Penny Pike is a pseudonym for Penny Warner, author of over 50 published books, both fiction and non-fiction.
She is the author of the Party-Planning Mysteries and the Connor Westphal Mysteries, as well as the Code Busters Club Mysteries for middle-grade readers.
Her best-sellers include Healthy Snacks for Kids, Kids’ Party Games and Activities, Best Party Book, Games People Play, Kids’ Holiday Fun, Learn to Sign the Fun Way, Baby Play and Learn, Kids Pick-A-Party, and Kids’ Party Cookbook.
I have heartburn.
It’s from all the research I’ve been doing for the first book in my new series, Death of a Crabby Cook, featuring food trucks and food festivals. But if eating a lot of different foods is the price I must pay to make sure my story is authentic, then so be it. Could be worse. I could be writing a book about insects and have to do research on the larvae cycle of the tse-tse fly. Luckily I chose food.
I had my first food truck experience a couple of years ago before the “meals on wheels” phenomenon swept the country. I was in Napa, CA, doing research for another book (a.k.a., drinking a lot of wine), and spotted a circle of colorful trucks offering intriguing specialties. I decided to try some plein air dining.
Now, I’m not the adventurous type when it comes to trying new foods. When I go out to dinner, I order the same foods at the same restaurants—rigatoni Bolognese at the Italian place, cheese enchilada at the Mexican place, and teriyaki at the Japanese place. So I was a little hesitant to sample the wares from trucks named Kung Fu Tacos, Happy Dumplings, The Boneyard, Fins on the Hoof, Me So Hungry, and Naked Chorizo.
Turned out I liked just about everything!
Now that food trucks have finally come to my hometown, I can please my inner glutton every weekend—and combine it with research for my new series. I head over planning to have just “one bite” of everything, and end up stuffed to the gills.
Here’s my typical game plan: I start my research at Cluck it Up, ordered garlic parmesan wings, and called that the appetizer. Next stop: the Grilled Cheese Bandit, where the sandwiches are named after folk legends like Jesse James and Butch Cassidy. I had the Giuliani (a folk legend?), a grilled mozzarella, parmesan, tomato and pesto sandwich, and called it lunch.
After that it was a blur. A Peruvian pork sandwich from Sanguchon. A burrito cone from Twister. A Coca Cola braised pork sandwich from the Chairman. And I’d only made it half way through the trucks. Luckily I had just enough room for dessert. I managed to down two cream puffs from the Pacific Puffs truck—chocolate and salted caramel—before I spotted the Frozen Kuhsterd truck and had to have the ice-creamy sundae with caramel, chocolate and salted almonds. I knew, with a hospital located right across the street, I could seek medical attention after this food orgy if needed.
These visits to the local food trucks were my inspiration to write a series set among the food truck community. I created Darcy Burnett, a total foodie who loves to eat, but barely knows how to heat a frozen dinner in the microwave. To complicate things, I made her a restaurant reviewer for the San Francisco Chronicle, suddenly downsized, and desperately in need of a job. While eating
a therapeutic Caramel Espresso Cream Puff whipped up by Jake Miller from the Dream Puff Truck—and recognizing a hot food trend when she sees one—she’s inspired to write a cookbook full of food truck recipes.
Her first source is the upcoming San Francisco Seafood Fest. Darcy plans to use her journalistic skills to gather recipes for everything from Crab Mac and Cheese from her aunt’s Big Yellow School Bus food truck, to Hangtown Oyster Omelets from the Bacon is the New Black truck. Combined with the local food festivals—The Ghirardelli Chocolate Festival, Gilroy Garlic Festival, Half Moon Bay Pumpkin Festival—she’s sure the book will be a best-seller, filled with recipes for such tasty treats as Red Velvet Whoopee Pies, Garlic Ice Cream, Key Lime Cream Puffs, Cronut Dossaints (croissants crossed with donuts) and so on. (Recipes included in the book!)
But her plans are interrupted by a loud commotion in the Ft. Mason food truck area. Chef Oliver Jameson is arguing with a petite woman wielding a large knife. The woman happens to be Darcy’s sixty-something Aunt Abby (Abigail Pike), a former school cafeteria cook who now owns her own tricked-out school bus and serves comfort food to hungry diners. Abby accuses Jameson of harassing the food truckers in the area—competition for his brick-and-mortar Bones ‘n’ Brew restaurant—which he denies. Did he really plant a rat in her bus to get her in trouble with the Health Department? When the chef is suddenly poisoned by his own crab bisque—and Aunt Abby becomes a suspect—Darcy smells a rat. Together with Aunt Abby’s hacker son Dillon and dream puff Jake Miller, she discovers something rotten in the food truck world.
Writing Death of a Crabby Cook was such an inspiration, I’m thinking of opening my own food truck. I plan to serve Vanilla Zantac, Chocolate Prilosec, Curry Maalox, Grilled Pepto, and Tums-on-a-Stick. I think it will be a hit.
Berkley Prime Crime has generously offered a copy of Death of a Crabby Cook to one of my readers. Please comment below before midnight on August 25, 2014. Entries from the US only, please.
Please don't forget to include an email address where I can contact you if you win.