Sabine Parish Sheriff Jack Blake was enjoying a Saints game on a Sunday afternoon. There were pleasant sounds coming from the kitchen. Sounds of food being prepared by people who knew what they were doing. Jack’s wife, Jennifer, was making oyster artichoke soup under the guidance of their friend, Sasha. The sheriff had been friends with Sasha’s parents when they were in college. A generation later, Sasha had befriended Jack and Jennifer’s son when they attended the same university as had their parents.
After living in New Orleans for several years, Sasha now spent most of her time in Europe. But whenever she came home to visit her family, she always made time for a day or two in Sabine Parish with the Blakes.
Now, while he waited for the soup like a Percheron after a hard day’s work, he thought about his recent conversation with Darcey Anderson. She had expressed concern about a Mr. Candy and his daughter, Lottie. They concerned her, she said, because they seemed overly friendly, especially toward Kelli.
He hadn’t mentioned the report he had received only that week regarding the disappearance of three children and their mothers. In all three instances the mothers were single parents and wealthy.He didn’t want to alarm Darcey unnecessarily. He decided to make a phone call and see if he could find a connection. But first, as the two women came out of the kitchen to place a large stock pot and three bowls on the dining table, he would enjoy Sasha’s oyster artichoke soup.
Sasha’s Oyster Artichoke Soup
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 shallot, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon Creole mustard
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 14 1/2 oz can artichoke hearts
1 14 1/2 oz can artichoke bottoms, chopped
2 pints oysters with liquor
2 cups heavy cream
salt & pepper to taste
Heat the olive oil in a stock pot. Saute’ the shallot in the hot oil. Add the garlic and cook for only a minute or two before stirring in the Creole mustard. Mix well.
Pour in the wine. Let it simmer until reduced by about three-quarters.
Add the chicken broth, artichoke hearts and bottoms along with the oysters and their liquor.
Finish with the cream. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Simmer until the edges of the oysters begin to curl. Don’t over cook.
“Good morning, Mr. Candy,” Darcey said as she walked past the large, colorful house three blocks from her own home in New Orleans’ Vieux Carre.
“Good morning, Darcey,” the old man replied. Mr. Candy sat in his wheel chair on the front porch each day. He always seemed glad to see them. He seemed especially fond of Kelli, Trent Marshall and Darcey Anderson’s three year old daughter and she of him. Even now she went running up to the old man to give him a hug and a kiss on the cheek, a gesture that always seemed to delight him.
Kelli looked anxiously at the front door. Sure enough the old man’s daughter, Lottie, appeared. She had inculcated in Kelli an expectation of a warm plate of freshly-baked cookies to show up about this time. The child wasn’t disappointed.
“Hello, Darcey,” Lottie said, brightly. “And I know what you want, young lady!” She held out the tray of cookies to Kelli.
“You can have two cookies, Kelli,” Darcey said.
“Looks like you’ve been doing some shopping, Darcey,” Lottie said.
“Yes. We’re headed to Alaska next week. There were a few things we needed for our trip.”
“Can I help you with those packages?” Lottie asked.
“No, thanks. I can handle’em. We don’t have far to go.”
“Well, anytime you need someone to look after Kelli, don’t hesitate to call on us,” Lottie continued. “You know we just love her to pieces.”
Lottie was always so friendly, so helpful, Darcey thought later as she chopped zucchini and onion in the kitchen of their home on Governor Nicholls street. Sometimes she wondered if the woman was too sweet. There were strange things going on New Orleans. Things that made one suspicious of what at other times would be ordinary common courtesy.
Darcey was preparing sautéed zucchini and onions to accompany the ribeyes she had bought for dinner. Her mother, Betty, and Ivy Ford, Trent’s surrogate mother would be there for dinner. The three women and Kelli would fly out of New Orleans for Anchorage.
Darcey Anderson’s Sauteed Zucchini and Onions
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 ounce zucchini (about half a pound), sliced lengthwise & then crosswise into 1/4 inch pieces
1/2 onion, chopped
8 ounces shiitake mushrooms, stemmed
2 tablespoons dry white wine
2 tablespoons soy sauce
salt & white pepper to taste
In a heavy skillet, heat the butter and olive oil.
