I nearly forgot about the #atozchallenge this year!!! In April bloggers are challenged to post daily using the alphabet for their posts. This is from last year but now I would have to add Fred Sarginger from The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall--the Omnibus edition is $1.99 for the month of April!

Fred Sarginger is the former Chief of Police in Marienstadt who retired to buy his own tavern. He and his dog Gertie love hanging out in his bar.

 “Nice guillotine you've got,” Fred Sarginger pushed open the door of Dippold's Grocery. “You expecting a revolution?”
Candy Dippold looked up from restocking his vast penny candy counter. “It's a good thing to be prepared,” he said. “I've been expecting a zombie invasion for years.”
“I thought if you chopped off a zombie's head it would just pick it up and put it back on.” Fred walked over to the big red refrigeration bin in the center of the store that Candy kept stocked with soft drinks and slid open one of the glass lids. There was a silver bottle opener attached to the side and, though all the soft drinks now came with twist off caps, the sight of the opener always made Fred smile. “I've got quite a story for you.” He selected a bottle of Mountain Dew. “You're not going to believe this.”

He rolled the soda bottle back and forth between his big, beefy hands. Though average in height, Fred was nearly as wide as he was tall. He was not fat, but had always been a thick-set, hefty man with heavy shoulders and a deeply lined face that reminded people of a hound dog. His steel gray hair was cropped close to his head, and he had dark, impenetrable eyes that had once scared the b'jesus out of the various miscreants who found themselves in trouble. But despite all that Candy always thought of him as a kind man, more interested in helping people straighten out than in punishing them for misdeeds.

Fleur Laighton is an artist with very bad taste in men. Fritzi Wigglesworth is from a prominent Boston family and there's nothing she likes better than juicy gossip. Fleur is the main character in Ghosts of a Lighthouse in Autumn and Fritzi is new--she's a character who writes a gossip column for a popular magazine in the next volume of Beacon Hill Chronicles, The Crazy Old Lady's Secret.

from Ghosts of a Lighthouse in Autumn
That day when I went into the Pub, Norb was sitting at the bar with Turtle Brewster and a guy I'd never seen before.
“Hi, guys,” I said. “Okay if I join you?” I stashed my paint box and easel on a table and hopped up on the bar stool next to Norb.
“You don't have to ask,” Turtle said. “Give the young lady a gin and tonic,” he said to the bartender, a short, bored-looking woman I'd never seen before. She got up off the stool behind the bar where she had been reading a romance novel and reached for the bar gin.
“Use the good stuff,” Turtle said. “We don't want our princess drinking that rot-gut.”
I like being with the Geezers because they always buy me drinks and call me “young lady” or “princess” and make a fuss over me. I turned thirty last summer and haven't been real thrilled about that.
“Thanks, Turtle.”
“Good day painting?” he asked.
“Thanks,” I said to the bartender as she plunked down the drink in front of me. “Yeah, I think I got a good one today.” I turned to raise my glass to Turtle and that's when I saw Mitch St. Pierre looking at me. I felt like I was paralyzed. He had the most wonderful face I'd ever seen on a man.
Turtle,” Mitch said, nudging Turtle, and nodding in my direction.
Turtle put his drink down and then looked over at me. “Where's my manners?” he said. “Fleur, this here's a good customer of mine, Mitch St. Pierre. He come up here from Nahant to get another tattoo today. Mitch, this pretty lady is named Fleur. She's about the best darn artist in town and a real little honey bunch, too. You be nice to her.”
“Fleur,” Mitch said. “That's a pretty name.”
“My real name's Felicia,” I said. “But everybody calls me Fleur.”
“Well, Fleur, I'd like to buy you a drink.” He nodded to the bartender who was absorbed in her reading but looked up with annoyance. “Whatever the lady's having,” he said. “In fact give us all one. I had a good catch today.”
“Are you a fisherman?” I asked. He looked like someone who worked outdoors. He had huge, rugged hands, and sun-darkened skin even in the middle of March.

“Yeah,” he said. “Fish, lobsters, shrimp, scallops. Whatever there's the most of. I took today's catch to the fish auction in Gloucester and then come up here and treated myself to a new tattoo.” He pulled up his sweatshirt to expose an awfully nice looking abdomen. There was a bandage on his side. “I musta known I'd be meeting you today cause I got a rose.” He dropped his shirt and winked at me. My jeans felt tight and itchy and I knew how that day was going to end.

from The Crazy Old Lady's Secret
“Vivienne Quinn?”
Before Viv and Joe reached Marek they were intercepted by a woman who appeared to be the only person in attendance not wearing evening dress. She was middle aged with stylish ash blond hair and wearing an impeccably tailored silk suit.
“Fritzi.” Viv smiled at her. “I thought you’d be here. Let me introduce you to my husband. Joe, this is Fritzi Wigglesworth, the writer who interviewed me for the magazine article.”
Fritzi shook Joe’s hand and glanced at Viv. “I should have known you’d land a hunk. I never meet men like this.” She flashed him a dazzling smile. “Are there more where you come from?”
“I have five brothers.” Joe winked at her. “Two of them are single. If you don’t mind guys from Southie. Speaking of which…” He lowered his voice to a confidential tone. Fritzi appeared enthralled. “My wife and I were just speculating about where Marek Beaux got the dough for this gallery. We know him from a Southie gym—I never took him for an art dealer.”
“Really?” Fritzi’s eyes widened. “How long have you known him?”
“Oh.” Joe glanced at Viv who shrugged. “At least a few years. I’ve never said more than a few words to him but I know he was a member when we still used the old weight room and that had to be three or four years ago. Why?”

