Tea and Murder

In writing a novel, authors research much more material than goes into the story. If we add too much, our editors call it an info dump. But too little, and things might not make sense.

In Star Tangled Murder, hairstylist Marla Vail and her detective husband, Dalton, attend a battle reenactment at a living history village where the town marshal ends up dead. During their investigation, they learn about tea production. I researched the topic and was surprised at the complexity of the process.

Tea bushes first arrived in the United States from China in the 1700s. Attempts to cultivate the camellia sinensis plant in this country failed until a chemist, Dr. Charles Shepard, founded the Pinehurst Tea Plantation in Summerville, South Carolina in the late 1880s. He produced award-winning teas until he died.

Meanwhile, the Lipton Company acquired a farm on Wadmalaw Island in South Carolina. They relocated Shepard’s plants there. William Barclay Hall, a professional tea taster, bought the land in 1987. He converted the farm into a commercial operation, and the Charleston Tea Plantation was born. They renamed it the Charleston Tea Garden when Bigelow took over the property.

After water, tea is the most consumed beverage in the world. Each type of tea requires different processing. You can’t just pluck leaves off a plant and brew a pot. For example, green tea leaves are steamed on arrival to halt oxidation and to preserve their freshness. Black tea requires withering, rolling, and oxidizing. Oolong is a semi-oxidized tea that falls in between the other two. The tea plant grows best in places with high heat, humidity, good rainfall, and acidic soil. China, Sri Lanka, India, and Kenya are the four major suppliers.

Tea is promoted as having various health benefits. In particular, green tea drinkers allegedly have a lower incidence of cancer and cardiovascular disease. This may be related to the high content of polyphenols in green tea. These have antioxidant, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory properties and may also stimulate the immune system.

Green tea is one of the least processed varieties. Only the top two leaves and a bud from one stem are picked. This is called the flush. During harvesting season, the plant produces a new flush every seven to fifteen days. For black and oolong tea, two to four leaves down from the top are picked. There’s also white tea made from the buds of a plant. The only step for white tea is drying it to reduce moisture.

Yellow tea is similar to green tea in the initial production process, but it requires an additional procedure called sealed yellowing. This removes the grassy scent associated with green tea. Matcha teas are a type of Japanese green tea. The leaves are ground into a fine powder and then whisked into hot water. It has more antioxidants than green tea but also more caffeine.

When writing a book, it’s a fine line between dumping too much info into the story versus sharing this information with readers. I cut out this portion from the final version of Star Tangled Murder:

“Here the leaves for black and oolong teas undergo oxidation on these conveyor belts. This kickstarts the fermentation process. Next is what we call disruption,” he said, gesturing to a rotating tumbler. “Tossing the leaves tears them and allows for oxygen to penetrate the bruised cells. When sufficient oxidation has occurred, the leaves enter a gas-heated dryer for a short period to stop fermentation. This stage is called fixation and is the most critical part because it determines the tea’s taste, aroma, and color.”

“Then it’s ready for consumption?” Marla asked, not seeing anything that would account for the security measures.

“Not yet. The leaves go through a sieve to filter out undesirable particles, such as stems and fibers. Then the tea is shaped into tiny pellets to intensify the flavor. Once this cycle is complete, the tea enters the final firing stage in this oven.”

This would have been too much detail to leave in my story. I might find it fascinating, but readers want to move on to see what happens next regarding the mystery.

Tea and Murder #cozymystery #research Share on X

Do you like learning new topics in a mystery, or do you prefer a story that sticks to the bones of the plot? And what’s your favorite kind of tea?


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Copper and Crime

Researching a book can lead authors down a proverbial rabbit hole when they stumble upon an issue of interest. Such was the case for me when I decided to look into copper thefts.

While writing Styled for Murder, my latest book, I got stuck in the middle. I needed a spark of inspiration to spur the story forward, something exciting to research. When I shared my dilemma with my critique partners, one of them mentioned copper thefts. My book involved remodeling scams and this topic came to mind.

Bingo! I’d heard of this crime, and it would fit the story perfectly. As I delved into the research, I discovered all sorts of new twists. I was off and running and didn’t stop until the end. This had been exactly the spark I’d needed. So what is this crime that can affect average residents like us?

Copper is a valuable commodity. Crooks sell it to scrap metal dealers for a high price. Construction sites are favored targets along with abandoned buildings. Crooks have plenty of time after workers leave for the day to sneak in and strip out whatever they want. They can cause a lot of harm that way.

