Book Blitzers, please join us as Deb (DS) and I (EVW) chat about her career, which includes the New York Times bestseller, A PLACE TO CALL HOME, and the Number One Kindle bestseller, THE CROSSROADS CAFÉ, which I guess you could say, started the journey of the MacBrides that we’ll focus on here.
Deborah, WELCOME! I’m so honored that you’d take the time to join us here this weekend. It’s been a pleasure getting to know you virtually the past few months and our interchanges this week have been an absolute delight. Before we begin to chat, may I pour you a cup of tea or coffee? Or if you feel slightly decadent, I have some hot chocolate prepared too.
Yes it’s fine to pull out your crochet hooks now, Deb. You and I both know that there is a line up of people wanting to enter your giveaway to win the hat and scarf you’ve donated!
All set? Then let’s start. Oh my, I love that yarn! Will that be another scarf? Oh, sorry to get off topic. Here we go!
(EVW) When I read your Crossroads Cafe-based MacBrides series, I feel like you’re sharing a world you’ve experienced and lived in with the me, the reader. Are these based on a community you lived in, visited, or knew?
(DS) I’ve lived in the mountains of the Appalachian South all my life, and my family goes back to the early 1800’s there. So it’s a setting and a history that’s a big part of who I am, including the Scots-Irish and Native-American heritage, the moonshining, the Civil War, the traditional food and farming culture, though not much of what people think of as the southern belle image—that was hardly true for most southerners and certainly not for my people, who were farmers, miners, preachers, soldiers, also more than a few outlaws.
(EVW) The way you infuse magic into the act of cooking the most comforting food imaginable in The Biscuit Witch and some of the most imaginative (and comforting) in The Pickle Queen (I’m remembering the SPAM), is something that really entrances me. Do you enjoy cooking as much as your characters do? If so, what’s one of your favorite recipes (and could you share it with us)?
(DS) I’m not a cook but I’m enchanted by the bond that food represents in all cultures. In my family the reunions, the picnics, the barbecues, the church “dinner on the grounds,” the holiday meals and the regular gatherings at my grandparent s’ farm for potluck (or in my husband’s more elegant family, “pick-up” meals) provide the sensory background to most of my best memories. If I have a favorite recipe it’s chicken and dumplings. Or just dumplings. I could eat dumplings by the gallon.
(EVW) I know you like to knit (just look at that fabulous giveaway prize everyone wants to win)! So, I’m really looking forward to the next book (novella) in the series, The Yarn Spinner that will focus on Lucy. Could you tell us a little more about it?
(DS) THE YARN SPINNER is a short story that introduces a bit of background about Lucy Parmenter, the heroine of THE KITCHEN CHARMER, a novella that comes this winter. Readers met her first in THE BISCUIT WITCH. She lives at a local farm that doubles as a home and counseling center for abused women, but unlike the other women, she’s become permanent, a rape victim whose agoraphobia seems unconquerable. So she has found a way to fit in by managing the herd of sheep, llamas and alpaca at the farm, and by selling their fleeces, plus the yarn she makes.
THE YARN SPINNER tells the story of Lucy’s arrival, and how Cathy Deen, the main character from THE CROSSROADS CAFÉ, took her underwing. It’s how Lucy discovered that she could survive by learning to knit.
(EVW) I’ve been slowly falling in love with Gus (and I think Lucy may be too) during his short appearances in the first two stories. Could you tell us a little more about this kitchen charmer?
(DS) Gus is the oldest of the three MacBride siblings. They lost their parents as kids in Asheville and ended up in California. It seemed they’d never get over the trauma of their childhood, never come home. But one by one the sisters have made it back. Only Gus, a career army officer, is a hold out. Each of the siblings has a kind of psychic foodie talent, inherited from their mother’s family, the mysterious “hillbilly hoodoo” Nettie clan, from whom the famous Delta Whittlespoon gets her biscuit magic. Gus’s talent is a “brew sense” – he can distill a person’s mood and personality, sort of psychically deduce what kind of blend they’re made of.
