Tequila Mockingbird by Rhys Ford and Cauliflower Rice with Baked Tofu…And MOAR Rosé

Tequila MockingbirdLG (1)WOW! Well it’s been a few weeks since I posted anything…Life takes over and I one ends up doing all the drinking and eating offline. The HORROR. To get me back in the groove I’ve got three posts planned over then next few days, the first is my review for the third installment of the Sinners Series by the most lovely Rhys Ford. This book Tequila Mockingbird brings us back to the unlikely tribe of Irish cops and wayward rock stars. We meet up with the guys in San Francisco a not long after the end of the second book and we get right into it.

This time around Connor the oldest of the Morgan boys gets hit hard by the love bug when he arrives at the scene of a crime and encounters Forest Ackerman the adoptive son of the man’s whose murder he is there to investigate. Forest is skittish and quiet and brings out Connor’s protective side like no one has ever done before. He wants to care for him, the thing is he is not really gay…

For this book I wanted to make something with and Asian flavor since so many of Rhys’ books are set in San Francisco with lots of glimpses from Chinatown I thought the Crispy Peanut Tofu with Rice Cauliflower from The Minimalist Baker would be PERFECT for this one. I paired this yummy dish with a lovely South African Rose wine that has made it’s way to my table many a time already this summer  the 2013 Mulderbosch Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé quite frankly wins EVERYTHING. It is delicious, smooth to drink, fruity and fragrant without sweetness. For $9.00 a bottle it’s a win-win.

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Onto the story. So we catch up with the Morgan brood once more and this time the hot older brother is the star of the show. Connor Morgan meets Forest Ackerman while investigating the murder of the man’s father. From the get go Forest awakens feelings in Connor the he just cannot explain. Not only is the man clearly in need of someone to care for him, but he looks at Connor like he is the solution to all his problems. The sexy slight drummer is setting off something in Connor that so far he’s only “seen” happen to his brother and cousin with THEIR mates, but could never imagine happening to him. So when bad things start happening around Forest’s home and business, and it becomes clear whoever killed his dad is out to get him too, Connor steps in and takes the man to his home. No way is he going to stand by and let him get hurt. Sure it’s possesive and a little crazy since HE IS STRAIGHT, but who cares, it’s not like there isn’t a precedent in the family.

Despite the intensity of his feelings Connor is torn, he never envisioned himself with a  man. All he aspired to be was just like his dad, and being gay just did not fit with that plan. He has to make peace with this because there is no way that he will be the reason for more hurt in Forest’s life. The man has not had it easy, if it weren’t for Frank that man who took him off the streets and gave him the closest thing he knew for a home he would have never made it past his teens. There is a lot to soothe and clean inside of Forest’s heart and Connor knows he is the man meant to do it.

As for Forest never saw this Irish cop coming, one moment he was living his regular (well as close to regular as it was with Frank) and the next his whole life had been blown up, literally. He is all alone in the world(other than his mother who doesn’t exactly count as someone who would care)  and that feeling of being bereft and completely on his own makes him want to seek the protection he can see Connor wants to offer. He’s only ever had one person who ever cared about him at all, and putting his trust in Connor, the prospect of letting him know the ugly things in his past feels very scary. He feels like he has to though, the closer they get the more Forest feels like he’s found the man and the family he’s always wanted. He has doubts of course, because Connor and his family, they are AMAZING, so wholesome and perfect and how could he a rentboy whose own mother would sell him for a few bucks fit into that perfect picture? But the more he gets to know Connor, his family and the two men who have recently joined the brood the more he realizes these people could not have been more perfect for a family.

This book had all the elements that make Rhys’ writing so damn readable. Two heroes who are intensely into each other, good plot, interesting mystery and a lot of opportunities to visit with characters that we deeply care for. The erotica was top notch incredibly sexy and yet not even a hit of discordance to the tone of the book.  Solid writing as always. Will be anxiously waiting for the next one! At this point I’m hoping to get adopted by the Morgan clan myself!

‘Tis a good one. Recommend.

Tequila Mockingbird is available for purchase here.

Peanutty Sauce Bakes Tofu with Cauliflower Rice

This recipe was borrowed from the fabulous Minimalist Baker blog.

Ingredients:

For the stir fry:

  • 12 ounces extra firm tofu, organic & non-GMO if possible*
  • 1 Tbsp Toasted sesame oil
  • 1 small head cauliflower
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
For the sauce:
  • 1.5 Tbsp Toasted sesame oil
  • 1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce (gluten free for GF eaters)
  • 3.5 – 4 Tbsp light brown sugar (or honey if not vegan)
  • 1/2 tsp chili garlic sauce
  • 2.5 Tbsp peanut butter or almond butter (natural, salted)

Add ons:

  • baby bok choy, green onion, red pepper, broccoli

Directions

Begin by draining tofu 1.5 hours before you want your meal ready. If your block of tofu is larger than 12 ounces, trim it down. To drain the tofu wrap in in a couple layers of paper towel and then into a kitchen towel. Put in under something heavy. I use a cast iron pan and weigh pan down with a bag of flour. Keep it like that for about 30 minutes

Whiele draining the tofu preheat oven t 400 degrees F. Once tofu is dry uncover it and cube it.  Place it on a baking sheet and arrange in a single layer. Bake for 25 minutes to dry/firm the tofu. Once baked, remove from oven and let cool.

Tofu after baking.

Tofu after baking.

Prepare sauce by whisking together ingredients until combined. Taste and adjust flavor as needed.

