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Yellowed Recipe Cards

In Murder at Barclay Meadow, after retreating to her late Aunt Charlotte’s farmhouse to recover from learning of her husband’s affair, Rosalie Hart discovers a yellowed recipe card. Charlotte’s five grain bread recipe is written in uneasy cursive letters, smudges and stains dotting the card from years of use.

During summer visits to her aunt’s farm, Rosalie and Charlotte would make bread together. “Rosalie,” Charlotte would call to her. “Come and dust some flour on your hands and drop the dough on the bread board.” Once she was by her aunt’s side, Rosalie would cinch an apron around her waist and dip her small hands in the flour, feeling its coolness.

“Like this?” Rosalie would say.

“Perfect. Now knead it with every part of your hands: fingers, palms, and fists.”

Rosalie gave the bread a firm punch.

Aunt Charlotte smoothed Rosalie’s hair. “Don’t think, just breathe through your young heart. Bread’s very essence allows us to nurture those we love, and feel connected to the good solid earth. You know, my dear, for me, baking bread is like coming home.”

Finding the recipe was Rosalie’s first step toward healing her wounded heart. Her love of cooking and nurturing others was reignited. Before long she began selling her bread in town and by the second novel, Death at the Day Lily Café, Rosalie has opened her own restaurant.

After my mother died very suddenly when I was in my forties, I felt lost and orphaned. My sisters and I were all devastated and in our own individual ways, had to learn to parent ourselves. Time to be the grown up. But grief is a tricky thing. It can sneak up and sock you in the gut when you aren’t expecting it. And yet it reveals to us how hard we love and what a gift that is.

After we sold my mother’s house, I returned to Maryland with my share of her belongings. I had begged my sisters while dividing the silver, if I could please have her recipes.

One afternoon I untied the ribbon of the box where she stored her magazine clippings and cards, open at the top with accordion pages divided by courses. Under salads I discovered a yellowed index card written in my mother’s familiar script. There was another identical recipe right next to it, only this one was typed. My grandmother loved her typewriter.

“Hollywood Salad.” Muscle memory kicked in and I remembered tasting that delicious salad at Christmas Eve dinner. It was her signature salad and I would always ask her if I could toss it in her rose wood bowl with matching tongs. (I asked my sisters if I could have that too. They are very cool sisters.) My mother would add the homemade croutons she had dipped in garlic olive oil and crack an egg over top. Then I would toss it with verve, a leaf or two of lettuce landing on the formica.

Christmas Eve dinner was a special occasion. Along with Hollywood salad she would serve filet mignon wrapped in bacon that my father purchased and presided over, ensuring it was cooked to perfection, potatoes au gratin, green bean casserole (yes, the one with the crispy onions), and an oyster dish that I could never be cajoled to taste. I was a very picky eater which people now find difficult to believe.

When I attended cooking school in Tuscany a few years ago, our chef, who had visited the United States many times said the one thing she didn’t get about our country was that we devoted an entire aisle of the grocery store to salad dressings.

“All you need is a little olive oil and a few other ingredients, maybe a little lemon, salt and pepper, and there you go,” she had said.

My mother and grandmother must have known this long before I became interested in the culinary arts. I don’t think I have purchased a bottle of salad dressing since.

Hollywood Salad (verbatim)

3/4 quarts mixed salad greens (this fills your large salad bowl about 1/2 full — if you fill the bowl with lettuce, increase other ingredients accordingly.)

1/4 cup garlic-flavored olive oil

1/2 cup unflavored olive oil

1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

Salt and pepper

1/2 teaspoon dry mustard

1/2 cup lemon juice (or less, not too much)

1/2 cup roquefort cheese, crumbled

1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

1 raw egg

2 cups croutons (cut sliced bread into cubes, brown slightly in oven)

Cut up greens in salad bowl. Add ingredients in order, including raw egg, unbeaten. At the last moment, dip croutons in remaining garlic oil, and then toss the whole salad together, making sure to mix egg in well. Serve at once. (If you don’t have enough time, it isn’t necessary to dip croutons before adding to salad — they will absorb oil in mixing.) Author’s note — yes it is!

To make garlic-flavored oil, let 3 - 4 cloves of garlic (cut in halves or quarters) stand in 1 cup olive oil for 1 hour or more at room temperature. Only use 1/2 cup for salad, but keep the rest to dip croutons just a second before adding them to salad.

*If you are uncomfortable with the raw egg you can parboil it.

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