Saute the zucchini, onion, and mushrooms in the hot oil and butter until they soften and begin to brown. It should probably take three to five minutes.
Add the wine and soy sauce along with salt and white pepper to taste. Stir to combine.
Continue to cook until the liquid has evaporated and the vegetables are well browned, two or three minutes longer.
Trent Marshall was still in New Orleans when Tom Brennan called.
They had become friends when Trent and Darcey began spending part of the year in Anchorage after A Shooting at Auke Bay. Like Trent, Tom and his wife, Marnie, had been newspaper reporters. While Trent followed his career as an investigative reporter by seeking adventure, Tom became a best-selling author, penning a series of books on true crime in Alaska.
“Hey, Trent,” Tom began the call. “There’s a new restaurant we have to try when you guys get back to Anchorage.”
“Sounds good to me, Tom,” Trent replied. “I’ll be there next week. Darcey will be flying up with her mother and Ivy the following week. Kelli travels better when Betty and Ivy are with her.” Betty was Darcey’s mother. Ivy was the older black woman who became Trent’s surrogate mother when his own parent died suddenly. Trent and Darcey’s daughter Kelli considered both women to be her “Mamaws.”
The Alleyway Grille is in a small building in midtown Anchorage that is a food legend in the city. Dick Sanchis opened the first Arctic Roadrunner in 1964. It soon became the premier local fast food restaurant with Sanchis known as “Your Local Burgerman.” A second, larger Roadrunner on the Old Seward Highway followed and continues as a popular Anchorage eatery.
When Sanchis passed away, his will specified that the original Roadrunner be closed. Fortunately, along came Alan Hammond, a veteran of the kitchen at Chilkoot Charlie’s. Hammond opened the Alleyway Grille in the original Roadrunner building. It was a good day for Anchorage foodies.
Hammond’s years managing ‘Koot’s kitchen might explain the 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 a.m. hours of operation. The Alleyway’s menu has been described as “upscale bar food.” The hours would indicate the restaurant welcomes the crowd hungry after the bars close.
Trent met Tom and Marnie for lunch at the Alleyway. If it was good, he’d come back with Darcey later.
He ordered the Cubano, a hearty sandwich of smoked pork belly, corned beef, onion, and Swiss cheese with Dijon mustard on a Hoagie roll. The combination of taste sensations created a synaptic event on his tongue.
“This,” Trent proclaimed, “is a good sandwich.”
Tom said his club sandwich also was very good. A more traditional offering with ham, bacon, chicken, lettuce, tomato, and pickles, it was brightened by the inclusion of AWG sauce. The house-made sauce, the diners were told, is a southern-inspired spicy aioli with a noticeable hint of cayenne.
Something was bothering homicide detective Christopher Booth. Something he saw at the hospital. There was reason to believe a serial killer was at work. Four patients had died under mysterious circumstances. Circumstances suggesting foul play.
It was true that one of the victims was a government bureaucrat charged with taking bribes to issue permits for questionable projects. The other three were just people who were having a rough time of it.
Whatever it was that Christopher saw lingered tantalizingly at the outer edge of his memory. He decided to drop it. It would, he knew from experience, likely bounce up again in perhaps a more recognizable form.
Christopher and his wife, Nancy Patrick, also a homicide detective, were escaping the Bay area to join their friends Trent Marshall and Darcey Anderson in Anchorage. They were packed and ready. While their luggage held clothing that allowed them to dress in layers responsive to the unpredictable Alaska weather, Christopher was wearing huaraches, the comfortable old shoes he liked to wear when flying.
He called Trent from the airport.
“Hey, buddy,” Trent said. “I was just washing up before going to help Darcey in the kitchen. We plan to do you justice for dinner and justice starts with clean hands.”
Trent said he had a very fine Jamaican rum waiting on his bar to whet their appetites before dinner.
