Winter-Spring 2018


     Greetings from the depths of the winter doldrums, and what a winter we’ve had. Today, in the middle of February, the temperature is going to be in the low eighties, but tomorrow the high will be in the fifties. We’ve already had our share of cold weather-nights as low as fourteen degrees. My little cottage is cozy, but oh how I long for a fireplace. There just isn’t room. A hibiscus is wintering in my shower (yes, it’s awkward when I shower) and it’s confused, merrily blooming its little heart out.



     Like everyone else, I’m looking forward to spring. And I’ll celebrate it with a new Blue Plate Café Mystery, Murder at the Bus Depot. Here’s the cover—you’re among the first to see it, but I plan to plaster it all over the internet. Kudos to Sherry Wachter for a cover that speaks perfectly to the novel.

     Is the abandoned bus depot a symbol of the worst episode in the history of Wheeler, Texas or does it stand for revitalization, bringing the citizens together with pride in their small East Texas town?

     Kate Chamber’s trouble antenna go up when Dallas developer Silas Fletcher decides to help “grow” Wheeler. She and her brother-in-law, Mayor Tom Bryson, have less spectacular and drastic ideas for revitalizing the town. When Old Man Jackson dies in an automobile accident, the specter of the past comes back to haunt the town. Thirty years ago, Jackson’s daughter, Sallie, was murdered at the bus depot. The murder is still unsolved.

     Kate and Silas clash over almost everything, from the future use of the abandoned depot to a fall festival celebrating Wheeler. Another murder at the depot blows the town apart, and Kate knows she must do something to solve the murders and save her town, let alone the festival she’s planning. And maybe her own life.

     All your Wheeler friends are here—Kate’s partner David, Chief of Police Chester brother-in-law Tom, and difficult sister Donna—along with some new faces, such as the adventure-seeking Steffens of Ohio, Silas Fletcher the Dallas developer, Bronx-born minister Tony Russo and his wife Ambra, and Delia Jackson, survivor in a doomed and sad family.

     I hope you’ll enjoy Kate’s latest adventure. Yes, it’s a mystery, and yes, there’s a murder, but it also deals with a theme that’s close to my heart—the ongoing tension between development and historic preservation.

On my desk

     I’m hard at work on a new Kelly O’Connell Mystery, the eighth in the series. I can hardly believe that. It’s fiction, of course, but it has to do with racism and the current wave of white supremacy that’s sweeping our country. It’s sort of a look at what might happen if that wave hits in Fort Worth. Of course, Kelly dives right into that wave.

     I’ve also been editing a manuscript for another writer. Editing someone else’s work really helps me sharpen my own writing skills. This is a manuscript I like—about a Texas boy who goes to England to fly in the Royal Air Force early in World War II and ends up flying for the USAAF. Of course, he meets a girl in England. I’ve long been fascinated by the story of England during WWII, so I’m enjoying this. Won’t say more except that I’ll keep you posted when this book reaches print.

     And I’m fussing and fiddling in my little kitchen, collecting recipes for my someday cookbook, “Gourmet on a Hot Plate.” I offer one of the recipes below for your dining pleasure. Think you don’t like tuna and spinach? This may change your mind.

     Yep, I’m busy—and loving every minute of it.

On a personal note

     You’ve heard that bad things go in three, I presume? Well, now I’ve had my three—the hip surgery, the hospital episode with an irregular heartbeat, and, more recently, rather major eye surgery. Years ago, I had an artificial lens implanted at cataract surgery, but this fall the lens went a-wandering around my eye. Surgeons had to fish it out and replace it with a new lens It was a lengthy surgery, and I’m glad it’s behind me. My vision improves daily, but the threat of more surgery lurks. I’m taking the view that I’ve had my three, and there’s nothing but good health, positive energy, and great joy ahead of me.

     As of this writing, I’m glad to report that my family, my dog, and I are all well. We enjoyed a family Christmas in a rambling big house in Ruidoso, where there was no snow. With no skiing, the kids managed to keep busy with things like a snow tunnel (I have no idea what that is) and zip lining (which I wouldn’t do if my life depended on it). I was happy in the big family room, with my computer. At night, we had family dinner, all sixteen of us, around a huge circular table. Good times, but I sure did miss my dog.