In one instance, thieves ripped open the walls on a building scheduled for demolition. They cut out the copper pipes and wires. Unfortunately, they didn’t turn off the main water valve, and the construction company had to pay for the resultant utility bill. Builders have to balance the cost of security against the potential replacement of stolen goods along with damage repairs.

Why do bad guys target copper in particular? This metal is used in critical infrastructures such as electrical sub-stations, cell towers, phone lines and water systems. Copper provides a reliable connection and is corrosion resistant. Thieves can make thousands of dollars per month from selling copper to scrap metal dealers.

“How does this affect the homeowner?” Marla, my hairstylist sleuth, asked her friend Tally while at lunch in a restaurant. 

Tally snorted. “Your central air-conditioning units may use copper piping for the water supply and refrigerant lines along with the inner coils. If the thieves take these components, you might come home one day and have no air-conditioning. The metal is also found on propane tanks. Thieves might cut the pipes at ground level near the meters and then rip away the piping. Your house would lose its gas supply, meaning you’d turn on the range and nothing would happen.” 

“I’d be more afraid of a dangerous leak caused by a cut pipe. Doesn’t a security system offer protection against people stealing this stuff outside your house?” Marla asked, thinking of the video cameras and exterior lighting around her place. 

“Nope. I remember reading about a case where a man took ten minutes to crawl beneath a house and cut out a hundred feet of plumbing pipes using a plumber’s tool. They’re fast, so by the time you receive an alert, they’re already gone. Nothing is ever secure to a determined criminal.”

Fortunately, new regulations have made scrap dealers more responsible, which has been helpful in preventing these thefts. Being an alert and observant neighbor is always a good idea, too.

We learn all sorts of eclectic things when researching a story. I hope this information has been as illuminating for you as it has been for me. Are you aware of any construction problems in your area?

Copper and Crime #bookresearch #cozymystery Share on X


STYLED FOR MURDER is mentioned in Woman’s World Magazine on page 8 in the Nov. 29th issue! They call it a “charmingly funny whodunit.” Get your copy NOW at your local newsstand. Last chance before the next issue comes out.

Books make great gifts for the holidays! Get one for yourself and gift another to a friend.


When hairstylist and savvy sleuth, Marla Vail, gets a frantic call from her mother that there’s a dead body in her shower, Marla realizes this wasn’t part of the home renovation plans. The victim turns out to be the project manager, who had an untrustworthy reputation in town. Disgruntled customers, unpaid suppliers, and the design company’s staff are among the suspects, but Marla is more concerned about her stepfather’s connection to the victim. Can she flush out the clues and nail the killer before he strikes again? Recipes Included!

Get your Copy Here – https://books2read.com/StyledforMurder

Did you miss out on these guest blog posts? If so, visit them now! 

Cinnamon and Sugar and a Little Bit of Murder, “Peach Cobbler” RECIPE, BOOK REVIEW & GIVEAWAY, https://cinnamonsugarandalittlebitofmurder.com/peach-cobbler/

Literary Gold – CHARACTER GUEST POST, https://www.literaryau.com/2021/11/styled-for-murder.html

Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers – “Is Garlic Good for You?” GUEST POST https://insatiablereaders.blogspot.com/2021/11/great-escapes-virtual-book-tours.html

Books a Plenty Book Reviews – “Edible Gold” GUEST POST https://booksaplentybookreviews.blogspot.com/2021/11/blog-tour-guest-post-review-giveaway.html

Christy’s Cozy Corners – AUTHOR INTERVIEW https://christyscozycorners.com/2021/11/styled-murder-mysteries-interview/

Novels Alive – “Bone China Origins” GUEST POST https://novelsalive.com/2021/11/17/guest-blog-bone-china-origins-by-nancy-j-cohen-plus-giveaway/

 Dru’s Book Musings – “A Day in The Life of Marla Vail” GUEST POST https://drusbookmusing.com/2021/11/17/marla-vail-2021/

 Escape With Dollycas Into A Good Book – AUTHOR INTERVIEW https://www.escapewithdollycas.com/2021/11/16/styled-for-murder-bad-hair-day-mysteries-by-nancy-j-cohen-authorinterview-review-giveaway-great-escapes-book-tour-nancyjcohen/

Storeybook Reviews – “Book Research Can Save Lives” GUEST POST https://storeybookreviews.com/2021/11/newrelease-guest-post-styled-for-murder/

 My Journey Back – “Zucchini, Eggs and Criminals” RECIPE POST http://myjourneyback-thejourneyback.blogspot.com/2021/11/zucchini-biscuit-bake-recipe-and.html?

