Real-Life Inspiration

Jenna St. James

If you’ve ever read any of my books, you know I have some pretty funny scenes. But did you know a lot of those are true-life stories that I’ve just “embellished” a little? It’s true. In the first book I ever wrote, Picture Perfect Murder, I have a scene where the main character, Ryli Sinclair, is making a chocolate jelly roll cake--looks like a huge ho-ho--for a guy she likes, Chief Garrett Kimble. Unfortunately, our heroine isn’t much of a baker, so she asks her mom for ingredients for the cake she wants to make. The mother, a well-known baker, gives her the recipe. The recipe calls for cream of tartar. Unbeknownst to Ryli, there is a HUGE difference between cream of tartar and tartar sauce!!

Yes, this is a true story! A long, long time ago when I lived in an apartment in CA (I was probably twenty or so), I tried to impress the guy who lived in the apartment underneath me by baking him a cake. The difference in my real-life version is that it was my dad who was the baker in my family, and it was he who gave me the recipe. I remember going to the grocery store and not understanding where to find the cream of tartar--mainly because I'd never heard of it before. We didn’t have cell phones back then, so I drove back to my apartment, called my dad, and asked him for clarification on the cream of tartar. In fact, I was sooooo clueless, I pronounced it like it looks: “Tar-tar.”

Armed with the instructions from my dad to look for a worker in the aisle and ask where the cream of tartar was located, I drove back to the store. The first employee I encountered was a young boy, probably my age, stocking the shelves. We were in the pickles and condiments section. When I asked the guy where I’d find cream of tartar, he furrowed his brows and was like, “You mean like tartar sauce?” I shrugged and said, “Yeah, I guess.”

I’m sure you can imagine how the rest of this played out. I bought the tartar sauce, went home, and started putting all the ingredients together. When I got to the part where you add the cream of tartar to the egg whites and beat until stiff peaks form…well, it was disastrously hysterical! First off, I didn’t have a mixer, so I was doing this all by hand. I add the two ingredients together, and I’m telling you, I was beating and whisking and panting as I moved my arm a thousand miles a minute trying to get those peaks stiff! After wiping away a forehead full of sweat, I looked down in the bowl…and suddenly saw all these little green and white things float to the top. I couldn’t understand where they came from. So I picked up the phone to call my dad. I explained to him how I added the two ingredients together, and I whipped and whipped and whipped for like twenty minutes, but stiff peaks didn’t form, and when I stopped, these little green and white flakes floated to the top. After he stopped laughing, he asked me to grab the bottle of tartar and read the label to him. So I did: Kraft Tartar Sauce.

Needless to say, my neighbor didn’t get the dessert...but years later, readers got a funny story!

Jenna St. James:

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