In THE BISCUIT WITCH, he and Lucy became texting buddies, and it’s clear Gus is eager to know a lot more about her. His sisters are sworn to secrecy about her fragile history, and Lucy dreads the thought of meeting Gus in person, having him find out that she is a recluse who flinches when a man even gets close to her.
That hasn’t been an issue since he’s stationed in Afghanistan, but as THE KITCHEN CHARMER opens a bomb ends his career and sends him home—deaf in one ear and nursing a gimpy leg. Not quite sure how to be a man anymore. The question is, of course, what happens when he finds out the truth about Lucy and realizes that winning her will take a kind of gallantry that they don’t teach on a battlefield.
(EVW) In The Biscuit Witch, I couldn’t have imagined a more perfect hero than Doc Firth – whose specialty is the four-footed friend variety. Do you have a menagerie at home too? If so, what animals have adopted you?
(DS) I contribute to our local humane society and have eight rescues – six cats, two fat dogs. I dreamed of being a veterinarian while growing up on a farm. . . then realized I was better off writing about veterinarians than being one.
(EVW) After the Kitchen Charmer, will there be more stories from the Crossroads Cafe? (I’m hoping your answer is in the affirmative.)
(DS) Yes! I want to build a number of stories into the series, carrying over into a story about Roan Sullivan’s half brother from A PLACE TO CALL HOME, tying those two worlds together.
(EVW) As a publisher and author, you have a unique view of where the industry has been and where it’s heading. Do you think we’ll still be holding on to paper copies of books in 20 years or will be all have made the jump to e-readers? Or are there just some books we HAVE to have in print, no matter what. And do you think the growing trend to digital is good for authors and publishers as a whole?
(DS) I think books will always be with us no matter what form they’re in. Just like stories exist today just as they did in Shakespeare’s time. I’m not worried about “storytelling.” It’s built into our bones. People adjust their expectations and love their storytelling rituals in each new generation.
The first two books in the MacBride Trilogy:
The Biscuit Witch & The Pickle Queen
autographed by Deborah Smith
The “Polar Express” hat and scarf
crocheted by Deborah Smith
Entries from residents of the United States onlyDrawing will be at the conclusion of this year’s January Book Blitz.Winners announced on 3 February 2014.
SNEAK PEEK EXCERPT from The Yarn SpinnerA Crossroads Café Short Storyby Deborah SmithPublishing Feb. 1 2014
The Crossroads Café Novellas
The Biscuit Witch
The Pickle QueenThe Kitchen Charmer (Winter 2014)
The Yarn Spinner is a lead-in to The Kitchen Charmer
Here’s a preliminary look at the baby blanket that will be featured.
I opened the door to the barn’s storage room, already smelling the scent of wool from inside. Lanolin and earth and the essence of an ancient gift to keep us warm. Lucy Parmenter had thrown away her past, her hope, her God, and hidden inside a burrito of wool with no idea what she’d do other than hide.Maybe she wasn’t ever coming out.Was she invisible? Granted, the work room was a warren of floor-to-ceiling garbage bags, the clear kind, stuffed with the clean, carded wool from last spring’s shearing. They were contained behind rows of narrow wooden slats that occupied two-thirds of the space, bulging like herniated discs between the braces. In the non-wool area, which was small, sat a twin bed covered in quilts. I saw Lucy’s imprint on its propped-up pillows. Two floor lamps, a desk lamp, and a lamp on a small side table by the bed cast small pools of light in the otherwise shadowy space.I hugged myself and shivered. A thermostat said sixty degrees.“Lucy?” I called gently as I shut the door behind me.I’m not a great actress, but I have a really pleasant and distinctive voice, and with the help of voice coaches I can . . . Okay, I’m no Meryl Streep. But I sound pretty. I put all the pretty and safe I could into “It’s Cathy. Cathy Mitternich.”“Corner. Sitting in the floor. I’m sorry, but . . . can’t move.” The soft voice curled from behind the last stack of wool bags. It was east-coast Carolinas, slower than a mountain drawl, lacy on the edges. The voice was sad. Tired. A little slurred.