I don’t know about you guys but I cannot stand hotel coffee. The stuff in the rooms tastes like used engine oil. The stuff in the conferences is more like stewed gym sox.
So I’ve taken to bringing my own coffee, pre-ground back home. Which works out just fine if they give you the old-fashioned Mr. Coffee: paper filter, pour in grounds, add water, and voila! But those are less common these days.
Nowadays, the room coffeemakers have these funny little pods. Not Kurig-style pods, which would make life so much easier, but flat little paper pods. During my last trip, hoping to find a Kurig-style maker, I’d brought some pods of my favorite coffee, Deathwish.
Alas, no such luck.
So I developed a method for gerry-rigging the hotel room coffee maker utilizing coffee from the Kurig pods. I present you a photographic tutorial:
Stay tuned for my next blog post: how to construct a ball gown out of duct tape.
Malice Domestic, the mystery convention, celebrated its 30th anniversary April 27-29, 2018 in Bethesda Maryland and I was there along with 600 mystery fans. Check out book bag that is given (filled!) to every Malice attendee. Attendees included Guest of Honor Louise Penny, Poirot honoree Brenda Blethyn, Lifetime Achievement honoree, Nancy Pickard, and the author of the Vera and Shetland books, Ann Cleeves. It was a three-day fan-girl extravaganza.
On Thursday night before the conference opened, BritBox treated us to a special screening of Vera, season 8 episode 3, with real British Cadbury candy bars for everyone in the audience. Mine was eaten quickly so as not to distract me from the show.
Friday, Toastmaster Catriona McPherson opened the convention, setting the party tone as only she can do with that intelligent and off-beat humor only she possesses.
There were too many panels to mention, but one of the highlights was You’ve Got Fan Mail with Brenda Blethyn, Catriona McPherson, Louise Penny and Nancy Pickard. I laughed so hard I couldn’t breathe. That afternoon, Martin Edwards, author of the award-winning The Golden Age of Murder, interviewed Ann Cleeves and Brenda Blethyn. What a treat it was to learn about how it was sold to ITV, the production of the show, and the fierce protection of “their” Vera character from the the lady who created her and the one who brought her to life.
Saturday was the long day with many panels from 9 AM to 4 PM, and then an interview with Louise Penny by her good friend Rhys Bowen during which I came to understand whence the gentle and kind, but formidable, Inspector Armand Gamache came. That evening was the Agatha awards banquet, during which Louise Penny touched all our hearts speaking about the writing journey she traveled with her late husband, Michael, who inspired Gamache. I sponsored my own table, bringing my Alaska-themed swag bags (birch syrup candy, a fridge magnet and a small vial of gold flakes). I thought about collecting some moose droppings and covering them in glitter. Maybe next year. Or, maybe not.
My panels were on Sunday morning. In the new author breakfast sponsored by Mystery Scene Magazine, newly published authors are interviewed for a few minutes about their book while everyone is treated to fruit and baked goods. Then, I had a lot of fun serving on the Law & Order panel with moderator Robert Downs, and authors Bruce Robert Coffin, Roger Johns, Catherine Maiorisi and Michael Rubin.
That afternoon, Lori Rader-Day interviewed Catriona McPherson. Who knew Catriona has PhD in Linguistics? Who knew her thesis had something to do with things that don’t exist (it was way over my head.)? And that she quite a teaching job at a university to write, moving to an old farmhouse that she wrote into The Child Garden? And that she’s releasing three books this year! The very funny Scot-Free, the next Dandy Gilver coming out soon, and a new stand alone in the autumn.
I always stay for the Agatha Tea on Sunday afternoon complete with finger sandwiches, scones and pretty little cakes. Like any good party, no one wants it to end, and the tea is another chance to linger.
The new digs, Marriott Bethesda North, was easy, convenient and made us feel welcomed. Ellen Byron and Gigi Pandian escorted this frightened-of-the-big-city Alaskan through the metro (underground railroad) from the airport to just across the street from the hotel. The metro isn’t that bad! It’s kind of like the Disneyland monorail – without princesses.
The hotel had five elevators, all of which worked, a breakfast buffet that included tasty gluten-free choices, a gym that I walked past several times, and a small Starbucks stand. The convention center is attached to the hotel and is mostly above ground. It only took ten minutes to travel from my ninth-floor room to the banquet rooms on the first floor and then another few minutes downstairs to registration, the dealer room, hospitality room, and smaller meeting rooms. And, room service delivered warm, delicious food within 20 minutes of ordering no matter how busy the restaurant was.