“That’s interesting.” Fritzi glanced sideways at Marek who was deep in conversation. “I only heard of him when he started the renovations on this building. I assumed that he was new in town.”

Thanks for reading!
There was a knock at my door and it turned out to be a Hollywood location scout giving us a 1 day notice of a movie shoot the next night in my neighborhood. The name of the movie "Manchester-by-the-Sea" which to me is ironic. I coached high school football in Manchester-by-the-Sea for 20 years and now a movie of that name outside my door step! First a few trucks rolled in just before dusk but
Ezra Winter in The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall:Secrets of Marienstadt is a crusty, old fart in his 80s who can be both charming and infuriating, sweet and cynical. I know this character well--anyone who knew my father will recognize Ezra's personality.

From The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall:Secrets of Marienstadt 

Titus sat back in his chair and stared at the framed photographs that covered the opposite wall. He had learned the names of most of the men in those pictures when he was so small his father had to stand him on a chair to see them.
“This is your Grampa Silas,” Ezra said. “He was Great-grandpa Jubal's middle son. He was the one who took over the construction company when Grampa Jubal retired. This is your Great-uncle Judah. He was a merchant marine who traveled all over the world and wrote a famous book. This is your Great-uncle Mathias.” He pointed to a handsome man with slim little mustache and a leather helmet standing next to a bi-plane. “He was one of the first barnstormers.” And he would tell young Titus about his great-uncle's spectacular aerial feats of derring-do.
All the Winter men had exciting stories, it seemed. Ezra himself had been an engineer during the Second World War who had built bridges in the south Pacific Islands under the most perilous of conditions. He had survived malaria, attacks by native islanders, and being shot twice. Sometimes Titus felt a little bit inadequate next to his brave and daring forefathers. So when Winter Construction was set to celebrate its 100thanniversary, Titus decided to spend some time researching the life of the company's founder, Grampa Jubal. He planned to write a book for the anniversary. What a bad idea that turned out to be.
“What do you want to waste your time doing that for?” Ezra said when Titus proposed the idea.
“Come on, Dad, all my life you've told me stories about Grampa Jubal. How he was born up in Michigan and was a fisherman on Lake Huron and how he worked in logging camps and on the railroad. Wouldn't it be interesting to know more about his life?”
Ezra shrugged. At just past eighty he was a burly, weather-beaten man with a face that was still handsome and a full head of shimmering, snow white hair. He lived by himself in the house he built when he first married Titus' mother and where they raised their five children. She had died following a long battle with cancer a few years back and now Ezra lived alone. He made regular visits to his children, most of whom were married and lived nearby. He kept himself busy with old friends like Tater Feldbauer. They had played baseball together as boys and now spent their afternoons driving logging trails and reminiscing about how much better things used to be.
“How are you going to find anything out?” he asked, twisting the top off a bottle of Straub's. “I don't remember much about him other than what you already know.”
“You said he always told a lot of stories. I bet you know a lot more than you think you do.”
“I don't remember anything in partic'lar that I haven't told you. My dad used to talk about Grampa telling how he worked in logging camps when he was young. He talked about how thick the forests were in the Upper Peninsula. You could ask my uncle Mathias what he remembers but he's so full of shit I wouldn't believe much of it. If you're going to do that, you better do it soon cause he's pushing a hundred and could kick the bucket at any minute.” He took a long swig of beer.
Titus smiled. He'd never quite gotten used to Ezra's colorful way of expressing himself but he'd learned to have a sense of humor about it. “Things are different now, Dad. Lots of towns have their birth records online and you can go to and find out a lot of stuff.”
Ezra frowned. “What's all this dot com stuff? Do you really trust that?”
Titus laughed. “It's the internet, Dad. Maybe it's true and maybe it's not but wouldn't you like to know a little more about your own grandfather's life. Who his parents were and stuff like that?”
Ezra shrugged again. “Grampa said his father was a fisherman and a carpenter. So what?”
“Really? You never mentioned that.”
Ezra took another swallow of beer and thought about it. “It's not exactly a big deal. He didn't catch Moby Dick.”
“Well, I'd like to know more. Maybe we've got cousins in Michigan.”

Ezra snorted. “We've got more goddam cousins than we can count right here. How many cousins do you need?”

Thanks for reading!
While the main characters in a story are usually the most captivating, good strong supporting characters can make or break the story. One of my favorite supporting characters is Darby McMahon, the nosy but supportive artist from Ghosts of a Beach Town in Winter and Ghosts of a Lighthouse in Autumn. Another is Dr. Anteaus Roosevelt Jones from The Crazy Old Lady Unleashed. Both of them are crucial to the development of the plot and both of them will be back in future stories.

