Friday, February 28, 2014

Mardi Gras: Babylon Parade Floats

In New Orleans, Mardi Gras season is roaring. Last night kicked off the start of some of the bigger parades from the krewes of Babylon, Chaos and Muses. These are photos of the floats from the 2014 Knights of Babylon float den before they moved out to the parade site. 2014 marked the 75th anniversary of the Knights of Babylon krewe.

These floats can accommodate between 20-40 riders. Just imagine yourself riding on top of one of these floats tossing out beads to the crowd. If you want to read more about the different sides of Mardi Gras, sidewalk side and neutral ground, you can find that here.

Floats from the 2013 Knights of Babylon parade can be found here.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Crafty Thursdays: Crime Scene Tape Plate

Kerry Hammond is being crafty again. This time she's made the super fun Crime Scene Do Not Cross plate above. Here are directions on how to make your own.

I’m not very artistic, so I tend to migrate toward artsy fun that is a bit more structured. Canvas and Cocktails is a great example of that. It's a gallery in Denver where you get to paint a picture (while drinking wine) and are taken though the process step by step, so there is no guesswork and any amateur can do it. And did I mention the wine?

Another thing I like to do is paint your own pottery. When I saw that my local Ceramics in the City (a paint your own ceramics store, also in Denver) was having a Valentine’s Day event that included a bottle of wine (are you seeing a theme) and chocolates, I jumped on it. Once we arrived, however, I realized that I actually had to create something.

Luckily, the paint your own pottery type places have pre-made pottery that you work with. All you have to do is come up with a design – yeah right, did I mention how non-artistic I am?
All of the sudden it came to me, why don’t I use my love of the mystery genre, and everything crime related, to come up with a theme. I grabbed only 2 paint colors from the shelf and was off. As you can see above, painting pottery can be crime related. I used a straight edge to pencil in the lined crime scene tape strips and then painted 3 coats of yellow paint. 

Using rubber stamps that I painted with sponge brushes, I went letter by letter to fill in the "crime scene" words (using a brush to fill in where the stamp didn’t quite cover). You can freehand these if you’re feeling crazy, but I stuck to the stamps. I think it turned out great and I can’t wait to use the plate (which was meant to be a rippled sushi platter) for cookies at my next mystery book club meeting.

- paint ready ceramic plate
- Rubber stamps to spell out Crime Scene - Do Not Cross
- Yellow paint, black paint
- straight edge
- pencil
- sponge brushes
- a way to glaze the pottery (easy to do at a paint your own ceramics place)

Looking for other bookish crafts to make? We have more here.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

THE AMERICANS Returns with Russian Apple Cake

This is our second installment of Russian food in honor of the second season premiere of The Americans (tonight on Fx, 10pm). Janet in our Portland office has been at it again, this time with Ukrainian Apple Cake, but first we'll refresh your memory of the season one finale. 

In the finale, Phillip and Elizabeth - our friendly KGB spies posing as American couple, living with their American kids next door to an FBI agent - had just gotten themselves out of a trap. But not by much because Elizabeth got shot in the process and now the FBI has rough sketches of them. We assume Elizabeth will survive the shot, but only because she's a protagonist. The show ends with their daughter Paige in the basement of their home into Elizabeth's recording tapes from Russia.

Here's the second season promo trailer:

And now here is how to make some insanely good Ukrainian Apple Cake (Yabluchnyk)...


The Cake
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/3 cup cream 
  • 4 large apple - peeled, cored and thinly sliced

Streusel Topping
  • 2 tablespoons cold butter
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
Full directions can be found here at All Recipes.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Blood Oranges and Cinnamon

One of my favorite things about winter is the fabulous citrus and especially the blood oranges. Blood oranges get their name for the blood red color of the inside of the fruit. Both inside and outside they are perfectly beautiful. They are the perfect treat for any mystery lover. I wish they were around at Halloween time, because the possibilities would be endless, but alas, it's really only now that they are available. 

In any event, they are a fabulous ingredient for one of the fastest and yummiest desserts in the world. You can use any kind of orange really, and I do make this with other types when blood oranges are hard to come by. But when you can get them it just makes this all the more exotic. 

The recipe is based on a Moroccan dessert. 

Blood Oranges and Cinnamon

1 teaspoon cinnamon 
4 blood oranges, 3 peeled and sliced, one half of one juiced
1 teaspoon honey

Peel three of the blood oranges and remove as much of the pitch as you can. Then slice them. Cut off the pitch edge around the orange and set the slices aside. 

