Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Katherine Hall Page's Recipe for Heaven and Earth

Katherine Hall Page, author of The Body in the Casket, is here today to tell us how to make this stick to your ribs German dish called Himmel Und Erde (Heaven and Earth in English) and while your Himmel Und Erde is cooking you can read an excerpt from her new book.

Here's what it's all about:

The inimitable Faith Fairchild returns in a chilling New England whodunit, inspired by the best Agatha Christie mysteries and with hints of the timeless board game Clue.
For most of her adult life, resourceful caterer Faith Fairchild has called the sleepy Massachusetts village of Aleford home. While the native New Yorker has come to know the region well, she isn’t familiar with Havencrest, a privileged enclave, until the owner of Rowan House, a secluded sprawling Arts and Crafts mansion, calls her about catering a weekend house party.
Producer/director of a string of hit musicals, Max Dane—a Broadway legend—is throwing a lavish party to celebrate his seventieth birthday. At the house as they discuss the event, Faith’s client makes a startling confession. "I didn’t hire you for your cooking skills, fine as they may be, but for your sleuthing ability. You see, one of the guests wants to kill me."
Faith’s only clue is an ominous birthday gift the man received the week before—an empty casket sent anonymously containing a twenty-year-old Playbill from Max’s last, and only failed, production—Heaven or Hell. Consequently, Max has drawn his guest list for the party from the cast and crew. As the guests begin to arrive one by one, and an ice storm brews overhead, Faith must keep one eye on the menu and the other on her host to prevent his birthday bash from becoming his final curtain call.

Full of delectable recipes, brooding atmosphere, and Faith’s signature biting wit, The Body in the Casket is a delightful thriller that echoes the beloved mysteries of Agatha Christie and classic films such as Murder by Death and Deathtrap.

And now for this fabulous recipe:

Himmel Und Erde (Heaven and Earth)

  • 2 1/2 pounds Russet potatoes peeled and cubed 
  • 3 apples, roughly 1 ½ pounds, peeled, cored and cubed
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • Squeeze of lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Place the potatoes in a large saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and then turn the heat down to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes more.
Add the apples and continue to simmer until the potatoes are done (check with a sharp fork) and the apples soft.
Drain, reserving a little of the water. Put back on the heat and stir briefly to dry. 
Add the butter and mash. Faith relies on her old-fashioned potato masher. Add the honey, lemon, salt, and pepper and stir vigorously for a fluffy result. If the mixture is too dry, add a bit of the water. 
You may also serve the dish with crumbled crisp bacon and fried or caramelized onions on top. Granny Smiths or other tart apples give Himmel und Erde a nice sharpness, but any apples are fine. Nutmeg and thyme also give it a different sort of flavor as a change from the basic recipe. Garlic too. A traditional German farm dish, this simple dish is a find. We’ve been having it as a side dish with pork, roasted chicken, and sausages. Nice for the holidays too as a change from plain mashed potatoes.

Serves 4-6 

Doesn't that sound delicious? I'm making it tonight. And now for the equally tasty excerpt from The Body in the Casket:

Armed with extremely detailed instructions, Faith felt a sense of relief as she drove toward her meeting with Max Dane at Rowan House. It had been one of those weekends. Just as she was beginning to think Ben was coming to terms with Mandy’s decision, he came tearing into the living room Saturday night shrieking, “She’s unfriended me!” Amy was at his heels. “Me too! And Daisy. Probably all the Maine friends we have in common.” While her decibels were lower, her emotions were running as high as her brother’s. 
“You know what this means, right?” Ben had said, slumping down on the couch. Faith did know what it meant. Mandy was with someone new and posting things that she didn’t want Ben to see or hear about from mutual friends. On the one hand it was in the girl’s favor that she was protecting him from feeling hurt; on the other Mandy should have realized that what he would imagine was probably far worse. 
“Guess she’ll marry him. He’s probably a senior. We’ll read about it in The Island Crier ”, Ben had said bitterly. Faith tried a few platitudes and then went to make cocoa for the kids, pouring herself a large glass of Merlot.
Sunday wasn’t much better. Ben spent most of the day checking out application deadlines for places like the University of Alaska in the hope he could still apply for the fall.
Now, after pulling over twice to check Max Dane’s instructions—he’d mentioned not to bother with her GPS, it wouldn’t show Havencrest—Faith began to think the location had more in common with the Bermuda Triangle than MetroWest Boston.
At last she saw the turn he’d described, marked by a huge granite boulder with Havencrest incised in Gothic letters. Several labyrinthine turns later she came to the “gatehouse”: turreted stone, a high wall extending on either side as far as the eye could see, interrupted by an elaborate and very secure looking iron gate across the drive. Dane had written that it was electronically operated. She got out of the car and found the intercom button where he’d said it would be, cleverly disguised as one of the ornamental gryphon’s eyes. She pressed it firmly. Instantly a voice—the one who had told her to hold for Max Dane— issued instructions: “Get back in your car, please, and when the gate is completely open, proceed. Do not try to enter before then.” There was a click as he hung up, or took his finger from a button in the house somewhere ahead. 
It was all very Lewis Carroll or Ian Fleming or a car wash. Faith kept at a standstill until the entrance gaped wide and came to a stop. 
Out of curiosity she looked at her odometer once through and then checked again as she parked under the porte cochere at the front of the house. The drive was a mile and a half long and passed a natural looking landscape that could only be the result of a great deal of time and money. Banks of rhododendrons that must be spectacular in the spring; dense birch groves; towering oaks and pines. A landscape that had to have been in place for many, many years. She remembered what Pix had said, that the houses were handed down from generation to generation. Somehow she doubted this was the case with Max Dane, and it wasn’t just his New York accent. Brahmin families were known to disown members who went into show business or married someone in it. Fine to kick up one’s heels as a Harvard undergraduate back in the days of Ann Corio at the Old Howard in Scollay Square, but one turned to Boston’s Blue Book for a blue blooded mate. 
As it came into view, Faith immediately guessed the house was the work of the architect H.H. Richardson or one of his students. The façade combined Romanesque type stonework archways with Morris-like Arts and Crafts dark shingles. It all blended into the hills behind it as if sprung from them by some kind of Medieval—or Tolkien—magic.
 An attractive man who appeared to be in his fifties opened the car door and ushered her up the front steps and across a wide veranda and into a vast foyer. He was wearing a pale yellow V-necked sweater that looked like cashmere; the shirt underneath was cornflower blue. His tan chinos had knife creases. Not formal butler attire, but he seemed to be playing that role.
 “My name is Ian Morrison. We spoke on the phone. Please come in. Mr. Dane is waiting in the library.” 
He ushered her into a foyer as large as a ballroom. The floor glowed with a number of Persian carpets that picked up the warm golden oak woodwork and rose colored walls. There was no clutter, just a few pieces of Asian blue and white porcelain. A fireplace ample enough to roast a large pig or small ox took up most of one wall. Several landscapes hung on the others; including an enormous piece that occupied pride of place across from the entrance that Faith was sure was by Frederick Church. Not one of his Hudson River scenes, but one of the Andes series. The only other painting of equal size was to the left of the fireplace. It was a portrait, by John Singer Sargent or a close adherent, of a young woman wearing an elaborate white gown. Possibly the artist had hoped his detailed rendition of her jeweled choker and smooth white shoulders would distract the viewer from her rather homely face and its sober expression. 
Ian Morrison crossed the room and opened a door, gesturing Faith to follow him through. “May I bring you something to drink? Coffee, tea?”
“Or champagne?” Max Dane strode into their path, his hand outstretched. “Such a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Fairchild.”
“And I you,” Faith said, smiling and shaking his hand. She turned to Ian. “I’d love a cup of tea, any kind but Earl Grey if you have it. No sugar or milk.”
“Same for me, but add my usual, “ Max said. Ian nodded and quietly disappeared through the door. 