 “Oh my stars and whiskers,” Darby said when I ran into him at Dave's Drive-Thru the next morning. “Don't you look like a well-screwed little strumpet this morning? You aren't just glowing, you're positively incandescent.”
“Shush,” I said but I couldn't stop smiling. I filled my thermos with Dave's coffee and added cream and sugar.
“Fleur,” he said, “you're walking bow-legged. When do I get to meet this stud-boy?”
“How did you find out?” I glanced up at him.
“This is Halcyon Beach, honey. You're lucky we didn't bring lawn chairs and popcorn and sit outside your bedroom window. Norb Turner told me how he left you and the heart-throb in the Pub last night and Riley Benton saw you going into your cottage with a big hunk in tow.”
“Riley called him a 'big hunk'?” Riley Benton was another of the Geezers. He and his wife used to own the arcade that was now called Jed's Playhouse.
“Of course he didn't but the minute Norb told me about him I figured it was the delicious morsel I saw getting a tat over at Turtle's yesterday afternoon. I hadn't seen an unfamiliar face in weeks and his wasn't one I'd forget.” He winked at me and gave me a friendly nudge. “Is his dick the size of a Foster's Beer can?”
Much to my chagrin I could feel the blood rising up my neck and turning my face scarlet. I ducked away but too late.
“Oh, sweet baby,” Darby said, wrapping his long arms around me. “Oh, you lucky, lucky little wench.” He hugged me. “You are going to paint a good one today, I can tell. Maybe you should go over to the amusement park and paint the Moon Rocket since you're all primed for it. I've got to get going but I'm dying to meet Mr. Foster's. Toodle-oo.” 

This is Sean Connery, not Doctor Jones, but I
think they would like each other as they have the
same taste in hats. And I did think of Sean Connery's
character as Indiana Jones's father when I was
creating Dr. Jones.
Seated in a wooden armchair pulled up to a reading table an elderly-looking gentleman carefully turned the pages of a newspaper. He wore a plaid woolen suit jacket over a crisp, white shirt, a red and gold bow tie, and a pair of wire-rimmed glasses.
“Dr. Jones?” I said in a soft voice. The newspaper room was one of the Athenæum's rarities—a quiet room where computers, laptops, and other such devices were strictly forbidden.
“Can I help you?” he squinted up at me, then, in deference to my gender, pushed himself to his feet. He had a narrow face which was so heavily wrinkled that there seemed scarcely anything unlined. His shimmering, snow white hair was neatly combed and his white mustache perfectly clipped. Behind his glasses were two obsidian eyes that sparkled in the light from the green-shaded reading lamps.
“Please,” I said, “don't stand. My name is Vivienne Lang. May I speak with you for a few minutes.”
“Of course, of course, but perhaps we should go out into the foyer. This is a quiet room, you know.” As he spoke he fumbled in his breast pocket for a small, leather folder. Taking it out he slipped a card of heavy vellum from it and handed it to me.
I glanced around. The only other occupants sat at a table at the far end of the room completely lost in their reading. I looked down at the card. In embossed Copperplate Gothic it read Anteus Roosevelt Jones, Ph.D., Professor of American Historyand below that a phone number with a Boston exchange. I slid into the chair opposite him and leaned closer. I noticed that the gold design on his tie was Harvard University's symbol.
“I don't want to disturb you but I wondered if there might be a time when I could chat with you about something rather unusual. Something having to do with the history of one of the old brownstones on Mount Vernon Street.”
He raised his eyebrows. “I was about to take a break for my mid-morning coffee. There's a little coffee shop a few doors down. Would you care to join me?”
“I'd love to,” I said.
He removed his glasses, folded them into a leather case that he tucked into a jacket pocket, then retrieved a suede newsboys cap from the chair next to him and settled it on his head. “I confess,” he said looking up at me as he rose to his feet, “that I think better with a cup of coffee in one hand and a jelly doughnut in the other.” He picked up a handsomely carved cane from the back of his chair. “Shall we?” he asked.

Thanks for reading!

Cece McGill from The Monday Night Needlework and Murder Guild and Calista Defarge from The Crazy Old Lady' Revenge and The Crazy Old Lady Unleashed would probably be the best of friends if they were ever in the same book. Both are older women with plenty of attitude. Both are avid knitters and neither one is afraid to speak her mind.

From The Monday Night Needlework and Murder Guild

Growing up with a doctor for a father and a mother who devoted her time to volunteering wherever she was needed, I had neither the opportunity nor the inclination to learn needlework. When I started college in Boston the word “hippie” was new to most people and it was only a few years after the famous Summer of Love. I majored in biology because my father had dreams of me following in his footsteps, but that was not to be.
Although Boston was little more than an hour commute from Pitts Crossing, I managed to convince my parents that, by sharing an apartment with three other girls, I would save commuting time and, thus, have more time to study. Maybe I would have wound up becoming a doctor if I had actually done that. However, what I did with those two hours, and quite a few more, was hang out in Cambridge or on Boston Common listening to music, talking, and smoking pot. I imagine the four decades worth of high school students I went on to teach would find that quite amusing—cranky old Miss Cecelia McGill, decked out in love beads and tie-dyed granny dresses, getting stoned out of her noodle on the swan boats in the Public Garden.

It was a time of experimentation for most of us: sexually (the less said about that, the better,) spiritually (my socially committed, Unitarian parents endured my fits of Buddhism and Wicca,) and politically (perhaps you would enjoy hearing about my relationship with Abbie Hoffman, but that will have to wait for another day.) 

