Shaking The Sugar Tree by Nick Wilgus and Vegan Cinammon Rolls

This book. THIS BOOK. This was not the book I expected when I started reading,  AT ALL, but Wiley Cantrell and his son Noah stole my heart. This story more than anything else is about love . First and foremost the love of a father and son, but also the love of a man for his home, the love of where he comes from, the love for the people that have impacted his life, his love of music, of life, of what the future could bring. Wiley Cantrell is probably one of the strongest characters I’ve read in this genre,  he had the heart of a lion.

Before I get into things I’ll talk about what I made for this book. I went back and forth on different recipes, and was tempted to do something Southern, but decided on going with Vegan Cinnamon Rolls. The reason being that they are my daughter’s favorite and she LOVES helping me make them, clearly this was the winning choice. These rolls are delish, and keep well for a few days. With some coffee in the mornings they are a lovely breakfast in this cold weather.

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Now back to the story…There were many things I loved about this book. I loved the writing and I loved the setting. I completely enjoyed the raw and fierce love Wiley had for his son. All good, GOOD things. But Wiley himself,  man, that guy went straight for my soul. I could relate to him in such a deep, and basic level it was staggering at times. Wiley lives in the Deep South, Tupelo, Mississippi, the birthplace of Elvis Presley. He is an out and proud gay man, in his early thirties. As a struggling writer, him and his little boy live on his minimum wage part-time job at Foodworld, and public assistance. His 10 year old is a special needs child, he is deaf, one of the defects resulting from having been born addicted to meth. Wiley has raised Noah alone, since his mom left as soon as he was born and Wiley refused to hand off his son to anyone. Wiley LOVES his son, more than anything and anyone. He has done everything in his power to give Noah a loving home, it has been hard to do. Noah was born a little cyclone of problems, his little body wrecked as a result of his mother’s addiction.

It’s been a haze of health issues and anger, so much pain. Wiley feels so responsible for the pain and difficulties his little boy has to live with. But Wiley he keeps on going. Despite how unsupportive his family can be, sure they love him, but they never loose a chance to tear him down over his homosexuality. Everywhere he turns it seems, everything he is to people boils down to the disgrace which that is his sexuality. It’s not easy being a gay man in the South,  a poor gay man with a special needs son is damn hard. A gay man with a deaf son who still loves God, and his church and wants to be a part of the community that he came from…It’s a study in heartbreak. It seems like the odds are just stocked up against him, no matter what he does.

Yet Wiley enjoys his son, his life, he finds joy in the good things in it. But  he is lonely and bitterness can seep in at times. One day a young man from Boston walks up to Wiley’s lane at the Foodworld, and instantly there is a spark. Jackson is his name, he is a pediatric nurse and seems to be just as smitten with Noah as he is with Wiley. This is a good thing, a VERY good thing, but things are far from simple. Noah wants to see his mother, who has no interest in him. Wiley’s brother is increasingly hateful and bigoted. He doesn’t miss an opportunity to put him down. It is so hard to keep his chin up when all he hears is negativity. Even Noah who he loves more than his life at times makes Wiley despair. Jackson, he is something to hope for, someone who could walk with him, support him, but even he comes with his own complications and disappointments. But Wiley is not a quitter, he keeps challenging his family, his friends, his church, his community to SEE him for what he is, a man trying to be a good father, a man trying to live a good life, a man trying to live up to the love his son has for him, a man trying to be better.

This book covered so many things that are incredibly close to my heart. The plight of the working poor in this country is something which hangs out in the shadows most of the time, specially in romantic fiction. The hard reality of undocumented immigrants, the invisible people in our society…The sadness of being from a place  you love, but won’t love you back. There are so many whose lives are an eternal fight not just for acceptance, but literally to have the things that many of us take fro granted, keeping their kids fed and under a roof.

Paired with all these things that to me are incredibly important and sobering, this book was a JOY to read. It was FUN. So much about Wiley’s family seemed so familiar…Put your crazy on the porch? Hell yes! I know all about that. My own Crazy Uncle is still cold calling people 10 hours a day trying to book gigs for the all-girl merengue band he’s been managing for the past 30 years IN HIS HEAD! So Pawpaw, he’s my kind of guy. Wiley and his cutting humor and relentlessness, he would stand down for no one. EVER. I loved that. He was so hard on himself, so jaded that he could barely believe he’d  get a happily ever after that was just for him…He did though. He DID.

