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Isabel Long Mystery Series

Portuguese Forever

I am a hundred percent Portuguese and proud of it. My grandparents came over on the boat, as they say, from the Madeira and Azores islands. The same is true for Isabel Long, the protagonist of my mystery series, including the latest, Redneck’s Revenge. She’s proud of her heritage as well.

Isabel was born with the last name Ferreira but took Long when she married. I used Ferreira because that’s my mother’s family name. (My father’s family name is Medeiros.)

Let me tell you a little bit about her. Isabel was a long-time journalist who lost her job as a newspaper’s managing editor when it went corporate. With time on her hands, she decided to solve a missing person’s case — her first big story as a rookie reporter. The case also happened in the tiny hilltown where Isabel lives in rural Western Massachusetts. Also, Isabel was also coming off a bad year that included the death of her husband. She was ready to reinvent herself.

Her mother, Maria Ferreira also moved in with her. Here, I’ll let Isabel tell you about it.

Ma moved in with me last year because she was tired of living alone. I was alone, too, after my Sam died. Our three kids, Ruth, Matt, and Alex, are out of the house although they don’t live too far from me. It’s worked out well with Ma. She’s a fun companion. Who would have thought when I was younger and wilder? She’s a good cook, and like the fine Portuguese woman she is, she keeps me in kale soup, a staple of our people. Yes, Long is my married name. Ferreira is the name I got at birth. I’m a hundred percent Portagee and proud that I’ve invaded a Yankee stronghold in the hilltowns.

Yes, kale soup or Caldo Verde is a staple in their household, as it is mine, at least in the cold weather months. I love other dishes when I can get them, usually when I visit my hometown.

As a child I grew up in Southeastern Massachusetts, where many Portuguese immigrants settled. They found work on the fishing boats and in the case of my mother’s parents, the textile mills. It was a huge adjustment from the rural lives they once led “back home” although both sets of grandparents kept animals and large gardens to support their families. I have fond memories of the time I spent with them.

Let me tell you about my grandmother, Angela Ferreira. She was the youngest of a large family in Madeira. Her older sister worked for a wealthy family who wanted a companion for their daughter, so my grandmother went to live with them. Every day she carried the girl’s books to school and waited in the back of the room until they went home to play. One day the teacher caught her trying to read. She got permission for my grandmother to go to school.

When my grandmother was sixteen, she and her sister went by boat to the U.S., a trip that included a huge storm in which people were swept out to sea. I admire my grandmother’s bravery.

My childhood was a mixture of celebrating our heritage, especially at local feasts, still going strong in the New Bedford area, to being as American as possible.

I will admit there is a lot of me in Isabel Long. She’s sassy and savvy. She doesn’t take crap from anybody. She’s got a good heart and cares. Plus she has that arsenal of skills she acquired as a journalist.

All of this comes in handy for her second case, in Redneck’s Revenge. A woman hires her to find out how her father, an ornery so-and-so, died. The cops say he was passed-out drunk when his house caught fire. She says he was murdered.

But before she can take any case, Isabel has some business to attend to after the cops tell her there are legal requirements if she wants to be a P.I. She’s also a bit ungrounded after solving her first case — for personal and professional reasons. Here’s an excerpt.

Mostly, I moped.

Ma noticed it, too.

“When are you going to find something to do?” she asked me one day.

“What do you mean?”

“Like when you solved that mystery.”

“You heard what the state cop said about getting a license,” I reminded her. “I need to find a licensed P.I. to take me on.”

“What’s stopping you?”

Ma had a point. I have a hard head and an iron will. I suppose I’m generalizing when I say it’s because I’m a full-blooded Portagee. But I’m descended from people who went all over the world in tiny wooden ships. My grandparents came over from the Madeira and Azores islands in them.

Yes, try stopping us.

MORE ABOUT THIS POST: I wrote this post for author Sue Roebuck’s blog and decided to share it here. Sue, who is a fellow Crooked Cat Books author, lives in Portugal.

HOW TO GET MY BOOKS: Here, I’ll make it easy for you. mybook.to/chasingthecase mybook.to/rednecksrevenge

ABOUT THAT PHOTO ABOVE: That’s me at age 6, dressed as St. Teresa of Avila to march in the parade of Our Lady of Angels feast in my hometown of Fairhaven, Massachusetts. I am posing in my parents’ backyard.