The library was what Faith would have expected from what she had seen so far. Floor to ceiling bookcases, another fireplace—this one surrounded by Roycroft tiles—and an expanse of arched windows looking out toward a bluestone covered veranda, accessed by French doors. The naturalistic landscape Faith had noted driving in continued beyond the veranda: ledges and boulders had been left in place and no formal flowerbeds interrupted the fields now pale stubble, but come spring would be covered with a variety of grasses and other plantings as well. Dane was following her gaze. “All we do is mow on this side and let nature take its course. Daisies come first then things like goldenrod. Back in the day gardeners planted hundreds of daffodil bulbs, but they have mostly fallen prey to the deer and squirrels. I like it this way better.”
There was a moment of silence. Faith found herself looking at Dane, sizing him up. The impresario was tall, but not heavy. Like Ian Morrison, he was dressed casually, a tan suede vest over a subtle tartan shirt and gray wool pants. He was a redhead, although age had sprinkled salt with a liberal hand. He kept his hair short, whether because there wasn’t enough now to lend itself to a longer style or because like the field, he just liked it that way better.
She sensed he was sizing her up too.
“Please take a seat. Ian won’t be long and afterwards I’ll give you the tour.”
Faith smiled. “I’m looking forward to it. Your house is beautiful.”
He nodded. Something other than where he lived seemed to be on his mind. Something else was on Faith’s too and she decided to come out with it.
“I’ve been wondering how you heard about me. I started out with the same name in Manhattan over twenty years ago. Maybe you were at an event I catered there?”
“Possibly. But, Mrs. Fairchild, while I am sure you are superb as a caterer, I am hiring you for what I understand is your other expertise. Your, shall we say, sleuthing ability?”
Startled, Faith said, “My sleuthing? But why?”
“One of my guests wants to kill me.”
“How do you know?” Faith asked, her mind rapidly running over a number of possible indications. Anonymous poison pen letter, blocked ‘ALL CAPS text, equivalent of horse head in his bed, gift package of chocolates redolent of bitter almonds?
“I think I’ll save the answer to that for the end of the house tour.” Max Dane did not seem at all perturbed, although the way he’d spoken made it clear he was very sure of the threat. “Oh, and it was Ian who found you. He keeps an ear close to the ground around here.”
As if on cue, the man, who was beginning to seem much more than a factotum in the Dane household, arrived with the tea and left. It was not an elaborate service. Two cups and the absence of any comestibles, made it clear the intent was not to linger. Faith sipped quickly. Whatever Dane had in his cup was either not as hot as Faith’s tea or he had an asbestos mouth. A few gulps and he set the cup on the tray.
 “If you are finished with your tea, shall we start?”
Faith stood up. Much as she wanted to see the whole house and take time looking at what she was sure were many exquisite details and furnishings, she wanted to get to the revelation at the end fast.
Max stood up as well and went to a tapestry bell pull hanging next to the fireplace. He tugged on it and Ian appeared almost at once. He couldn’t have gone too far. The tray had barely been delivered.
“I’m going to be busy with Mrs. Fairchild for a while. Would you mind picking up the mail? I’m eager to see if we’ve had any replies.” He turned to Faith. “I have a post office box in Weston. Rowan House—I disliked the original name and chose this one—isn’t on any delivery route.”
Rowan House? Rowan was a tree she knew, although horticulture was not Faith’s forte. Thanks to Harry Potter she did know that the Rowan tree was good for wands and recalled something about people planting them in earlier times as a protection against witches. Pix, an avid gardener, would fill in the blanks.
Max led the way back through the foyer and into a large room with almost floor to ceiling windows overlooking the sloping front lawn. It was comfortably furnished with Arts and Crafts style furniture, some of which Faith recognized as the work of Thomas Moser, a nationally known Maine furniture maker.
“I don’t know how familiar you are with late nineteenth century American architecture, but the house was designed by Henry Hobson Richardson, or I should say he added onto and remodeled what was a smaller Federal style summer home. Sadly, he did not live to see his work completed, but his firm finished it and continued to update it for many years. Frederick Law Olmstead…”
“Central Park,” Faith beamed, happy to recall what had been her favorite childhood haunt.
“Yes.” Max Dane smiled as well. “Anyway, Olmstead designed the landscape, working with Richardson. This room, called the winter parlor, is in the addition, which more than tripled the size of the original house. The summer parlor is smaller and at the far end of the rooms on the other side of the foyer. Besides the size, the difference between the two is that the summer parlor opens onto a veranda, a cool place to sit in the afternoon. It has a small pantry space with a sink originally, for the preparation of afternoon tea. I added a microwave and generally use it for the cocktail hour.” 
He gestured toward a door to the left of the fireplace. “The main dining room is through here.” Faith followed him into an almost baronial dining room. The table could easily sit twelve and she was sure there were additional leaves. She followed Dane again down the hall into a smaller, more intimate dining area suitable for breakfasts and lunch. Passing it, they reached the kitchen, which stretched across the back of the house.
