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Murder on the Menu

Ginger hurried in the door of Brio shaking rain off her umbrella and stomping her black pumps on the mat. We were meeting for a glass of wine after work as we often did now that we were no longer neighbors.

“Sorry I’m late,” she said as we hugged.

“I’m just happy to see you.” I motioned to Dave, our favorite bartender.

Ginger and I first met twenty years ago. Both new moms who had recently been transplanted to a very small town on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, we were grateful to have found one another. At first we lamented about leaving jobs in larger cites, Houston and Washington, D.C. respectively, and trying to find a way to fit into the close knit community we now called home. But after a few years Ginger and I had settled in like round pegs in snug round holes. In fact I was so taken with the place, I chose it as the setting for my Rosalie Hart mystery series.

A flat stretch of land wedged between the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic, Maryland’s Eastern Shore is a unique part of the country known for its salty watermen, dug-in farmers, and the landed gentry who are hidden by long, tree-lined lanes that lead to their historic estates along the waterways. The residents of this part of the country are insular and proud and you have to earn their trust before you are brought into the fold.

“Tell me everything,” I said to Ginger as Dave set a glass of Chardonnay on a white cocktail napkin before me. “How are your boys? How’s your new puppy? How was your Mother’s Day?” Ginger laughed. She had a kind face with high, round cheeks and dancing brown eyes that made her look perpetually ready for the next adventure. “I’ll start with Mother’s Day. Byron came home from college and made me breakfast. We spent the entire day together.”

“Lucky you.” Fingerprints dotted the chilled glass as I finished my first sip. “He’s such a good cook. What did he make?” “Family fave,” she said. “Banana bread French toast.” Ginger held the stem of her glass with both hands and tasted her Merlot.

“I’m sorry,” I said, “what did you say?”

“Banana bread French toast. You mean you’ve never had it?”

My mouth watered. I licked my lips thinking it sounded like something Elvis would eat. I loved encountering a new spin on an oldie but goodie, such as topping grilled cheese with slow-cooked caramelized onions, or adding basil-infused cream to tomato soup. My thoughts turned to the book I had just completed. I had recently submitted the first draft of the latest in my Rosalie Hart mystery series, Death at the Day Lily Café, to my editor at Minotaur.

In Death at the Day Lily Café, in addition to being asked to clear a friend of murder charges, Rosalie Hart realizes her dream when she opens the Day Lily Café. After several weeks of crowded tables and satisfied customers, she decides to expand her hours to include a Sunday champagne brunch.

I studied Ginger. I needed to rewrite that scene.

She tucked her light brown hair behind an ear. “You okay?”

“I need that recipe,” I said, as I dug through my bag for a pen.

She laughed. “It’s pretty darn good.”

Banana Bread French Toast

Banana Bread

Nonstick vegetable spray

4 large ripe mashed bananas

3/4 cup flour

1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 - 1 teaspoon cinnamon

3 large eggs

1 cup brown sugar

1/4 stick melted butter

1/2 cup lightly toasted chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350º

Coat an 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 inch loaf pan with cooking spray. Whisk flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon in a medium bowl. Whisk eggs, bananas, and butter in a larger bowl until smooth (I like to put the bananas through a food processor first) Add dry ingredients to wet and whisk until just combined. Stir in walnuts. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake until center comes out clean, around 55 - 60 minutes. Remove from pan and allow to cool. Slice bread into 1/2 - 3/4 inch pieces.

French toast

3 large organic eggs

1/2 cup whole organic milk

1/3 cup organic heavy cream

1/4 teaspoon vanilla

Pinch of sea salt

1 Tablespoon organic butter

1 Tablespoon vegetable oil

Powdered sugar

Whisk the first five ingredients together in a medium bowl. Heat butter and oil in a large nonstick frying pan on medium heat. Dip slices of banana bread in mixture until coated. Place in pan and cook each side about five minutes. Keep cooked slices warm in the oven until all slices are cooked.

Sift powdered sugar over each slice and serve with pure maple syrup.

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