Kate Flora: This past Saturday, Ken and I gave our annual holiday party for our neighbors. When one of them asked how long we’ve been giving this party, I pulled out
my ancient copy of Martha Stewart’s Entertaining and checked the publication date. It was 1982. That Christmas, we went to a party for the Board of Appeals and spouses (Ken was the spouse), there was amazing food, and the hostess showed me the book. Ken bought it for me and the next Christmas, our neighborhood party began. It has grown over the years, and on Saturday, about sixty smiling people came through the door.
What, you are perhaps wondering, does that have to do with crime writing? Well, unlike her writing mother (me), Thea Kozak is a working woman who leaves her desk, goes on the road, and often tangles with difficult clients or is called upon to be troubleshooting at private schools instead of tending home and hearth. She wants to be more domestic, but her job doesn’t allow it. Still, like many of us, she thinks about food a lot and early Kate Flora newsletters called “Yours in Crime,” there are always Thea’s Quick and Dirty recipes.
In An Educated Death, she is at a private school in Massachusetts, helping them deal with the death of a student, when the headmistress’s secretary bemoans the fact that she has twenty-five people coming for a party and because of the crisis, has had no time to prepare food. Because of my Martha Stewart cookbook, Thea and I were able to come to the rescue.
The secretary says: “I am supposed to be at home right now getting lots of lovely little snacks and desserts ready for a bunch of our friends. Twenty-five people coming at seven and I’ve done nothing. I don’t care if even more people get killed, I’m out of here at four.”
“Are you really in trouble with your hors d’oeuvres? Because I’ve got some great quick and dirty recipes.”
“I am. I was just going to go to the market and hope for inspiration,” she said, sitting down and picking up her pen. “Shoot.”
Maybe it was heartless of both of us, when Carol Frank and Laney Taggert were both brutally dead, to sit and exchange recipes, but life goes on. And anyway, I had to keep my mind moving or the image of Carol would come back to haunt me. “I hope you don’t mind cream cheese. It’s the staff of life.”
“Not at all.”
“Get some smoked trout or bluefish. About half a pound. You have a food processor?” She nodded. “Okay. You mix it with a package of cream cheese, horseradish, and lemon juice. Thin it with half and half if it’s too thick. Great on crackers, wonderful on cucumber slices. Next, a can of crab, another package of cream cheese, a little lemon juice, and a teaspoon or two of curry. Mix it together, put it in a dish and bake for about twenty-five minutes.” I dictated while she scribbled frantically.
“Now, everyone is impressed by piles of food. Doesn’t have to be special, just has to be massive. So get a couple pounds of shrimp. Pile ‘em on a platter on a bed of lettuce, use a green pepper filled with cocktail sauce in the center, and lots of lemon wedges. Do the same with a platter of raw veggies. Use sugar snap peas, red, yellow, and orange peppers, those ready-peeled baby carrots, cauliflower and broccoli. Hollow out a small red cabbage and a small green cabbage, fill one with ranch dressing and one with honey mustard dressing. Belgian endive. Separate it into spears, fill the big end with herbed cheese, arrange on a tray like a flower, and sprinkle with sprouts.”
“Stop,” she said, “this is great but you’re making me hungry. But how do you know all this. You never entertain. You’re always at work. I know you are.”
“I used to have a life once. And my mom is the world’s greatest cook. Don’t forget little smoky sausages and Swedish meatballs with a dish of mustard. Don’t forget toothpicks.”
And just that easily, in one trip to the market and about an hour of prep, dear reader, you, too, can provide an appetizing spread for a holiday party, and still have time to solve a murder.
Of course, there are other things at my party as well, including one pretty quick item that was the #1 hit at this year’s event. Boil a few pounds of mini potatoes. Cool, wrap in bacon skewered with a toothpick, and bake at 400 until the bacon is crisp. Serve with dilled sour cream.
May your life be free of mysteries, except the fictional ones and the burning question of where you hid that gift you bought back in July.
And if you have a quick and dirty recipe of your own, Thea and I would welcome it.