Good thing UPS sets up a shipping room on Sunday. There was no way I could get my haul into the one bag I had brought.
Big thanks to Alaskans Patricia Watts and Glen Klinkhart who both donated their books along with mine for our Alaska-themed silent auction package. Together with the other silent and live auction bids, a total of $22,000 was raised for Keen Greater DC’s children literacy program.
Mark your calendar for Malice Domestic 31: May 3 – May 5, 2019. Registration discounts are available until 9/30/18. And if you sign up before December 31, you will be asked to nominate your favorite 2018 releases for an award. Visit the website: www.MaliceDomestic.org.
Do I see wildlife in urban Alaska? Why, yes, I do!
This wretched ungulate is moseying away from my front yard after having eaten my roses. I’m not a wildlife biologist, but I’m getting the idea that when a developer drops a subdivision in the middle of a moose trail, the moose don’t care.
I’ve lived in this house for twelve years and every winter, a cow and a calf wonder down the hill every night in the exact same pattern. First they eat what used to be my maple tree and is now a maple shrub, then they come across the my driveway and forage the front yard. Used to be they ate my lilac, so I moved it to the backyard thinking they would be discouraged. But nope: they eat roses too.
I’ve seen one wolf up close in the wild and that was on my back deck when I had a condo that overlooked a lake. The property wasn’t fenced in the back. He just leapt up on to the deck, looked in the window, looked around and left. I was so stunned, I didn’t think to grab a camera. People will tell you wolves are shy. But here in Alaska, they kill dogs, stalk humans and have killed a few, so I’m glad the glass was between us.
I’ve seen more bear up close than I care to, mostly back in my hiking days. In my first bear confrontation, we met a mother black bear with three cubs climbing a tree. She charged us but we held our ground waving our walking sticks, yelling and making ourselves look big. I was yelling, “Please don’t eat me, Mrs. Bear.” It worked.
The second time, a bear chased a rabbit in the brush. There was quite a bit of trashing — I think the rabbit lost. We went the long way around to avoid the scene.
The third time, we were coming downhill and the bear was going uphill on another trail just a couple of feet parallel to ours. The woman in front, not me, was too busy talking to see the bear so it was four feet away before we all noticed each other. It didn’t care and kept going. We quit hiking at that location.
In my last bear encounter, a woman known as The Old Hag and I were hiking in springtime when we were stalked. We knew it was a bear because it was making lots of noise in the brush but it wasn’t tall enough to see. And that was the last time I went hiking in bear country.
We have nice wildlife too or at least wildlife that doesn’t want to eat people. There are eagles nesting somewhere near my house. I see them teaching their babies how to fly every summer. The geese pass through Anchorage and some hatch their young here. In Alaska, traffic stops for a goose and goslings and it’s a perfectly acceptable reason to be late to work. Just the other day, I had to brake when a red fox ran across the road in front of my car.
What about you, Mysteristas? Do you have any wildlife, urban or otherwise, where you live?
This is a sundog. If the sun is high enough in the sky, it will be completely encircled by a rainbow. Most of the time, however, sundogs appear when the air is crisp and cool, which means late winter, which means the sun is hovering just above the horizon in Anchorage, Alaska, and blinding you if you have the misfortune of driving south on your way home. You learn to drive with one hand blocking the sun.
In Alaska, we don’t call spring “spring”. We call it “break-up”. Not because a long winter is hard on relationships (it is), but because river ice starts moving. The television show Northern Exposure called this time of year “crack-up”, the premise being that all of the characters were stressed to the max until the river started moving and then they felt relief because of some mystical relationship with the river ice. Unfortunately, there is no sudden relief from cabin fever in the spring. It ebbs away slowly.
So very slowly. Especially this year. But I digress.
Up Fairbanks-way, someone got the great idea to freeze a tripod in the middle of the Nenana River and connect it to a clock on land which is triggered when the tripod starts moving. I am not making this up. It’s been going on since 1917. Here’s the website: Nenana Ice Classic.
Betting on that exact date and time has been a popular spring pastime. The tickets don’t cost a lot and I must admit that I’ve entered on a few occasions, but the disappointment at having not won isn’t worth the $2.50 expenditure, especially if one’s cabin fever has not ebbed away yet. Which it hasn’t. So I quit playing.
