important. 

Here are some scary books that I found hard to put down:

1) The Memoirs of Elizabeth Frankenstein, by Theodore Roszak - Much has been written about the weak women in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. This book turns the original monster classic on it's head and tells a different story by from the point of view of the woman who married Dr. Frankenstein (the creator, not the monster). It's engrossing. It's also ironic that although this tale is told from the point of view of a woman, it was written by a man, and the original work by Mary Shelley is the other way around.

2) The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova - The story starts in 1972 when a young girl finds an antique book and a pile of decaying letters that start her on a chase after the history of Vlad the Impaler. She learns that her family has been caught up in this quest and now it's up to her. This is a brilliant thriller that keeps your heart racing and your eyes reading.

3) The Awareness and Deadly Other Tales by Terrie Farley Moran - This collection of short stories yields one surprise after another. My favorite is the title story where justice is meted in a supernatural way. (The author also has a short story in the current issue of Alfred Hitchcock Magazine, called Jake Says Hello.)

4)  Game of Thrones by George RR Martin - Even after watching the HBO series first, I couldn't put this book down and I pretty much knew what was going to happen. This story brings some serious drama and besides, 'Winter is Coming'.

What are your favorite scary books? Do you plan to give any away on Halloween?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Back from Bouchercon

Carol Higgins Clark, Deborah Lacy and Mary Higgins Clark

I'm back from the Bouchercon Mystery Convention that was held in Cleveland last week. More than 1500 crime fiction fans and authors took over the Renaissance downtown for five days of mayhem and murder.

Highlights included a fabulous party at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, sponsored by Thomas & Mercer (including access to the exhibits), the Criminal Element Social Hour (more on that here), sightings of all my favorite authors (Elizabeth George, Lee Child, Michael Connolly, Mary Higgins Clark, Robin Cook, Laurie R. King, the list goes on and on) fabulous panels including one on character with Charlaine Harris, Elizabeth George, Brad Parks and Daniel Palmer, among others and catching up with great friends (Kim, Kerry, Trina, Rebecca, Clare, Laura, Terrie, and Catriona just to name a few).

One of the best reasons to go to Bouchercon is there are 1499 people in the same hotel who love mysteries as much as you do.

Lee Child and Heather Graham

Elizabeth George, Les Roberts and Carol Higgins Clark
Catriona McPherson wins the Sue Feder Memorial Macavity Award

Criminal Element is hosting a contest where you can win a book from each of the Bouchercon Guests of Honor: Elizabeth George, Mary Higgins Clark, Robin Cook, John Connolly and Les Roberts. All you have to do is list something you overheard at Bouchercon or anywhere else in the comments section. You can enter the contest here.

Here's a roundup of Bouchercon coverage, just click on the links:

From Ellery Queen Magazine, they not only cover the show but delve in the history of the conference.

From Jordan Foster at Publisher's Weekly gives a great run down on the awards given.

TV coverage from The local Cleveland ABC affiliate including interviews from several authors who attended including Reed Farrell Coleman.

From Joe Myers a great take on panels and the bar scene.

There are also photos from the event on the Bouchercon 2012 Facebook page. If you went, don't forget to go through them and tag yourself and send in any you would like posted.

The opening ceremonies were at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Next year Bouchercon is in Albany, New York, the theme is in a New York State of Crime. Guests of honor include: Sue Grafton, P.C. Doherty, Tess Gerritsen, and Steve Hamilton. You can find 
out more at http://www.bcon2013.com. 

I have always wanted to meet P.C. Doherty...

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Before There Was Pooh Bear, There Was Murder

Did you know these famous people more well known for other things also wrote crime fiction?

A.A. Milne 

Yes, before there was Pooh Bear, there was murder. Alan Alexander Milne's mystery novel, THE RED HOUSE MYSTERY, received critical acclaim. Rumor has it that he decided to delve into the world of children's fiction because it was a better market.  He also wrote a parody on Sherlock Holmes, "The Rape of the Sherlock" that appeared in Vanity Fair.

A.A. Milne, Christopher Robin and Pooh.

Steve Allen 

He was the host of the Tonight Show before Jay Leno and Johnny Carson.  Allen played the piano, loved one-liners and off the cuff routines. He published ten mystery novels.

William Faulkner 

Faulkner won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1949, but before than he was one of a team of writers that worked on the screen adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s THE BIG SLEEP, staring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.  He also wrote other screenplays.

His thriller novel, SANCTUARY, hit the best seller list and was also made into a movie.

Samuel Clemens, AKA Mark Twain 

Twain, best known for creating Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, but did you know Huck and Tom solved a murder and collected $2000 in TOM SAWYER, DETECTIVE? Twain was the first writer use fingerprints in his short story, The Thumbprint and What Became of It. 

F. Scott Fitzgerald 

Most well known for writing THE GREAT GATSBY, Fitzgerald's first published work was a murder mystery, “The Mystery of the Raymond Mortage. It was written when Fitzgerald was 13 years old and published in the publication of the St. Paul Academy.

Dave Barry 

Humorist Dave Barry, who also co-writes the Peter and the Star Catchers children's books for Disney with Ridley Pearson wrote the novel BIG TROUBLE (also made into a movie starring Tim Allen.) He's also written several other novels for adults in addition to his nonfiction humor tomes. 

Marcia C. Clark 

Best known as the head prosecutor in the O.J. Simpson case, Clark has now published two mystery novels: GUILT BY ASSOCIATION and GUILT BY DEGREES.

And one writer famous for crime fiction who wrote another famous story but not as famous as his spy novels... Ian Fleming, creator and writer of international super-spy, James Bond wrote the children's novel, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (later made into a movie starring Dick Van Dyke). The only thing it has in common with the James Bond stories is a pretty girl and a cool, yet technically advanced car. 

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Headed for Bouchercon

Crime scene tape for the Criminal Element party.

So I'm off for Cleveland today to go to Bouchercon, the world's largest mystery convention. The American guest of honor is Elizabeth George, one of my favorite authors.

Friday at 10:15 am, I'll be on a panel called Mystery Blogs and Bloggers with five other mystery mavens:

Come see us and ask us lots of questions.  

There's a rumor that we will be giving stuff away. Yes, I know it's a cheap trick, but it works.

Here's what else I am looking forward to, besides catching up with friends:

On Thursday, we get to go to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for the Opening Ceremonies (sponsored by Thomas & Mercer).

Friday - Saturday there will be a great craft room where authors will lead crafting clases and talk about their books. Each session will run for approximately one hour from 10am to 3pm. 

The short story panel at 2:45pm on Friday called Nuggets of Mystery with Laura K. Curtis, Terrie Farley Moran, Shelley Costa, John Floyd, and Janet Hutchings.

And that night, Criminal Element is hosting a Social Hour from 6-7pm with a fun photo booth of mystery props.

On Saturday, there will be a panel on the online mystery community with Clare Toohey from Criminal Element, Oline Cogdill from Mystery Scene, Janet Rudolph from Mystery Fan Fare, Joe Meyers, Michael Kovaks and Jordan Foster.

You can see the whole panel schedule here