My friend Ro lived, as we said in academia, in “the Real World.” In fact, she lived in the realest RW of all—New York City. Her glamorous job there kept postcards coming from Bali, Hyderabad, and like locales which, thanks to my superior American geographic education, I could place with pinpoint accuracy as possibly being in this solar system.
She also sent us an annual subscription to my favorite fantasy magazine, Gourmet, which documented the lives of BURPS (Beautiful Urban Rich People). BURPS are just like me except for having enormous disposable income, complex coffee makers, and regular sleep cycles. In a typical article, the author might first discuss a balloon tour of Indonesian chateaux specializing in yak cheeses, followed by a few basic recipes in which the main ingredients are asterisks:
Stir Fried Yak
- Large Yak, diced*
- Extra-virgin olive oil**
- 3 tablespoons saffron***
- *available in Indonesian specialty stores
- **available in Miss America contestant stores
- ***available to those with large trust funds
The first time I saw a recipe calling for saffron, I thought I should have some on hand for whenever I was feeling nouvelle. That was before I discovered that saffron, with the possible exception of children’s shoes and antibiotics, is the most expensive substance known to man. This has to do with its quaint production technique. Every autumn, thrill-seeing IRS auditors are sent out to refine their fine motor and detail skills by harvesting the small purple crocus blooms from which they must hand-pick out the pistil. Since it takes 48,000 pistils to make one pound of saffron, you can see how IRS employees achieve their finely-honed sensitivity and sense of humor.
Like the epicurean-inclined BURPs, I thought we Taubs should also strive to become intrepid summer travelers who comb the world (well, the neighboring states anyway) in search of gourmet adventure. Taking my cue from Gourmet’s gastronomically-peripatetic writers, I decided to document our sojourn to West Virginia’s yet-to-be-famed resort, Bluestone Lake State Park Campsites.
The first sight of its semicircular campsite groups, linked by paved paths to the trash cans and restrooms, and offset by the lake glittering beyond, spells pure summer glamour. Guests may choose between two levels of accommodation. For classic elegance, many prefer the Electric Hookups, a discreet colony of recreational vehicles (caravans for my UK readers). Their rustic exteriors are set off by attached screened rooms festooned with electric lanterns, many in trendy shapes such as deceased fish or severed animal heads. The home-away-from-home mood is leisured and civilized, with wet bars (both bottles) and casual apparel draped gaily over lines strung between poles. In the evening, guests recline on folding chaise lounges, relaxing to the pleasant televised refrain of Gunsmoke’s James Arness shooting anything in a black hat.
We, however, chose to ‘go native’ within the less formal accommodations of the Primitive Sites. Ours proved to be an attractive 9×12-foot slab where our tent almost fit into the space between one neighbor’s VW bus and the road. We dined al fresco, a plastic tarp providing shelter from the beating native sun which changed so amusingly to rain every time we attempted to light our cookfire.
Visitors to Bluestone should time their visit to catch a spectacle not to be missed—Saturday night among the natives who couldn’t afford hotel rooms by the hour. Out of the cities they pour, eager to practice their quaint nocturnal rituals. The memory of the night remains fresh—the soft roar of motorboats on the lake, the sound of breaking bottles, voices raised in boisterous songs in which every other word starts with ‘F’ and ends with ‘K’, roving bands of youths, competing strains of boom-boxes at full volume, my husband holding me down in our tent and repeating, “You can’t scream threats at them; they’re all armed.”
Native chefs, renowned for presenting dishes that are both inventive and classic, offer menus with flamboyant and adventurous touch:
- Amuse-bouche: Budweiser
- Aperitif: more Budweiser
- Vin: Bottle d’Brown Paper Bag
- Appetizer: Chips a la Cheez-Whiz*
- Entree: Blackened Hot Dog*
- Dessert: Blackened Marshmallow*
*available at campsite store, an amusing shop adazzle with color and objets du camp.
