Karen MacInerney: Recipes to die for

 
 
By Mike Sutter | © Fed Man Walking | 09.08.16
 
“I’m having a hard time coming up with new ways to kill people,” Karen MacInerney says. Not the direction I expected a cookbook interview to go, but let’s run with it.
 
“Just my search history alone is terrifying,” the Austin mystery writer says. “Embezzlement, mortgage fraud, how to kill someone with botox, growing marijuana, the toxicity of datura, death by injection of potassium.” This is coffee talk for MacInerney, and likely a key part of the Netflix series they’ll do about her murder case, if she ever gets caught.
 
But for now, we’ll talk about MacInerney’s new cookbook, “The Gray Whale Inn Kitchen” (Amazon, $2.99), a collection of recipes from her series of murder mysteries set on the coast of Maine. In that six-book Gray Whale Inn series — a seventh is on the way in January — innkeeper and amateur detective Natalie Barnes is a prolific cook. By necessity, really, as her job entails feeding clients who are fussy, intrusive, occasionally homicidal and sometimes worse: gluten-free. And so also by necessity, MacInerney has salted the series with recipes that round the untidy corners of manslaughter with a rolling pin.

Among the cookbook’s 40-plus recipes are bed-and-breakfast staples like Caramelized Overnight French Toast, Killer Cranberry Scones and Steamed Blueberry Pudding. And you’d expect a native Northeasterner to bring Downeast Clam Chowder and Cranberry Island Cod Cakes to the table. But because MacInerney’s been a Texan for almost as long, the book also covers migas, vanilla flan and green chile stew.
 
But when I asked her to pick a mascot recipe, MacInerney went straight for Wicked Blueberry Coffee Cake, from the Gray Whale Inn’s first book, “Murder on the Rocks.” It takes only modest baking skills, chief among them the creaming of butter and sugar, which my Kitchen-Aid stand mixer whipped out with ease. A stick and a half of butter makes for a rich, dense cake with a craggy, shadowed topography like those mystery objects beamed back from the Mars rover. Is that a shoe, a Peep, a collarbone, Sylvester Stallone? (See the recipe below)
 
“The Gray Whale Inn Kitchen” is available as a free download for subscribers to MacInerney’s e-mail newsletter. The newsletter helps readers keep up with a schedule as prolific as an old Hollywood movie mill:
 Oct. 18 will see the release of “Fatal Frost,” the second book of MacInerney’s Gray Whale spinoff series, the Dewberry Farm Mysteries.
 The seventh Gray Whale Inn mystery, “Whale of a Crime,” comes out in January 2017.
 In April 2017 comes “Mother’s Little Helper,” the book MacInerney finished just days before our interview. It’s the third in a series called the Margie Peterson Mysteries, which gets away from the genteel constraints of the “cozy mystery” genre and veers more into what MacInerney calls Janet Evanovich territory. What’s in that territory? A Brazilian waxing salon called the Pretty Kitten and a renegade pig named Twinkles, who, in one vignette, “got lost when she stole the sausage-stuffed shamrock sock from a streaker who was terrorizing the garden club at Zilker Park.”
 
The Margie Peterson books inhabit a kind of parallel Austin universe, one that reminds me of Sarah Bird’s “Alamo House.” It’s a natural shift for MacInerney, who lives in an ever-evolving Westlake house with her architect husband and two teenage kids — kids who help her brainstorm ways to bump off the next problematic character. At a family vacation in Maine, MacInerney threw it to the group for ways to kill a character with botox. Her offspring nailed it: insulin syringe or asthma inhaler.
 
Dinner at the MacInerney house? I’ll stick to the Gray Whale Inn, thanks.
 
 
Wicked Blueberry Coffee Cake
(From “The Gray Whale Inn Kitchen,” $2.99 on Amazon. Available free for newsletter subscribers. Sign up at www.karenmacinerney.com. The recipe first appeared in the Gray Whale Inn Mystery “Murder on the Rocks.”)

 
1/2 cup butter or margarine
1 cup sugar
3 eggs, slightly beaten
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
2 cups flour
1 cup sour cream or vanilla yogurt
2 cups blueberries (fresh or frozen)
 
Cream butter and sugar. Add next five ingredients. Add flour and sour cream (or yogurt) alternately to egg mixture, mixing with a spoon. Fold in blueberries. Pour mixture into greased 9”x13” baking pan.
 
Brown Sugar Topping
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup flour
 
Cream brown sugar and butter. Add flour to get a semi-dry mixture. Spread on top of batter. Bake in 350°F oven for 30 minutes.
 
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)