From The Crazy Old Lady' Revenge

The sign over Madame Defarge's Knitting Basket showed a scary-looking woman in a mob cap standing in front of a guillotine as she knitted. A black wrought iron gate with elaborate scroll work guarded the steps down to the basement level shop and, as I pushed the door open, I noticed the words Calista Defarge, Prop.painted on it. Inside there was yarn everywhere – stuffed into the shelves lining the walls, heaped in baskets covering the floor, hanging in long hanks from the ceiling – all of it exploding with color. In the middle of the room was a grouping of plump armchairs gathered around a coffee table heaped with knitting books. Several women sat knitting.
“Can I help you?”
I turned toward the voice and found a woman who looked rather like the one on the sign. She had long gray hair pulled back and tied with a scarf, and a sharp-featured face with a nose that was hard to ignore. She sat perched on a stool, knitting.
“Is your name really Defarge?” I asked.
“It is now,” she said. “You don't look like a knitter.”
“I'm not.” The truth was I wasn't really sure why I was there but after the terrible events of yesterday, it seemed like anything we could learn about Nell's activities might prove useful. I reached in my pocket and pulled out the bag and receipt. “I know it was a long time ago but I wonder if you remember this woman.” I handed her the receipt.
“Twenty-years ago,” she said lifting a pair of glasses that hung around her neck on a string made of braided yarn. She examined it then handed it back. “Of course I remember her. She came in pretty regularly for years then one day she just disappeared. She had an accent. Irish or Scottish. If you know her name what do you want from me?”
I frowned. “What do you mean?”

She shrugged. “Just curious why everyone's so interested in her lately. She die or something?”

Thanks for reading.
Two of my favorite characters in my books are Boone from The Christmas Daughter and Baptiste from The Old Mermaid's Tale and they have quite a bit in common. Both have been bad boys all their lives--the musician Baptiste ran away from home to go to sea and Boone roared out of his home town on his Harley to become a rock band roadie. Both have also made it into their early forties without attachments until two lovely ladies come along. For Baptiste it is the sweet, loving Clair with whom he falls in love; for Boone it is his daughter Charity that he only just found out about.

From The Old Mermaid's Tale
And then it was time for Baptiste.
He need not have worried. Even before he began to play, as he sat rolling back his shirt sleeves over thick arms, the slanting rays of a blue spotlight seemed to carve him out of the darkness like one of Michelangelo’s Prigioneri. And when the first shower of silvery notes shimmered from his guitar and the cool smoke of his voice rose over the crowd, breaths were held and eyes widened. Each song, the sea ballads he had questioned the merit of, was met with wild applause.

From The Christmas Daughter
 “There's someone waiting for you in your office.” She grinned and nodded toward the door. He looked at her.
“Go see.” Her smile told him that whoever it was had brightened her day, but that was no guarantee that it would his. In fact, knowing Donna, it probably wouldn't. Resisting the urge to draw his gun, Henry walked toward his office. The door stood open but the interior seemed unnaturally dark. A large man stood in front of the office's sole window with his back to the room, blocking the light. He was as tall as Henry and considerably wider, wearing a black leather jacket and faded jeans.
“Can I help you?” Henry asked.
The man turned toward him with a sly smile. He had a rugged, weather-lined face and wore mirrored sun-glasses—when he removed them they revealed familiar blue-green eyes.
“Hey, cuz,” he said in a gravelly voice, “miss me?”
Henry hesitated, then recognition flooded him with pleasure. “Boone Wilde! I don't believe it. Where the heck did you come from?” He crossed the room in two steps, hand extended. Boone took it in a hippie-handshake—thumbs locked around each other—then put his massive arms around Henry and hugged hard, nearly lifting him off his feet.
“I pritneer didn't recognize you with that shiny star on your chest,” Boone said.
“I pritneer didn't recognize you without a beard down to your gut.”

“I don't have a gut.” Boone patted his stomach and he was right. He was a huge man but did not appear to have an ounce of fat on him. 
I completely forgot about the April A2Z Challenge #‎atozchallenge for bloggers when every day we blog about something beginning with that day's letter. So since today is A I'll say that A is for Anjelica Jupiter, the fifteen year old heroine of my mystery/suspense novel, Depraved Heart:

I returned from the kitchen with a fresh cup of coffee and settled back down to work at the computer in my room when I sensed, more than felt, an infusion of energy I had not detected here before. Seconds later there was a light tap on the door frame and I turned.
Miss Hobbs, can I come in, please.”
I could not help smiling. It seemed that the graceful, elegant ballerina I saw so often in the paintings throughout these rooms had pirouetted out of the painting, changed into black lace leggings and a neon pink hoodie and trimmed her long hair into short, fluffy feathers.
Of course. You must be Anjelica.”
She grinned and perched on the damask chair next to my desk, pulling her bare feet up and crossing them under her. “Did my Dad tell you?”
He told me you were coming home but I would have recognized you anywhere I think.”
Because I look like my mother?”
Everybody says that. Did you know her?”
No, I’m new here but everyone who knew her said...” beautiful she was.” She completed the sentence for me. “People always tell me that.”
And what a wonderful dancer, too.”
You know what I was thinking today? If she was alive, she’d be over forty now. I wonder what she’d look like today.”
Oh, I bet she’d be beautiful still.”
Anjelica looked around the room and then leaned over and peered at the computer screen. “Are you online?”
Not at the moment, but I’m on and off all day.”
Do you have to be online for your work? Because when there’s a storm coming sometimes you can’t get on all day. It drives me crazy when that happens.”
I’ll bet. Do you have a computer of your own?”
Yeah, my laptop’s in my room, but I can check my email and text from my phone.” She pulled it out of her pocket and flashed it at me. I saw that the email icon and the text message icon were both flashing. “My Dad said I should tell you that I’ll help you any time you want me to. He says you might need someone to show you around the grounds.”
Yes,” I said. “That would be great. Do you know your way around?”
Sure,” she shrugged. “I spent every summer of my whole life here. There’s not a lot to do.” She cocked her head and studied me. “I like your hair,” she said reaching out and wrapping a strand around her fingers. “I wish mine was curly like that. It’s not.”
I love the way your hair is cut.”
Thanks. How old are you?”
I’m thirty-five.”
That’s not so old,” she said. “You’re younger than my Dad - my mother too. Well, you’re younger than she would be if she was still alive.”
I nodded.
It’s okay,” she said, “she died when I was a baby. I don’t remember her.”
That’s too bad.”
Is your mother still alive?”
Yes, both my parents are. They live in Salem.”
Do you like them?”
Yes, very much.”
Cool. Maybe they can come out here and visit us sometime.”
That would be nice, I’m sure they’d like that.”
She nodded and sat taking in the room then abruptly stood up. “I better go now. I’m going to walk down to The Village and say hello to everyone.”
That sounds like a good idea.”
See you later then.”
See you later.”
She started to leave but then turned back. “Oh, my Dad said to ask if you’d like to eat dinner with us tonight in the dining room.”
That would be lovely.”
He said to tell you six-thirty and it’s casual.”
Thank you.”
She stood for a minute studying me. “Do you like my Dad?”
Yes. I think he’s very generous and gracious.”
She smiled a beautiful, loving smile. “Yeah, he is, isn’t he?”
And, in a puff of fairy dust, she vanished.

My father grew up the second youngest of four brothers. They had older sisters but it was a peculiar thing that the girls were born and mostly grown when along came 4 little boys. They grew up in a neighborhood that had a great park in it and Dad often spoke of the fun they had playing there. Then World War 2 came along. All four of them enlisted—all 4 went off to war. When the war was over Dad came home from the South Pacific as well as could be expected. His other brothers were not as lucky—one came home sick and emotionally wounded, one was released from a Nazi POW camp, and one came home in a coffin.

Over the years I have thought about that a lot and I always felt it deeply affected my dad. Like most soldiers, he rarely talked of the war but once in awhile he would say something to the effect that the only people who wanted war were fools and politicians.

I have been writing the title story of my next Marienstadt collection which will be called The Bucktail Cap in the Trunk. This story is about the 42ndPennsylvania Volunteer Regiment, popularly known as the “Bucktails.” As I developed the story I thought a lot about my dad. The story centers around four brothers from Germany who were orphaned thnaks to a fire and wind up in Marienstadt working in a logging camp. When the Civil War begins all four of them volunteer. Four years later one has died at Antietam, one lost a leg at Gettysburg, and one has spent the last year of the war in Belle Isle, the terrible Confederate prison camp in the James River. And one, the one who survived unharmed, has to live the rest of his life wondering why he was spared.

This has been a very, very difficult story to write. I have cried a lot while writing it and I still have a way to go. I hope I haven't damaged my keyboard but I had to keep going. The research has been painful—looking at the photographs of the Antietam battlefield, the Gettysburg battlefields, and the prisoners rescued from Belle Isle is just gut-wrenching. Like my father I think, who could possibly want this? Why in heaven's name do we keep doing this? But I keep writing.

Some time back a friend who wanted to be a writer told me she was forced to give up on the story she was writing because it was just too heart-breaking. “I can't handle it,” she said. “I have to stop writing.” I do not believe that—I think that is when you must keep writing. If something breaks my heart I know I am doing a good thing, I am writing through the pain in the hope of touching others. I hope it will.

Thanks for reading.  

Turtle Alley Chocolates write a book!


Turtle Truffle Bark!

That plain paper box printed with brown lettering, “,” derails dinner parties, at best by distracting hungry guests who want to crack it immediately, at worst by making dessert taste second best.



Then there is that secret flush of greed that strikes when the white cardboard box arrives. You take the guests’ coat, smile, welcome them in, but you are are already plotting your own Turtle Alley Moment, when the soft caramel studded with salty pecans, wrapped in crackling chocolate is yours alone.

Now, you can secretly enjoy your “next day” truffles while flipping pages on how to make them.  With her open, raucous confection-loving style, Hallie Baker (they call her Turtle Hallie) shares the Turtle Alley rules of the road in her new book: “Turtle Truffle Bark!

Allen Penn's photo - turtles

“I’ve spent many hours on the phone trouble-shooting home cooks’ chocolate crises,” Baker says, those why-did-I-ever-think-I-could-make-chocolate-covered-cherries-at-home moments; “Turtle Truffle Bark!” is not only the ambulance to those chocolate emergencies but a primer on creating confections at home.

Hallie Baker working

Baker is a painter by education, a painter who worked in restaurants, candy and ice cream shops to pay for canvas. While kids in sandy bathing suits begging for soft serve did nothing for her, Baker fell in love with the chemistry of chocolate on the way to affording paints and brushes. After working in a Prides Crossing chocolate shop for eight years, Baker opened Turtle Alley chocolates in 2000.

“Chocolate is a highly satisfying medium to work with,” Baker says, eyes twinkling, “people who come in your store are happy, and then you make them happier. It’s an extremely rewarding way to live…I still eat chocolate everyday – and I’ve been making it for twenty-three years.”