I was anxious to share these experiences with you, my readers, so that I can document them as a legitimate business expense on my newest work of fiction, the tax return which I’m about to present to the next available pistil-packing IRS agent. Bon Apetit!
I can’t resist adding my review below of a summer dog story, A Star-Spangled Mayfair by Kassandra Lamb.
A Star-Spangled Mayfair: A Marcia Banks and Buddy Mystery (The Marcia Banks and Buddy Cozy Mysteries Book 8)
- Genre: Contemporary Cozy Mystery
- Author: Kassandra Lamb
A flamboyant fiancé, a “Mob Killer” Roman candle, a yappy rescue dog, and a bison bull named Tarzan.
A recipe for chaos and calamity for Marcia’s introverted friend, Jess Randall.
When not serving up her to-die-for eggs and biscuits at the Mayfair Diner, Jess just wants to live quietly on their farm. But her fiancé Dan has impulsively offered to host the Mayfair Independence Day Extravaganza.
The day of the big bash, Marcia and her dog Buddy witness a public fight between the couple, and just hours later, Dan is found with a Roman candle through his chest. Was it an accident, or was it murder? And is Jess a killer, as the sheriff’s department believes?
Between dog-training sessions, Marcia feels compelled to investigate, especially when there are signs that the real killer may not be finished… Could Jess be the next target?
“Tolstoy’s line kept running through my head, about how happy families are alike, while ‘every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.'”
Newlyweds Marcia and Will should be honeymooning after their recent impromptu wedding. Instead, Will is working the usual long hours of a police detective, while service dog trainer Marcia—that’s Mar-see-a, NOT Marsha—is working with ugly but lovable Fred, her latest trainee dog. Marcia is worried about her friend Jess, a fabulous cook who owns the local diner. Introvert Jess is frustrated by her fiancé Dan, who has just invited the entire town to their farm for a Fourth of July celebration.
Like Marcia, both Dan and Jess are newcomers to Florida and to their small town of Mayfair. Within her diner, Jess is uneasily finding her place, but the more outgoing Dan wants a shortcut to popularity and belonging. As Jess tells Marcia her doubts and questions about Dan’s background and their relationship, a string of unexplained ‘accidents’ begins to escalate, culminating in injury and then tragedy.
As with the other books in this series, unravelling the mystery involves more than just following clues—although there are plenty of those. But it also examines the question of whether ‘opposites attract’ really makes for a healthy relationship, as well as the devastating effect of secrets on love and commitment.
As usual, author Kassandra Lamb plays strictly fair with her readers and with the parameters of the cozy mystery genre, while setting most of them on their sides. While there are no little old ladies with their knitting, no cupcake bakeries, and no cats, we do get all the clues as Marcia discovers them. And I chuckled as Ms. Snark—Marcia’s inner voice who sounds suspiciously like her mother—emerges as a wisecracking, cynical character in her own right. One of the problems with the cozy mystery genre is the thin line between amateur detective and busybody. But in this case, Marcia recognizes that the police are content with the evidence that points to the guilt of her friend, and thus it’s up to her to dig deeper for a truth she’s sure is out there.
I enjoyed the way Jess and Dan’s relationship was a mirror—albeit a flawed one—of Marcia and Will’s story. But although I love seeing Marcia and her Mayfair posse in action, this is really Jess and Dan’s story. Unfortunately, I never felt Dan was three-dimensional or real enough to fully carry that story weight, or understood why (given his own secrets) he would offer to host the holiday celebration.
Overall, A Star-Spangled Mayfair is an entertaining, fast-moving addition to a terrific series. As usual, we get to see more of those wonderful service dogs and learn about their training. Plus Marcia and Will’s own relationship develops as they settle into married life and begin to tentatively consider what that means for their future. I wholeheartedly recommend both this volume and the entire series to anyone who enjoys mysteries and a well-developed, constantly evolving cast of characters.