Take one half of one orange and juice it into a container. Mix in cinnamon and honey. 

Coat the orange slices in the mixture and serve cold.

Pretty darn easy. Sometimes I leave the honey out because the blood oranges are super sweet anyway. I've tried slicing the oranges before I peel them and I can't them to look nice, so I've settled on peeling and them trimming the pith. It works for me.

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Landscape in Harry Hunsicker's THE CONTRACTORS

Today's we have a special guest post from Harry Hunsicker, author of the new thriller, THE CONTRACTORS. 

Here's a description of THE CONTRACTORS:

Private military contractors. They’re not just for foreign wars anymore. Jon Cantrell, a disgraced ex-cop, works for one such company. He’s a DEA agent paid on a commission basis, patrolling one of the busiest drug-hubs in the country: Dallas, Texas.  When Cantrell and his partner and sometimes lover confiscate the wrong shipment of drugs, they find themselves in possession of a star witness in an upcoming cartel trial that could destroy the largest criminal organization in the hemisphere.   To turn a profit, all they have to do is safely deliver the witness to the US Attorney on the other side of the state. An easy trip, except the witness doesn’t want to go and a group of competing DEA contractors and a corrupt Dallas police officer want everybody involved dead.  This heart-stopping thriller takes readers deep into a strange underworld where the lines between government officials and mercenaries blur. In this complex network of drug traffickers, cartels, politicians, and police, no one’s hands are clean.

And now Harry Hunsicker will tell us about the landscape featured in his novel. 

The land is desolate yet hauntingly beautiful.  Emptiness is everywhere, the road devoid of traffic, a sky whose vastness defies description, its very scope a cliché.

The earth appears flat but it is not, instead an undulating sheet cut by dry creek beds, dotted with cactus and scrub grass, bracketed in the distance by the low mountains of the Chihuahuan Desert.

You are on Highway 90, an empty stretch of asphalt between Marfa and Alpine in far West Texas, near the Big Bend National Park.

The Marfa Lights Viewing Center is just up ahead, on the south side of the highway.

You are going to see the lights because that’s what you do when you visit this remote region.  You want to see for yourself, to try and understand.  People have been talking about the Marfa Lights for over a hundred years now.  Are they reflected headlights from a non-existent road?  A temperature inversion?  Some weird gas expulsion from the earth?

You’ve had dinner at Reata in Alpine, 20 miles to the east, a steak as thick as a Michner novel, juicy and rare.  Your hotel is in Marfa, the Paisano, where the cast and crew of Giant stayed when they were filming in the area nearly sixty years ago.  (You chose the Rock Hudson Suite because of the rooftop balcony overlooking Main Street.  And it costs less than a broom closet in Manhattan.)

But sleep will come later.  For now, you are going to see the lights.

The viewing center feels like some sort of a practical joke, an elaborate reststop a few miles past the cutoff for the middle of nowhere.  Soft drink machines and travel brochures.  Marble and Mexican tile and wheelchair-accessible bathrooms.  A long stone patio oriented toward the south, where the lights appear.

As dusk deepens into night and the air grows cool, you wait.

Maybe a half hour later, you realize the inky blackness in the distance has changed.

Where there was nothing, a series of dots have appeared.

Three in a row with a fourth atop the one on the left.

To call them lights is not really accurate.  They are more like disturbances in the dark, tiny holes in the night.  You try to guess how far away they are.  A hundred yards or a thousand?  A mile or ten?  Or the other side of the Rio Grande, nearly an hour south by car?  If there was a road.

The lights dance and shimmer, moving like tethered butterflies buffeted by a gentle wind.

You realize they are not the reflections of an errant headlight or a temperature inversion.  They are unexplainable and instead of being frightening, this gives you a sense of peace.  Perhaps a little mystery is good for the soul.
After a few minutes, they go away and you can’t figure out if they disappeared or if your eyes grew tired.  Or if they were ever there at all.

There’s nothing left to do or see, so you head west to Marfa, the night encompassing you like an old friend.

