It has been a long time since I’ve identified as readily with the amateur detective heroine of a cozy mystery novel as I have here with Keeley Carpenter, protagonist of A Death at the Yoga Cafe. Having left the village of Belfrey, England, as a teenager who was deeply affected by the recent death of her beloved father, Keeley went to India first to study yoga, then to New York City to teach it. When her somewhat estranged mother, Darla, contacts her to say that she wants to put up Keeley’s father’s butcher shop for sale, Keeley decides to return home and transform the space into a vegetarian cafe cum yoga studio.
In the 1st book of the series, Keeley was forced to solve a murder to save her own life. Now, in the 2nd book, Keeley has settled back into village life with her new boyfriend, Police Detective Ben Taylor, and is looking forward to the additional traffic a local arts festival will bring to her cafe. Business has been good, and she’s begun to turn a small profit despite the best efforts of her nemesis and childhood frenemy, Raquel, who also happens to own the local diner.
So when Raquel’s boyfriend, the town mayor, is found murdered in his home after a very public lover’s spat where he’d called Raquel a gold digger, Keeley isn’t sure what to think—especially since the investigation seems to be causing Ben to hold himself aloof from their relationship. But then Raquel comes to Keeley begging for help clearing her name, and suddenly, Keeley’s uncomplicated village life has turned very complicated indeed. Add to this a visit from her critical and suddenly secretive mother, and murder isn’t the only thing Keeley needs to worry about.
Michelle Kelly writes with an emotional honesty that I found very affecting, especially in the difficult relationship between Keeley and her mother. I also really enjoyed how she handled the interactions between Keeley/Raquel and Keeley/Ben: everything rang with an authenticity that was as refreshing as a good yoga practice. It was also really nice to read the included descriptions of yoga poses—good motivation for me to try to get back to regular yoga sessions myself! Until I find the time for that, though, I indulged in making this vegetarian recipe:
Summer Cream Meringues
3 egg whites
100 grams (4 ounces) caster sugar
250 grams (9 ounces) strawberries
100 grams (4 ounces) blueberries
150 grams (5 ounces) raspberries
500 grams (1 pound, 2 ounces) half-fat crème fraiche
85 grams (3 ½ ounces) icing sugar, sifted
2 tablespoons toasted flaked almonds
1. Make the meringues: Preheat the oven to 150 degrees C, 130 degrees C fan, 300 degrees F, gas 2. Beat the egg whites with an electric hand whisk until stiff, then gradually add the sugar, beating all the time, until the meringue is thick and glossy and you can stand a spoon up in it. Use a bit of meringue to stick the baking parchment to the baking sheet, then dollop on the meringue in 5 or 6 nests. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes, then switch it off and leave them for a further 40 minutes. Take out of the oven, place on a wire rack, and leave until cooled.
2. Prepare the fruit by washing and hulling the strawberries and cutting them into halves or quarters, depending on their size. Reserve a few berries for the topping. Mix together the crème fraiche and icing sugar and place the mixture in a large bowl. Add the fruit, then lightly crush the meringues and stir it all together. Serve in individual glasses or dishes, topped with the remaining berries and the almonds.
So, I know it’s technically cheating to call a dessert vegetarian, as desserts do tend to be meat-free. There were five other vegetarian recipes included that also sounded tasty, but I chose this one specifically because—aside from it having been too long since I’ve made a dessert for this column—I was curious as to how to make a meringue since I’ve never before had the pleasure.
One thing of note: caster sugar is essentially finely milled sugar, so I just pulsed regular granulated sugar in my food processor till I got 4 ounces of the stuff.
I was a little confused by Ms. Kelly’s use of the word “nests” to describe what she wanted on the baking sheet: why bother making something so specific if you’re just going to crush the meringues into the mix later anyway?
My lovely assistant Karin and I decided that we were going to try this dessert both in the recipe’s suggested serving style and in a slightly deconstructed fashion, with the fruit and cream dolloped into each nest. After tasting both, we decided that, while the mixed version was delicious and extremely visually appealing, the deconstructed version really allowed the tastiness of the meringue to shine through. And given the amount of work put into the meringue, I felt it was only right to show it off with the deconstructed presentation.
Next week, we travel back across the pond to New York City to enjoy another dessert, courtesy of a bestselling series. Do join me!
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Doreen Sheridan is a freelance writer living in Washington, D.C. She
microblogs on Twitter @dvaleris.
Read all posts by Doreen Sheridan for Criminal Element.