by Cynthia Chow
& Robin Allen
This week we have a review of a fun culinary mystery that involves not only food, but a different twist, the main character is vegan. The author Robin Allen also shares a guest post about organic farming and community-supported agriculture. At the end of this post you will find details on how to win a copy of this book.
Out of the Frying Pan: Poppy Markham Culinary Cop Mystery By Robin Allen
Review by Cynthia Chow
As a vegan, Friend of the Farms and supporter of sustainable and organic produce, the Feast in the Field Fundraiser is normally one of Poppy Markham’s favorite events. However, this time she’s stuck escorting her elitist and narcissistic stepmother Nina while her father is off on the links and everyone else seems to be missing. This has Poppy escaping as much as possible and results in her overhearing numerous arguments concerning Dana White, a multiple restaurant owner and new contender for the position of president not Friends of the Farm. Her rivalry with incumbent president Randy Dove has become ugly, involving health code violations, theft of employees and rumor mongering. When Dana collapses from a suspected heart attack and Poppy’s CPR attempt results in burns to her face, she is the only one who suspects that Dana was poisoned by a peroxide substance.
As a Special Projects Investigator for the Austin/Travis County Health Department, no one is better suited to investigate improper procedures in a restaurant, so even though she steps on a lot of toes Poppy inserts herself into the Good Earth farm’s kitchen and maneuverings of the employees. It turns out that Dana was not one of the most like head chefs, with a long list of fired employees and resentful rivals. Dana’s attempt to outmaneuver the cops by instigating her own investigation results in a bedroom-like farce that has virtually the entire cast intruding on her as she hides out in the Good Earth’s pantry.
Until now, the biggest problem for the Good Earth Farm was the fact that the land had been donated by Nebraska Cornhuskers, legendary reveals of the University of Texas Longhorns football team. However, now Poppy finds rival restaurant owners, competitive chefs and rampaging egos make what would seem to be a cooperative endeavor a most deadly pursuit.
Poppy is also confronted with the recent revivals of two of her past relationships that both ended with bitterness and misunderstandings. Restaurant blogger and magazine columnist, Jamie Sherwood’s returns early from a European tour when he learns that she is spending time with her father’s new chef and her old boyfriend, Drew Cooper. Poppy is unable to decide whether she can completely forgive or trust either men, and her best friend and cousin Daisy isn’t helping matters. Luckily, Nina is distracted from inserting her unwanted opinion as she is determined to set up her own daughter Ursula, despite the fact that she is in fact secretly dating another chef in their father’s restaurant.
Poppy handles all of the confusion, miscommunications and misunderstandings with thoroughly enjoyable sarcasm and a wry sense of humor. Extremely entertaining are the details the author provides, as Poppy conducts her official duties as Health Investigator, citing restaurants for not having enough sinks, for not washing the top of the lids of jars and for removing eggs from the refrigerator too soon. These details and the descriptions of the problems and confrontations unique to restaurants, make this series unique and completely fascinating. Poppy is an enjoyable and refreshing character who has learned to stand up for herself and who never lowers her standards or compromises her job. When it comes to her romantic life though, wisdom comes from an unlikely source but does help her make a refreshingly mature and very enlightened choice. This is the third in the Culinary Cop series and proves to be a fun and humorous novel for foodies and mystery lovers.
A PSA for CSA
By Robin Allen
When I first had the idea to write my restaurant-based mystery series, I subscribed to several trade publications in the interest of research. As a former waitress and bartender, I had plenty of experience in the front of the house, but not so much with the back, except to breeze through the kitchen on my way to the walk-in to gather lemons to prep, or to beg the dishwasher for a clean ramekin in which to serve salad dressing on the side. (Why-oh-why do people order it on the side and then immediately drench their salad with every drop?). Also, I’m not much of a home cook, so I didn’t even have that going for me!
In addition to Cooks Illustrated and Food Arts, I received a magazine called Prepared Foods Today, a slick, four-color thing with more advertisements than editorial content that targeted industrial food manufacturers. The ads often featured trustworthy-looking men and women wearing smiles and white lab coats, and holding props like syringes or test tubes full of harmless-looking substances. In the text were such words as “mouth feel” and “simulated texture,” the gist being that they were almost like the real thing, but not quite.
It took browsing through a few issues of this magazine before I finally understood that these synthetic chemicals are what many manufacturers use to produce the food we purchase in bags, boxes and jars. These chemicals are what I eat every single day. They’re running through my organs and bloodstream, polluting my body and my brain. They’re becoming a part of me. That scared me.
So, I sought out the freshest food I could get, which meant local produce from organic farms, and since I could never manage to get to a farmer’s market before they ran out of the good stuff, I joined a CSA.
CSA stands for community-supported agriculture. A farm sells subscriptions to whatever they produce–fruits, vegetables, meat, eggs, dairy, wool, etc. The farmers get operating capital ahead of time, so they can deal with all the sweat, sunburns, calluses, bug bites, and worry–basically all the work–and subscribers get a big box of fresh, clean produce at regular intervals.
Most of these farms are organic, which means that they cooperate with nature to grow their bounty. Instead of toxic commercial pesticides and fertilizers, they use crop rotation, beneficial insects and composting. What this means to subscribers is clean food. There is, of course, dirt on the vegetables because it was in the ground before it was in your box, but you can wash off that dirt before it enters your system. You can’t wash off growth hormones, antibiotics and pesticides that have been bred into genetically modified foods.
Not all organic items are harmless, however, as Poppy discovers at a fundraising dinner for Good Earth Preserves, her CSA farm on the outskirts of Austin. In Out of the Frying Pan, the third book in the clean, humorous Poppy Markham: Culinary Cop mystery series, Poppy again inserts herself into the middle of a might-be murder while trying to juggle her family, her neighbors and her boyfriends.
To enter to win a copy of Out Of The Frying Pan, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “Pan,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen July 27, 2013. U.S. residents only.
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