As the wheels were retracted after take off, Christopher settled back in his seat with the thought of a pleasant nap in mind. Suddenly his eyes popped open. Trent’s innocent comments raised the image Christopher had seen in the hospital. He knew who the hospital murderer was.
Christopher rushed off the airplane as soon as it landed in Anchorage to call his colleague.
“Roger, the killer is the maintenance man,” he said.
“Are you sure?” Roger questioned. “How do you know?”
“The way he washes his hands,” Christopher said.
“You call that evidence?” he asked.
“No,” Christopher said. “I call it probable cause to look into the man’s background. I saw him washing his hands while you and I were talking. Your back was to him so you couldn’t see what he was doing. He spent a good five minutes washing his hands. He paid particular attention to his nails.”
“So what?” Roger exclaimed, sounding a big exasperated. “So he’s a clean maintenance man. Good for him.”
“Roger, maintenance men don’t wash their hands like that. But doctors do,” Christopher said. “Trust me on this. See what you can find out about the man. I’ll bet you will find he has a medical background. He’s not who he pretends to be.
The weather was turning cool in Anchorage. The four friends sat inside with a gentle blaze in the fireplace sipping the Jamaican rum Trent provided. There was still enough evening light to allow them to enjoy the magnificent view of Cook Inlet, Mount Susitna, and the distant Alaska Range from the penthouse windows.
Trent and Darcey had prepared a chicken and lobster emince in an orange- cream sauce. An emince is cooked meat, poutry, or even seafood, thinly sliced and served in a sauce. It is sometimes made with leftovers, turning them into elegant meals. Christopher thought he had found a new favorite meal.
Christopher Booth’s Chicken and Lobster Emince in an Orange-Cream Sauce
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 shallot, minced
1 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup fresh tarragon, or to taste
2 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons Triple Sec (or other orange flavored liqueur)
Pour in the white wine. Simmer until it is reduced to about a quarter of a cup. It will take ten to fifteen minutes.
Toss in the tarragon and add the heavy cream. Simmer the sauce until it is reduced by half. Add the Triple Sec. Let the sauce simmer for a minute or two longer to allow the liqueur to permeate the sauce.
Stir in the chicken and lobster.
Season to taste with salt and white pepper.
Serve over rice.
“Good morning, Roger,” Christopher answered the call.
“I don’t know how you did it,” Christopher’s colleague said, “but you were right. The maintenance man is our guy.”
“What did you find out?”
“He’s been working here for almost a year under the name Dylan Burns. His real name is Franco Liston. And you were right. He was a doctor in Arizona. The hospital there began having a similar series of murders. Liston was suspected but he disappeared before he could be arrested,” Roger explained.
“It’s a bit weird,” Christopher said.
“Yeah, he’s set himself up as judge, jury, and executioner,” Roger said. “The biggest problem, however, is that some of the people who have died are perfectly innocent. Liston gets it in his mind that they’re not good people and decides to deliver his own brand of justice.”
“Well, he’s out of business now,” Christopher observed.
“Thanks for your help,” Roger said. “Now go enjoy your vacation.”
Christopher thought that was good advice. He dragged himself out of bed and set out for the kitchen. The memory of the delicious chicken and lobster emince from the night before lingered on his tongue. He was anxious to see what breakfast delights awaited.
Retired Alaska State Trooper Colonel Robert Monk wasn’t sure he was comfortable with the conversation.
Monk, a lifelong bachelor, had learned enough about the kitchen to feed himself. He even had a few dishes for which he was well known. He was standing at his stove now stirring one of them. Sweet potato soup. A special request from his younger colleague Leland Fleming. Trudy Fleming stood beside Monk sautéing locally-caught spot shrimp heavily spiced with cumin.
Trudy’s husband sat at the kitchen table sipping on a peach martini. Another special request, it was a cocktail Monk had learned from his friend Trent Marshall.
Leland Fleming was also a retired Alaska State Trooper Colonel though he was barely fifty years old. He was forced to retire after being diagnosed with a terminal illness. The diagnosis cut short what Monk had thought would be a brilliant career in law enforcement.