Add cooled tofu to the sauce and stir to coat. Let marinate for at least 15 minutes to saturate the tofu and infuse the flavor.

In the meantime, shred your cauliflower into rice in the food processor. You don’t want it too fine, sort of the size of cooked rice. Set aside.

Cauliflower after I pulsed it on the Cuisinart

Cauliflower after I pulsed it on the Cuisinart

 

Mince garlic if, and prepare any veggies you want to add to the dish. I basically cut the bok choy in half and brushed it with some soy sauce and sesame seed oil and sauteed them for two minutes on a skillet. Set veg aside and keep warm.

Bok-Choy

Bok-Choy

Use a slotted spoon to spoon tofu into the preheated pan. Add a few spoonfuls of the sauce to coat. Cook, stirring frequently for a few minutes until browned. It will stick to the pan a bit, just . Remove from pan and set aside and cover to keep warm. In a clean pan (could be the one you used for the tofu after a rinse) add a drizzle of sesame oil to the pan, then add garlic and cauliflower rice and stir. Put cover on to steam the “rice.” Cook for about 5-8 minutes until slightly browned and tender, stirring occasionally. Then add a few spoonfuls of sauce to season and stir. To serve top cauliflower with veggies and tofu. Serve with any leftover sauce, and enjoy with the your glass of Rosé.

Hope you enjoy the recipe and wine!!

Cheers and Happy Reading!

Laura

 

Stranger on the Shore by Josh Lanyon…Spicy Carrot and Yams Soup and an amazing Spanish Rosé.

stranger on the shoreJosh Lanyon inspired is truly a thing to behold. This book had such an amazing feel to it, it was like Josh went right into The Great Gatsby, took a stroll in there, and sat down with that mojo to write a book. As far as crime mysteries go, this was first rate. I was in on it enough that I had a sense of where I was going, but never giving me too much, so the payoff was still fantastic when the whole thing crescendoed. Then there was the romance, Pierce and Griff, were beautiful together. Pierce icy and powerful, with all that hurt inside, and Griff so fragile and so brave. I fell in love. Completely in love with this book. There was something about the writing in this one, may have been the conjuring of F. Scott (who is one of my most favorite authors) or maybe it was just that some stories are charmed. I don’t know what it was, but this one, it’s going to stick around my head for awhile.

That Josh Lanyon can write a fantastic mystery novel is not really up for debate, as this is a established fact. But what he does with this type of novel that really elevates the experience for me, is that he is not afraid to be whimsical and poetic. He’ll open up a story by summoning up Fitzgerald and building on that mood to give us something lyrical and haunting.  He is not afraid of the dramatic, his brand, it’s that mix of sweeping romance and gritty noir that always, ALWAYS satisfies.

For this story I wanted to do both wine and food. Josh is amazing  with the food descriptions in his books, and as a lover of good food and good drink I always appreciate his efforts. The Farm to Table movement was mentioned in the book a few times, so I decided to make a soup which I make quite often in the Spring. It’s a Curried Carrot and Yams Soup which has all fresh ingredients and just tastes like sunshine.

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This soup has a lot of flavor, so it needs a wine that can stand up to it, but not so heavy it overshadows it. I found a Spanish Rosé that was PERFECT. The grape is a Prieto Picudo variety that has a bit of spice and aphoto 1 (7) whole lot of body. The 2012 Tombu Rosé from Castilla y Leon in Spain is a lovely find for this summer and for $7 a bottle a total keeper!

Now back the story. Griffin Hadley has landed the biggest break of his very short journalistic career. Somehow he’s convinced Jarrett Arlington one of the wealthiest men in America to let him try, and write a book about the disappearance of his grandson Brian, who was taken from the family’s Long Island estate 20 years earlier. Griffin has always been intrigued with that case and with that family. He’s always had a fascination with The Great Gatsby, and the mysticism behind those old money American families who seemed to exist to look beautiful to the public, but somehow always had incredibly tragic existences.

As soon as Griff walks into Winden House for his week of research on Brian’s disappearance he realizes that this family, truly is like another species. They live in such a different world from his. No one seems to DO anything, no real jobs or purpose. It’s like they live in a bubble, and then there is their henchman aka family lawyer, Pierce Mather. The guy has it out for Griffin from the word go, and seems to be set on making him quit writing the book. Griffin is not giving up easily and Jarrett does seem to have his back, so despite the less than warm reception from the others involved he gets to work.

The more Griff uncovers about the family and what happened the night of Brian’s disappearance, the more he is convinced that the going theory is not what really happened. Things just don’t add up. What’s more, strange things are going on, it looks like someone REALLY doesn’t want him to write this book.  It’s a strange experience he is having in this place, and with every passing minute is more compelled to figure out exactly what happened to Brian. Then there’s Pierce. The man makes Griffin weak in the knees, he is so strong and fierce. All Griff wants to do is get closer to him. Getting involved with the man IS NOT smart, but damn if he can help himself.

This book is Josh Lanyon at his best, delicious and twisty mystery, beautiful writing, and the men. THE MEN. Pierce and Griff are going straight to my favorites list, the way the unraveled for each other, and just let down walls was so so lovely. There was something between the two of them that could not be ignored or put off, what drew them to each other was stronger then circumstances, it was fate.

Completely recommend. Everything about this book classic Lanyon goodness, and all I can say is, if you haven’t started reading it, you should remedy that right now.

Stranger on the Shore is available for purchase here.