Harry Hunsicker is the former executive vice president of the Mystery Writers of America.  His new thriller, The Contractors, is about two law enforcement contractors who in order to stay alive must transport a witness in a cartel trial to the courthouse in Marfa.  Unfortunately, they didn’t have time to stop and see the Marfa Lights.  Visit Harry at

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Judy Bolton Covers

These fabulous Judy Bolton Mysteries live at my friend Ingrid's house (she's the chair of the world's largest mystery convention this year, but more on that later.) An avid Nancy Drew fan as a girl, I knew about the Dana Girls and Trixie Belden, but I had never picked the books up because I was so focused on Nancy. I didn't even know about Judy Bolton until I saw these at Ingrid's house. The series was published Grosset and Dunlap starting in 1932 and Judy gets married halfway through the series. 

Did you read the Judy Bolton mysteries when you were a kid? What did I miss? 

Friday, February 21, 2014

The Americans & Cabbage Soup

The Americans TV show returns next Wednesday on FX at 10:00 pm and I want to make sure you have plenty of time to set your DVR. When last we left out favorite KGB spies, Elizabeth and Phillip were a little more than conflicted ... about their relationship and their continued spying on the U.S. as they play American family. The assignments are getting more and more dangerous and their KGB handler has made it abundantly clear that the couple is expendable, for almost anything. What will happen to their children if they get caught? After all of these years in the states, do they really know what they're fighting for anymore? 

I have found this show fresh and interesting. If you didn't see season one, I would watch that before starting two. You don't want to miss a thing. 

To get in the right mood for The Americans, Janet in our Portland office has been test cooking Russian recipes. Today she brings us Sweet Russian Cabbage Soup. The recipe is over here at She recommends that you cut down the amount of sugar they suggest because it was a little too sweet. 

Here are all of the ingredients. Prepping the food to go into the pot only took 10 minutes or so. 

Here's the soup simmering. It was on the stove for a little more than an hour. 

And here's the finale...does anyone know how to say Bon Appetite in Russian? I guess it doesn't matter because Phillip and Elizabeth can't speak Russian in front of anyone else anyway... Enjoy! 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Crafty Thursdays: Scrabble Tile Earrings

It's crafty Thursday and we have another easy craft for you. This time it's Scrabble tile earrings.  


1) Two Scrabble tiles (letters can be first and last initial or two of the same)
2) Two jump rings - can be purchased at Michaels but only come in a bag with many
3) Two earring hooks
4) A drill
5) Jewelry pliers

Step One:
Use a smaller bit and drill a hole in the corner of the Scrabble tile. You may want to practice on a letter you don't need. I find it works best to have a thick piece of wood under the drill when you do this.

Step Two:
Take your pliers and open up the jump ring. Slide it though the hole. Thread it through the hole in the earring and close the jump ring. 

Step Three:
Put them in your ears because you are done. So easy! 

You can use the same technique to make a bag tag with your initial(s) on it. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Limoncello Yellow & Giveaways

Today we have limoncello recipes, an interview and giveaways from Traci Andrighetti, author of the new mystery, Limoncello Yello. 

If you comment below, you'll be entered for a free copy of Limoncello Yellow (sorry US only, no PO boxes). Traci is also hosting a wonderful Rafflecopter giveaway below for a necklace from Fleurty Girl in New Orleans (I love that store and so does Traci).

Let's start with the interview with Traci:

1) There seem to be a lot of Italian men in your books, is there a special one in your life?

Well, my father is Italian, and I took after him, so I figured two Italians in the family were enough! I wisely chose a half German and half Swedish man as my better half, and we complement each other really well. Like yin and yang.

2) How did you come up with the name for the book?

I often read in Italian, and one of my favorite Italian authors, Gabriella Genisi, always has a type of fruit and sometimes even a color in her titles. So, I started thinking about what I could put in my titles that would be fun and colorful like fruit. And then it came to me: Italian wines and liqueurs. LOL! Then I tried to come up with titles for each type of drink, but they just didn't sound right. That's when I decided that I would include the colors, as well. The best part about these titles is that they force me to figure out a plot that features the drink and its color. 

3) What inspired you to write a murder mystery?

Nancy Drew! She was my favorite protagonist as a little girl, so much so that my cousin and I wrote a Carolyn Keene–style mystery when we were 12. It was called The Message in the Driftwood (intriguing, right? Ha!). I especially loved the Nancy Drew books that involved jewelry or something haunted. So, my next novel in the Franki Amato Mystery series, Prosecco Pink, involves a pink diamond and a haunted plantation home.

4) What is the hardest thing about writing a book?

Finding the time. I have a day job and an eleven-year-old son, so writing is something of a luxury. I tend to write anywhere and everywhere I can. My favorite place I've written is the famous Carousel Bar and Lounge (it actually spins!) in the Hotel Monteleone in New Orleans. In fact, I made sure to include the bar in a key scene in Limoncello Yellow.