“Robert, we’re not going to let you get all teary on us,” Trudy said. “We’ve done our crying and we’ll do more. But we’re going to enjoy as much time together as we have left. And we’re going to laugh as much as we can.”
“Trudy’s right, Robert,” Leland agreed. “We’re going to live every minute we have left to the fullest. We’re going to do everything we want to do while we can still do anything. Who knows? I might even write a book.”
“If you write a book, I claim the right to edit it,” Trudy laughed.
“Granted,” Leland responded. “Tonight I wanted to try one of these peach martinis and have some of your sweet potato soup. And spend some time telling lies and talking about old times with you.”
Leland took another sip of his martini. He turned slightly serious.
“You know, Robert, we always heard that your life flashes before your eyes as you’re dying,” he said. “That’s true in a way but they don’t have it quite right.”
Now he had Robert’s full attention.
“It doesn’t flash by,” Leland continued. “It moves by slowly. Day by day. And it’s more than just watching it move by. You also develop an understanding of why things happened the way they did. Why you made the mistakes you made.”
Leland was silent for a moment.
“When you’re moribund, Robert,” he continued, “it’s comforting, even if you’re not forgiven, to at least have an explanation for how you lived your life.”
Robert filled bowls with sweet potato soup.
Trudy laid a few sautéed shrimp on top of each bowl.
The three friends ate and told lies and talked about old times and laughed.
Robert Monk’s Chunky Sweet Potato Soup with Cumin Shrimp
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/2 onion, chopped
4 cloves minced garlic
2 tablespoons grated ginger
2 sweet potatoes, peeled & cut into bite size pieces
4 cups vegetable broth
Creole seasoning to taste
2 teaspoons Thai curry paste
juice of 1/2 lime
1 pound shrimp, peeled
1 tablespoon cumin
salt to taste
In a Dutch oven or stock pot over medium high heat, saute the onion in one tablespoon of olive oil until soft. Add the garlic and ginger. Give the vegetables a quick stir to combine before adding the vegetable stock, lime juice, and sweet potatoes. Season to taste with the Creole seasoning and mix in the curry paste.
Lower the heat to medium and simmer for fifteen to twenty minutes, or until the sweet potatoes are softened.
In a non stick skillet over medium heat, saute the shrimp in the remaining olive oil. Season with the cumin and salt to taste.
Ladle the finished soup into bowls. Lay a few shrimp on top of each bowl of soup.
After his friends had left, Monk poured himself another peach martini. He stood in the great room looking out the large window at the magnificent view of Gastineau Channel and Douglas Island.
Trent Marshall didn’t have a good feeling about Peter Sanford Herrin, as the man introduced himself on the telephone. Trent found Peter Sanford Herrin to be prone to malapropisms and pure balderdash. He was, as Ivy would say, “eaten up with himself.” Trent wasn’t impressed.
Peter Sanford Herrin had a matter he wanted Trent to investigate. He asked if they could meet for lunch. Trent named a restaurant, one that he and Darcey had found to be as pretentious as Peter Sanford Herrin appeared, though the food wasn’t bad.
After the trio introduced themselves, they ordered martinis and studied the menu while they waited for the cocktails to be served. When the waiter returned, Trent and Darcey ordered Salisbury Steaks with Béchamel Sauce. Peter Sanford Herrin said he would have the same.
“Are you sure that’s what you want?” Darcey asked.
“Well, yes,” Peter Sanford Herrin replied. “It’s hard to go wrong with a steak and the sauce sounds good.”
“Oh yes,” Darcey said. “Béchamel Sauce is the first of Escoffier’s five French mother sauces. And the most versatile.”
When the waiter returned with their dinners, Peter Sanford Herrin looked surprised.
“What’s this?” he asked.
“It’s what you ordered,” Trent said, not looking up. “Salisbury Steak with Béchamel Sauce.”
“But…but it’s hamburger with rice and gravy,” Peter Sanford Herrin sputtered.
“That’s what we call it on the farm,” Darcey said.
Peter Sanford Herrin took a bite.
“Yep,” Trent said, still not looking up.
