Some Samplings from the Cape Cod Foodie Mysteries, Books 1 & 2

An Eggnog to Die For (Book 2)

What’s not to like about a Christmas tree? Just ask Diogi…

I have to admit, buying the Christmas tree was fun. We drove, as we always had, to the parking lot of Turner’s Hardware, where Mr. King, a weathered and taciturn Christmas tree farmer from Maine, had been supplying Fair Harbor with Christmas trees for as long as anyone could remember. The only person more disinclined to gush than an old Cape Codder is an old Down-Easter, but I could tell Mr. King was delighted to see my parents again by the length of his handshake with my dad.

The wind was shifting to the southeast, bringing clouds but slightly warmer temperatures, so wandering around arguing as we always did about blue spruce versus Fraser fir and skinny-and-tall versus short-and-fat was not painful. We settled on a short-and-fat blue spruce, which Mr. King, who was eighty if he was a day, threw into the back of the truck as if it weighed no more than a feather.

Diogi greeted us happily when we got home—until he saw us taking the tree out of the truck. Diogi did not like the tree. A volley of barking greeted the tree. As far as Diogi was concerned, trees belonged in the ground. They were not supposed to move. They were certainly not supposed to move into his house. Which he was responsible for protecting. It wasn’t until we’d wrestled the tree into a corner of the living room and set it up in a rusty old red and green metal holder that my father had found down in the basement that Diogi was satisfied. He still didn’t like that tree, but at least it wasn’t moving anymore.

It’s just not Christmas without a dead Santa…

Our server came over, introduced herself as Erica, and my friends began the lengthy process of ordering. I decided to pass and, while Krista was carefully dictating her order (“Belvedere vodka, straight up, super cold, two lime twists and an order of those sugarcane sticks wrapped with bacon, broiled crisp”), I slipped away for a much needed bathroom break.

But when I got to the ladies’ room, there was one of those yellow “restroom being cleaned” signs in front of it and I could hear Liz the Cleaning Lady at work inside, clanking and clanging. No matter, I knew the restrooms were singles. I’d just use the men’s room. I was pretty sure it was the door to my left, the one with the chair next to it. And, as I was by this time in a bit of a rush, I completely missed the “private” sign on the door when I pushed it open.

So I was just a little confused when I found myself in what was clearly an office, if the sturdy metal desk across from me and matching file cabinet to its left could be trusted. Oh, right. The men’s room was on the other side of the ladies’ room. I started to back out, but was arrested by the sight of the open top drawer of the file cabinet. A fan of manila folders was sticking up raggedly from the drawer and a confusion of forms and correspondence had spilled onto the linoleum floor. And that wasn’t all.

It was only then that I realized that my heart was hammering and why. Next to the papers on the floor, just peeking out from behind the desk, was what looked very much like a boot. A big, shiny, black boot.

None of this was making any sense to my shocked brain.  I moved forward to peer at the floor behind the corner of the desk. Sprawled on the worn linoleum, one hand still clutching a manila file folder, lay the Santa with a nose like a potato, his head neatly caved in at the temple.

Oh god, oh god, oh god.

There was little blood, but that the man was dead was unmistakable. Sightless eyes stared at the wall and the cheeks above the false beard were waxy and pallid. Nonetheless, I crouched down and felt for a nonexistent pulse in a wrist that was already cooling.

Aghast, I stood and stumbled back to the front room, where the Martin groupie was still filming. I gripped the edge of the bar to keep my legs from folding underneath me like a rickety lawn chair.

“It’s Santa Claus,” I stammered with my usual eloquence. “Santa Claus is dead.”

Thus engendering yet another viral YouTube video starring the infamous Samantha Barnes

Why grown men should never wear costumes …

I got out of the truck and scanned the crowd for Jenny and her boys, Thing One, Thing Two, and Thing Three. For the record, their names are Ethan, Eli, and Evan, and they are ten, eight, and six years old, respectively. I finally managed to spot Roland, who, despite the crowd’s preference for holiday headgear, was wearing his usual hideous yellow-and-black-checked wool cap with the earflaps tied securely under his chin. Not for Roland Singleton to choose fun over comfort. And yet Jenny loved him.

I pushed through the crowd and enjoyed a series of high fives with the Three Things. Suddenly, the crowd began to cheer, and I turned back toward the water. Coming around the curve from the narrow, reed-rimmed estuary that leads into Town Cove from Crystal Bay was the Harbor Patrol’s Grady White with Santa Claus standing in the bow, resplendent in his plush red suit and an enormous white polyester beard. As the boat nosed its way up to the dock, he waved one white-gloved hand and the kids in the crowd went wild. All except Evan Singleton.