“Mind if I come over there and sit with you?”“Not at all. I can offer you a soft drink from my miniature refrigerator. But I’m afraid you’ll have to help yourself.”“Thank you, but I’m fine.”“I . . . I was raised with better manners than this.”I made my way through the clutter, moving slowly, as if I might spook her. I took a deep breath. Try every angle. “Lucy, you’re bunking in a barn. Miss Maple Belle’s Rules of Etiquette don’t apply.”I reached the last stack of wool and stepped into the ally behind it.There, in the dark, in the corner, dressed in at least three layers of sweaters, leggings, a floor-length denim skirt, and with a quilt wrapped around her, sat a small girl-woman with a doll’s face and hair so blond it was nearly white. What was left of it. It appeared to have been chopped off with a hacksaw about an inch from her scalp.She keeps shearing her hair off, Macy had said. And the layering of clothes—it’s all about self-defense. Armor. Making herself look ugly. She thinks that will protect her from being raped again“Miss Maple Belle’s Rules,” she said. Her voice was hoarse. Her lips moved like cracked leather. “You have a Miss Maple Belle Etiquette School Certificate?”“Why, yes!” I fluttered a hand to my lavender sweater. “The courses were taught all ovah tha South, you know. Do you?”She nodded wearily. Her head bobbled.She looks like she’s withering in front of me. Like a flower about to shrink in the first frost.“Well, then, Miss Lucy, I’m your guest, so as you know my wishes have to be accommodated. I am freezing my Maple Belles off.” I hustled back to the thermostat and turned it up to seventy, then to her desk, where I grabbed two bottles from a pack of bottled water. “I’d like some tea. You must join me, you hear?” I filled an electric kettle and flipped its switch, then dug out two mugs, tea bags, sweeteners and dried milk from a set-up Macy had placed on a small table for her. “Not to sound gauche, Miss Lucy, but what kind of eats do you have around this lovely home?”“I don’t know,” she whispered. “I can’t swallow.”I found packets of instant cereal, protein bars, and other assorted non-perishable survivalist food. Exactly the kind of lonely menu I’d planned when I hid in Grandmother Mary Eve’s house, at first.I dropped my satchel on the bed, fished out my cell phone, and punched an emergency number. A strict rule: Never interrupt kitchen prep at the Café unless someone is dying or just won the lottery. “Jesus loves you at the Crossroads Café,” Cleo McKellan answered. “Who’s hurt?”“I need a package for one, extra on the love, right now, at the Rainbow Goddess Farm.”Cleo inhaled sharply. “You better hope somebody’s dying.” She hung up.I looked at Lucy, who was gazing into space. I felt doom all around her. Someone was dying, yes.They say my grandmother, Mary Eve Nettie, was a biscuit witch. They say there was, and is, a gentle brand of spiritual outreach in any cook from the Nettie bloodline. A Nettie cook can deduce hungers in people, far beyond the obvious intuitions about a person’s culinary palette.I have some psychic inclinations, and food is part of them, but in my case it hasn’t developed as a cook’s talent so much as a “cook’s assistant’s” talent. Fine by me. Learning to bake a Delta-worthy biscuit was a huge part of my rehabilitation. I overcame my fear of fire—even stoves terrified me—and I learned patience. Most of all, proving that I could master the delicate art of a good, from-scratch biscuit symbolized how many untapped talents I might have. Small ones, big ones. Like loving Tom and becoming a mom to two foster daughters. If I could mix, knead, nurture and bake a great biscuit . . .But when it came to some serious biscuit magic, there was only one Delta. I’d sent out the bat signal, and Delta was now on the job.