When he did look up, he declined to look into the matter of concern to Peter Sanford Herrin. Something to do with cabotage, which once applied only to ships but now seemed to include any method of transporting cargo. Trent wasn’t interested. It sounded boring, and boredom was the only thing that frightened him.
Trent and Darcey often make a Béchamel sauce at home. It’s easy and, as they say on the farm, rice and gravy is good with most anything.
Four of the five mother sauces start with a roux, a mixture of oil and flour. Hollandaise is the only one that is not.
Trent and Darcey’s Béchamel often takes on a pink hue because they add a little paprika. It’s one of their favorite spices. The paprika is entirely optional.
They also often opt for white pepper. Freshly ground black pepper is more commonly used.
Here’s their recipe for Béchamel sauce. It’s pretty much the same the world over.
Haute cuisine. Country cookin’. Take your pick. Either way it’s good eatin’.
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
salt & white pepper to taste (or freshly ground black pepper)
1 tablespoon paprika (optional)
Melt the butter over medium high heat. Add the flour and stir constantly until the butter and flour are well combined. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Add the milk a little at a time, continuing to stir to combine the liquid with the roux.
When the milk and roux are fully combined, let the mixture simmer until enough liquid has evaporated to bring the sauce to the desired thickness.
As they say on Governor Nicholls Street in New Orleans, Bon Temps!
Homicide detective Nancy Patrick’s hand went involuntarily to the nickel plated Smith & Wesson .357 magnum on her hip as she stared in wonder at the creature in the kitchen.
Since Nancy and her husband, homicide detective Christopher Booth, had become friends with Trent Marshall and Darcey Anderson, they had been involved in one adventure after another. Most involved fast cars, criminals, guns, and fighting for their lives. So it was when they arrived in Alaska after A Shooting at Auke Bay.
More pleasant were the adventures that began “when the sun went over the yardarm” at five o’clock daily. It was a time when refreshing cocktails or fine wines were poured. Cocktail hour was always followed by amazing meals. Some as complicated as the kolety, sort of a Russian version of a burger made with pork. It was a welcome departure from the scrambled eggs, ham sandwiches, buckets of chicken, and pizza that had been the staples of the Booth-Patrick household.
Now Nancy was staring at the three king crabs who were staring back at her with their twin eye stalks, which seemed to search the room, moving independently of each other. It was little wonder Nancy was startled by the giant crustaceans. Even for a species known for its large size, these specimens were giants. Each had a carapace of nearly eleven inches in diameter. Their leg spans looked to be six feet. Monsters.
Later, when the confrontation in the kitchen had passed, Nancy joined the small group in the large sitting room for French 75s, Trent’s signature cocktail. The crabs were cooked quickly in boiling water and served simply with drawn butter. The “Sourdough” Alaskans showed their new “Cheechako” friend, Nancy, how to cut through the shells of the leg segments to extract the long lengths of sweet meat. Dipping it into drawn butter is all that’s necessary for king crab.
What are your thoughts on king crab? What’s your favorite way to eat it?
Don’t forget that I’ll be hosting a book release and signing party for A Shooting at Auke Bay on August 3rd at Mexico in Alaska. Let me know if you’d like to be invited. Who knows? You might even meet Trent and Darcey!
Darcey Anderson was puzzled by the riddle her husband, Trent Marshall, posed as they cruised north on their chartered yacht in A Shooting at Auke Bay.
“I want Mexican food when we get to Anchorage,” she announced.
“Then go to Mexico,” he said, “but don’t leave Anchorage.”
“What did he mean?” Darcey asked Robert Monk, the retired Alaska State Trooper commander who had been a friend of Trent’s dad. “Do you know?”
“He meant you should meet Maria-Elena,” Robert said.
“Maria-Elena?” Darcey repeated. “Does she have a last name?”
“She does,” Robert replied, “but you don’t need it. Maria-Elena is a legend in Alaska.”
Maria-Elena opened Mexico in Alaska in 1972. From the beginning her restaurant was a favorite of Anchorage diners.