Killer Crafts and Crafty Killers, “The Case of the Cheesy Hash Browns” RECIPE POST https://anastasiapollack.blogspot.com/2021/11/cooking-with-cloris-cheesy-hash-browns.html


Last Chance to get Permed to Death ON SALE for 99 cents! Start reading the Bad Hair Day series with book #1. Sale ends soon.

Order Now: https://books2read.com/PermedtoDeath


I’m going to take a break from blogs over the Holidays unless something noteworthy occurs, so Have a Wonderful and Safe Holiday Season!




Facials Can Be Fatal Guest Post

Hi, today I have a guest post “The Story Behind the Story – Facials Can Be Fatal” at Suite T, and I urge you to take a look. I discuss part of the plotting process for Facials Can Be Fatal and the research that helped me write the book. So go on over to https://southernwritersmagazine.blogspot.com/2020/07/facials-can-be-fatal-story-behind-story.html for a behind-the-scenes glimpse and leave a comment to let me know you were there.



Buzz is the Word

For Easter Hair Hunt, I learned quite a bit about beekeeping. One of the characters in this story is a beekeeper at a historic estate. Hairstylist Marla Vail attends an Easter egg hunt there when she discovers a body in a bunny suit out on the manicured lawn.

Bees are not my favorite creature but they play an important role in agriculture. Many of the world’s most common food crops require pollination by honeybees. On their foraging flights, the female worker bees collect nectar and pollen to bring back to the hive. The nectar is mixed with enzymes from their gut and then dehydrated into honey. Pollen, containing proteins and amino acids, becomes the “bee bread” used to feed growing larvae and the queen.


A virgin queen will mate with up to eighty male drones. She uses this sperm for the rest of her five-to-six year lifespan, laying eggs along the way. A hive can raise a new queen by feeding a substance named royal jelly to a larvae.

When the hive gets large enough, usually in the spring, the older queen leaves with half the worker bee population. The others cluster in a swarm outside while their scouts look for a new location. When the scout bees find a suitable home, they’ll return to the cluster and perform a waggle dance to direct the swarm to the new hive. The first worker bees on the premises gather at the entrance and release a pheromone to direct the rest of the bees into the new hive. This pheromone resembles the scent of lemongrass oil.

While the bees wait in a cluster for the scouts to return, beekeepers can use a swarm box to catch them. It’s baited with honey combs and lemongrass oil. The bees are docile at this time, because they have no brood to protect and they have gorged on honey to sustain them for the flight. The beekeeper will transfer the swarm into a nucleus box where they can establish themselves before being moved to a hive.

The beekeeper uses a smoker to tame the bees while he’s working with them. Smoke makes honeybees believe there may be a wildfire nearby. They’ll eat as much honey as they can in preparation for a potential move. This full stomach makes them less likely to sting due to the physical difficulty in tipping their abdomens up.

Smoke also masks the alarm pheromone given off by guard bees. This pheromone smells like banana candy, so if you smell bananas in your hive, it’s time for another puff of smoke. Similarly, beekeepers shouldn’t eat bananas before working with a hive, since it may be detected as an alarm pheromone. My suggestion is not to eat bananas before taking a stroll in the woods.

Bees tend to attack the face of mammals, hence the veiled hood as part of the beekeeper’s gear. Bees have carbon dioxide receptors on their antennae, which allow them to detect our exhalations. They may respond aggressively. This ability developed to protect them against bears. Also, if you’re afraid, they can sense it because you’ll breathe more rapidly.

Beekeeper tasks include making sure the bees have enough food, water and ventilation. They need to make sure weaker hives aren’t been preyed upon by stronger hives. Bees also need to be checked for diseases and pests. This job requires year-round attention to the bees in their care.

Bee populations are threatened by pesticides, drought, habitat destruction, nutritional deficits, air pollution, climate change, diseases and parasitic mites, plus robbers such as bears and bees from other colonies. Ecological farming is the key to protecting the bees. This practice restores soil nutrients, avoids soil loss from wind and water erosion, and avoids use of pesticides and fertilizers.

I am not a fan of bees of any kind, including wasps and bumblebees and hornets. True, the honeybees play an important role in our agriculture and honey production, but I’d rather steer clear of them. That includes hollow tree trunks and other potential hiding places in the woods.

Do you ever think about the role of bees in the honey you use at home? 

