Cooking the Books: Hidden Beneath by Barbara Ross
Summer has returned to Busman’s Harbor—and with it, the Snowden Family Clambake. The Snowdens themselves have finally moved into their restored and refurbished lodgings on Morrow Island, where they host two daily seatings for the traditional Maine meal. Our heroine, Julia Snowden, is looking forward to another busy-if-brutal season of serving seafood to literal boatloads of visitors.
As expected, demand is high for the clambake’s offerings, with a fully booked schedule putting strain on their not yet fully staffed roster as they wait for their usual summertime employees to become available from other jobs. Julia, thus, has to scramble to find people to cover for her and her mother, Jacqueline, when the latter makes a rare and unexpected request for time off for them both.
It’s been five years since Jacqueline’s old friend, schoolteacher Ginny Merrill, disappeared during one of her daily swims off the shore of nearby Chipmunk Island. The state of Maine has now declared her officially dead, and her childhood friends have decided to hold a memorial in her honor. They’ve invited Jacqueline to attend, and she’s asked Julia to come along for moral support.
Turns out that Jacqueline has long been nursing a secret guilt related to Ginny’s death. The two women had been very close as teenagers, but adulthood had taken them in different directions. They’d always meant to get together again, with Ginny even contacting Jacqueline just days before her death. Jacqueline had put off getting back to her so was stunned when Ginny had gone missing and presumed died.
She’s even more shocked when Ginny’s will is finally found and she’s named executor—or personal representative, as it’s known in Maine—of Ginny’s estate. Ginny had never married or had children but clearly valued her relationship with Jacqueline enough to trust the other woman to see out the terms of her will. As Julia assists her mother with the challenging task, the two women uncover information that indicates that Ginny’s death might not have been accidental after all. When another of Ginny’s old friends meets an untimely end, it swiftly becomes clear that a murderer is on the loose.
This was a pretty heavy installment of the Maine Clambake Mystery series, as Jacqueline deals with the unresolved grief of losing her old friend. Julia also has to come to grips with her own emotions, finally finding closure in her relationship with her ex-boyfriend Chris, whom she broke up with two years before the events of this novel. Barbara Ross always writes brilliant, topical mysteries, and this introspective look at the relationships we choose to maintain throughout our lives was no different. Hidden Beneath isn’t a total downer though, as the next stage of Julia’s romantic life, hinted at in previous books, finally begins.
There were five delicious recipes included here, all of dishes described and consumed in the book. I can never resist a fried rice recipe, especially when seafood is involved, so I had to try out this one:
Livvie’s Lobster Fried Rice
1 tablespoon canola oil
4 tablespoons butter, divided
1-inch fresh ginger, minced
1 medium carrot, diced
1 rib celery, diced
4 scallions, chopped and divided
2 cups cooked rice
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 eggs, beaten
8 ounces cooked lobster meat, chopped
Mix soy sauce and sesame oil in a small bowl.
Heat canola oil and 2 tablespoons butter over medium heat in large frying pan. When hot, add the ginger, carrot, and celery and sauté for 2-3 minutes. Add half the scallions and sauté another minute or so. Add the rice, sesame oil, and soy sauce, stirring vigorously to combine with vegetables.
Push the rice to one side of the pan and add the remaining butter. When melted, pour in the egg and allow to just set, then stir together with the rice until cooked through.
Remove from heat and stir in the lobster meat and remaining scallions. Return to medium-low heat for two minutes to warm through before serving.
Serves 2 as a meal and 4 as an appetizer.
This was just utterly delightful, putting a decadent seafood twist on one of my family’s favorite staple dishes. The rich, buttery lobster tastes great with the savory, layered flavors of the fried rice. Every family has its own fried rice recipe of choice, of course, but this is a terrific twist on the usual that melds Asian and New England cuisines with flair.
Next week, we hop a state over to bake up some cookies while investigating the death of a right-hand man. Do join me!