Writing about chocolate making, not unlike painting creatively, was by Baker’s account a joy.

“I loved the process of writing the book, it’s a fugue state, like in painting – when you have something that you like – you want everyone to have it.”

For the uninitiated, Turtle Alley is not old fashioned chocolate. Those turtles’ squat lusciousness – “a chocolate, nut, and caramel sandwich” – are more free love than Whitman’s sampler. In her book Baker gives good, basic turtle-making tips, like making sure the caramel is completely cooled to the touch, or it will throw off the chocolate’s temper, and melting high quality caramels instead of making your own, a perfectly acceptable short cut.

About that temper, Baker opens the book with solid tempering guidance, the key to “beautiful, shiny chocolate that has a nice snap to it when you break it.” She trouble-shoots dull looking chocolate, crumbly chocolate, and chocolate that “blooms,” or acquires a white film. Tips for truffle making include being immaculate and patient: keep your tools very clean and allow the chocolate a little time exposed to air.

“Chocolate on your shirt? – Let it harden, flake it off, then spray it with window cleaner.”

In art school, Baker may have been more traditional than abstract, but in chocolate her flavors are more DeKooning than Whistler: White Chocolate Oreo Bark, Milk Chocolate Sesame Date Bark, Milk Chocolate Coconut Curry Truffles, Dark Mayan Truffles (with ancho chili powder, cayenne, and cinnamon). Baker does have rules, like fruits are generally best combined with dark chocolate; milk chocolate makes tart cherries or citrus flavors fall flat. That said, her White Chocolate Blueberry Orange Pecan Turtle – “these babies just say summer! – delicious with a glass of prosecco!” – break the rules with style.

For the record, Dark Chocolate Mocha Cherry Bark is Baker’s personal favorite. “Maybe too much going on?” in this bark, Baker writes, “perfect!”

“Turtle Truffle Bark!” is published by The Countryman Press, a division of W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. Photographs are by Allen Penn, including the white chocolate turtle photographed above.  To order from Amazon go to this link:


Turtle Hallie!


Dark Chocolate Mocha Cherry Bark, from “Turtles Truffles Bark!” by Hallie Baker


1 teaspoon coffee extract

1/4 teaspoon almond extract (secret weapon! Tell no one!)

2 pounds tempered dark chocolate

1/2-3/4 cup chopped dried tart cherries

Instructions Lay out a piece of parchment paper on the counter Stir the coffee and almond extracts into the chocolate, then the cherries.

Pour the chocolate in the center of the parchment paper. Scrape the sides down and start spreading the chocolate out to a uniform thickness with an offset spatula. Work fast – when you add ingredients to a bark it tends to set up fast. Use gloved fingers to spread out the cherries if they get bunched up. Spread to about 18×13 inches.

Let the bark sit until the chocolate has lost its wet look and starts to harden. When it’s just set, but not moist, cut the bark with a chef’s knife. Start the cut with the tip of the knife and rock the rest of the blade into the bark. Make sure you are completely cutting through the cherries so the finished pieces of bark are easy to separate. (Baker likes diamond shapes for this bark, as the cherries look like garnets.)

Store bark in airtight container layered with parchment paper. The extracts lose potency when exposed to open air too long, so pack them up quickly and well. Baker recommends this bark chopped up and sprinkled on ice cream or used in a cookie recipe.

I heard somewhere we've had snow for ten straight weekends, lately it's been a dusting followed by a week of melting. I'd be happy if that trend keeps going at least for a few more weeks. But it's going to be a long time before the mountains of snow disappear. Here are a few shots of those mountains of snow along with leftovers I found while searching my files. Good Harbor Beach Canyon!

Doves and Figs Preserves


Robin Cohen

Preserves. The difference between a teaspoon of jelled, flavored sugar on one’s toast and a small grenade of taste so distinct you can hear the berries ker-plunking in the pail is always about the quality of the fruit. It’s not about the cute jar, or the homey name on the label; it’s about the fruit, just the fruit.

Robin Cohen, the creator of the Doves and Figs line of preserves and pickles, learned this as a child on Montauk, Long Island picking wild Concord grapes with her father. Her love affair with preserving abundance began then, and never waned. Years later, owning a computer company, in her free time Cohen delighted friends with gift jars of pickles and jams. With so many happy friends – and winning “Best In Show” two years in a row at the Topsfield Fair – she thought selling her preserves at a farmers market might be a nice thing to do: Cohen made eight cases of jam, the most she had ever jarred, believing that would be enough to sell at three or four markets that summer. She sold every jar of jam the first day. Stores were approaching her with contracts.

cooling jams

From the start Cohen was militant about sourcing fruit strictly from Massachusetts farms; today, with her product in dozens of small gourmet stores and Whole Foods, Cohen is just as strident about sourcing within a small radius. She is a gladiator for local foods. Ninety percent of her fruit is from Massachusetts; a tiny percent is from New Hampshire and Rhode Island. This means her preserves are made with fruit that has travelled a short distance immediately after it ripens, every raspberry or peach still bulging with all that sunshine-created sugar and flavor. Cohen points out there is a vast difference between locally sourced and “locally made.” Watch for that: jams that are stirred together here in Massachusetts with fruit shipped in from Chile and California are a very different product than those made with Massachusetts berries. To be clear, Cohen’s ingredient list includes figs, citrus, and nuts which she sources in the U.S., mostly California. (Cohen lives in Arlington, and cans either in her own kitchen or in a Dartmouth, MA grange which was savvy enough to build a commercial kitchen when remodeling after a fire.)