Research for EASTER HAIR HUNT #cozymystery involved learning about honeybees and beekeeping. Share on X

Disclaimer: I am not an expert in the field of beekeeping. This information is based on my understanding of the material I read.


Easter Hair Hunt, #16 in the Bad Hair Day Mysteries 

An Easter egg hunt at historic Tremayne Manor leads hairstylist Marla Vail to discover more than just dyed eggs. The dead body in the bunny costume is definitely not having a good hare day. Marla and her husband, homicide detective Dalton Vail, make an eggcellent team. He knows Marla finds solving mysteries and hare-raising adventures to be irresistible, but she may have found a basketful of trouble this time. Can Marla pull a rabbit out of her hat and crack the case of the body in the bunny suit? Recipes Included! 


Amazon Kindle – https://www.amazon.com/dp/B083TZ78G1
Amazon Print – https://www.amazon.com/Easter-Hair-Hunt-Bad-Mysteries/dp/0999793276/
BN Nook – https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/books/1136016947?ean=2940162711889
Apple – https://books.apple.com/us/book/easter-hair-hunt/id1494917053?ls=1
Kobo https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/easter-hair-hunt
Books2Read – https://books2read.com/EasterHairHunt
IndieBound – https://www.indiebound.org/book/9780999793275
Goodreads – https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/50494022-easter-hair-hunt
Website – https://nancyjcohen.com/easter-hair-hunt/


Research Insights – Postal Service

Visiting the National Postal Museum in Washington D.C. is an enlightening experience. From the history of mail delivery via land, sea, and air to postal police to rare stamps, the exhibits need more than one day to absorb. If you’re into vehicles, there’s a mail train car, a stagecoach, vintage airplanes, and postal trucks among other awesome displays. After touring the voluminous halls, I came away with a new appreciation for mail carriers. You can read about my experience here.

Postage stamps figure into Easter Hair Hunt, #16 in the Bad Hair Day Mysteries. Lacey Tremayne, owner of a historic estate open to the public for tours and catered events, tells my hairstylist sleuth how her late husband had collected stamps. Lacey never paid much attention to his hobby, but she did like the historical aspects. Here she explains to Marla about the early history of our postal service. Why is this relevant? Marla found the chief gardener dead on the estate grounds after an Easter egg hunt. She’s interviewing potential suspects to find a motive.

postage stamps

“In the early days of mail delivery, a letter’s recipient had to pay a fee. Letters were folded and sealed with no envelopes since postage was based on weight. But people tried to cheat by putting a secret code on the outside of the letter, so the receiver could read the message and refuse delivery. The postal service turned to prepaid postage as a way to get paid for their efforts.” 

“Sealing wax was used on letters,” Marla remembered from period movies she’d seen. Noblemen would stamp the melted wax with their signet rings. 

“That’s correct. Rowland Hill, an English inventor, proposed that mail should go anywhere in Britain for the same rate, a penny per half ounce. The sender would pay for the postage, denoted by a small piece of colored paper on the outside of the letter. The first government-issued stamp, called the Penny Black, was issued in 1840. It was printed in black and had Queen Victoria on the picture.” 

“When was the first stamp made in the United States?” Marla asked, thinking to repeat this information to Dalton. As a history buff, he’d be interested in early postal service lore. 

“The U.S. Postal Service printed its first stamps in 1847,” Lacey said. “We had a five-cent stamp picturing Benjamin Franklin and a ten-cent stamp with George Washington. Most were produced in pre-gummed, non-perforated sheets that clerks had to cut.” 

“What kind of stamps did Connor collect?” 

Lacey spread her hands. “You’d have to ask his pal, Jonas Sommers. I liked learning about the history aspect but not the rest. Jonny is a walking encyclopedia on the topic.” 

“Did this guy have any interest in buying Connor’s collection after he passed? That would have made it easier for you to unload the stuff.” 

“No, I went through a stamp dealer. Jonny acted oddly at the time. He advised me to hold onto Connor’s stamps. But neither Daniel nor I had any interest in them. It’s like any collection. You pay a lot to acquire the items and then receive barely anything when you sell them.”

What did happen to Connor’s stamps? Were all of them sold, or were some hidden in the same private vault where he kept his sword collection? No one could seem to locate this secret stash.

If you want to read more on the history of postage stamp prices in the UK, Go Here for a quick summary.