“The house is not on any historic register, so I was able to completely demolish the old kitchen and put this larger one in. I used some of the original cabinetry and trim to match the feel of the rest of the house, but as you can see, you won’t have trouble preparing meals trying to cope with outdated appliances.” 
It was Faith’s dream kitchen and one she knew she would never have unless a major reversal of fortune, and lifestyle, placed her in a similar setting. A Wolf stove—double gas burners with grill and griddle, double electric convection ovens below. She knew the model well—going to the company web site, and other kitchen related ones, was what she called “culinary porn”. 
“I don’t entertain much,” Dane was saying, “but planned for any eventuality hence the two dishwashers. There is an industrial freezer and another refrigerator off the butler’s pantry. Go ahead, open up the cabinets so you’ll know what you have.” 
It was a kid in a candy shop moment. All Faith would need to bring were her knives and chef’s clothing. The glass fronted original cabinets revealed several china services, both for everyday and more elaborate sets she suspected were original to the house. The butler’s pantry contained enough glassware for a small hotel and shelves of serving dishes. She wanted to play with the decorative reproduction taps at the marble sink, but this was not the time.
“It’s perfect. Truly one of the most beautiful and functional kitchens I’ve ever seen,” she said.
He smiled, a broad smile. It was the most emotion he had shown so far—all his remarks had been delivered with a cool, almost detached expression.
Max gestured to the row of windows on the back wall of the kitchen. Looking out, Faith could see a very large patio, devoid of summer furniture at the moment that was enclosed by a low stone wall. Several structures, some closer to the house than others, were just visible beyond it. 
“There are several outbuildings besides the barn, which you can’t see from this angle. I converted it into a garage and the apartment where Ian lives. What you are looking at beyond is the original stone icehouse and what were the head gardener’s quarters. Storage now.”
She’d been watching his face and now concentrated on his voice. That, and some of his vocabulary, were the only clues so far as to Max Dane’s theatrical past. No framed posters or Tony awards on display. He could well have been an actor himself. There was studied quality to his conversation as if he was reciting lines. There was also something in the way he moved. Men his age and height were usually stooped in varying degrees. Max was as straight as a ramrod and walked in a rather precise manner. Again theatrical, as if hitting his mark on a stage.
“There is room for you in one of the other buildings, but if you are agreeable I’d like you here in the main house. There is a rather nice housekeeper’s suite.”
He opened a door to the left of the one to the pantry and Faith followed him through to the suite. If this was for the Help, Faith thought to herself, what could the other bedrooms be like? 
The suite was filled with sun this morning. Both the bedroom and sitting room were beautifully furnished in the same Arts and Crafts style as the other rooms she’d seen so far. The artwork was not period artwork, as she’d noted in the rest of the house, but they weren’t grandmother’s botanical prints either, ubiquitous in guest rooms of the day. Faith recognized an original of one of Wayne Thiebaud’s oil paintings of cakes—appropriate for the suite’s occupant—and some bright abstract monoprints suggestive of the landscape outside.
The bathroom was, as the cliché so accurately put it, “to die for”. Faith was starting to hope this would be the first of many gigs at Rowan House. She hurried after Max to a back staircase, the servant’s access, up to the second floor. “There are ten bedrooms plus the master, all ensuite. I’ve invited ten guests, so we should be fine. I’m pretty sure I’m not going to get any refusals. Two of them used to be married to each other, and may still be legally, but word has it that they like to sleep alone—or not with each other, anyway.”
The hall ended at the top of the wide staircase that Faith had admired when she walked in the front door. In the sun, the oak treads and ornately carved bannister gleamed gold.
“As you see, the landing is large enough for drinks. I thought we’d gather in front of the fireplace”—he pointed to a small one in the corner surrounded by Minton tiles— “when people arrive Friday. Then dinner in the summer parlor. Buffet breakfast in the dining room. There are plenty of warming dishes for the sideboard and you can pop in to see if there are any special requests. Knowing this group, there will be. Possibly even breakfast in bed, but I will discourage that.”
From his tone, Faith certainly would not want to be the individual demanding a tray. Her expression must have revealed her thoughts, because Max added in a more genial voice, “The point is for all of us chums to be together again.”
Chums together? One a possible killer? Faith couldn’t help but think as she trailed after him up the stairs to the third floor. 
“This was the servants quarters and I don’t use it much. I don’t have live-in help. Ian has been wearing many essential hats for many years and sees to my needs more than adequately. He is, as I said, is in his own digs. The grounds are maintained by a crew from Waltham starting in the early spring. I also call them if I need snow removal.” 