Curried Carrot and Yam Soup

Makes 6 main course-sized servings
2 tablespoons coconut oil
1 large red onion, diced
2 tablespoons peeled and finely chopped fresh ginger
1 clove of garlic minced
1 red bell pepper chopped
1 1/ tablespoons of sweet curry powder (I used Penzeys)
1 1/2 pounds (about 2 bunches) carrots, peeled and chopped (4 cups)
2 cups of peeled cubed yams
1 cup of almond milk unsweetened
1 teaspoon salt and pepper more to taste
2 1/2 cups of coconut water mixed with 1/4 cup of pineapple juice
juice of 1 lime, to taste
 1 tablespoon cilantro leaves, and a bit for garnish
Directions:
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Heat the oil in a large soup pot or dutch oven set over medium heat. Add the onions, ginger, garlic, peppers and curry powder and cook, stirring frequently, until the onion and peppers are tender, 10-15 minutes.
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Add the carrots, yams, salt and coconut water/juice mixture. Bring to a boil over high heat, put in the cilantro then reduce the heat to medium and simmer, partially covered, until the vegetables are very tender, 25-30 minutes. Remove from the heat and add almond milk.  Cool the soup slightly, then puree smooth with an immersion blender (or in batches in a blender or food processor).
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Add lime juice to taste and more salt and pepper if needed. Serve soup with crusty bread and some slices of avocado. The soup keeps well, refrigerated, for up to 4 days.
Hope that you enjoy the book, food and wine. All three are absolute winner and surely will be enjoyed again in my home over the summer.
Cheers and Happy Reading,
Laura

Blackbird Knitting in a Bunny’s Lair, A Granby Knitting Novel by Amy Lane and a Finger Lakes Riesling

BlackbirdKnittinginaBunnysLairLG (1)Jeremy Bunny got his happily ever after, and what a lovely thing it was to read. In this new installment of Amy’s Granby Knitting Series we get back to our favorite group of crafty Colorado folks not long after Jeremy has almost lost his life to save a friend. The first time we met Jeremy and Aiden, we left them at a very new and seemingly fragile beginning. Jeremy’s life before Granby has been mostly a facade, he had been a conman, and turning his life around had been a difficult and trying process. Not because the people around him were not supportive, and not because he couldn’t find his own place, but because he fiercely believed he would never be good enough to earn any of it. Something had to shake up his little family, to compel him to step up and own that he was part of something amazing. Then and only then could he trust that he already had a place in the world that would never ever fail him.

For this story I wanted to do a local wine. I live in Ithaca, New York in the midst of the Finger Lakes Region. This area of the state is a prominent wine producer, but size and scale make the operation seem pretty small compared with the West Coast producers. Quite a few of the wineries, which are mostly family owned, still come to the Farmer’s Market on the weekends to sell their wines. It’s a very intimate experience to be honest. Since this series is in many ways about small business owners, and the sacrifices that doing something out of passion and love can entail, I wanted to feature a local wine with it. I chose the 2012 Salmon Run Reisling from the Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery. The Finger Lakes are known for their reislings and this one is a prime example. It is crisp and slightly fruity, and properly chilled has a delicious bite to it. Locally it goes for about $11 a bottle.

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This story felt sedate, and to me like a nice walk in to the sunset. We get to see Jeremy getting back into the life that he had selflessly given up as a sacrifice to repay a debt to a friend. We see Aiden struggle with what he had to do to save Jeremy and what it meant about him, about the kind of man he was. Struggling with what it felt to see Jeremy almost lost to him, as much as he loved his bunny that despair and fright was not easy to get over from or forgive. Mostly though this story was about taking ownership. Jeremy had never truly believed he could ever do enough to earn what he had found in Granby. He still struggled to reconcile the man he had been, the things he’d done with a life that seemed to have been handed to him without much effort at all.

The thing is that he HAD made an effort, he HAD earned his place, he HAD worked for what he had gotten. Aiden had seen it, as had Craw and Ariadne they were in awe of all the ways in which Jeremy has turned his life around, he was the only one that could not see it. He had to find a way to BELIEVE it, and for a man who had lived out of selling pipe dreams, to actually trust he really could hold on to what he had, he had to SEE IT. The chance came from an unlikely place.  Ariadne’s baby, who had struggled so much even on the womb,  would be born with special needs that required more resources than what their little family had in hand. Jeremy who had sat in the same hospital room with Ariadne while he recovered from his injuties, took that need on as personal project. He rounded the Granby community and knocked on EVERY SINGLE DOOR to make sure they were ready for Ariadne’s baby when she came out into the world.

Doing that for his friend and counting on the rest of their little tribe for assistance and support was what finally gave Jeremy the redemption he so desperately needed. Once he saw that the doors in Granby did open for him, that people trusted his words, and admired his actions he began to feel inside like he was indeed home. Aiden he had, and he counted on that heart and soul, but he also needed to know that he was valued by the people of the place he loved. Jeremy is such a special character and such a delicate soul. It is surprising reading him sometimes because, it’s jarring to think that someone so fragile and gentle, ever survived the kind of life that was forced on him by his father.

This was an easy lovely read, it had its tough moments, but mostly it was closure for Jeremy and Aiden. This time we get a lot more of Aiden. That was something I enjoyed, I understood his inner workings a lot better this time around. I loved them together, in bed and outside of it. Like a lot of Amy’s series the joy is in the unit as much as in the individual pieces, so the scenes with Craw, Ben, Ariadne and the rest of the gang were very fun to read. As much as the book was a calm read it did have some hilarious moments (the first dinner at Aiden’s parents house is HILARIOUS!). For the most part what I felt while reading was that I was giving these guys a long, strong, joyous hug goodbye.