“You gonna eat this, baby,” she said to Lucy, holding a spoon to her lips. In it was a crumb of biscuit fresh from the café’s oven, soaked in cream gravy. Lucy’s eyes were fixed on it. Her nose flexed, inhaling. I had lain in a burn ward, drugged and bandaged and half-crazy, with a shipping box open on my stomach and my good hand fervently dipping chunks of cold biscuits into stone-cold cream gravy anchored in special freezer packs. The nurses had stared at me as if I were a wolf eating the legs off living rabbits.But those care boxes from Delta, along with phone calls from her friend Tom, kept me alive.The power of the Love Biscuit had worked then.It had to work this time, too. It had to.Lucy didn’t move. Delta didn’t pressure her. Still dressed in her apron with THE LARD COOKS IN MYSTERIOUS WAYS AT THE CROSSROADS CAFÉ on it, with one of her husband, Pike’s Jefferson County Sheriff’s jackets over the apron, her jeans, her striped socks and hiking sandals, she hunched closer to Lucy and hummed under her breath. I cocked my head, trying to make out the tune. We sat side by side, cross-legged on the cold floor. I tucked a strand of Delta’s graying brunette hair back under its bandana. Delta hummed louder. Amazing Grace, the old hymn.I added my hum to it. Harmony.Suddenly, Lucy’s eyes flashed to us. Sheer rage filled them. “There is no grace!” she yelled. “And it doesn’t save anyone!”I froze. Delta didn’t blink. Just nodded. “That’s an argument for another time, baby. But I’ll tell you what saves you tonight. The eternal biscuit and the ever-loving cream gravy. We love ya, baby. You’re here in the Cove with your cousin Delta and your cousin Cathy, baby. You gonna be just fine, baby. You gonna eat biscuits and gravy, baby.”Cousin Lucy. Yes, already.Lucy stared at Delta as if she’d risen from a strange soup. With her eyes opening wide for the first time, I saw how dilated they were. Completely stoned on pscyh meds. I remembered that feeling. “Am I crazy?” she whispered. “Was the rape my fault? Was I naïve and careless? Am I indirectly responsible for my father’s heart attack?”“No, baby, none of that’s true. It’s gonna take you a while to clean all those thoughts out of your head, but you’ll do it. For now, all you gotta do is eat.”Lucy’s muddled gaze went back to the spoon. She lifted a small, shaking hand from inside the quilt, curved her fingers around Delta’s freckled, kitchen-hardened ones, and slowly pulled the spoon between her lips.The second the manna of biscuit/gravy hit her tongue, she gulped the tiny bite in one swallow. Trembling all over, she lunged toward the box of food we’d balanced on her knees. She hesitated as if checking for predators around her kill, then plucked a piece of biscuit, swiped it in gravy, and brought it to her mouth. As she chewed, she moaned. Again. Pluck, swipe, chew, moan. We watched the ritual escalate until the moans vanished into feverish, hungry sounds and she was nearly shoving each bite between her lips. The biscuits, the gravy, the side dishes—mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, creamed corn, squash casserole, and more. Vanishing.I gripped Delta’s forearm. “She’ll make herself sick.”Delta watched her sadly. “She’s already sick. This is probably the first sign of life anybody’s seen in her. Leave her be.”We sat there watching as she ate everything, finally falling asleep sitting up, with her hands in the empty box, unfurled like lost children.“She needs something to reach for,” Delta whispered. “The way you decided that learning to bake a decent biscuit was your holy grail. We’ve gotta find something for her to hitch her star to.”A feathery wisp tickled my nose. I brushed it away. It floated down between Delta and me, settling on her apron. We stared at it. A bit of soft gray wool.“Well butter my butt and call me done,” Delta said. “The Lard does work in mysterious ways. Somebody just sent us the answer.”
…………………………..THE CROSSROADS CAFE SERIES by Deborah SmithThe book that started the journey…
The Crossroads Cafe by Deborah Smith
Bell Bridge Books
Publication date: 16 September 2006
Price: $9.39 (currently on sale) / $16.95 print edition
The world’s most beautiful movie star is scarred in a firey car accident. Her career over and her self-esteem in shreds, she hides in the magnificent home her grandmother left her in the mountains of North Carolina. But her motherly cousin refuses to let her become a recluse, and a handsome neighbor with painful dilemmas of his own is lured into the mix. Romance, family life, drama, humor and secrets.
