Calphalon PanI was talking to a group of girlfriends last week, trying to convince one of them to bring a Spanish Tortilla as I’m making Gambas al Aljillo (prawns in garlic, hot pepper and parsley) and albondigas (meatballs) with Romesco Sauce. No time to cook anything else. (Anyway, I promised them the recipe. It’s from my friend Lynda whose family comes from Galicia.)

First of all, you will need a special pan. I use the . . .

California SunsetI came to out west with one goal — to study poetry at San Francisco State. One of the great legends at the time was Phil Levine who directed the fabulous Creative Writing program at Fresno State. Anyway, I was lucky enough to have taken a workshop with him once when he came to SF. What a wonderful human being!

At the time there was sort of a battle between narrative poets (me) and language poets (everybody else I knew who was . . .

Soupcon Small PicAfter a lovely day hiking around Crested Butte, Colorado, Dave took me to a charming restaurant called Soupcon, housed in an old miner’s cabin off Elk Avenue.

They served a fabulous salad of seared scallops on mache. I came home and promptly duplicated it. Last week I promised you my version, so here it is:

Pan Seared Scallops Drizzled with Warm Tomato Beurre Blanc Served on a Bed of Green Goddess-Dressed Mache with Fried Yukon Gold Potato Toothpicks.

I know it looks like a lot of steps, because, well, it is a lot of steps. None of them are that hard, and you can start on this the day before by making the Green Goddess dressing and the warm tomato . . .

Here’s a secret.

I don’t start with the plot.

Not at first.

All novels, and Romantic Suspense novels are no different, start with characters. Period. Characters.

Amanda Hocking, the young cause célèbre who just got a six-figure advance for her self-published books, made a very astute remark. I’ll paraphrase what she said:

The reason my books sell is because they are about characters. Most novels I read are about ideas in search of . . .

Costa Alegre ChurchI’m a little sad to be leaving Lili and Mexico City behind. I’ve loved roaming around there in my imagination. I’ve loved being those people.

If you’re thinking of writing a novel or stories, there is no better reason to do it than the feeling you will retain afterward of having lived another life, of having seen the world through completely different perspectives.

Forget the fame and fortune part. This is the only thing . . .

Here’s the shrimp recipe I promised you. I got it from the New York Times, and the Times writer, Sam Sifton, got it from Doc Ford’s Bar on Sanibel Island in Florida, not Mexico, but Florida is a good place to read a Romantic Suspense novel, a beach book like Palace of the Blue Butterfly, don’t you think?

Anyway, the shrimp tastes totally like the shrimp Dave and I ate in little beach shacks under palapas when we were younger and vagabonding around Mexico.

Now all you have to do is make the shrimp, que up the trio music and ice down the Coronas.

Buen Provecho! . . .

Sometime after hurricane season in Mexico and before the spring wildflowers arrive here on the ranch, I’m planning a trip to the Mayan Riviera. I have always wanted to stay at the Hotel Maroma, set on a deserted beach fifteen miles down a bumpy, dirt road from the highway to Tulum . This year I’m going to do it, my reward for getting my novel out of the closet and into the world. On this post, I’ll be reading the very last episode. Here’s the plan. Dave and I rent a car in Merida, and we drive to one of those wonderfully . . .

Pawn Shop in MexicoPalace of the Blue Butterfly | Episode 16.

. . . A quick, little tour of Monte Piedad, the National Pawn Shop.

If you go to Mexico City, this is must stop shopping.

You want to find some of those fabulous gold Oaxacan earrings? Monte Piedad.

Antique Silver bracelets? Monte Piedad.

Art Deco coffee service? Ditto.

Or maybe you’ve gotten this far in Palace of the Blue Butterfly, and you want to know what Monte Piedad . . .

Lillet Wine Poster. . . less to do with the things themselves than what you think those things are.

For this particular study, ten bottles of wine were opened and the participants (all maximizers) were asked to rate them. They were given all the information — vintage, price, you name it. To a one, the participants rated the expensive wine, the rare vintages and so on all highly. They were very happy drinking them. These wines were complex with great bouquet, wonderful finishes, you name it. Of course, the lesser priced wines were barely drinkable. That’s maximizers for you. They only want the best.

There was just one problem. Schwartz lied about the content of the bottles. They all contained the same wine. See? Not the thing but what you think it is. With food it gets kind of scary.

To go with the food, Schwartz served a variety of pates. Since I don’t eat fatty, stuffed goose liver with gherkins . . .

Mercado FlorPalace of the Blue Butterfly | Episode 14. If you live in California, you’re bound to have some little grocery store that looks like the one on the right. This is my top mercadito for all the special things I need for Mexican cooking, tamarindo, nopales, all kinds of dried chiles and those lovely little dried hibiscus flowers called flores de jamaica.

After a cold rainy spring, summer is finally here in the Sierras, and I’m going to give you a great recipe for a drink called agua de jamaica, the perfect tart/sweet refreshment for sipping on hot, dry days with a book in your hand and the fan turning back and forth as you read.

The first time I had agua de jamaica was in Oaxaca. We’d been roaming the markets in the sweltering spring heat. I was looking for an all white huipil and falda from Mitla—the one that Lili . . .