Monday, March 06, 2006

Tea and Not Much Sympathy from Me

Goldy Bear and Faith Fairchild are two of my favorite detectives. They have much in common: they are levelheaded, serious women (Faith is married to a minister and Goldy is a pillar of the episcopalian church), they track down murderers, they raise children and make their livings as caterers.

Diane Mott Davidson’s Goldy Bear lives and works in Colorado. In the latest Davidson book, Double Shot, Goldy arrives at the site of a memorial luncheon she is catering. She has stashed the food away in freezers and refrigerators ready for the final warming, set-up and plating. But someone is out to get Goldy and when she arrives at her venue, she is attacked. When she comes to, she discovers the power to the refrigerators was turned off overnight and the food is an odorous mess. In that situation, I would make a quick trip to Kentucky Fried Chicken, strew the greasy breasts with parsley and a choice olive or two and give it a foreign name. But not our Goldy. Unperturbed, she drives home, fortifies herself with a triple shot of espresso and marches into her walk-in refrigerator where she has enough previously prepared food to create a whole new luncheon menu.

Kathryn Hall Page has an equally resourceful protagonist. In The Body in the Snowdrift, Faith Fairchild is staying at a ski lodge owned by friends of her in-laws when the chef suddenly “goes missing.” It is the night of the big Scandinavian shindig and Faith is asked if she can step in and save the day. But instead of rushing straight to the kitchen to poach a moose, she relaxes in the sauna before putting on her duds and overseeing the production of prodigious amounts of glögg, lentil soup and salmon with mustard dill sauce.

How I admire the sangfroid of these two. It is not unusual for me to be in the position of feeding people unexpectedly, which explains why a letter to the Detroit News caught my eye. Gertie from Southfield wanted suggestions for entertaining unannounced guests. Clearly a topic for the Food Editor. Instead, it appeared in the column of the Interior Design guru. She starts off fine and suggests tea, specifically English Breakfast and Darjeeling, both of which I often have on hand. She starts to get unglued when she moves on to food —“small cut-up sandwiches such as watercress or thin cucumber slices with a little butter on fresh white bread with the crusts removed.” Watercress is expensive and if you try keeping it around for surprise guests, you land up with a refrigerator drawer full of green slime. She moves on to suggest scones served with homemade or fancy preserves and clotted cream plus petit-fours and bite-size éclairs. Remember, we are talking about unannounced guests here. And if anyone knows where to buy clotted cream in Detroit, please let me know. Passing over several other quite unrealistic food suggestions, we move on to “pleasant setting.” Here, she really loses me. Her advice includes dim lights, plump pillows, candles and “throw a silk scarf or shawl over the table ...”

Just imagine all the murderers running around undetected while Faith and Goldy are busy taking their clotted-cream-encrusted Hermès scarves to the dry cleaners.

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