Jeremy Bunny will be alright, I have no doubt, and I’m sure Amy will bring him back for a visit some time soon.

Totally recommend for readers of the Knitting Series (there is a discount code for the paperback with the WHOLE series at the back of the ebook!) Blackbird Knitting in Bunny’s Lair will be out tomorrow on Dreamspinner Press and can be pre-ordered here.

Hope you enjoy the book and the wine.

Cheers and Happy Reading!

Laura

Gay Athletes: My Favorite Sports Themed Romances

The sports world in this country has been shaken up quite a bit recently. Michael Sam one of the NCAA top football players came out as a gay man, just months before the NFL draft (where he is expected to be a top pick). Also recently Jason Collins a veteran NBA player, who came out a few months ago, signed a contract with the Brooklyn Nets making him the first openly gay athlete to play in an American professional sport. These news are heartening, because despite some nasty responses (from all the usual haters) I think both men have received  great support. It is an interesting time we are living in.

Last week a bill that would essentially have given Arizona businesses a license to discriminate against LGBT people was vetoed by the governor. I think that veto was in a large part due to the incredible amount of public outrage that followed it passing the house. It is sad to think that something so hateful would make it as far as it did, but at the same time, it is encouraging to see that people would not take it sitting down. It will be interesting to see if the testosterone fueled world that is American professional sports can evolve with the times.

Professional sports are an insular world, we see these men that look like gods, that have such power, these amazing specimens of maleness and masculinity playing these sports. We root for them, live and die with their wins and losses…Their victories feel like our victories and yet we don’t know WHO they are. Who they love, who nurses their wounds when they take a beating, who helps them celebrate their moments of glory.

As a sports fan I’ve always been fascinated with what these men’s lives are in private could be like. Are they gentle, passionate, intense, aloof? Who knows right? But we can still get a glimpse of it in the fiction world. When I was thinking of what I should come up with for this week I thought, ATHLETES! I have quite a few favorite novels that feature sportsmen,  as one or both heroes in the story. I thought that would be a fun list for today.

locker room

Clearly my #1 was going to be The Locker Room by Amy Lane, I don’t even think it’s possible for me to make a favorites list that doesn’t include a book from hers at this point. Isn’t it a law somewhere? All Favorites List MUST include an Amy Lane title…Or is that just the voices in my head? So, yeah Xander and Chris the most lovely of all my lovelies. The princes of my Boy Love Kingdom. If you have not read this book you absolutely must, not only is it Amy Lane at her best, but the basketball court scenes are outstanding. Wonderfulness all around. For my original Goodreads review, click here.

out in the field

Out in the Field by Kate McMurray is probably the one book I’ve read in this genre that could have been tailor made for me. I’ve said this before, but from the moment I started reading M/M, I REALLY wanted a book with MLB players, particularly if one of the heroes was a Dominican. I am a huge baseball fan and being Dominican, this book was just literally my DREAM premise. What’s even better is that I LOVED it. Every page, it was above and beyond all my expectations. Iggy and Matt are two of my favorite couples, and read after read that feeling just gets more solid. If you want to read an incredibly realistic and encouraging story about coming out and living in and retiring from a life in sports, this one IS IT. For my original Goodreads review click here.

heart in hand

Heart in Hand is essentially fan fiction, the main characters are Sidney Crosby and Alec Ovechkin who are both professional hockey players. The author ships them in this story which is worthy of ANY publishing house. These two guys were epic. Ovie, man that dude made me cry like a beeyotch. This book had it all in terms of what I look for in stories with athletes, an incredibly respectful and reverent tone about the seriousness and what it takes to become a successful professional athlete, wonderful action moments and some epic highs and lows. There were mighty moments in this book, how people responded to these guys and their story…EPIC. If you have not given this one a try DO IT. You will not regret it. For my original Goodreads review, click here.

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WINE BREAK!!!!!!!

The wine for this post is a DEELISH and super affordable New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.  The 2013 Monkey Bay Sav Blanc is a slam dunk! Not only is it super affordable, $8.99 a bottle it is crisp, citrusy and delicious without any bite at the end. I’ve gone back for this wine a few times since I first tried it, and it will surely be a regular this summer.

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dance with me

Dance with Me by Heidi Cullinan also made it to this list, because it’s awesome.  And because it showcases two men doing ballroom dancing, which if not a traditional sport it is incredibly athletic. Ed and Laurie are incredibly endearing. They are also very strong willed characters. Ed is dealing with life after an injury that ended his ability to play football, which he loved, and Laurie has quietly been licking his wounds after being utterly rejected for trying to challenge tradition in Ballroom dancing. They come together to dance, and it heals them both. Lovely story. For my original Goodreads review, click here.

steamroller

Steamroller by Mary Calmes…Ahhhh that sweet Mary crack that only she can provide. This story has college age heroes, one a cynical little shit who EVERYONE loves and the College Football Star that comes after him with unfettering focus. I love this story, in many ways sports are not at the forefront, but the CULTURE of collegiate sports is highlighted in an interesting perspective. The star who wants to be free of  the burden all the adoration and pressure to be the best represents, and on the other side of the coin the cynical boy that has formed an unfair opinion of who a jock is or can be. So yeah, I liked this one, and it served up all the good stuff we love in Ms. Calmes’ stories. I’ve gona back for MANY a re-read

BONUS PICK: Love of Sports Series by TA Chase

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This series is an oldie, but a goodie. I read it a really long time ago, like thousands of books ago, but I still really like it. The first story has professional basketball star as one of the heroes and the second a NASCAR driver. The writing is a bit on the sweet side, but I liked the characters and enjoyed the romance as well. These are good for a light, fluffy read!