Routine mail delivery is something we shouldn’t take for granted. It’s fascinating to learn about the postal service and the methods of delivery by air, sea and land. Mail carriers used to deliver the mail to us no matter the weather outside. Nowadays they’ll often stick the mail into cluster mailboxes at the entrance to a housing development. I much prefer our mail slot in the front door and an older community where the carrier goes from house to house.

How do you get your mail delivered? Do you have the same person each day on your route?


Easter Hair Hunt, #16 in the Bad Hair Day Mysteries 

An Easter egg hunt at historic Tremayne Manor leads hairstylist Marla Vail to discover more than just dyed eggs. The dead body in the bunny costume is definitely not having a good hare day. Marla and her husband, homicide detective Dalton Vail, make an eggcellent team. He knows Marla finds solving mysteries and hare-raising adventures to be irresistible, but she may have found a basketful of trouble this time. Can Marla pull a rabbit out of her hat and crack the case of the body in the bunny suit? Recipes Included! 


Amazon Kindle – https://www.amazon.com/dp/B083TZ78G1
Amazon Print – https://www.amazon.com/Easter-Hair-Hunt-Bad-Mysteries/dp/0999793276/
BN Nook – https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/books/1136016947?ean=2940162711889
Apple – https://books.apple.com/us/book/easter-hair-hunt/id1494917053?ls=1
Kobo https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/easter-hair-hunt
Books2Read – https://books2read.com/EasterHairHunt
IndieBound – https://www.indiebound.org/book/9780999793275
Goodreads – https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/50494022-easter-hair-hunt
Website – https://nancyjcohen.com/easter-hair-hunt/

Research Insights for EASTER HAIR HUNT #cozymystery on the history of the Postal Service. #amreading Share on X



LAST DAY! Enter Here to win an Easter Fun Box with a signed proof copy of Easter Hair Hunt, a scarf, cosmetic bag, gardening gloves, candy, hair ties, dish towel and socks.


Learning About Love Bugs

Writers learn about all sorts of esoteric topics as research for our books. Most of the time, readers can enjoy learning about new things along with us, as long as we avoid what our editors call “info dumps.” But what we don’t put into our story can make an interesting topic for a blog post.

For EASTER HAIR HUNT, #16 in the Bad Hair Day Mysteries, I decided to learn more about love bugs. These pesky insects plague us during spring and fall months. When driving up the Florida turnpike at these times, you might hear the bugs go splat on your windshield. Your visibility might diminish since using windshield wipers will only smear them. They can also make a mess of your car’s finish if not promptly washed off.

Love Bugs

The black-bodied insects with a reddish-orange thorax — scientific name Plecia Nearctica—are sometimes called honeymoon flies because of their coupled flight. They came to the Florida via Central America in the 1940s. Because love bugs do not have many natural enemies, their population continues to grow. People consider them to be a pest.

During copulation, males face the opposite direction of the female. Love bugs remain paired this way for about three days. Then the male gets exhausted and dies. The female lays her eggs and then she perishes. Love bug larvae use decaying vegetation as a source of food. This aids in decomposing plant matter and provides nutrients to the soil.

May and September are their most popular months. They wait until the sun comes up and the air warms before moving around. Thousands of males may be seen hovering over a single pasture, waiting for the females to stir. Once mated, they forage for food, which is pollen and nectar. They stop feeding in the late afternoon. The pairs land on vegetation to rest during the night.

Love bugs are attracted to freshly painted surfaces and may be seen in dried paint on buildings. They’re especially attracted to car fumes on highways. These fumes contain organic compounds that smell similar to the decaying organic material where females lay their eggs. For this reason, the bugs will also congregate at gas stations.

Along the road, they splatter against car windshields, leaving a residue that can become a driving hazard. Using windshield wipers will only smear the mess. Their bodies can cause damage to car paint if you don’t clean them off. Their natural elements of decomposition plus heat from the sun cause compounds that can dissolve the paint. Other sources say their bodies are acidic, hence the damage. Here are some measures you can take, although I haven’t personally verified them:

When you arrive at your destination, wash the front of your car with water. Scrub it with a dryer sheet or a bug splatter sponge, and rinse again.

Use a deflector screen on the front of your car to prevent the bugs from sticking to the grill, or spray the front grill with cooking spray before driving.

Buy a bug remover solution that will remove the residue.

Take your vehicle to a professional car wash as soon as possible and pay extra for custom attention. (This one is my choice.)

What bugs you about love bugs? Have you encountered these pesky critters?


