The Agatha Award-winning author of 17 previous mystery novels, Katherine Hall Page of Lincoln, Mass., and Deer Isle, recently signed copies of her latest work, “The Body in the Sleigh,” at When Pigs Fly Bakery in Freeport and at Books Etc. in Falmouth. Her books include excellent, unmysterious recipes.
“The Body in the Sleigh” is set on the fictitious Sanpere Island (Page’s name for Deer Isle) where the Rev. Thomas Fairchild, his sleuthing caterer wife Faith Sibley Fairchild and their two children are spending the holidays at their summer home while Tom recovers from surgery. Tom’s parish is in Aleford, Mass. (probably based on Lexington, as “The Body in the Bog,” published in 1996, featured a re-enactment of the shot heard ’round the world). Faith, who grew up on Manhattan’s East Side as the daughter and granddaughter of men of the cloth, runs an Aleford catering business named Have Faith.
Because Page’s heroine is a professional caterer who enjoys serving her family and friends excellent meals, the mysteries are peppered with mouthwatering descriptions of cooking and dining. Faith makes lasagna, drizzles extra-virgin olive oil on rosemary focaccia, sautés polenta and makes strawberry jam with ease.
Goat cheese is featured “The Body in the Sleigh,” because one of the main characters, Mary Bethany — who happens to find a newborn baby boy lying in the manger of her barn on Christmas Eve — raises long-eared Nubian goats who give lots of rich milk with which Mary Bethany makes cheese.
When one of the neighbors invites the Fairchilds to Christmas dinner, he asks Faith to contribute something to the festive occasion. “Some of that chocolate bread pudding stuff you gave us last summer would go down a treat,” he says. The recipe for the chocolate bread pudding uses chocolate bread from When Pigs Fly Bakery.
You can buy the chocolate bread at the bakery in Freeport, which explains why Page was signing books there. When Pigs Fly Web site, sendbread.com, explains that you can have loaves of frozen, partially baked, breads — many varieties — delivered to your home. Many grocery stores in Maine sell loaves from When Pigs Fly, but the chocolate bread seems to be available only in Freeport. It tastes like brownies and makes tasty French toast.
Page’s recipes are always delightful, and she is working on a cookbook, “Have Faith in Your Kitchen,” which will be ready for us at the end of next year.
A New Jersey native, Page is a graduate of Wellesley College and Tufts University, and holds a doctorate in administration, public planning, and social policy from Harvard. After spending spring and summer on Deer Isle for 51 years, she considers it her home. In 1958, friends told her parents about a nature lodge run by a retired botany professor and they visited and fell in love with the island — the nature walks, quarries, birds, sailing and the food. They developed strong friendships both with natives and with people from away. Page and her husband and son spend months at Deer Isle each year.
Page’s mother was an artist whose cooking skills didn’t range beyond Norwegian fish dishes and boiled potatoes, but her brother and sister (who lives in Yarmouth) loved to cook, and Page had what she calls “a Julia Child moment” about 20 years ago while she and her husband, an experimental psychologist at MIT, were living in Lyon, France. She realized that if she wanted to continue to eat well, she would have to learn to cook. So she did — and that’s why Faith Fairchild is a caterer.
Page and her family love all the wonderful Maine seafood — tiny Maine shrimp, fish, mussels, lobsters and the clams. Here is her description of Faith preparing seafood risotto:
“Both children were comfortable in the kitchen and catholic in their tastes. They’d gobble down a seafood risotto with as much pleasure as they’d inhaled the cupcakes. The tiny Maine shrimp and peekytoe crabmeat would make for a delicious risotto and, paired with some steamed broccoli with a squeeze of Meyer lemon, would meet everyone’s dietary needs. Plus risotto was comfort food for Faith; the creamy Arborio rice served the same purpose for her that mac ’n’ cheese did for others.”
“The Body in the Sleigh” is dedicated to librarians everywhere. In an author’s note at the end of the novel, Page tells about her favorite libraries, books and librarians.
This is tasty with just the shrimp or crab. Heavenly with lobster.
5 cups fish stock
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small yellow onion, diced
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 cups small, cooked shrimp (shelled and deveined)
8 ounces crabmeat
Parsley for garnish
Pour the stock in a large saucepan and heat to a simmer.
While the stock is heating, melt the butter and oil in a pot (Faith likes Le Creuset-type casseroles). Sauté the onion until soft and add the rice, sautéing for 2 more minutes.
Using a ladle, add the heated stock approximately 1/2 cup at a time, stirring after each addition until all the liquid is absorbed. Whole Foods and other stores sell an excellent prepared fish stock if you do not have the time or ingredients to make your own.
When all the stock has been used, stir in the cheese and then fold in the shrimp and crab.
Serve garnished with chopped parsley.
Chocolate Bread Pudding
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups milk
1 1/2 cups half and half or light cream
1/4 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
Pinch of salt
5 thick slices of chocolate bread, cubed
Butter to grease the pan
1 cup dried cherries
1 cup semisweet chocolate morsels
Mix together the eggs, milk, half and half, sugar, vanilla, and salt. Faith likes to pulse this in a blender, which makes it easy to pour over the bread cubes.
Put the bread cubes in a large mixing bowl and pour the eggs mixture over them. Use the palm of your hand to gently push the bread into the liquid to make sure it absorbs evenly. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Butter a Pyrex-type baking pan, approximately 12 by 8 inches. Set aside.
Mix the cherries and chocolate chips together in a small bowl.
Put a layer of the bread mixture in the pan, sprinkle the cherry/chip mixture over it, and cover with the remaining bread mixture. Again, use the palm of your hand to press down, so the ingredients are evenly distributed.
Bake for 40 minutes.
Serve warm with vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt.
Norwegian Christmas Cake
1 pound plus 2 teaspoons unsalted butter, softened
2 cups white sugar
4 large eggs
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup finely chopped blanched almonds
1/4 cup currants
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Using a paper towel, spread a 12-by-18-inch jelly roll pan with 2 teaspoons of butter.
Cream the remaining butter and the sugar together with an electric mixer. When light and fluffy, beat in the eggs — one at a time — and then the flour and vanilla. Spread the batter evenly onto the pan and sprinkle with the chopped almonds and currants.
Bake 20 to 25 minutes, until the surface is a light gold.
Remove from the oven and let the cake cool in the pan.
Cut the cake into diamonds, or squares, with a sharp knife.
This cake may be made up to 2 weeks before Christmas, but must then be wrapped in aluminum foil or placed in an airtight tin.
Makes about 2 dozen small cakes.