Hope the list is useful in finding some new books to read! I love all these stories, and hope some of them become part of your favorites shelves!

Cheers and Happy Reading!

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Floodgates by Mary Calmes and a Wonderful German Red

FloodgatesLGMary Calmes’ books are like pizza…You can never have it too many times, you are always up for seconds, and even when you have to add a bit of this or that because it’s missing just a little something, YOU still don’t stop until it is ALL GONE. And as soon as you’re done, you begin calculating how long  you need to wait before you can have it again, without looking like you have a problem. This story was no different. This book was longer than usual for her stand alone contemporaries, and the secondary characters were a lot more layered and flushed out in the this one than I remember in the past. There WERE some crazayzay twists and turns as there sometimes are in Mary’s books when law enforcement heroes are involved. And there were a few threads I felt were a little loose throughout the story, but overall for any Mary Calmes fan, this book will take care of that itch only Mary’s books can scratch.

For this book I picked up an unusual variety of wine for me, a German red. I had this wine a few weeks ago at a friend’s house and I LOVED it. He told me the store he picked it up, and I went and got it. I had been waiting for the right book to try it out. My choice is the 2011 Dornfelder by Villa Wolf winery. This wine is exquisite, it’s got a nice sweetness to it, and is surprisingly light. It has a deep cherry flavor, and even a little carbonation, it is NOT HARD at all to take this bottle down in one sitting people. It is right on the cusp of my spending limit at $14.99 a bottle, but if you are going to splurge this one is a good choice.  Since I made the comparison to pizza, I made some at home while I read the book, I will put a link to a delicious and simple recipe for a thin crust pizza at the end of the post.

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Tracy Brandt is having a pretty shitty day…His office got shot up, (and he did too) because his business partner got mistaken for his brother who happens to dabble in the criminal side of things. The criminals after the mysterious thug were clearly not every bright since they shot up the wrong people! So, there he is in the hospital, with half his family and friends losing it over what happened. On top of everything his cheating ex, Breckin, seems to think this would be a great time to ask Tracy to take him back.  To make matter worse, because getting shot apparently doesn’t guarantee a guy isn’t going to be annoyed to death, his brother’s ex-partner in the police force, and BFF makes an appearance as well. Cord Nolan, the guy that thought suggesting that Tracy ride his dick five minutes after meeting him was a great idea. *sighs* Tracy just needs the day to be over.

But Tracy’s bad day starts turning into a bad week pretty soon…Apparently there’s a crazy killer walking around San Francisco taking out all the people Breckin’s been with…And bad news comes in threes apparently because  his ex’s penis had been busy while they had been together it seems and there are multiple potential victims involved…It’s a big homicide case…And who could possibly be the detective assigned to the case you might ask?????? None other than Cord Nolan, it is up to the big man himself to keep Tracy safe. There has always been a bit of friction between Cord and Tracy, a lot of that has to do with the fact there is always a thick layer of sexual tension between the two men. Tracy was prepared to deflect Cord’s usual annoying attitude, but it seems Cord’s cynical manner has changed, and the guy seems a lot gentler than he used to be. He is getting VERY close to Tracy in ways that are a bit confusing…Is he interested in Tracy? Is he reading this wrong?  He must be…Cord is not the settling down kind. Never was.

This story had all the elements that are present in Mary’s novels, a very likable hero telling us his story, a leading man who is all about fierce protection and protectiveness, family and friends who are adoring and supportive. Lots of passion, lots of intense moments, and because this one is a crimmie, LOTS of CRAZY plot twists. The love story in this book did not have an immediate pay off, there was a slower progression, and things did not culminate until well into the book. I enjoyed this particularly because I got to spend a lot more time with Tracy and his family, who I liked a lot. His two brothers especially had  a lot of time in the book, and there was a lot we got to see and hear about them and how their presence in Tracy’s life affected him. I liked knowing how they perceived their brother, the danger he was in, and even how the had seen his relationship with Breckin, and how they felt about a possible future with Cord. It’s rare to get much perspective on the supporting characters, and even on the other MC when you are hearing from his love interest in the first person. This POV can be very insular, but I think Mary did a really great job of using dialogue with other characters as a tool to give us a better sense of what could be between Cord and Tracy.

The mystery in this story got a little nutty at times, and there were some twists here and there that didn’t add up for me, but I did enjoy the story overall. I was right there with Cord and Tracy. I specially liked the epilogue, it was really nice to get so much information of where the guys ended up. So yeah, classic Mary Calmes, with lots of passionate love confessions, devoted friends, creepy exes, fabuliscious possessive tops, and all the things that make her a perennial favorite.

If you’re a fan don’t even think on it go read it.

Floodgates is out today on Dreamspinner Press and is available here.

Now PIZZA! Like I mentioned I made some delish thin crust pizza to go with this book. I got the recipe of the Smitten Kitchen blog and it is a total winner. The toppings are not vegan though, if you want to some suggestions on toppings click here, for a link to my own pizza recipe post from a couple of months ago.

Hope you enjoy the food, wine and book choices for today, they are all delicious, one time might not be enough!

Cheers and Happy Reading!