I’m writing about Doves and Figs in March for a couple of reasons, the first being that, after this soul-less winter, a taste of her “Peachy Keen” jam – caramelized peaches with pecans and a bit of Southern Comfort – or “Bramble Tea” – blackberry and Earl Grey Tea preserves – will restore your faith in nature. Packed with Proustian moments, all of Doves and Figs preserves offer tastes of the cloudless summer days in which the fruit ripened; you will taste plump blackberries so distinctly, you might feel the sting of their thorns while you pick.

Also, with Easter and Passover on the calendar, Doves and Figs offers unique gift ideas, should you be traveling to anyone’s home for either of these holidays. “Seder Sweetness,” an apple walnut, honey, and wine conserve, is the perfect gift if you’re invited to a seder. Cohen makes a preserve called “Spring!” (exclamation mark included), an apple, horseradish, and dill conserve uniquely wonderful over local goat cheese, spread on a cracker or matzoh. Cohen says the horseradish and dill here make Spring! also delicious paired with seafood and lamb. Spring! and Seder Sweetness would make you a cooed-over Passover or Easter guest.


gift package



Cohen makes an interesting Passover dessert with Doves and Figs “Chocolate Fig Sunshine.” True to her earnest localness, she uses Taza Chocolate – roasted, ground and produced in Somerville from direct trade cacao beans – in her line of fruit and chocolate preserves, like “Razzle Dazzle,” tart raspberries blended with Taza Chocolate. By the way, Doves and Figs chocolate and fruit preserves are Easter basket ready!


Preview-Matzoh Fig Bars


1 stick plus 2 tablespoons butter, melted

1 1/2 cups matzoh meal

pinch cinnamon

8 ounces Doves and Figs Chocolate Fig Sunshine (or any fig jam you like)

1 cup sliced almonds (or flaked coconut)


1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 13” x 9” baking pan.

2.  Put matzoh meal in a medium bowl, and sprinkle with cinnamon. Pour melted butter over the crumbs, and mix well.

3.  Pat the crumb mixture into the baking pan. pour jam over crumbs, spreading it within 1/4” of the edges. Sprinkle with almonds or coconut, and press down gently. Bake for 20 minutes, or until edges are lightly browned. Allow to cool completely before slicing into bars.

Evoking An Era

This morning on the Best Selling Reads blog I wrote about the methods I use and references I find valuable for creating a sense of time in my writing. As someone who reads all sorts of books—there is no particular genre I find all that compelling—I sometimes come across a story that purports to be set in a particular time and place but as I read I find it either inauthentic or riddled with cliches. The success of Diana Gabledon's Outlander books (which are excellent) prompted a rash of “Highlander” romances, most of which are not. Even when historical details are only the background to a story, that background has to ring true.

Recently I have been interested in Presidential biographies—I wrote about that in my last blog post. I finished reading Theodore Roosevelt's and last night began Thomas Jefferson's. The first thing that struck me was how differently those two men—both brilliant but separated by a century—used language. I am only a few pages into Jefferson's book but the writing is dry, flat, and definitely a challenge to read. If I were to write about that period for contemporary readers, I certainly would not imitate Jefferson's style but it is good to know that there are strong differences.

Another charming reference source I've come across is an online project to catalog and digitize historic American cookbooks called Feeding America. I'm finding this a fascinating resource. What is more prevalent in the lives of any characters than food? As I am working on my new cycle of Marienstadt stories—two of which are set in the mid-eighteenth century—I find myself constantly searching to learn what my characters would eat, how they would dress, what books they might have read, how they traveled, what jobs they might have.

The truth is I love to write and love writing in a way that not only amuses and entertains the reader but which also lets them feel they have entered another time and place. I view good books as little vacations—means of getting away and viewing life from a fresh perspective. Nothing makes me happier than a book that I can slip into and get away from it all for awhile so as a writer, that is often my goal—to give my readers that experience. Resources that make it possible to improve that experience are immeasurably valuable to me.

Thanks for reading.
I took a ride through Essex the other day and stopped at the Essex Shipbuilding Museum grounds. Always an interesting visit this time of year with all the ice in the Essex River. Then a quick stop to Little River in Gloucester, down Stacy Boulevard over to Good Harbor Beach to check the mountains of snow. Also a few shots around Gloucester's Rogers Street area. A look over to Burham's Boat
In the past few years I have gotten into a good many online “discussions” about politics—some informative, some a waste of time—and I realized something, some of the people who argue most vociferously have NO idea what the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Amendments are about, let alone how the Presidency is supposed to work. Over and over and over I have seen people argue that the Constitutions and its Amendments cannot be changed. When I point out that the Eighteenth Amendment was overturned by the Twenty-first they tell me I am wrong. And don't even get me started on those who claim that the Founders intended this to be a “Christian nation” when, in fact, the Founders intended that religion be kept out of government.

Recently I had the idea to see what some of our Presidents—you know, the guys who actually held the position—had to say after they had held office and knew first-hand what that was like. I downloaded Theodore Roosevelt's Autobiographyand I am halfway through it. It is an eye-opening experience. For one thing, he is a good writer, a natural born story-teller with a droll sense of humor. He had such an impressive variety of jobs prior to being President that he got to see politics from many perspectives. I am learning a lot.