5) There is a voodoo priestess in your book, how did that character evolve?

One of the many things that makes New Orleans unique in the United States is its history and tradition of voodoo. So when I sat down to write Limoncello Yellow, I felt that voodoo had to play some sort of role in the plot. Most people don't realize, however, that voodoo is actually used to do good, like helping the poor and the sick. So, out of respect for the voodoo community, I created a voodoo priestess named Odette Malveaux who seems formidable but, in reality, is a good soul.

And here's Traci's recipe for Limoncello. Looks and sounds delicious. 


10 medium-sized Meyer lemons (15 if they’re small)
1 quart Everclear
1 ½ quarts water
2 ¾ pounds sugar

Wash and peel the lemons. Soak the lemon peels in ¾ of the Everclear for one to two months. Then store the mixture in a cool, dark place in an airtight container.

Once the Everclear is infused with the oil from the lemon peels, boil the sugar and water until it makes a syrup (about 5 minutes). Let the syrup cool, and then pour it into the lemon peel mixture along with the remaining Everclear.

Store the Limoncello mixture in a cool, dry place for 40 more days. Then strain it using cheesecloth to remove all of the lemon peels. Now, you’re ready to bottle your Limoncello and drink it! Just don’t forget to chill it in the freezer first.

If you’d like to try Limoncello with a Tex-Mex twist, here’s a fun drink recipe:

Limoncello Margarita
2 ounces tequila
1 ounce Grand Mariner
1 ounce Limoncello
½ ounce fresh lemon juice
½ ounce fresh lime juice
¼ to ½ teaspoon simple syrup or sugar
salt (for the rim of the glass)

So, when life gives you lemons, forget the lemonade and make Limoncello. Or yummy Limoncello margaritas.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Fixer + Chorizo and Eggs

We have tons of surprises today: a book review and giveaway of THE FIXER by T.E. Woods, and breakfast. If you would like to enter to win a free copy of the e-book just make a comment below about what you would have made Detective Mort Grant for breakfast....

Here's a description of THE FIXER:

Never a doubt. Never a mistake. Always for justice. Never for revenge. She’s the person you hire when you need something fixed—permanently. With a strict set of criteria, she evaluates every request and chooses only a few. No more than one job per country, per year. She will only step in if it’s clear that justice will not be served any other way. Her jobs are completed with skill and precision, and never result in inquiry or police investigation. The Fixer is invisible—and quite deadly. . . .

In the office of a clinical psychologist in Olympia, Washington, a beautiful young woman is in terrible emotional pain. She puts up walls, tells lies, and seems to speak in riddles, but the doctor is determined to help her heal, despite the fact that she claims to have hurt many people. As their sessions escalate, the psychologist feels compelled to reach out to the police . . . but it might be too late.

In Seattle, a detective gets a call from his son. A dedicated journalist, he wants his father’s expertise as he looks into a suspicious death. Together they follow the trail of leads toward a stone-cold hired killer—only to find that death has been closer than either could have imagined.

Here's the review:

I must admit that I was attracted to book initially because I consider myself a bit of a fixer, not the murdering kind, but still a fixer. I guess were always trying to find ourselves in the books we read one way, or another... but enough about me. 

THE FIXER is a fast-paced thriller. It sucks you in and keeps you there as you turn page after page. I enjoyed reading about Chief of Detectives, Mort Grant, and how he reacts to this vigilante killer. 

The whole set up was intriguing. It's the kind of book you could start reading on an airplane and not put down until you landed. I love those kinds of books. The plot twists were in most cases unexpected. This is the first in a series and I look forward to reading the next installment. 

And now it's time for a little breakfast from T.E. Woods' cast of characters...

No manner of murder or mayhem can keep Detective Mort Grant from grabbing his work-day breakfast from the diner across from impound lot. He’ll eat whatever Annie’s serving up special that day. The food’s good, the generous portions arrive fast and hot, and all the servers know to keep his cup full of hot black coffee.
       But his weekends are different. Back when Edie was alive Sunday breakfast was a rare quiet time for the two of them to linger over the newspaper and re-connect about the kids, friends, and the latest on Jimmy DeVilla’s love life. Mort still takes time to prepare a special breakfast on Sundays. He eats alone mostly. Robbie’s married and living in Denver. Allie’s who-knows-where, and it’s been over a year since Edie died. But when he’s in the kitchen making his wife’s favorite recipes, he can almost hear her singing along with the radio and reminding him the napkins go on the right side of the plate.
      Today he’s making Edie’s Chorizo and Eggs. Edie always told him it was a perfect recipe for him, since all it takes is chopping and stirring. He sends up a hope that she’s somewhere happy as he pulls her favorite big skillet out of the cabinet. Edie always loved swapping recipes with folks. Here’s hoping you’ll think of Mort and Edie when you try this.