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Shiny! by Amy Lane and a DIVINE Strata…Perfect for Brunch.

ShinyLG

Love, love is a verb
Love is a doing word

Teardrop -Jose Gonzales

To say it is amazing that after so many books I’ve read from her, Amy Lane still delivers so soundly for me, would be an understatement. Again she wrote a story with characters that are so easy to love and cheer for, it’s bittersweet to let them go. Will Lafferty and Kenny Scalia made me laugh hysterically, cry a bit, and completely delight in reading how two people who came to each other scared and a bit dented by the world, could still have the boldness to  reach for their happy ending.

For these lovely boys I came up with a DELICIOUS recipe for a breakfast strata that is a solid winner. The strata is a savory bread pudding, which is usually served for brunch or breakfast. It uses a lot of eggs and cheese, but I adapted, it so that those who eat a bit of dairy (or none at all)  could make it. Serve this baby up with some fruit and a mimosa, and you’ll guests won’t want to go home!

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I’m gonna fight ’em off
A seven nation army couldn’t hold me back
They’re gonna rip it off
Taking their time right behind my back
And I’m talkin’ to myself at night
Because I can’t forget
Back and forth through my mind
Behind a cigarette

And the message comin’ from my eyes says leave it alone…

Seven Nation Army-The White Stripes

When we meet Will Lafferty he is having a pretty shitty day. He’s lost a teaching job AGAIN. This time he’s not even sure why. Apparently the little Christian school he was teaching at is not down with Harry Potter…And what the hell?! So, as he is doing the walk (techincally, “the drive”) of shame from the school where he’s been just fired from, he backs his care right into his future…Well, if we’re being literal, he backed into a trash can full of dildos and ugly curtains…BUT! The owner of said personal pleasure instruments, and gaudy window acccents is the object of interest here…Kenny Scalia was in the middle of putting all the evidence of his cheating boyfriend’s existence out on the curb. Poor guy had just walked into his house to find his guy and his sex toys being used by a complete stranger…God, what a mess. Seriously they were both having the WORST DAY EVER.  Once they exchanged names (and Kenny put some clothes on…long story) they decide to call the whole damn day a wash, and go get drunk together.

Things get pretty interesting from therel. First of all, Will is getting some feelings inside of himself that are kind of new to him. He is looking at Kenny, and he kind of wants to get up close and personal with every part of the guy’s body. He’s so pretty, and shiny and nice. So nice…Also secretly on the inside he’s a big geek just like Will. They have so much to talk about! Kenny keeps looking at him like he’s on the same page with the body to body encounter. But what does any of it even mean? He’s not into guys…

As for Kenny, his day has seriously improved. It wen’t from having to face the fact ONCE AGAIN that all the men who come into his life are only there to use him, to meeting Will. Who from the inside and out seems to be a REALLY GOOD GUY. Not beautiful, not drop-dead gorgeous and groomed to within an inch of his life,  not what Kenny usually goes for. They guys seems so genuine though. Except for the straight thing, this one could have really been a keeper…

You don’t know how precious you are, I am the one who lives with the ocean. 
You don’t know how I am the one. You don’t know how I am the one.

The Ocean -Dar Williams

Will wakes up the day after the drinkfest with Kenny with a whole new outlook…Not only is he pretty sure he’s gay, but he is almost 100%  sure he wants Kenny for himself. He’s not sharing that bit of information with Kenny just yet, not until they are both ready, but meanwhile they can be friends. They have so much in common! Kenny is an amazing graphic designer, and Will has this entire universe he’s created for a graphic novel. They agree to work together on it. Pretty soon, they are more then just friends, they are BEST FRIENDS. Hanging out all the time, doing all kinds of stuff together. Privately Will is coming out to the people who are important to him, and he is strengthening his bond with Kenny.

They make each other happy, that is clear, but there is are bumps on their road. Will is still not ready to give up teaching as a career, even though the whole thing has been breaking his heart consistently since he started. Kenny is frustrated with him and thinks he is squandering his talent and his good heart, on a system that could never appreciate how wonderful he is…On top of that Kenny, he’s not ready to even consider anything with Will beyond friendship. For one thing, as far as he knows, Will doesn’t like him “that way” and for the other, even if he did, Kenny would not go for it. Why? Because he knows how that goes, things start out great, sex, passion, all these hopes and dreams, and then a year later you end up alone and disappointed. So, no, because not having Will in his life is no longer an option.

I’m sorry, but I’m just thinking of the right words to say
(I promise you)
I know they don’t sound the way I planned them to be
(I promise you)

But, if u wait around a while, I’ll make you fall for me
(I promise you)
I promise you
I promise you, I will

I promise you, I will -Depeche Mode

Will is biding his time though, and he’s learning about who he is and how he can move forward in his life. He wants Kenny in it that is for sure, but he needs to SHOW Kenny the kind of man he is. The guy is skittish and Will needs to make him see what they are together. He takes his time, one cannot rush one’s future. Until the day Kenny’s “horrific” taste in men forces his hand, and he has to put it all out on the line. Push comes to shove and Will not only has to play knight in shining armor, but he tells Kenny how he feels…and they walked together into the sun-…

Well not so much, because will is still stubborn about the teaching thing, and Kenny is still neurotic about the relationship thing. Things can be frightening…Will they be enough for each other? Would it really be OK for Will to stop teaching and live off his web designing, and the writing? What is he can’t make enough? Has Kenny really found a man that will stay the course, love him even after that initial shine fades away? It’s all so scary, there is SO MUCH to loose…Even if what they have to gain is EVERYTHING they wanted.

