Novelist Mary Kay Andrews pens beachy-keen cookbook

For Atlanta novelist Mary Kay Andrews , life’s a beach and then you …

Well, then you wiggle out of that sticky wet swimsuit and dive into a nice cold bowl of Beyond the Grave Chicken Salad.

Or you call some friends, ice down the beer, and fix Low Country Boil: a peel-and-eat mess of crab, shrimp, sausage, fresh summer corn, new potatoes and Vidalia onions.

It’s about 5 p.m. on a Wednesday afternoon. Andrews, who has penned 24 novels and sold an estimated 8 million copies worldwide, is standing in the middle of her fabulously appointed Avondale Estates kitchen , stirring up a batch of that famous chicken salad, first encountered at the wake of a dear friend’s father, and a pan of Butterscotch Brownies.

Andrews has just published her first cookbook, “The Beach House Cookbook: Easy Breezy Recipes with a Southern Accent” (St. Martin’s Press, $29.99). It’s a bright, sunny, picnic-perfect recipe collection from a St. Petersburg, Fla., native who owns two vacation homes on Tybee Island and has famously issued a shelf of beach-themed best sellers like so many sea shells: “Savannah Breeze,” Summer Rental,” “Ladies’ Night,” “Beach Town,” “The Weekenders.”

This summer, for the first time in years, her fans won’t queue up for her latest beach read.

Instead, they can dig into cooling recipes like Tybee Tea Cocktail, Beachy Ceviche, Bloody Mary-Marinated Tomatoes, Frozen Key Lime Pie Pops, and Trailer Trash Dessert. (Or, for that matter, comfort-food classics like Buttermilk-Brined Fried Chicken, Old School Mac ‘n’ Cheese and Peach and Berry Cobbler.)

“The premise is, you don’t have to own a beach house,” says the 62-year-old Andrews. “You don’t have to rent a beach house. You can just pretend you are at the beach. The idea of the book is that it’s easy, it’s casual, it’s accessible.”

She likes to think there’s not a single ingredient in the book that can’t be found at the cozy, family-owned IGA where she shops on Tybee. “There’s no recipe that has truffle oil or crème fraiche or caviar.”

Before she penned her novels, Andrews — whose real name is Kathy Hogan Trocheck — was a reporter for the Savannah Morning News, and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. After landing a two-book contract, she left the AJC in 1991. A year later, she published her first novel, “Every Crooked Nanny,” and went on to write a total of 10 well-received mysteries under her real name.

In 2000, she decided to rebrand herself.

An obsessive estate-sale scavenger and collector, she wanted to write a novel about a Savannah antique picker. The pseudonym she chose is a tribute to her daughter, Mary Kathleen, and her son, Andy. “I wasn’t even thinking about Mary Kay cosmetics, which is pretty stupid,” she says with typical candor. “People always expect me to pull up in a pink Cadillac and sell blush.”

There was another reason for choosing a name that begins with an A.

“Writing under my real name, Trocheck, I was with the Ts down on the floor,” she says. “I don’t want to squat to find a book, and I don’t think my readers do either. So I thought, ‘If I’m going to pick a pseudonym, I’m going to pick one at the top of the alphabet so I can be at eye level.’ “

The strategy worked.

“When that book, ‘Savannah Blues,’ came out, it immediately out sold all my other books combined.”

Despite her success, Andrews and her husband, Tom Trocheck — a real-estate development consultant whom she sometimes jokingly calls “Mr. Mary Kay Andrews” — haven’t forgotten their blue-collar roots, and that is reflected in the book. “Tom and I both grew up in big Catholic families. Both of our mothers’ greatest fear was that they would run out of food. … We always cook way more than is necessary.”

“The Beach House Cookbook,” which feels a bit like a smash-up of Martha Stewart and Paula Deen, is filled with stories, family lore and memories.

Andrews’ Irish grandmother was a terrific bread baker. She confesses that she doesn’t know much about baking with yeast, so she offers a simple, five-ingredient Cheesy Beer Bread. Her husband and son are big into hunting, fishing and grilling; thus the recipes for Tybee Fish Tacos, Tom’s Gravlax and Grilled Leg of Lamb.

Andrews loves baking chocolate-chip cookies with her grandchildren: Molly, 7, and Griffin, 5. And they are crazy about that Trailer Trash Dessert, a layered frozen bar made with store-bought ice-cream sandwiches, hot fudge and caramel, Cool Whip and chocolate-toffee bits. “It’s really so low class, but it’s so good,” she cackles.

When Andrews describes her mother, you get a sense of where she got her indefatigable, career-changing, can-do spirit.

Once, while living in Savannah, Andrews took her mother to Mrs. Wilkes’ Dining Room. Lo and behold, Sue Hogan decided to borrow the idea. “She was like: ‘I’m going to do this. I could do that. How hard could it be?’ It’s incredibly hard, but she loved it.’ ” Sue Hogan ran Mrs. Hogan’s Dining room in downtown St. Petersburg in the late ’80s.

“You sat down and they brought you dishes of vegetables and rolls and desserts and roast chicken and pot roast — her greatest hits,” Andrews remembers. “Desserts were her big thing, too. … She could roll out a pie dough while smoking a cigarette.”

At around 5:30, Tom Trocheck makes himself a bourbon and water. She asks him to fix her one and dons a pair of comically over-size lobster-shaped mitts to pull the brownies from the oven.

Sometimes, she says, people ask if Mary Kay Andrews and Kathy Trocheck are two different people.

“I’m like: ‘Well, when I’m Mary Kay, generally speaking, I’m wearing makeup. And Spanx. And when I’m Kathy, I’m in my black faded yoga pants dickering over a $10 cracked pot at an estate sale. So I know the difference. And my family knows the difference. Trust me, they are not impressed. The only time they are impressed is when something comes out of the oven.”

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