Ok yeah, this book. Amazing, can’t say enough. Recommend it completely and it is solidly in my all time favorites list. Wiley, Noah and all their people are unforgettable. This story is all about the LOVE.

Shaking the Sugar Tree is available for purchase here.

Easy and Delicious Vegan Cinnamon Rolls

1 packet instant yeast

1 cup unsweetened almond milk

1/2 cup Earth balance (vegan butter), divide

1/4 tsp salt

3 cups all purpose flour

1/2 Tbsp cinnamon

1/4 cup + 1 Tbsp sugar, divided

Directions:

In a large sauce pan (or in a bowl in the microwave at 30 sec increments), heat the almond milk and 3 Tbsp Earth Balance until warm and melted, never reaching boiling. Remove from heat and let cool, or the temperature of bath water. It should be warm but not too hot or it will kill the yeast.

Transfer mixture to a large mixing bowl and sprinkle on yeast. Let activate for 10 minutes, then add 1 Tbsp sugar and the salt and stir.

Next add in flour 1/2 cup at a time, stirring as you go. The dough will be sticky. When it is too thick to stir, transfer to a lightly floured surface and knead for a minute or so until it forms a loose ball. Rinse your mixing bowl out, coat it with canola, and add your dough ball back in. Cover with plastic wrap and set in a warm place to rise for about 1 hour, or until doubled in size (see photo).

Little ball.

Little ball.

After one hour.

After one hour.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough into a thin rectangle. Brush with 3 Tbsp melted Earth Balance and top with 1/4 cup sugar and 1/2 – 1Tbsp cinnamon.

My little love is a rolling pin expert!

My little love is a rolling pin expert!

Ready to roll.

Ready to roll.

Starting at one end, tightly roll up the dough and situate seam side down. Then with a serrated knife or a string of floss, cut the dough into 1.5 – 2 inch sections and position in a well-buttered 8×8 square or comparable sized round pan (you should have about 10 rolls). Brush with remaining 2 Tbsp Earth Balance (melted) and cover with plastic wrap. Set on top of the oven to let rise again while you preheat oven to 350 degrees.

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Once the oven is hot, bake rolls for 25-30 minutes or until slightly golden brown. Let cool for a few minutes and then serve immediately

For the frosting do a simple mixture of powdered sugar and almond milk.

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Hope that you enjoy this amazing book and give the cinnamon rolls a try. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Cheers and Happy Reading,

Laura

Salvage by Con Riley ” Meaty” Vegan Chili and a delish Argentinian Malbec.

18345321 Con Riley has been a steady auto-buy author for me since I read her first novel After Ben which to me is one of the best stories on grief, loss and moving on I’ve ever read, M/M genre notwithstanding. Salvage the first stand-alone novel from Ms. Riley was a for sure read on my list. This book certainly lived up to the kind of writing I expect from this writer, it is a story about loyalty, love, home, mostly though it’s about forgiveness…Many kinds, forgiving yourself, family, friends, circumstances…Even the place you grew up in.

Forgiveness and going home. Claiming your home, the place and the people that make it real for you and how to make them  yours. I liked this read a lot and felt comforted by it. By the setting, and the easy way the author portrayed that sometimes just letting go is what makes you the most grounded.

For such a warm book, set in a cold cold place I had to make something that says COMFORT, what is better than a hearty stew with a robust red wine to round things off?  This time I made a delicious and seriously hearty “put meat on YOUR bones without having to actually eat any vegan chili”, for the wine I chose an Argentinian 2011 Malbec from Colores del Sol Winery. This Malbec is very robust, but, not at all tannic and just leaves a lot of room to enjoy the savory flavors of the chili. It goes well with the richness of the beans and tomatoes, it is a fabulous food-pairing wine. At $8.99 a bottle it’s a great deal.

malbec-2009Now back to the story…

Gabriel Cooper left his home in Minnesota after an accidental fall almost paralized his twin sister and made things in his family feel broken. His home had always been a source of safety for Gabe, but things changed and he felt that it was best to move away. He left for college to San Diego with his best friend Jamie and tried as much as he could to stay away.