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Isabel Long Mystery Series, kale soup

A Helping of Kale Soup in My Mystery Series

Now that it is getting colder, I made kale soup for the first time this season on Saturday, with enough left over for another round Sunday. Here is a post about the remarkable Portuguese soup and its place in my mystery series. (It first appeared in author Isabella May’s blog isabellamayauthor.com, but like the soup, it’s worth reheating for a second serving.)

Growing up, kale soup or Caldo Verde was a staple in my family’s household. It’s the same for Isabel Long, the protagonist of my mystery series. She and I are of Portuguese descent, and it’s one of the dishes of our people. In fact, it is the number one food mentioned — after bar fare — in Chasing the Case and the newest, Redneck’s Revenge.

Caldo Verde is one of those stick-to-your-ribs soups— kale, potatoes, white beans if you like them, sausage if you eat them. All you need is some good hearty bread. And it can last days as long as you refrigerate it.

And now that Isabel’s 92-year-old mother — her ‘Watson’ — lives with her, she eats a lot of it at least during the cold weather months.

Here Isabel talks about it in Chasing the Case:

The kitchen smells like kale soup. Ma’s been busy. Long before kale became the foodie thing to eat, we Portagees ate the green. No kale salads for us. No kale smoothies. We cook the kale to death in soup with white beans, potatoes, chorizo pork sausage, and cubed beef. That’s the way my mother makes Caldo Verde, and we eat it three days in a row. The soup only gets better, well, as long as it’s refrigerated. Being one of those natural food nuts who prefers not to eat red meat, I skip the chunks of beef when I make the soup, and if I have to use sausage, then it’s turkey or chicken instead of pork, which horrifies my meat-loving mother. I figure if it makes my ninety-two-year-old mother happy, I can eat a soup with pork sausage and beef cooked in it.

Kale soup is not haute cuisine, but the food of working people.

Here’s an excerpt from Redneck’s Revenge:

Ma moved in with me last year because she was tired of living alone. I was alone, too, after my Sam died. Our three kids, Ruth, Matt, and Alex, are out of the house although they don’t live too far from me. It’s worked out well with Ma. She’s a fun companion. Who would have thought when I was younger and wilder? She’s a good cook, and like the fine Portuguese woman she is, she keeps me in kale soup, a staple of our people. Yes, Long is my married name. Ferreira is the name I got at birth.

Here’s a family legend: My grandmother, Angela, ate kale soup every day. If so, it may account for her longevity. She lived to be in her 90s and strong nearly to the end.

Yes, I make kale soup at home during the cold weather months. When I had a garden, I made sure I grew enough kale, and if I was lucky it lasted almost to winter. I even taught my husband, who is not Portuguese, how to make it.

There are times, when I’m not eating meat, I don’t add sausage, or I use a spicy poultry sausage. I add white beans (from the can). Other cooks don’t. I’ve even seen recipes that use chicken. I am not the kind of cook who follows recipes, except when I bake a cake. Besides, the original calls for a certain cabbage that isn’t available in the U.S. So kale — or collards, I suppose — it is.

Here’s how I make it. Because it contains white beans and potatoes, the broth gets thicker every meal it was served.

Kale Soup or Caldo Verde 

Serves 6-8 people

1 pound kale, washed carefully, chopped

2 quarts soup stock

6 ounces chourico pork, turkey or chicken sausage (any spicy sausage), thickly sliced

3 large potatoes, cut in chunks

1 can white beans

1 large onion, chopped

1 large garlic clove, minced

1-2 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Cilantro, chopped

Sauté onion and garlic in olive oil until they are translucent. Add the soup stock, kale, potatoes, sausage, and the can of beans. Bring to a boil, lower, and then simmer an hour. Add salt and pepper to taste. Ladle into bowls and garnish with minced cilantro. Serve with chunks of good bread.

Optional: Add browned stewing beef; half pound should do it. Or a half cabbage cut into wedges.

MORE: It makes me happy to hear from readers who say how much they’ve enjoyed reading Chasing the Case and Redneck’s Revenge. Like me, they love the series’ characters. Thank you very much.

Both books are available in paperback and on Kindle. Here are the links: mybook.to/chasingthecase and mybook.to/rednecksrevenge.

By the way, the third, Checking the Traps will be out next year.

And if you feel moved, please write a review on Amazon. One line will do it. You can even make up your name. I thank you if you do.

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