Faith continued to follow, reflecting that the bond between the two men now seemed to be much closer than employer and employee. She wondered whether Ian had been in the theatre as well.
Max opened a door at the end of the narrow hall, no polished golden oak or period details up here. “This was my room.”
Faith peered into a windowless, airless space barely large enough for the narrow iron bedstead with a thin mattress covered in blue and white ticking. A small table with a lamp was squeezed next to it. The roof sloped so sharply it would be a challenge for an adult to stand up.
“Your room?” she asked.
“Oh yes,” he said, closing the door firmly. “I used to be permitted a week every year when I was a child to visit my grandparents.”
His accent, melodious as it was, did not indicate a New England upbringing, or roots. Once again, Faith placed him in one of the boroughs—the Bronx or Brooklyn. He was quick to pick up on her quizzical look.
“It’s a long story. Perhaps another time. Now we cross over to the other side of the house, the original Federal wing where my quarters are.”
Descending the staircase, he didn’t stop at the second floor where his rooms presumably were, but continued on down, turning left when they reached the grand entrance foyer.
“No need to explore any further except to show you the summer parlor.”
He picked up his pace and Faith quickened hers to keep up. On this side of the foyer, the house was a rabbit warren. Rooms opened to more rooms in succession, some large, some small; a few lined with bookcases and window seats. The bookcases were filled—not with books by the yard from a decorator, but an assortment of sizes, hard/soft covers, and subjects. A telescope on a tripod stood in front of a bay window. A profusion of Oriental carpets covered most of the floors. 
They arrived at a room that did not lead to another door, but to a large arch carved with acanthus leaves. Max waved Faith through and with a flourish of his hand directed her attention to the fireplace at the far end of the room. “Ta, da!”
The substantial andirons had been pulled forward. At the moment they were not holding logs.
They held a coffin.
[no ornament]
As a finale, it was definitely final. 
“At least they cared enough to send the very best,” Max said as he and Faith walked toward the ornate mahogany casket. The lid was open and the interior was lined with tufted white velvet. “It is a recent arrival,” he added.
Faith had seen a great many similar final resting places—it went with ecclesiastical territory—so was able to agree that what was in front of them was top of the line, adding “As a message, not very subtle. How was it delivered?”
“When Ian went out for his morning run last Tuesday there was an enormous packing case at the front door, the content before you. I’m a night owl—usually awake until one at least— and he’s an early bird. He discovered it around six, so it must have been placed there in the wee hours. I’m a sound sleeper and heard nothing in the night, nor did Ian back where he is.”
“How would the delivery have gotten through the gate?” Faith asked.
“Ian and I have puzzled over that. It couldn’t. We have a surveillance camera and there’s nothing on it for that time except the usual passing wildlife. But someone could have brought it through the woods and over the field. Perhaps using some sort of cart. The coffin is empty, or almost, so not as heavy as one in normal use.”
“No identifying marks on the crate?”
“Unfortunately the donor did not include a return address for my thanks. We did some cyber sleuthing—you can buy this model online from any number of vendors. Also it’s a model that has been available for years, which may suggest forethought.”
“A nasty thing to do, but why assume the giver has murderous intent?” Faith found herself speaking lines too. She doubted she had ever said anything like “murderous intent” before.
“Ah, you see, it was not completely empty. Here’s your first real clue.” Max reached into the casket and pulled out a Playbill with its familiar black logo on bright yellow. Just the sight of it gave Faith the feeling of excitement she got when an usher handed her one of the theatrical programs. Followed, once seated, by reading about the performance and looking at ads for restaurants and luxury items she couldn’t afford—always fun. 
She took the Playbill from Max’s outstretched hand. The front pictured actors dressed as angels and devils, although the costumes were unconventional—a suggestion of wings, halos, pointed tails fashioned from coat hanger type wire. The title confirmed the roles: “Max Dane Presents”. Heaven Or Hell The Musical 
 “All the guests I’ve invited after I received this, shall we say, ‘calling card’, had a role in the production. Ian has made a list of names for you with the roles each played.” He paused. “It was my last musical production and I’m afraid it was not a success. The individuals on the list quite possibly blame me. No make that they definitely do.”
Faith looked at the date on the Playbill. “But this was twenty years ago!”
Dane shook a finger at her. “I hope I have not been deceived in your abilities. As the bard put it, ‘If you wrong us shall we not revenge?’ Twenty years is but a blink of the eye, my dear. Now perhaps we could talk a bit about my birthday dinner. I thought we could close the lid and use this for a raw bar and mounds of caviar. Foie gras too. Everything in excess.” The smile he gave her was more Lucifer than Peter at the Pearly Gates and Faith was reminded of her Aunt Chat’s warning—“he’s not a very nice man.”


  1. Wow, that does sound like heaven on earth!! I am definitely trying this recipe. I love the title The Body in the Casket as well.

  2. I’m a big Faith Fairchild fan and this is definately on my list.