Logically I know that Amy doesn’t ACTUALLY write her books for ONLY me…But she MIGHT AS WELL! I loved this story. Totally and Completely. It’s a simple story really, and a familiar story to be sure. But it was so loving, and it was so warm. Rusty Baker is our narrator who tells us his story in the first person. Rusty is a high school senior, a jock, he’s not super deep, he’s got a kind heart, he was taught to be polite by his parents, he’s supposed to go to UC Berkeley in the fall to study something (pre-law has been “suggested” since his dad is a lawyer, and he’s meant to be his old man’s clone)…These are all facts, things that just happen to BE in Rusty’s life, not things he’s responsible for. He’s self-aware enough to understand his privileged life, to understand that all the stuff he has is supposed to make his life so much better than others who don’t live huge house or drive new cars. The thing is that stuff really doesn’t make anything better …The thing about his life he actually likes the most, the BEST thing, the one thing he got all on his own, it’s his friend Oliver. Oliver is different (brown, little, and from a very NOT privileged Latin family), not at all like his upper middle class friends who take everything for granted. Oliver is SO SMART, and funny. There is no frowning, EVER, when Oliver is around. Also, Oliver is gay, which you’d think would bother Rusty, but he doesn’t care! He’s never had someone like Oliver in his life.
These boys were so sweet, and THAT love. That all encompassing, grounding thing they had. I really had to think hard about what to make for this review…I toyed with the idea of cookies (you will know why when you read the book!), but I HAD to go with tamales. I’m LATIN! And the ritual that is tamale making during the holidays where a pivotal thing for Rusty, and his understanding of the kind of love he’d have with Oliver. SO! Tamales, Chocolate Tamales, that is…With a Vanilla Bourbon Pecan Crumble Filling that will make you want to cry, they are so DELICIOUS. For all this holiday goodness the only choice for a wine pairing was a bottle of BUBBLY…Jaume Serra Cristalino Extra Dry Cava Brut from Spain. It is my favorite affordable sparkling wine for drinking with extra luscious dessert. This wine is dry and fresh, so it cuts through the sweetness of the chocolate and buttery crumble. Delightful, and at $8.00 a bottle, a WINNER.
Back to our guys…Things are progressing fast for Rusty, high school is ending and he is doubled over by his parents expectations of him…They don’t SEE him. They want him to be someone he simply cannot be. College is like this impending doom looming in the horizon, and it’s scary. He knows in his heart his happiness lies in other things. He wishes he could tell his parents that the summer construction job with Oliver’s dad was like a revelation, that he wants simpler thing, maybe a job where he uses his hands and his body. A little house with dogs and people in it that love each other, that sounds like the best dream. Oliver too, he has to be in that life. Oliver is solid and there, and he makes Rusty feel grounded…He’s the best friend he’s ever had, until the day that Oliver challenges everything about their relationship and kisses him. And then, that’s when Rusty Baker starts to make sense to himself.
Once at Berkeley things go from bad to worse, the only thing keeping Rusty from totally losing it is the prospect of Thanksgiving break and seeing Oliver. He can barely keep his head above water with his studies, he’s so done with everything. He makes his decision when he gets home, he is going to come clean to his parents about who he really is, in all ways. Things come out (pun intended here) a lot more abruptly than he intends and he ends up getting kicked out of his home, and staying with Oliver’s family for the holidays. Rusty is adrift, cut off from his family so drastically, like he meant nothing to them, it hurts him deeply. He is not sure what will be of his life, but at the same time…It’s also what he’s always known to expect from his parents…What shakes him to the core though is the brazen warmth with which Oliver’s family embraces him. To them this boy that their Oliver loves, MUST be OK, they will make sure of that. Rusty feels so undeserving of all this love and support, he just can’t accept it, they are too valuable and worthy, and he is to insignificant for even his parents to miss…Rusty struggles to let himself accept all that he is being offered…Even when his reluctance hurts Oliver, he hesitates. Oliver is a treasure, and Rusty has nothing to offer him , how can he possibly be enough? Oliver takes all that doubt Rusty has and fights it. Makes him see, that the ONLY thing that Oliver cannot live with, is not having Rusty in his life.