I like this kid a lot. He is serious and thoughtful and seems much wiser than his six years. Also, he has no filter. He says whatever he is thinking. While his brothers rushed forward to catch one of the candy canes that Santa was now tossing to his adoring fans, Evan stepped back, surveying the scene solemnly. There was a temporary hush when Santa raised his hand for silence, presumably so the crowd could hear him ask the obligatory “Have you been good boys and girls?” But before he could say his line, Evan took the opportunity to pipe up, high and clear, “Santa Claus has a nose like a potato.” Awkward.

Santa Claus did indeed have a nose like a potato, large and bulbous and kind of mashed in on one side, but I didn’t have much time to absorb that fact before my eyes were drawn to something even more disturbing: Jason at the wheel of the Grady White. Not the tall, dark, and handsome Jason I knew and (usually) hoped to know even better. No. This was Jason in an elf costume. With red-and-white-striped stockings and green shoes that turned up at the toes. I had been right about the buzzkill effect of this getup. The sight would be forever burned into my retinas unless I did something fast.

I turned to Jenny. “Get me out of here,” I commanded. “I need a cocktail.”

A Side of Murder (Book 1)

“Okay, so here’s how it’s gonna go down.”

I looked sternly at my dining companions, who were eyeing me warily over the rims of their wine glasses.  They were not used to me looking at them sternly. 

“We order one meat, one vegetarian, one seafood and one pasta entree.”

“Pasta doesn’t count as vegetarian?”

That was Jenny, a mother of three with the body of a sixteen-year-old that she proudly claims is the result of her dedicated meat-and-potatoes-only diet. She was probably worried that I was going to make her order eggplant.

“No.  Pasta doesn’t count as vegetarian,” I explained.  “Some restaurants like to think it counts as vegetarian, but that’s how vegetarians get fat.  That and too much cheese.  No, a real vegetarian entrée is about vegetables.  Maybe with grains or legumes, but the focus is on vegetables, like a ratatouille.”

“Sorry I asked,” Jenny muttered to Miles, who was sitting next to her and had been quietly entertaining himself by checking out the other patrons at the Bayview Grille. “What’s a legume anyway?” she asked him.

Miles looked at her like she’d just arrived from Mars. Miles is a farmer.  What he doesn’t know about legumes isn’t worth knowing.  “Beans, lentils, chickpeas, that kind of thing,” he said. “How do you not know that?”

Jenny shuddered.  “I don’t eat ‘that kind of thing.’ ”

I tried to continue with their instructions.  “Appetizers can be anything you like…”

“Well, hallelujah,” Miles said.  He poked Jenny in the side with one massive elbow, almost knocking her off her chair.  “I’d like that cutie pie over there at the bar.”

I ignored him. 

“Anything you like,” I repeated, “but it needs to make sense with your entrée.”

“I’m lost,” said Helene, running a ring-bejeweled hand through her mane of silver curls.  Helene was Fair Haven’s new librarian. I’d known her exactly 24 hours and couldn’t imagine anyone less like a librarian.

“I’ve been eating out for 40 years,” she said, “and I never once worried if my appetizer made sense with my entrée.  I don’t even know what that means.”

I sighed.  Well, no one had ever said writing restaurant reviews for the Cape Cod Clarion was going to be easy. Actually, I reflected, that wasn’t true.  I was the one who had said it would be easy.

I tried to clarify. “It means that if you’re having the hanger steak for your entrée…”

“That’s mine!” Jenny said, suddenly all in.  “I call I claim the hanger steak.”

I call I claim? What is she, six?

“And a half dozen Wellfleet oysters to start,” she added.

Jenny always had oysters to start.  And, as these were Wellfleet oysters, which are universally acknowledged to be the best on the Cape (and all Cape Cod oysters are awesome), I was surprised she wasn’t starting with a dozen.

“That’s fine,” I said.  “A classic pairing.”

I turned back to Helene.  “If, like Jenny, you’re having the hanger steak,” I explained, “you don’t want to order the barbeque sliders as a starter.”

She nodded thoughtfully.  At least Helene was taking this seriously.  But then she ruined it by saying, “Actually, barbeque followed by steak sounds yummy.”

I gave up.

“I’ll order for all of you,” I announced.  “And once we get our food and you’ve had a chance to taste and consider your choices, I will discretely exchange plates with each of you, one by one, and sample each dish.  Then we’ll discretely switch back again. We’ll go clockwise around the table, starting with Helene.” 

“I’m lost again,” Helene fake-whispered to Miles.

“Don’t you worry, honey,” he said.  “Wait until she gets a glass or two of wine into her.  Then we can do whatever we want.”

He grinned at me, looking exactly like the overgrown five-year-old he was.  If five year olds had big, hairy lumberjack beards.

I began to worry for real.  My dining companions were definitely not taking my first foray into restaurant reviewing seriously enough.  And Miles was right about the two glasses of wine.  I was a notoriously cheap date.  But I was also the night’s designated driver, so no worries there.

“No wine for me,” I said firmly, more to myself than to Miles.  “Even if it kills me.”

A poor choice of words, as it turned out.