The MacBrides Novellas
The Biscuit Witch (A Crossroads Café Novella, Book One of the MacBrides)
Bell Bridge Books
Publication date: 30 April 2013
Price: $4.61 (currently on sale) Kindle / $10.95 print edition
This time, the MacBrides are home to stay.
Dear Dr. Firth:
I know you are in your cups at this time, drinking and sleeping under trees, but I have some experience rehabilitating lost souls in that regard, and so I am enclosing a box of my biscuits and a cold-wrapped container of cream gravy for dessert. Please eat and write back.
We need a veterinarian of your gumption here in the Crossroads Cove of Jefferson County.
—Delta Whittlespoon, proprietress of The Crossroads Café
Biscuit witches, Mama called them. She’d heard the term as a girl. She’d inherited that talent. My mother could cast spells on total strangers simply by setting a plate of her biscuits in front of them. –Tal MacBride
Welcome back to the Crossroads Cove where new loves, old feuds, and poignant mysteries will challenge siblings Tal, Gabby, and Gus MacBride to fight for the home they lost and to discover just how important their family once was, and still is, to the proud people of the Appalachian highlands.
Tallulah MacBride hasn’t been back to North Carolina since their parents’ tragic deaths, twenty years ago. But now, Tal heads to cousin Delta Whittlespoon’s famous Crossroads Café in the mountains above Asheville, hoping to find a safe hiding place for her young daughter, Eve.
What she finds is Cousin Delta gone, the café in a biscuit crisis, and a Scotsman, who refuses to believe she’s passing through instead of “running from.” He believes she needs a knight in shining flannel.
When a pair of sinister private eyes show up, Tal’s troubles are just beginning.
For Tal’s brother and sister—Gabby, the Pickle Queen, and Gus, the Kitchen Charmer—the next part of the journey will lead down forgotten roads and into beautiful but haunted legacies.
The Pickle Queen: 2 (A Crossroads Cafe Novella, The MacBrides Book 2)
Bell Bridge Books
Publication date: 15 November 2013
Price: $5.49 Kindle / $12.95 print edition
Pickles are mentioned in the Bible. Cleopatra ate them as a beauty regimen. Shakespeare put them in his plays. Mason designed jars for bottling them. So did Ball. Did Mason and Ball fight over the King of the Pickle Jars title? I don’t know. I did know this much: I used pickles to keep fear, pride, and my love of Jay Wakefield behind a door I would not risk opening again. Even now.
Wakefields take what they want. MacBrides never surrender. For nearly a hundred years, a battle of wills between these two deeply-rooted Appalachian families has ended in defeat and heartache–most often, for MacBrides. Now the MacBride name is barely more than a legend, and it’s up to Gabby MacBride to deal with the pain of her childhood memories and also the challenge of a MacBride legacy she’s only beginning to understand.
That will mean coming to terms with her bittersweet love for Jay Wakefield, the lonely rich boy who became her soul mate when they were kids, before the dark demands of his own legacy forced him to betray her.
About the Author
Deborah Smith is the author of 35 novels in romance and women’s fiction, including the New York Times bestseller, A PLACE TO CALL HOME, and the Number 1 Kindle bestseller, THE CROSSROADS CAFÉ. RT Magazine named A PLACE TO CALL HOME one of the Top 200 Romances of the 20th Century. In 2006, Library Journal named THE CROSSROADS CAFÉ one of the top romances of the year. Since 2000, Deborah has been a partner in BelleBooks, a small publishing house that now includes the imprints Bell Bridge Books and Imajinn Books. As a writer, Deborah is currently working on novellas and short stories spun off from THE CROSSROADS CAFÉ. The newest story is THE YARN SPINNER, January 2014. She lives in the mountains of north Georgia with her husband, six cats and two dogs; all rescues. (Not her husband.)
