Sunday, March 23, 2014

Lady Blues: The Food Matters in a "Literary Sine Wave" by Aaron Lazar

copyright 2014 Aaron Paul Lazar

Gus LeGarde, the main character in Lady Blues: forget-me-not, has always loved to cook for his friends and family. Every Sunday he invites his mother-in-law, her cop boyfriend, the reverend from church, his daughter’s fiancé, elderly family friends, Oscar and Millie Stone, and anyone else who he happens to befriend in each new book in the series of ten mysteries starting with Double Forté.

I didn’t plan it this way, but when I wrote the first book and every novel since then, I’ve employed the device of tension and release, or what I like to call the "literary sine wave." I feature an action vignette first – someone’s being chased or there’s a tornado coming, or a saboteur is pulling nasty tricks backstage on high school kids…then when the scene fades, I “pan” to a family vignette. Gus is cooking, or playing with his grandkids, or walking through his gardens. Family is shown in their every day chaos or quiet, and I use these scenes to encourage my readers care about Gus and his family, who will be most definitely threatened in scenes to come.

It just so happens that when we’re the “lower” half of the sine wave, beneath the x axis, if you will, in those quiet times, Gus tends to be cooking.  

I’ve pulled meals from my own life every time I need material for these scenes. Yes, every meal Gus cooks, I’ve probably just cooked the weekend before I wrote that chapter. Yes, in a large family feast. Yes, for lots of family around a table much like Gus’s. But how Gus and I are alike is an article for another day.

Some of my readers have expressed interest in recipes from the books. In Lady Blues, I do feature a fair amount of comfort food.  Problem is, I don’t cook by the book. I just sort of estimate everything and throw things together. That’s how Gus does it, too. But today I’ll try to make things a bit more specific. ;o) Use your own judgment, though. If you need more or less of something to make it work, just do it. We don’t stand on ceremony in the LeGarde…er…Lazar household.

Here are a few of the meals Gus cooked in Lady Blues: forget-me-not. I’m not a recipe writer, I’m a seat-of-the-pants cook. So I hope the quantities I estimated here will work for you.

Scalloped Tomatoes (that’s right, not potatoes!)

This dish is very popular in my house. It’s also very fattening, but we don’t care when it’s a special occasion. It’s also very easy to make. I use frozen tomatoes from my garden, defrosted and drained, but you can use chopped canned tomatoes if you have them, or whole roma tomatoes, canned or fresh. I leave the skins and seeds in, and they taste just fine.

This will feed a huge crowd, and I bake it in an enormous rectangular baking pan, but you can use whatever is handy and cut the amounts in half if you’re serving a smaller family.

Ingredients (roughly estimated)

- 8 cups chopped, diced, or whole plum tomatoes, drained of all liquid (squish ‘em in a colander)
- 8 cups Mozzarella or cheese of your choice, shredded
- 1 pound butter
- 1 box of coarsely crushed ww Saltines or regular Saltines (other crackers or crumbs can work) (I put them in a big baggie and mash them with a rolling pin.)


1. Melt the butter and mix with the crushed crackers. (You can add parsley or any seasonings you prefer, but it doesn’t need much!)
2. Build layers of tomatoes, cheese, buttered crackers (like lasagna) until the dish is full. I usually get about three layers of each.
3. Cover with shredded cheese and/or crumbs.
4. Bake for ~ an hour until the cheese is melted and crispy on top.

That’s it!

(I told you it was fattening, but it’s so delicious, it’s worth the calories!)

Homemade cranberry sauce with pears

This is so easy to make, I often prepare it when we serve baked turkey legs, or turkey patties. I made it for Thanksgiving, too, but I’m the only one who likes it over the gelled type of canned cranberry, LOL. I buy bags of cranberries around Thanksgiving and freeze them for the whole year. That way, I can just grab one from the freezer and make this in 15 minutes.


- One package fresh or frozen cranberries
- 1-2 cups sugar or sweetener of your choice (I used Blue Agave sometimes)
- Two pears, skinned and diced
- Cinnamon
- Nutmeg


1. Place frozen or fresh cranberries and pears in a large stockpot and cover with water.
2. Boil until nearly softened.
3. Add sweetener at the end to make it syrupy. If using sugar, you need several cups to counteract the delicious tartness of the berries.
4. Sprinkle cinnamon and a little bit of nutmeg.

Gus LeGarde is now officially proud of you.  ;o)

 Bavarian Cabbage

This dish goes great with pork chops, mashed carrots and parsnips, or a pork loin roast. Adjust the flavors as you go to suit your taste.


- One head red cabbage, sliced
- Six tart apples, peeled and sliced.
- Two onions, thinly sliced
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Vinegar OR Apple cider, about 1 cup
- Brown Sugar, about 1 cup, but add more or less to taste
- Clove powder, just a tiny sprinkle at the end.


1.     Sautee onions in EVOO until translucent.
2.     Add red cabbage and apples, apple cider (or vinegar).
3.     Cook down until the cabbage and apples are tender, keep stirring.
4.     Add brown sugar to taste halfway through cooking. The color will become more purple/blue as the dish cooks down.  
5.     Adjust flavors until it has a sweet/sour taste and sprinkle just a touch of clove powder in at the end. 


Aaron Lazar

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