Monday, September 9, 2013

Interview with Barbara Ross, Author of the Maine Clambake Mystery Series

Welcome, Barbara! Can you tell me about your Maine Clambake Mysteries...what was the inspiration for the series?
We’ve had a house in Boothbay Harbor, Maine for several years. We bought it from my mother-in-law who ran it as a B&B. The town seemed like such a classic setting for a mystery series.

My agent was throwing out ideas. First one-no. Second one, also no. The third one was just one word. “Clambake.” I remembered my friend and fellow mystery writer Lea Wait had told me her daughter got married at a clambake on a private island in Maine. And we were off!

The Maine Clambake Mysteries feature Julia Snowden, a young venture capitalist who returns to Busman’s Habor, Maine to rescue her family’s failing clambake business.

I adore cozies set in Maine even though I've never visited the state. What do you love about living there?
Maine is a fascinating place. Before America went west, it grew north and south. Maine was a true frontier, filled with people who were philosophically and personally at odds with the Puritans, but who nonetheless were governed by them—a colony of a colony. You can still see that flintiness in people, as well as the suspicion of those From Away. And, Maine is physically beautiful, from seashore to the islands to the lakes to the mountains.

How would you describe a clambake to someone who's never been to one?
Clambakes vary with geography. A Maine clambake is always lobsters, steamers (small clams), corn, and potato cooked over either a wood fire, or rocks heated by a wood fire. The food is covered with rockweed, a type of seaweed and then with untreated canvas, which is hosed down with water to keep it all most. There may be other food as well. At my clambake they start with clam chowder, the main meal includes onions and an egg as well as the rest, and they finish with blueberry grunt and vanilla ice cream.

If you want to go to a clambake on a private island in Maine, I recommend Cabbage Island Clambakes.

Do you love spending time in the kitchen? Any favorite recipe you'd like to share?
The dirty secret is that my husband is the real cook in the family. I figure out all the recipes as they fit into the story, but he researches, creates and cooks them. Then we have a tasting where we both say the words that come into our heads as we eat. It’s fun!

Here’s a recipe from Clammed Up.

Livvie’s Lobster Mac and Cheese

Julia’s sister Livvie is the real cook in the Snowden family and her lobster mac and cheese is delicious. The sharp taste of the cheese with the sweetness of the lobster meat, and the textures—springy noodles, toothsome lobster and crunchy panko breadcrumbs—cannot be beat. Livvie uses local cheeses that may be hard to purchase outside of Maine, but simple substitutions are supplied.

1 lb. elbow macaroni
2 T. butter
2 T. flour
1 1/2 c. milk
1/8 t. grated nutmeg
1/2 lb. grated Hahn’s End Eleanor’s Buttercup cheese (substitute fontina or Monterey jack)
1/2 lb. grated Hahn’s End Old Shiretown cheese (substitute cheddar)
1 lb. cooked lobster meat (approximately four lobsters)
1/2 c. snipped chives

1 c. panko bread crumbs
2 T. butter
1/4 c. parmesan cheese

Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees.

Grease a 9x13 baking dish with butter.

Boil pasta water and cook pasta for approximately five minutes until just barely al dente. Drain well and return to pan. Set aside.
Heat milk to lukewarm, (one minute on High power in the microwave).

Over medium heat, melt butter in a 2-3 quart saucepan. Whisk in the flour stirring constantly for two minutes. Remove from heat.

Add milk slowly, stirring constantly to prevent lumps. Add the nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste.

Return pan to heat and bring liquid to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat and gently simmer for four-five minutes, stirring occasionally until sauce thickens. Pour over macaroni.

Add cheeses, lobster, and chives and gently stir together until combined. Turn into baking dish.

Melt butter and mix with crumbs until fully coated. Stir in parmesan cheese. Spoon over top of the pasta.

Bake for 20-25 minutes. Top should be golden.

Does Julia have any furry friends in Clammed Up?
Yes. I honestly didn’t intend to include a pet. But then I went to the actual Cabbage Island Clambake and saw the island cat working the crowd and caging bites of lobster from kindly old ladies. I thought—how wonderful a life would that be? You’re at the top of the food change on the island—no natural predators--and the humans are cooking up 400 pounds of seafood a day.

My island cat is named Le Roi, after Elvis, The King. He’s a Maine coon cat, because—how many states have their own cat?

What are you working on now?
Boiled Over, the second Maine Clambake Mystery is due September 1, so I am hard at work!

Thanks so much for having me. Hope you enjoy the book.

About Clammed Up: Summer has come to Busman's Harbor, Maine, and tourists are lining up for a taste of authentic New England seafood, courtesy of the Snowden Family Clambake Company. But there's something sinister on the boil this season. A killer has crashed a wedding party, adding mystery to the menu at the worst possible moment. . .

Julia Snowden returned to her hometown to rescue her family's struggling clambake business--not to solve crimes. But that was before a catered wedding on picturesque Morrow Island turned into a reception for murder. When the best man's corpse is found hanging from the grand staircase in the Snowden family mansion, Julia must put the chowder pot on the back burner and join the search for the killer. And with suspicion falling on her old crush, Chris Durand, the recipe for saving her business and salvaging her love life might be one and the same. . .
Meet the author
Barbara Ross’ novel, Clammed Up, first in her Maine Clambake Mystery series, will be published by Kensington on September 3rd. Barbara and her husband own the former Seafarer Inn in Boothbay Harbor, Maine. From her perch on the Seafarer’s wide front porch, Barbara’s had a chance to observe the quirks of life in a small resort town, along with the stunning harbor views.

Barbara is also a co-editor/co-publisher at Level Best Books, which will release its eleventh anthology Best New England Crime Stories 2014: Stone Cold in November.

For more information, check out Barbara’s website, on Twitter or on Facebook.


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katsrus said...

Really cute book cover. This is a new author to me. Will have to add her books to my reading. Never been to a clambake. Sounds fun. Thanks for the recipe. That sounds yummy.
Sue B