Images of Inspiration
Deborah Smith’s The Crossroads Cafe Novels on PinterestBook Trailer for The Crossroads Cafe
A video overview about Bell Bridge Books, Deborah’s publishing house based in Memphis, TN
- 2 C Flour
- 1 t sugar (or honey or maple syrup)
- 1 T baking powder
- 1 t salt
- 8 T butter sliced (1 stick)
- 3/4 milk (or buttermilk, you can add a teaspoon of lemon juice to milk to “make” buttermilk)
- Preheat your oven to around 425 degrees
- Combine flour, sugar (if used), baking powder, and salt together in a bowl then cut the butter into the mixture (you can use your CLEAN fingers or a pastry tool).
- Once the mixture looks like cornmeal, make a well and add the milk (and honey or maple syrup if used instead of sugar) gradually – then using your fingers once again, scrunch the dough and add milk when necessary (you can best gauge when to add a little more).
- Turn out the onto a floured pastry board or counter and roll it out with the heal of your hands to about 1/2-3/4 of an inch (or a little more or less to your taste).
- I use a glass to cut out the biscuits, but you may have a biscuit cutter. If so, use that to cut the biscuits out and then place them in a buttered tray/sheet.
- Cook them in the oven for about 10-12 minutes or until they’re just golden. Be careful not to over bake them.
Super Easy Chicken and Dumplings Recipe
Deb said this was one of her favorite comfort meals. I haven’t made it in a while, but you can see I go the easy route with my recipes and try to keep everything pretty simple.
If you would like to share some of your favorite comfort food recipes with us, please post them in the comments below.
What you need
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2lbs of chicken (this can be a whole chicken, cut up; thighs; or breasts – but these should have both their bones and skin)
- 1-1/2t salt
- 1t pepper
- 5 stalks of thinly sliced celery
- 3-5 thinly sliced carrots (I usually use rounds)
- 1-2 onions chopped
- 3-5 cloves of garlic chopped
- 1-2T Bell’s seasoning
- 8-10 C Water or Water/Chicken Broth mixture
- 2 1/2 C Flour
- 1 T Baking Powder*
- 1/2 t Baking Soda*
- 6 T melted butter (about 3/4 of a stick)
- 3/4 cup buttermilk (or regular milk with a T of lemon juice added, let stand so it thickens)
- 1-2t Finely chopped parsley (or dry) for dumplings
(*Warning, don’t mix these up as you’re measuring everything out. I have and it’s, well, not pleasant!)
- Heat the oil in a Dutch Oven (I have my grandmothers old cast iron one) and season the chicken with half of the salt and pepper then brown it in batches (about 5 minutes). Remove with a slotted spoon and rest on a plate.
- Add celery, carrots, onions, Bell’s seasoning, and garlic to the drippings in the Dutch Oven and cook until the vegetables soften and the onions glisten (around 5 minutes) – then add the chicken back in and the water or water/chicken broth mixture to cover. Heat it up to just under a boil and then cook for about 30 minutes until the chicken is completely cooked through Bring to a simmer and cook until the chicken is cooked through, 30 – 35 minutes. Scoop the chicken out of the Dutch Oven again and transfer to a shallow bowl (have another bowl on hand – you’ll see why). Remove the skin and bones (put that in the extra bowl) and then shred the chicken and put just the shredded meat it back in the Dutch Oven.
- Now you want to thicken that mixture up so it’s a little like a light gravy. Mix together 1/2C of Flour, 2C of the cooking liquid, and the rest of the salt and pepper in a bowl. Once combined, gradually add it back into the Dutch Oven and return to heat for about 10 minutes till thickened.
Now for the fun – making the dumplings!
- Mix together the remaining flour (2C), baking power & soda, and the salt and pepper (1/2t each). Then add in the melted butter, the buttermilk, and the chopped (or dry) parsley. Drop the dough mixture into the thickened broth (about 8-10 spoonfuls), cover and simmer for about 13-15 minutes (dumplings should firm up).
It should be ready to serve. Enjoy!