As a writer of culinary mysteries, I spend a fair amount of time in the kitchen. The recipes in my books are primarily from friends, although I do sneak my own creations in from time to time. Others have come from dear relatives who have passed on. In Italian families, it’s always about the food.

My father was born in Italy and came to America when he was a baby, after his father had died. Grandma may have understood little English, but her cooking skills needed no assistance. She could make everything from tomato sauce to wine. My father would bring her bags of grapes from the vines in our backyard. As a teenager, I considered it a tedious chore to stand outside, picking the lush red and purple grapes that stained my fingers in the hot, unforgiving sun, especially when I wasn’t even allowed to drink the wine! There were other things that I would much rather be doing.

My father had a vegetable garden that he faithfully tended every summer. I didn’t enjoy gardening and never understood why I had to help when I would rather escape somewhere to read the latest Nancy Drew or Agatha Christie novel I’d bought from the local bookstore. From a very young age, reading was my favorite pastime and Nancy, Miss Marple, and Hercule Poirot were some of my favorite people to spend time with.

Although my father and grandmother are both gone now, memories of those hot summer days live on. Years later, I wish I could turn the clock back and do things differently. How I wish I’d been more interested in learning about my heritage when I was a child. I’d inquire about the food and the language, which I never learned to speak, or ask about the country where my father had been born. What an opportunity I wasted!

My main character in Penne Dreadful is a chef who specializes in Italian food. Tessa Esposito finds cooking therapeutic, especially after a recent painful loss. I already had a bakery series and wanted to write another focused on main dishes that paid tribute to my Italian heritage. Although my cooking is passable, Tessa is far better in the kitchen than I could ever hope to be.

In order to research the series further, I took a sauce-making class. I already knew how to make tomato sauce fairly well, but also learned to prepare Bolognese, pesto, and carbonara—a few of my favorites since savoring my grandmother’s creations at a young age.

As with the grapes, my father gave most of what he grew in his garden to Grandma. I adored the zucchini bread she made, a cake-like substance. She added chocolate chips to her version and that sealed the deal for me.

Years later, a friend loaned me her personal recipe and after experimenting with it a bit, I found that it came close to Grandma’s.

Add a beverage and a good read and you have the perfect recipe for a summer day. I highly recommend Kimberly Belle’s The Marriage Lie. Wow. What an incredible journey this book took me on. I love suspense novels but find that I’m often disappointed if the ending is rushed or unsatisfying. Neither of these things occurred with The Marriage Lie. Kudos to Miss Belle for creating such an enthralling tale. I’m looking forward to reading her next book and have just the snack to go along with it!

Zucchini Bread
3 eggs
2 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
2 cups grated zucchini
2 tbsp. cinnamon
2 tbsp. vanilla
2 cups flour
1 tsp. salt
¼ tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. baking soda
1 cup of chocolate chips or M&Ms (optional)

Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Mix eggs, sugar, and oil together. Add in zucchini. The consistency will be a bit soupy. Stir in cinnamon, flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. Mix in vanilla. If using chocolate chips or M&Ms, dust with flour and add to mixture.

Grease and flour two 9 by 5-inch sized loaf pans. Pour batter into pans and bake for one hour or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Bread may also be frozen after cooled completely by wrapping in aluminum foil and then placing inside freezer bags. Use a straw to remove any excess air.

Makes about eight (2” or 1” etc.,) slices per loaf.

USA Today bestselling author Catherine Bruns has written 15 mystery novels and several novellas in the past five years. She has a BA in English and performing arts and is a former newspaper reporter and press-release writer. Catherine lives in upstate New York with an all-male household that consists of her very patient husband, three sons, and several spoiled pets. Readers are invited to visit her website at catherinebruns.net.

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