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A Series that Rose from the Bread
I’ll confess, for someone who’s written three holiday books, I lag on the festive curve. I tend to hide from Halloween. I rarely get Christmas cards out on time (if at all). And though I have endless intentions for seasonal crafts and décor, the days get away from me. When I do get decorations up, I like them so much I don’t take them down. Yes, I’m that person. I’ve had paper snowflakes on my windows and blue solar Christmas lights on my front porch since last winter. But hey, it’s getting chilly again so I’m okay, maybe even momentarily ahead.
However, there’s one holiday activity I don’t let drop: baking. I adore holiday baking, especially desserts and breads, which is partly how Bread of the Dead was born. The first book in the Santa Fe Café Mysteries takes its name from pan de muerto, a rich brioche-like bread flavored with orange and anise seed. It’s delicious and can be shaped like a skull and crossbones, which is just plain fun to watch rise in your oven.
The sweet, buttery bread plays a key culinary role in tempting the ancestors to return during Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. This Mexican holiday has ancient roots in the Aztec festival of the dead that coincided with the fall harvest. Over time the holiday was blended with the Catholic traditions of All Saints Day (November 1) and All Souls Day (November 2).
On these days, souls of the departed are said to return to earth. Families welcome their deceased loved ones with altars featuring festive foods, flowers, and photographs and favorite items of the deceased. Other traditions include cleaning gravesites and holding graveside feasts and vigils. In the U.S., the holiday is probably most known for its skeleton art and images. Such imagery puts a lighthearted spin on death, prompting us not only to remember those who’ve passed on but also to enjoy our fleeting time on earth.
In Bread of the Dead, Rita Lafitte, a chef at Tres Amigas Café in Santa Fe, is busy decorating sugar skulls and taste-testing pan de muerto for an upcoming Day of the Dead baking contest. Life is sweet until her friendly landlord, Victor, is found dead next door. Although the police deem Victor’s death a suicide, Rita knows something is amiss. To uncover the truth, she teams up with her octogenarian boss Flori, the town’s most celebrated snoop.
The sleuths return in Cinco de Mayhem to tackle a food-cart bully and a murder that has Flori’s daughter taking the heat. From the dead man’s disgruntled former employees to a shady health inspector, the suspect list grows long. Rita scrambles to find the killer, while also worrying that her impending dinner date will fall as flat as her practice round of Cinco de Mayo-themed green chile and cheese soufflés
In Feliz Navidead, Christmas brings treats such as bizcochitos, New Mexico’s official state cookie, and Rita’s Midwestern mom, in town for a visit. Rita hopes to charm her Santa Fe-skeptic mother with twinkling farolito lights and fun activities like watching her teenage daughter perform in the Christmas pageant. What she doesn’t plan for is murder. Although Rita initially vows to stay clear of the case, she discovers her daughter and others could be in danger. With Flori’s help, Rita strives to salvage her mother’s vacation, unmask a murderer, and stop the festive season from turning even more fatal.
Rita is a whole lot braver than me and a much better multi-tasker too. But like me, she doesn’t always get her decorations up and her soufflés sometimes flop. She’s always ready to bake, share, and eat holiday treats, though. Oh, and in case we don’t get those holiday cards out, happy holidays everyone!
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