Love; it will not betray you
Dismay or enslave you, it will set you free
Be more like the man you were made to be

There is a design, an alignment to cry
Of my heart to see,
The beauty of love as it was made to be

 Sigh No More -Mumford and Sons

Like I said earlier, it is pretty exceptional that Amy so consistently can write books which connect with me so thoroughly. First and foremost this book felt incredibly personal, from what I know of her own experiences I think this one was very close to her heart. Will is a man who has to come to terms with the fact that something he loves doing with a passion, not only can’t really love HIM back, but that insisting on doing it may ultimately destroy any of the joy he ever found in it. He needs to find a new way of seeing himself, and how he can contribute to the world he lives in. He’s not so confident in how the things that live in his mind and heart could ever be enough to make a difference.  Then there’s Kenny, like so many of us, he keeps throwing himself whole at the hope of someone to love. The problem is that being open to it, doesn’t always mean you’ll know  let in someone worthy of what you have to give.

So now I come to you
With open arms
Nothing to hide
Believe what I say
So here I am
With open arms
Hoping you’ll see
What your love means to me
Open arms

Open Arms -Journey

Right there, at that crossroads, where Will and Kenny met, that’s where Amy’s characters really shine (no pun intended!). Her characters are heroic in the face of love, because they NEED to live up to what their beloved sees within them.  Will could not see clearly who he could be, how strong he really was…But Kenny he could read how much Will had to give like an open book. Kenny wasn’t sure he was the kind of man someone would find worthy enough to build a life around, but for Will, his future has only one name,  Kenny Scalia.

Another lovely story, complete with wonderful insight on fantasy as not only an imaginative and rich genre in fiction, but as a means to open the minds of youth to critical and introspective thinking. The secondary characters were great, and the humor was outstanding. Amy and I have frighteningly similar tastes in music, so the songs in the story ended up writing half of the review for me!  All the links on the verses I chose, go to the songs in a youtube playlist I made for the book. So check that out!

Absolutely recommend. Overall, a WONDERFUL story. One of her best I think.

Shiny! will be released tomorrow on Dreamspinner Press and can be pre-ordered here.

Spinach and Cheese Strata (Savory Bread Pudding)
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

1 (10 ounce) package frozen spinach, thawed, squeeze of all excess liquid, and chopped

1 1/2 cups finely chopped onion (1 large)

3 tablespoons Earth Balance Buttery Spread

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

8 cups cubed French or Italian bread in 1-inch cubes (about 1 and 1/2 baguette)

1/2 cup coarsely grated Gruyère (2 optional)

1 cup of Go Veggie! Parmesan Style cheese

1 pack of Go Veggie! Mozarella flavored rice shreds

2 3/4 cups almond milk

10 large eggs

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

Sauté onion in butter in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat until soft, about 5 minutes. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper and nutmeg and continue cooking for one minute. Stir in spinach, remove from heat and set aside. Mix all “cheese” in one bowl and also set aside.

Spread one third of the bread cubes in a greased 3-quart baking pan. Top with one-third of bread cubes,one-third of spinach mixture and one-third of cheese mixture. Repeat layering twice with remaining bread, spinach and cheese.

photo 1 (3)

Whisk eggs, milk, mustard and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper together in a large bowl and pour evenly over strata. Cover with plastic wrap and chill strata for eat least 8 hours or up to a day. Before putting in the fridge press down firmly on the casserole so that the egg mixture absorbs well into the bread.

photo 2 (5)

The next day, let it stand at room temperature for 30 minutes while preheating the oven to 350°F. Bake strata, uncovered, in middle of oven until puffed, golden brown, and cooked through, 45 to 55 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

I hope you love the book and take a chance on the recipe. Don’t be shy on the mimosas, they make everything better!

Cheers and Happy Reading!

Laura

My Heartache Cowboy by ZA Mazxfield…Roasted Poblano Hummus and New Mexican Cracked Wheat Salad.

heartache cowboyMy Heartache Cowboy by ZA Maxfield, the follow up to My Cowboy Heart which came out last year, takes the words CONSENTING ADULTS, to a whole new level. I for one respect the hell out of her, for deciding to write Jimmy and Eddie’s story the way that it needed to be written.  Jimmy tells us his, and Eddie’s story in the first person, and we meet up with them just as Eddie has taken Jimmy out of the J Bar Ranch and to friend’s cabin, in the middle of the night to force him to stop drinking cold turkey. Jimmy is so angry at this betrayal, he doesn’t even think he has a drinking problem. Something IS wrong though…First Crispin coming in and changing everything about their lives, now their boss was a gay man, a coupled gay man. Eddie who apparently has been GAY this whole time is out too…And Crandall, the owner of the J Bar, the ranch’s heart and soul, has passed away…It’s too much. Can they blame him for needing a little bit of liquid comfort?!

But Eddie seems so in need to have him sober up, it’s like he’s desperate for things to be how they were…Truth is, he’ll do anything for Eddie. So despite the fact that he is more than a little resentful about the situation, and more than a little angry at this friends, he tried go with it. He’d do anything for Eddie.

hummus and salad zam

For these cowboys I wanted to make something a little more like a snack, since they liked to…play around a lot *ahem* and it’s nice to have stuff to snack on when one is worn out…So to speak. *grins* Also due to the theme of the book, there will be no alcohol on this one. I made a Roasted Poblano Pepper Hummus and a New Mexican Cracked Wheat Salad which goes great with some pita chips, and avocado chunks or even on a bed of romaine lettuce. It’s wonderful as a lunch or afternoon snack. Now that we’ve got food worked out, back to our boys.