Easter Hair Hunt, #16 in the Bad Hair Day Mysteries

An Easter egg hunt at historic Tremayne Manor leads hairstylist Marla Vail to discover more than just dyed eggs. The dead body in the bunny costume is definitely not having a good hare day. Marla and her husband, homicide detective Dalton Vail, make an eggcellent team. He knows Marla finds solving mysteries and hare-raising adventures to be irresistible, but she may have found a basketful of trouble this time. Can Marla pull a rabbit out of her hat and crack the case of the body in the bunny suit? Recipes Included!


Amazon Kindle – https://www.amazon.com/dp/B083TZ78G1
Amazon Print – https://www.amazon.com/Easter-Hair-Hunt-Bad-Mysteries/dp/0999793276/
BN Nook – https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/books/1136016947?ean=2940162711889
Apple – https://books.apple.com/us/book/easter-hair-hunt/id1494917053?ls=1
Kobo https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/easter-hair-hunt
Books2Read – https://books2read.com/EasterHairHunt
IndieBound – https://www.indiebound.org/book/9780999793275
Goodreads – https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/50494022-easter-hair-hunt
Website – https://nancyjcohen.com/easter-hair-hunt/

Learning about Love Bugs #research #cozymystery Share on X


Enter Here March 1-18 to win a free book from Booklover’s Bench

March 2020


Downton Abbey Exhibition

The Downton Abbey Exhibition is currently at City Place in West Palm Beach. We went last weekend to view the scenes and costumes from one of our favorite period piece shows. The exhibit is housed in a former Macy’s location. The restrooms are upstairs, and it’s sad to see how empty the cavernous halls were with even some original signage remaining.
Back downstairs, we entered to view a short introductory film about the beloved series. The next room had profiles of each character, along with some of their detailed artifacts such as handwritten letters that made it all seem real. You could read about their duties and roles in society at the time, as well as many of the social and political issues dominating the scene.
Murals along the walls were fun as they gave a larger-than-life sense of being there.
I liked viewing the sets the best. It felt as though we were in a historic mansion getting a glimpse into the people’s lives there. Going into a hallway reminiscent of the TV show, we first entered rooms representing the downstairs sections. Imagine the hustle and bustle in the kitchen where the cook and other servants prepared several meals a day.

We saw the servants’ hall where they took their meals and where the bell board was located.
IMG_2025IMG_2028IMG_2026IMG_2027 158416021
Then we viewed Lady Mary’s bedroom. Look at this old hairstyling guide. Marla, my hairstylist sleuth, would get a kick out of it. Mary’s dressing table is dimly lit.
158416014  IMG_2030IMG_2031 IMG_2029
The library consists of projections on three walls surrounding a series of benches. As you sit there, various scenes come to life on screen. Again, you feel as though you’re in the story.

I love seeing costumes, and these were no exception. Which ones would you choose if you could pick from them?

Accessories were included. Here’s a selection of hats, gloves, and jewelry that were necessary to complete your ensemble.
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There were a number of bridal ensembles, complete with beaded veils and embellishments that a real bride could have worn. The detail was amazing.
Then we come to the dining room. I like to imagine myself sitting there and being served. Note the number of wine glasses and utensils. My mother used to have tiny salt cellars with silver spoons like here. It must have been a tediously long evening with so many courses and even more rules to follow.
It took us about an hour total to go through each area, ending up in the gift shop. Go to http://DowntonExhibition.com for more information. Reviewing the scenes and characters will make you ready for Downton Abbey: The Movie!

Other period favorites of mine on TV are Poldark and Outlander. How about you?


Research Insights – Olive Oil Scams

While doing research for my books, I love to learn about esoteric topics. For Trimmed to Death, #15 in my Bad Hair Day Mystery series, I focused the story on food. Hairstylist and amateur sleuth Marla Vail enters a bake-off contest that’s a recipe for disaster when a contestant ends up dead.

In considering the possible crime involved, I came across the topic of olive oil fraud. This led me to delve into the Florida olive growing industry and how olives are processed. Yes, I’m an olive fan. And now I’m more aware of fraud in the olive oil import business. Read on, and you can become more knowledgeable, too. Disclaimer: This information is based on my interpretation of the data so you are urged to verify the facts yourself.

The Problem
Olive oil scams rake in millions of dollars and involve fake labels and inferior products. The Italian extra virgin olive oil you paid a hefty price to buy? It may originate from somewhere else entirely. For example, a criminal ring from Italy passed off a blend of imported oils from the Middle East as authentic Italian extra virgin olive oil (EVOO). Italy’s authorities unraveled the scheme, which involved twelve companies and a certification laboratory. Thousands of tons of olive oil were fraudulently bottled and labeled as made in Italy. Just so you know, Italy may be the world’s largest importer and exporter of olive oil, but Spain is the largest producer. Much of what comes from Italy is merely bottled there.