Five years later when he finally was forced to come back to care for his father, Gabriel is torn between being lulled back to a home and a life that he yearned for and his misguided sense of obligation to his best friend Jamie. Gabe’s ties to his best friend are based on guilt and remorse…He has so many of the good things in him that he learned from his father, but after feeling like he had failed his dad and sister he latched on to the one relationship in his life that would never fail to make him feel needed.   He’s conflicted and that inner struggle won’t allow himself to admit that he has missed his home, his father’s grumpiness is not helping matters either. Then there’s his sister, whose future was totally altered by the crippling injuries from the fall yet she is happy and hopeful for the future, glad to be alive. He loves the work in his dad’s architecural salvage yard…He’s not sure if he still has a place there, but the ease of it is hard to ignore. It’s becoming glaringly obvious that Gabe has a lot to think about when it comes to the place where he really belongs?

And then in comes Scott Stark…The man comes into the yard on a stormy day with a little boy on his hip, desperately looking for his little niece and his instinct to lend a hand pretty much SEALED HIS FATE. Scott was barely hanging on, he’s come back to an old family lake house to escape from serious family problems, and to protect his niece and nephew from the  fallout. He had no one, but Gabe, his dad Coop, and sister Ariel, like they always did were ready to lend a hand. Slowly they earn Scott’s and the children’s trust, they are taken into the warmth and steadiness of their family and in the process for the first time, really, Gabe is starting to see himself as someone who could be an equal partner and lover to someone who can have his back as much as he would have theirs.

Good for what ails you...

Good for what ails you…

This book like everything I’ve read from Con Riley had a slow burn, they are sedate stories with powerful themes threaded through them. There are six very strong relationships that go  through transformations in the story. Gabe and Jamie. Gabe and his father. Gabe and his sister. Gabe and Scott. Gabe and his hometown. San Diego Gabe and Minnesota Gabe. Gabe was a young man when tragedy struck his life and the hurt it cause made everything that he knew for sure change. His dad’s love and his place in his family. Once Gabe understood where he stood and what was important things became clearer.

One of the toughest things in this book for me was Jamie’s character. He annoyed me, and Gabe’s response to him annoyed me more…But there was point to the whole mess that made complete sense in the end. All in all this book was as solid as anything I’ve read from this author and the erotica was PRIMO. Very sexy…VERY VERY.

Recommend for sure.

Salvage is for sale at Dreamspinner Press.

FOOD TIME!

“Meaty” Vegan Chiili

1 Poblano Pepper (Chopped)

1 Large Onion (Chopped)

2 teaspoons of tomato paste

1 Garlic clove minced

2 15.5oz cans of black beans drained and rinsed

1 15.5oz can of pinto beans drained and rinsed

2 15.5oz cans of diced tomatoes (preferably the kind for chili)

1 packet of vegetarial chili seasoning (I used Simply Organic)

1/2 tablespoon of ground cumin

1/2 tablespoon of chili powder

1/2 teaspoon of oregano

1/4 teaspoon onion powder

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

1/3 cup of chopped fresh cilantro

1 cup of frozen corn

4 tablespoons of bulgur wheat

1/2 tablespoon of sugar

1 cup of water

Directions: In an skillet heat one tablespoon of olive oil. Once the oil is hot sautee the onions, peppers and garlic with tomato paste  with half of chili seasoning packet until fragant (about two minutes). Take the mixture and put it in your slow cooker. To the mixture add the rest of the ingredients, cover the pot and cook on low heat for 8 hours. Every two hours stir and add more water if the stew is too thick. Serve with sliced avocados and any other preferred chili toppings.

I hope you like this recipe. it’s a fabulous cold weather dish, and with the Colores del Sol Malbec it’s a lovely meal to have while reading about two dear men finding love and home in the Minnesota winter.

Cheers and Happy Reading!

Laura