Real Recipes from a Fictional PI by Heather Haven

When you treat your characters as living, breathing entities, things can happen. This includes those near and dear thinking you’re peculiar. For instance, when writing the third book of the Alvarez Family Murder Mysteries, Death Runs in the Family, the two cats from the series, Baba and Tugger, were catnapped and in the back of the villain’s station wagon speeding from Palo Alto to Las Vegas. For reasons I can’t remember, I had to stop writing the story at that point. For three whole days I was uncomfortable about it. I kept telling myself, it’s just a story, right? They’re not real cats trapped in carriers in the back of a station wagon without food or water for days on end, right? Wrong.

On the third night, even though I knew all the above intellectually, I woke up at two am and leapt out of bed, determined to write the fur balls into safety and a bowl of kibble. At nine am I staggered back to bed. But now I could sleep. The cats were fed, cuddled, and loved by Lee Alvarez, the protagonist of the series. On another note, even though my husband is not a writer, he knows me. That night he rolled over and went back to sleep, totally understanding my getting up and needing to save my fictional cats then and there. At least, that’s what he said. And still says. He shoulda been a diplomat.

Any writer will tell you giving fictional characters the same traits as living people is a good idea. Keeps things real, don-cha-know. But like anything else, it can depend on how far you go with it. I tread a fine line. Let’s get back to my protagonist, Lee Alvarez. I’m an eater. So she’s an eater. Of course, she’s a svelte size eight, because this is fiction. I’m a svelte Omar the Tentmaker. But I take great joy in her being a foodie. Which runs in the family. Her uncle, Tio, another character in the series, is a retired chef. His recipes just add to the fun. Sometimes I feel the need for Lee to share one of these recipes. Like now:

Lee here. Even though my idea of cooking dinner is to stop at the nearest deli for a roast beef sandwich, as the central character of the humorous Alvarez Family Murder Mystery Series, I do get to eat a lot of epicurean meals. That’s because my Tio was an executive chef at a well-known restaurant here in the Bay Area. During his career, his recipes were often written up in gourmet food magazines. They’d throw in a few pics of him, too, because Tio is one classy-looking guy. I have articles and pictures in a scrapbook I started in my early teens. That was before my PI days. I don’t have time to make scrapbooks anymore – I don’t have time to do squat anymore – except I do seem to find time to sit down at the dinner table and scarf down one of his culinary masterpieces!

Tío may be retired but his skills aren’t. He still likes to create great meals, but now just for family and friends. While doing so, he tends to make a dish again and again until it reaches his idea of perfection. Meanwhile, lucky me gets to gobble up every version, as he strives for the ultimate. When Tio was working on his Flan de Naranja, I gained six of the happiest pounds of my life. Fortunately, I spend a lot of time chasing bad guys over rooftops, so I can lose the weight as fast as I gain it.

No lie, his flan has gone down in song and legend. If I could sing, I’d demonstrate. Tio even picks the oranges himself right off our backyard tree. I thought it would be nice to share his recipe with you. If any of you make it, though, I sure hope you will invite me over for a helping. It’s a real winner!

Tio’s Flan de Naranja

Serves 4-6:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).


5 egg yolks

1 cup white sugar

3 cups heavy cream

1 cup half-and-half cream

1 vanilla bean, split and scraped

1 orange peel

1/2 fluid ounce orange liqueur

2 ounces candied orange peel, grated


In a medium bowl, beat egg yolks. Beat in sugar until smooth. Set aside.  In a large saucepan over medium heat, combine cream, half-and-half, the vanilla bean and its scrapings, and the peel of one orange. Heat until bubbles form at edges of liquid, reduce heat to low and simmer 15 minutes. Remove orange peel. Beat hot cream into egg mixture, a little at a time, until all is incorporated. Stir in orange liqueur. Pour into 4 to 6 individual custard cups.

Line a roasting pan with a damp kitchen towel. Place cups on towel, inside roasting pan, and place roasting pan on oven rack. Fill roasting pan with boiling water to reach halfway up the sides of the cups.

Bake in preheated oven 45 to 60 minutes, until set. Let cool completely.  Sprinkle candied orange peel on top of each cup before serving. Olé!

6 thoughts on “Real Recipes from a Fictional PI by Heather Haven

    1. This is really delicious. I had to make it to be sure it was, and it was a lot of work, but soooo worth it. Thanks for commenting, Janet.


  1. We do tend to feel our characters are real. Especially when you write a series and think about them all the time for years. The recipe sounds yummy.


    1. Often I wish I had some of the characteristics I’ve given my characters.Especially Percy Cole. She is very sure of herself and independent. Would that I were like that! Thanks, Paty.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. So do I! I don’t know that I ever make them, but I do keep them close by. You never know! Thanks for stopping by.


Comments are closed.