In another case, seven well-known Italian olive oil producers were investigated for falsely passing off inferior olive oil products as extra virgin. Italian authorities conducted operation “Mama Mia” and seized 2,000 tons of falsely labeled EVOO worth $14.5 million. Two months later, they seized another 22 tons of counterfeit oil. Italian newspaper La Stampa tested twenty of the most popular brands in Italy and discovered forty-five percent was falsely labeled.
As much as eighty percent of olive oil labeled as extra virgin may be diluted with lower grades of oil. These can include refined oils that have been processed with heat or chemicals. Or the EVOO may be adulterated with processed seed oils, such as soybean, peanut or sunflower. These seed oils can cause potential allergic reactions. Sometimes the extra virgin olive oil is cut with stale oil left over from earlier crops, or it may even be sold rancid. The market is rife with fraud, with estimates that nearly seventy percent of all store-bought EVOOs sold in the United States are falsely labeled.

Olive OilFL

What is being done about it?
The U.S. Congress ordered the FDA to begin testing imported oils for adulteration and misbranding. Italian producers have created their own seal of quality that says 100% Qualita Italiana. California producers have a California Olive Oil Commission (COOC) 100% Certified Extra Virgin seal. The North American Olive Oil Association has its own certified logo.

What can you do?
Check the label and see if the country of origin is listed. Look at the date for when the oil was pressed or harvested and try to buy it less than a year old. Ignore the “bottled on” date as well as “use by” a certain date. See if it has one of the certification seals above. Look for specialty olive oils produced by local olive growers in Florida and California. Shop at specialty stores that provide information about chemical analysis, olive variety, where and when it originated. These shops do tastings and sell in small quantities. Once opened, olive oil deteriorates quickly. So it’s better to buy two small bottles than one bigger one.



Schnebly Winery

My birthday often falls the same weekend as Thanksgiving. My birth date was actually on the holiday. My mother used to say she got me on a platter instead of a turkey. This year, our kids came home so we could celebrate together. We had a lovely meal with all the proper fixings while enjoying each other’s company.


On Friday of Thanksgiving weekend, we drove to Florida City/Homestead. We meant to stop at Knaus Berry Farm, but the line to get in was way too long for us to wait out in the hot sun. We took backroads instead toward the Schnebly Redland’s Winery and Miami Brewing Co. It was an educational drive through South Florida’s agricultural country. The winery makes wine and beer out of tropical fruits. There’s a gift shop adjacent to the Redlander Restaurant where we had lunch. I had a tasty burger with fried avocado on top.


The tour took us on a path under a thatched roof and past a waterfall. We fed the Koi fish in the pond while the guide explained the winery’s origins. Next we viewed the vats where the fruit is pressed for juice and later fermented.

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The resulting liquid is filtered to remove any remaining solids and then bottled in dark bottles to prevent sunlight from penetrating. Beer is sold in cans.

We entered the taproom where beer samples were available. I am not a beer drinker, but our kids enjoyed the taste. We saw the rest of the brewery before moving on to the wine tasting.


At the bar in the gift shop, we each chose five wines to taste. I liked the Grand Reserve, a white that was dry enough to be a table wine, and Denisse’s Boo-Boo Wine that was similar to an ice wine to be sipped after dinner.

We drove next to Robert is Here to look at the farmer’s market selling fresh fruits and vegetables and their famous milkshakes. Outside is a mini-zoo where you can feed lettuce to the animals. The only thing lacking is a decent restroom. With the crowds they get, they should invest in a real facility. If you’re desperate, they have portable units on site. Then we drove home. Exhausted from the long day, we ate turkey leftovers for dinner.


Research Insights – Green or Black Olives

I’m a big olive fan. When I was younger, I used to eat cream cheese and black olive sandwiches for lunch. Now I like to eat olives as an accompaniment to any kind of sandwich, or olive tapenade on crackers as an appetizer. I like green olives, but they can be saltier. Then we have Kalamata olives, which I enjoy along with nova on a bagel or in a Greek salad.
In Trimmed to Death, my hairstylist sleuth Marla Vail goes to interview a person of interest at an olive grove. Along the way, she learns more about this fruit from the olive tree.

What’s the difference between green and black olives?

