Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Variety: the Herb of Life

We had our first frosts in the last couple weeks, so I harvested my herbs in a hurry and now they're drying on the dining room table or spread out on trays in the freezer. Good crop this year: basil, oregano, peppermint, spearmint, chives, sage, and coriander seeds.

The main character in my novels, Pat Montella, loves to cook. Her 90+ year-old sidekick, Miss Maggie, loves to eat. She also needs a low salt diet (as do I). Pat and I think alike--who needs salt when so many herbs are available and offer so much variety in taste?

Pat and I both like to watch cooking shows. This time of year, as I'm bottling dry herbs and I'm doubly aware of all the wonderful aromas, I'm particularly appalled by the amount of salt TV cooks dump into their concoctions. They all make special reference to it (much more so than they do pepper), and they all have a slew of rationalizations for using it. I'm beginning to suspect that they all take kick-backs from the salt industry. I watch these chefs taste their results and roll their eyes in ecstacy, but all I can taste in my imagination is salt.

Quite a few of those so-called cooking experts only use herbs as a garnish. Me? I'd rather make a great salt-free chicken soup with all the Scarborough Fair herbs (parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme), and only garnish it with parmesan cheese. Or tomato sauce with fennel, oregano and basil. Or cheese biscuits with chives and dill. Or pizzelles (waffle cookies) with anise.

In mystery writing, you'll also find lots of so-called experts touting lists of must-haves you need to put into your story. A body on page one (or at least in the first chapter). A shoot-out. A chase of some sort. Sex. More sex. The hero getting beat to a pulp, yet still fending off 6 hulky bad guys. More sex.

Good stories must have energy and action and a bit of drama, yes, but they don't all have to taste the same. An interesting poison is a nice break from shootings and bludgeonings. A battle of wits can be more suspenseful than a car chase. Anything done too much is dull and detracts from the plot--even sex.

The more alike stories are, the more boring they are. Like a diet where all the food tastes of salt.


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