Reading Notes – some of my recent reading that you might enjoy

     Generally, I’m not a fan of mysteries set in England, and I know nothing about horse racing. Plus, I don’t like novels with cruelty and physical violence. Dick Francis novels have all of those, and yet I’m a huge fan of the late writer. I was delighted recently to stumble on three I hadn’t read. Francis’ protagonist is rarely directly involved in the horse racing world but has ties to it—as a youth, a former jockey, etc. But each novel focuses on a different profession. Proof is about on the wine industry; Wild Horses gallops through movie production, and Dead Heat samples the culinary world at race tracks. All are, of course, set in the racing world. Rumor has it that Francis, an ex-jockey, supplied the plot and details, and his wife did the actual writing; after his death, their son stepped in. At any rate, the series has held up admirably.

     Susan Wittig Albert has another winner in Death Come Quickly, in which herbalist and amateur sleuth China Bayles finds herself determined to solve a cold case—the murder of someone she cared about.

     And in my ongoing search for titles I missed in series I enjoy, I caught up with Max and Annie Darling, of Carolyn Hart’s Death on Demand Series, on their honeymoon—or, well, the honeymoon they had to cancel. It’s all in Honeymoon with Murder. So sorry to see Hart conclude that series.

     Interesting to hear that The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer, will be made into a movie. If you haven’t read the book, run, don’t walk, to the nearest bookstore and pick up a copy. It’s not a mystery—but it is; it’s not a war story—but it is. It’s one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. It’s also about WWII.

From the Gourmet on a Hot Plate

     In the middle of winter, you’d think I’d share a wintry recipe. Then again, we’re looking ahead to spring, and nothing’s better in spring than a light tuna casserole. No, this is not your mom’s tuna and noodles, but it is one of my favorites.

Tuna Florentine

     Tuna and spinach are two of my special foods. This, meant to be a good-sized casserole, is a bit of work but well worth it. Might be a good one to bake in two individual casseroles. I have cut the original recipe in half here, so feel free to double it and bake in batches or whatever works for you.

  • 1 Tbsp. butter or as needed, divided use
  • ½ half small onion or six scallions diced
  • 1 10 oz pkg frozen chopped spinach
  • Salt to taste
  • A good pinch of ground nutmeg
  • 1 7 oz. can oil-packed tuna, preferably olive oil
  • 1-1/2 Tbsp. flour
  • Slight pinch of mace
  • ½ c. grated Swiss cheese
  • 1 Tbsp. Parmesan grated
  • 1 Tbsp. white wine
  • Topping
  • ¾ c. soft bread crumbs
  • 1 Tbsp. Parmesan
  • 2 Tbsp. melted butter
  • Sauté onion in melted butter

Chef Judy!    Cook spinach separately until tender; drain thoroughly, reserving cooking liquid. Add onion and butter, season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Simmer briefly to blend flavors.

     Add milk to spinach cooking liquid to make ¾ cup.

     Drain and flake tuna, reserving oil. Put 1 Tbsp. reserved oil in skillet with ½ Tbsp., more or less, butter and heat to melt butter. Blend in flour, mace, and salt and pepper. Add spinach liquid/milk mixture and stir to create a smooth sauce. Remove from heat, add cheeses and wine. Heat again until smooth. Add tuna.

     Place spinach in bottom of baking dish(es), top with tuna. Add topping, made by mixing melted butter, bread crumbs, and Parmesan thoroughly.

     Bake, uncovered, until lightly browned. In two small dishes, check it at 20 minutes and again at 30.

    (Photo above: Me, if I owned a toque, but I don’t.)

Keep up with me

     I’m always grateful for those who read my blog. You can find it almost daily at Judy’s Stew or there’s a link on my website Judy Alter. I’m on Facebook – Personal Page and Author Page. My Twitter handle is @judyalter. Love to hear from you with comments, questions, suggestions. Keep in touch.


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