Amy Lane really outdoes herself with the interracial heroes, she has a real understanding of the things that are different about couples who come from such different cultural backgrounds. The warmth that exists at the center of Latin families, but also the truth and honesty in all colors of families who ultimately, as much as they fuck up, still do want to see their children happy. The core of this story for me was the idea that there is not anything anyone can learn, know, or earn, to be deserving of the open love someone offers up to them…Rusty had to finally understand that the only thing he ever has to give Oliver was himself. All that other stuff they can take care of together.
Everything about this story was warmth, and I enjoyed it from beginning to end. The families and friends were wonderful. I loved Nicole, Rusty sister and Rex his college roommate HAS GOT TO HAVE his own story. What a wonderful character. Again, Amy Lane writes a story that to reads like something I know personally. Straight to my heart.
I cannot recommend this story enough, it is out today from Riptide publishing, and can be purchased here.
Chocolate Tamales with a Vanilla Bourbon Pecan Crumble Filling
For the masa:
- 2 cups corn flour for tamales
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 1/2 cup cold water
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
- 2 teaspoons (heaping) non-hydrogenated vegetable spread
- 3 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
- 1/2 cup 2% milk, more if needed
- 1 (6-ounce) package dry corn husks, moistened according to package directions
- 1 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
For the filling:
- 1/2 cup of raw pecans
- 4 tablespoons of vegan buttery spread
- 3 tablespoons of brown sugar or sucanat
- 2 tablespoons on bourbon
- 1/2 teaspoon of organic vanilla
- 1/2 cup of mini chocolate chips
In a standing mixer with paddle attachment, place corn flour, salt and water and mix at high speed to prepare the batter. Scrape bowl halfway through and continue mixing until well combined. Remove batter from bowl, form it into a ball, divide it in three parts and set aside. Wipe out the mixer bowl. Add the butter and vegetable spread to the bowl and mix at high speed until fluffy and light, stopping a few times to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Separately put the chocolate chips in the microwave for 1 minute, stir it at 30 seconds and add to the mix once its cool. Add vanilla, cinnamon and sugar, then add the reserved corn flour batter in three parts with a third of the milk and the chocolate following each addition. Continue mixing well for another 3 minutes.Add some extra milk if the batter seems dry. It will be very sticky when it is ready.
For the filling:
In a skillet put in the pecans and heat for about five minutes at medium heat, moving them around, so they don’t burn. Put the pecans aside and then add the buttery spread to the pan, sautee for a minute until melted then add the sugar, vanilla and bourbon, stir until it looks like caramel and then add the pecans. Cook for another 3-4 minutes stirring constantly. When the mix is thick like caramel remove from heat and let cool for 15-20 minutes. Once its cooled scrape the mix of the pan and place in the food processor, add the maple syrup and pulse until the mixture is coarsely ground uniformly.
Making the tamales:
Fill the bottom of a steamer with a few inches of water and bring to a boil. To assemble the tamales, place one moistened triangular-shaped corn husk on a work surface with the base of the triangle closest to you. Using a soup spoon, scoop about 2 ounces of batter and place it on the bottom center of the husk (close to the base but about half an inch away from the edge). With the back of your spoon, make a small flat indentation in the middle of the batter and place about two teaspoons of the crumble and a pinch of the mini chocolate chips in the indentation. Now it is ready to be folded (you do not need to cover the chocolate chips with more batter). Fold the right side of the husk over the filling, then fold the left side up and over, enclosing the filling but without pressing too much. Now flip the top of the triangle over to close the tamale. Tie both ends of the tamale with string. Place the the steamer rack standing up. Repeat with the rest of the filling and stack all tamales together on the steamer rack so they stay together. This will keep them from opening up while cooking. Once they are all in the steamer bring water to a boil, cover and steam for 45 minutes.
Check the steamer occasionally to make sure there is enough water in it. To check if the tamales are cooked through, open one to see if the filling is fluffy and no longer stick to the sides of the husk. Serve the tamales with vanilla ice cream and a bit of hot fudge and ENJOY.
I do hope you guys try this recipe it is delicious and a holiday treat, with the bubbly and this wonderful Christmas story, I guarantee an amazing evening!
Cheers, Happy Reading and A Lovely Holiday Season!