Edie Grant’s Chorizo and Eggs

2 tbs. olive oil
½ pound Mexican chorizo (Mort likes it spicy, but you can choose mild or medium)
4 small potatoes, boiled (Edie always did them up the night before…less fuss in the morning), diced
1 large onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
6 eggs
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
2 tbs. chili powder
3-4 green onions
Sour cream
Salsa (again, pick your level of heat)
Flour tortillas

Saute the onions and green pepper in the olive oil over medium heat. Once they start to soften, add the potatoes and chili powder. Stir fry for about one minute, then add the chorizo. Stir and chop the chorizo to make sure it’s mixed in with the vegetables.  While the sausage cooks, scramble the eggs with salt and pepper to taste. Pour the eggs into the frying pan and sprinkle with about half of the cheese. Scramble the whole thing together to incorporate. Continue frying until the eggs are done to your liking.  Remove from heat and top with salsa and sour cream. Serve with three warm flour tortillas.

Mort likes to make a big deal when bringing the dish to the table.  Edie always told him presentation could make a bowl of cereal taste elegant. She always served their orange juice in wine glasses…said it made it seem more festive. Here’s hoping you enjoy a bit of festivity in your day.

T. E. Woods is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Madison, Wisconsin. Her scientific writings are well represented in peer-reviewed journals and academic texts. Her literary works earned her first place for Fiction at the University of Wisconsin Writers’ Institute. Dr. Woods enjoys kayaking, hiking, biking, and hanging around the house while her two dogs help her make sense of the world. Her habit of relaxing by conjuring up any manner of diabolical murder methods and plots often finds her friends urging her to take up knitting.

Connect with TE Woods:
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Monday, February 17, 2014

Crime & Beyond Book Club Reviews SUSPECT by Robert Crais

Kerry Hammond is back today with a review of Suspect by 2014 Mystery Writers of America Grand Master, Robert Crais.

Last month the Crime & Beyond Book Club read and reviewed Suspect by Robert Crais.

Scott James is an LAPD cop who has been injured in a shoot-out that killed his partner. As he tries to recover from his physical wounds, his mental ones are proving even harder to heal. He joins the K9 unit and chooses a German shepherd named Maggie to be his dog, much to the disapproval of the trainer in charge. Maggie was a Marine in Afghanistan and suffers from PTSD, just like Scott. As Scott and Maggie work together to move on from their painful pasts, Scott continues to try and unravel the events that led to his injuries and the loss of his partner.

Suspect got excellent reviews from the club members who attended the discussion and those who “phoned” in their votes. I think the average score was about 8-9 slices of bologna (yes, we came up with a new rating system, which will make sense once you read the book). Other than the Agatha Christie we read in December, I don’t remember a recent book that has been that well received. Another thing we all agreed on was that we loved Maggie. Some people couldn’t remember the name of her handler(s) but remembered the name of the dog. The mystery was good as well, and Crais took us through some twists and turns along the way before revealing the whole story.

One of the things that really impressed me was how many people made comments about the book affecting them on a personal level. Whether it was personal experiences they’ve had with dogs, loved ones who have experienced a loss of a dog, or experiences with people suffering from PTSD. We also had some personal insight into the fact that dogs who served in Vietnam were not brought back like they are now from Afghanistan. This was particularly sad to me because I completely agreed with the characters in this book when they said that Maggie was a Marine & deserved the treatment and respect that any Marine did. I don’t know if the author knew how much he would touch people with both of these subjects when we wrote the book, but he sure ended up dealing with some very emotional topics. The fact that he did such a wonderful job on both the PTSD and the canine/human relationship really made this book a wonderful read.

It seems that Fox bought the rights to make a movie out of Suspect. Crais has been very protective of movie rights for his Elvis Cole and Joe Pike characters, but felt that the crew at Fox would do a good job bringing Scott and Maggie to life, so agreed to the deal. Our club can’t wait to see it.