She is known not only for the excellent Mexican food she brought to table but for her kindness and gentle disposition. One couple tells of the time their baby was acting up a bit, complicating their attempt at lunch. Maria-Elena took the baby in her arms and walked around the restaurant, comforting the child, letting the stressed parents enjoy a relaxing meal.
“Let’s go,” Darcey said, after hearing Robert’s answer to Trent’s riddle.
Maria-Elena met them with her usual warm smile. She showed them to an excellent table and personally took their order.
Robert ordered a carne deshebrada, or shredded beef taco, and beef tamal. Darcey ordered lighter fare while staying within the realm of the Mexican kitchen. A chicken salad. Mexican style.
When the large bowl was placed in front of her, Darcey said, “Now that’s a salad!”
Robert was very pleased with the taco and spicy tamal placed in front of him. The excellent quality for which Maria-Elena was known.
They left somewhat later, pleased with their meal, taking with them a container of hot salsa and a package of flour tortillas, both made in house.
Even better, Maria-Elena agreed to host a book release and signing party for A Shooting at Auke Bay on August 3rd. Let us know if you’d like to be invited! You might even meet Trent and Darcey!
New Orleans Homicide Detective Jordan Baron tossed the new book, A Shooting at Auke Bay, aside. The book was a good read. A great read! But he wasn’t happy. He called Darcey Anderson.
“You need help, Darcey,” he pointed out. “You have two California cops joining you in Alaska and some old retired state trooper up there who none of us even know. I don’t get why you don’t want me with you.”
“Because I need you at the Pines, Jordan,” Darcey Anderson replied. “I need you backing up the sheriff to protect my mother, Ivy, and Kelli.”
Darcey’s mother, Betty, Trent’s surrogate mother, Ivy, and Kelli, Trent and Darcey’s three year old daughter, had been sent back to Louisiana after the shooting. Darcey thought they would be safe there.
Jordan still wasn’t happy. He plopped himself down on the large, comfortable couch in the sitting room of the old house and found a movie about the Allies saving a companile during World War II. He didn’t know why the Nazis wanted to destroy a centuries old bell in an Italian church. Pure meanness, he thought. The why didn’t matter. The plot fit his mood.
Betty and Ivy thought serving Jordan a good dinner would make him less disagreeable.
“What’s your favorite meal for dinner, Jordan?” Betty asked.
“Breakfast,” was Jordan’s sarcastic reply.
Betty and Ivy gave each other a knowing look. They had this.
Spinach from Betty’s garden with ham, cheese, and eggs made a sort of faux quiche that was satisfying. Comfort food.
An hour later, Jordan’s belly was full.
He had two motherly women fussing over him.
He was feeling better.
Jordan Baron’s Ham & Spinach Faux Quiche
1/2 onion, chopped
2 green onions, chopped
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
10 ounces fresh baby spinach
1/2 pound ham, minced
4 cloves roasted garlic, minced
4 – 6 slices bread, or enough to cover the bottom of a casserole dish
1 1/2 cups milk
1 teaspoon dry mustard
salt & pepper to taste
1/2 pound grated Cheddar cheese
Preheat the oven to 350.
In a heavy skillet, saute the onions and green onions in the combined butter and olive oil.
When the onions have softened and begun to take on a little color, toss in some of the spinach. A couple of handfuls will probably fill the skillet. Fold the spinach into the onions as it cooks. It will reduce dramatically in size. When the first batch has reduced, add more spinach. It’ll probably take about three batches before all the spinach is cooked down.
Add the ham and roasted garlic. Stir to combine.
Lay slices of bread on the bottom of a casserole dish. Tear one piece of bead into pieces if necessary to cover the entire bottom of the dish.
Spread the spinach and ham mixture evenly over the bread slices.
In a separate bowl, mix the eggs, milk, and dry mustard. Add salt and pepper to taste. Beat vigorously. Pour the liquid over the spinach and ham mixture.
Cover generously with the grated cheese.
Bake for about half an hour, or until the cheese is melted and golden.
Jordan wants to know what your favorite breakfast for dinner meal is.