Another prominent feature of break-up are potholes. Freeze and thaw are hard on pavement and most roads are completely repaved every three to five years (it seems), which leads to the season known as “road construction” (“summer” to the rest of you). Potholes are everywhere so there is a lot of weaving on the roads trying to avoid them when snow first melts because they will destroy your car. The City of Anchorage even has a pothole hotline for people to call in reports and it is pretty good about getting them patched quickly.
And this is how my break-up is faring this year: more snow, sundogs and potholes.
How is it going in your part of the country? If your tulips are coming up, I really don’t want to know. Tell me something horrible. Make it up if you have to.
Reno, Nevada – It’s Sunday March 25, 2018 and I’m packing my bags for the airport after this amazing convention. It all started with receiving a canvas tote bag filled to the brim with books.
Some of the highlights for me were the Author Speed-dating event where pairs of authors circulated amongst tables talking about their books and the New Author Breakfast where authors were called to the microphone to introduce themselves and their works, the opening ceremony and the banquet. As a newly published author, I participated in both events.
There were panels galore. Mysterista Becky Clark was elegant as always serving on the Birth of the Blues: Going from Idea to Story with Pantsers & Plotters. I had a blast on the panel of Jailhouse Rock: the Legal System in Crime Fiction.
We were so excited to celebrate Mysterista alum Cynthia Kuhn’s nomination for Best Humorous along with Ellen Byron, Marla Cooper and Donna Andrews. And their panel, as one would expect, was one of the funniest.
Congratulations to the Lefty winners: William Kent Kruger for Sulfur Springs (best mystery), Kellye Garrett for Hollywood Homicide (best debut), Rhys Bowen for In Farleigh Field (best historical) and Ellen Byron for Cajun Christmas Killing (best humorous).
This Lefty felt like one giant party. Lots of friends, laughter, good food and celebration of each other’s accomplishments. I, for one, am looking forward to the next Left Coast Crime in Vancouver, BC.
Every Saint Patrick’s Day, I prepare a full Irish breakfast for the family. It seems only fitting that we gorge ourselves in honor of those who left our ancestral home in search of food. I generally make enough food to feed the entire family and have leftovers for one day because the kitchen will be trashed. It’ll take all weekend to get it clean when I wake up from my nap.
Starting at the 12 o’clock position and going around the plate clockwise, this includes:
Black pudding. It’s really a sausage. What’s in it? Don’t ask.
Baked beans. I make them myself in a crockpot using dried beans that I had soaked overnight, then simmered for 40 minutes, then dumped in the crockpot with the other ingredients and added a little extra water, cooked on high for 4 hours. Perfecto.
Rashers. It’s bacon, really. Tastes kind of like Canadian bacon.
Fried potatoes. Skin on, please. All the flavor is in the skin.
Irish soda bread. I use a gluten-free recipe from Annalise G. Robert’s Gluten Free Baking Classics. The thirteen-year-old grandson deigned that he would eat that for breakfast every day.
Juices, Irish breakfast tea and coffee
If you can’t find black pudding or rashers at your local store, you can order them on-line from Food Ireland: http://www.foodireland.com/. I order from them every year and have always been happy with how quick the food came. And, they have Mars bars!
In the continued effort to share tasty things to do with last summer’s fish, I bring you two recipes.
Baked Salmon Filet
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Place filet in baking dish or sheet. In this picture, I baked a 1.5 lb. king salmon filet my daughter caught last summer.
Dot the fish with butter. Add salt and pepper, garlic powder and dill.
Loosely tent with foil.
Bake until you can smell it in the next room. That took 45 minutes for this filet. It should look dry in the middle and skin should come off easily.
Note: if you line the pan with aluminum foil before you bake the salmon, when you lift the fish off the foil, the skin will stick to the foil. Two benefits: You know the fish is done, and it gets rid of the skin (in case you think skin is yucky).
Pirok (Russian Fish Pie)
This recipe comes from my friend Ron Newcome with a post script from Jaime Hidalgo.
6 cups cooked rice
½ medium head of cabbage, diced
5 medium carrots, shredded
1 large onion, diced
Sauté vegetables in butter or margarine.
Line the bottom of a pan with pie crust. Layer with ½ of sautéed veggies, layer salmon next, add salt and pepper. Lightly stir eggs (Jaime says add some Worcestershire sauce), spread over fish, layer remaining veggies, then remaining rice and then put on top crust, seal edges, puncture holes and bake 1 hour at 350.
Note: that’s a lot of food; it would easily fill two pie pans. I baked it without the crusts in a casserole to make it gluten-free. It was quite tasty. But had no eye-appeal so I didn’t photograph it.