The olive is a stone fruit, in which a fleshy outer covering surrounds a pit or stone, which in turn encases a seed. The outer flesh of an olive contains up to thirty percent oil. Olives grown for the table are different from olives pressed for oil.

Raw olives have a bitter taste. They need to be processed before we can eat them. They can be sun dried, but more commonly they’re treated to remove the bitter compounds and make them more palatable.

Green olives are picked before they ripen and are soaked in lye. Then they’re washed in water to remove the caustic solution and transferred to fermenting vessels full of brine. The brine is changed on a regular basis to help remove the bitter phenolic compound known as oleuropein. Fermentation occurs by natural microbes present on the olives that survive the lye treatment. These bacteria produce lactic acid that lowers the pH of the brine. This helps stabilize the product against unwanted pathogens. Once fermented, the olives are placed in fresh brine and acid-corrected before going to market.
Black olives are picked after ripening. Tree-ripened olives turn purple due to an accumulation of anthocyanin, a purplish pigment. These ripe olives need treatment before they’re edible. Salt-cured olives, produced in certain Mediterranean countries, are washed and packed in alternating layers of salt. This draws the moisture from the olives, dehydrating and shriveling them. Once cured, they are sold in their natural state without any additives. Oil-cured olives are cured in salt and then soaked in oil. Otherwise, there’s the fermentation process described above.
California black olives, although labeled as ripe on supermarket cans, are really green olives that have been soaked in lye and washed in water injected with compressed air. This process is repeated until the skin and flesh are oxidized, turning the olives black. Then the olives are washed and put into a fresh brine solution. Ferrous gluconate may be added to set the shiny black color before these olives are canned.

What is a Kalamata olive?
The Kalamata olive from this region in Greece has a deep purple color and is meatier than other varieties. These olives are placed directly into fermentation vessels full of brine until they appear almost dark brown or black. Most Kalamata olives are split to allow the interior to absorb the flavor. Beware these olives are usually sold with their seeds. Even if you get olives that are supposedly pitted, small bits might remain, so be careful when eating them.

Why are black olives sold in cans and green olives in jars?
Early California black olives sold in jars caused cases of botulism. As a result, the industry switched to a canning process. The artificially-ripened olives are heated to 240 degrees. A canned item can tolerate this temperature, but not a glass jar.
Green olives don’t undergo the addition of oxygen and are packed in brine. The salinity is high enough and the pH levels are low enough to inhibit bacterial growth, so they don’t have to be sealed in metal cans and cooked. These olives remain edible for many years stored in jugs, crocks, or jars. No refrigeration is required until opened.

Excerpt from Trimmed to Death
Hairstylist Marla Vail is talking to a Florida olive grower.
“Some olive varieties may be edible off the tree if they are sun dried first. Otherwise, the curing process can take a few days with lye treatment, or a few months with brine or salt packing.”
“What do you mean, with lye?” Marla wrinkled her nose at the thought.
“Lye processing is mainly used with green or semi-ripe olives,” Ben explained, as they crossed over to another row and then headed back toward the main complex. “The olives are soaked in lye for eight to ten hours to hydrolyse the oleuropein. Then they’re washed in water to remove the caustic solution and transferred to fermenting vats filled with brine. Or, you can avoid the lye process and put them directly into fermentation vessels. There are other methods as well. One technique involves artificially darkening the olive to make it appear black.”
This was news to her. “Are table olives different from olives used to make olive oil?”
“Yes. Some olives are grown to cure and eat, while others are prized for their use in making extra virgin olive oil. Olive mills press the oil, and the sooner you get the product to consumers, the better the quality of the oil. Demand has increased since the health benefits of olive oil have been recognized. In the U.S., we currently import about ninety-eight percent of the millions of gallons we consume per year. You’re not always getting the product you think you are with these imports. Fraud has become a multi-million dollar enterprise.”
Olive Oil Scams are a topic for another time. I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about this fruit and are now eager to check out the varieties in your local grocery store. Disclaimer: This information is based on my interpretation of the data I read. Any errors are unintentional.
Are you an olive fan? If so, which variety do you like best?
Savvy hairstylist and amateur sleuth Marla Vail enters a charity bake-off contest at a fall festival sponsored by a local farm. While she waits to see if her coconut fudge pie is a winner, Marla discovers a dead body in the strawberry field. Can she unmask the killer before someone else gets trimmed from life? Recipes Included!
Get your copy here: https://www.books2read.com/TrimmedtoDeath