Consequently, I went back to Amazon and downloaded two more Presidential autobiographies/memoirs—Thomas Jefferson'sand Ulysses S. Grant's. I intend to read them next.

This gave me an idea—why not have a Presidential Reading Challenge? In order to qualify for the challenge, each book must be written by the President himself, not by a different author, and it must be written after his Presidency, when he has experienced holding that office. I challenge all people who think they know how government works to read three such books. This could be interesting.

Naturally, there are a lot of great books about Presidents but those don't count. There are also a lot of books written by men who would become President some day—such as current President Barack Obama's books. But I think for this challenge the books should be written post-presidency.

It is easy enough to find lists of them. Goodreads and Wikipedia are great places to start. And since many of these books are in the public domain the digital versions are either free or very cheap. All three of the ones I selected—Jefferson, Grant, and Roosevelt—were .99 each. Since Lincoln didn't live long enough to write his autobiography, his collected letters and writing can also count.

Anyway, I think this could be an interesting experiment and I wonder if anyone is up to it. I'll keep you posted.

Thanks for reading.

The Gloucester Fishermen’s Wives’ Redfish Stew


Angela and Sefatia


The New England Seafood Exposition opened this past Sunday at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. A vast expanse of hot spotlights and sleek-walled booths stationed with plush lounges for brokering things like Malaysian tuna deals, The New England Seafood Exposition felt part Disney, part massive Acura dealership. There were even long-legged brunettes passing sashimi samples.



Except the homier folks from the Chesapeake and Maine Lobster companies, whose booths photographically declared friendly expanses of their gentle waters, this event seemed fixed on making fish glamorous. Most booths had a tiny kitchen and a chef; samples were everywhere, from slick platters of steamed slipper lobster tail to teaspoons of glistening caviar in six different grades.

For the first time in two decades the city of Gloucester was represented at the event; what better way to declare the city’s unique heritage than to put aprons on Angela Sanfillipo and Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken, and have them show everyone how to cook like a Gloucester fisherman’s wife?  (Sanfillipo is President of the Gloucester Fishermen’s Wives Association; Theken is a member.)

sefatia and angela

Repeatedly billed by the Mayor as a wonderful dinner, “if you’re a working woman like me,” Redfish Stew is a classically simple, inexpensive and nutritious – all that fish! – dinner for a family. Make it in a stockpot, and come home to a hot flavorful dinner. Sanfillipo and Thecken said don’t worry if the fish is soft and broken to pieces after hours of simmering; the flavors have melded and your family will taste a wholesome, mild-flavored stew.


serving stew


“Fish shouldn’t smell,” Sefatia declared. “This soup doesn’t taste like fish because fish shouldn’t have a taste!” – meaning fresh fish is so mild it barely has any flavor at all. That’s why fish loves a soffritto, like in this one, of onions, celery and carrots.

“And there are no rainbows!” Sefatia shouted to the audience. Hold your fish fillet up to the light or look at it carefully on a cutting board; if you see any sort of rainbow sheen, the fish has probably been treated with something – maybe bleach – to disguise its age.

Redfish, “the other white meat,” Sanfillipo and Theken called it, are landed in Gloucester in big numbers. They are a deep water fish caught on big boats, not day boats. They arrive in large quantities on the dock, and make delicious eating. As we watched the stew preparation, lobsterman Mark Ring told me that in the old days, restaurants would bread and fry a big batch of redfish for Friday night staff dinners. From the 1940‘s through the 1960’s redfish was the fish served in army canteens, school cafeterias, and prisons. It was mild and there was lots of it.

The one hundred pounds of redfish fillets that made Sanfillipo’s and Theken’s stew so delicious was landed in Gloucester, donated by Ocean Crest, The Fisherman’s Wharf, Cape Ann Seafood Exchange, and Steve Connolly. Samples were passed to the interested crowd from two large stockpots of warm Redfish Stew, prepared the previous day in the Snap Chef kitchens. (Watch for more Snap Chef news here. Todd Snopkowski, who started the Snap Chef culinary staffing business – think temporary work for sous chefs – is very interested in Gloucester.)

Sound, wholesome, warming, the Redfish Stew tasted like soulful home cooking after all the smoked salmon nibbles I’d had that day. I wondered what people in the Malaysian booths would think if they wandered upon this cooking show; I’m sure they would immediately recognize the simple, authentic virtues of this Gloucester stew, just the way, if I were attending a Seafood Exhibition in Singapore, for example, I would know I had found something very special if I wandered upon local women serving  bowls of warm, homemade Laksa.




The Sanfilippo’s Red Fish Soup


2 pounds red fish fillets, cut into pieces

1 cup sliced onion

1 cup chopped carrots

1 cup chopped celery

2/3 cup kitchen ready tomato sauce

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

4 cups water


In a sauce pan using moderate heat, saute onion, carrots, and celery in olive oil until softened and crispy. Add tomato sauce and cook for an additional 2 minutes by stirring it constantly.

Add 4 cups water, salt, pepper, and parsley. Stir, and bring to a boil. If too thick add more water.

Once it starts boiling, lower the heat and let cook for about 10 minutes. Add the red fish, stir, and bring to a boil by increasing the heat. Once it starts to boil, lower the heat and cook about 15 minutes.

Serve with toasted bread, crackers, and over white rice. Add grated Romano cheese if you wish.

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