SO! There they are in a cabin that belongs to Eddie’s “friend” (more like fuck buddy from the eyeful Jimmy got! He might have been drunk, but he’s not BLIND), and things are a getting a little too fucking real. Jimmy is sick and confused, he wants a drink like nothing else, and the whole time he looks at Eddie, and he sees so much worry and disappointment that it makes him want to give up. Also he’s finally coming to the realization that he has to face up to who he really is. His past, it’s messy and full of hurt, there is so much he has never gotten of his chest. But know this news, the fact that Eddie is GAY. He must do something with that information. But things get messy really fast between them, and they end up having to ask, Don, Eddie’s friend/lover for help. That is when things REALLY get interesting.

This book was for one thing, VERY VERY sexy, the erotica was YUMMYLISCIOUS. It was very purposeful in terms of prompting things to evolve. For another I loved that this book challenges a lot of the taboos that we have, even as WAY outside of the box romance readers. Eddie and Jimmy, they’re complicated. They’ve been with each other for so long, they are partners in many ways. However their age, what they do for a living, and their personal histories has kept them from being open with each other about sentimental things. They are STUCK. They can’t go forward, and clearly if things don’t change their friendship, their BOND will be destroyed. By Jimmy’s addiction, by Eddie’s insecurities…So many things, they just can’t get past…They need a catalyst, something to help them wade through all those years of not being able to be open with each other (or even themselves) about how they felt.

Don, he’s a surgeon, a wealthy man and good man. He comes into the picture and it’s intimidating for Jimmy. He knows Eddie in ways, Jimmy never hoped to. The thing is Don brings to the surface all the things he didn’t know how to admit about himself…Both sexually and emotionally. Don comes into their lives (no pun intended!) to lubricate things between Eddie and Jimmy, and the result is they finally find a way to TALK to each other. They find a way to move on from being scared and angry with each other and to FINALLY go for what they want. There is heartache, and  impasses, but they get there, in their terms, in their way.

The threesome angle is going to put off some people, but I really hope most readers see it for what it is. Consenting adults finding ways to build connections, friendships that bring happiness to their lives, without doing themselves or others any harm. I think Z.A. Maxfield has really done a fabulous job of advancing the concept of “romance” here, and presented us with a story that really challenges us with the notion that “a love story needs not follow as script, because every heart is different, every soul has its own map, and how two people find their happy ending SHOULD resonate with their own life story”. Jimmy and Eddie had a hard road to love, they knew loss, and had given up on finding love in the light for their own lives. Only when they saw it happen between Malloy and Crispin, did it actually become a possibility, and even then it was a regretful realization. So yeah, in the end to me, this might not be a comfortably laid out love story for some, but I think, it’s genuine and COHERENT for these two cowboys. I BELIEVE in their happily ever after.

Once again, fabulousity to the max, thy name is Z.A. Maxfield. My Heartache Cowboy is available for purchase here. I hope you give this story a chance, and go into it with an open mind and heart. It’s a beautiful and hopeful story.

Roasted Poblano Pepper Hummus

1 poblano pepper

1 14.5 oz can of chickpeas rinsed and drained

2 tablespoons of tahini

1 lime

1 clove of garlic minced

3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil

1 tablesppoon of fresh cilantro

5 slices of pickled jalapeno

1/4 teaspoon of cumin

salt and pepper to taste

Directions: pre-heat oven at 425, place the poblano in the oven for 25 minutes, turning it over after 12 minutes. Once the pepper is blackened on the surface take it out of the oven and put in an airtight container until it is cool enough to handle. Cut in half and remove all the seeds and veins.

pepper zam

In a food processor place all the ingredients and pulse until the hummus has the proper consistency.

hummus zam

photo 5 (1)

New Mexican Cracked Wheat Salad

1/2 cup of bulgur wheat

1 medium onion minced

1 cumcumber peeled and seeded chopped small

2 roma tomatoes seeded and cut small

1 14.5 oz can of black beans rinsed and drained

1/2 cup of corn

2 tablespoons of fresh cilantro minced

1 clove of garlic minced

1 lime

2 tablespoons of  olive oil

1/2 teaspoon of cumin

1/2 teaspoon of  powdered ancho pepper

salt and pepper to taste

In a small saucepan put in 3/4 cups of water to boil, once water is boiling put in the bulgur wheat, reduce heat to low simmer and cover (think cooking rice), for about 15 minutes. Once the bulgur is cooked, fluff with a fork and allow it to cool. Meanwhile mix all the other ingredients in a large bowl, add wheat when it’s cooled. Adjust seasoning to your taste.

photo 1 (3)

I hope you guys try out this new book, it is wonderful and a truly touching story. I love when a book aims to tear down taboos, and it does it WELL.

 

Cheers and Happy Reading!

 

Laura

The Toast of 2013: My Favorite Books of the Year.

Well the year is almost over,  and it’s time to think about what I’ve read…What I liked, What I loved, What blew me away...In 2013, I read a lot less than I have in the past few years, mostly because I’ve been very busy, BUT I’ve also been very selective of what I choose to read. I read about 90 books this year (that excludes the re-reads!), and out of those I’ve picked the ten stories that I loved the most. There were lots of fantastic books to read this year, but there were some that really stood out for me, in a few cases for their rawness and honesty, others for their uniqueness and creativity. But across the board they were all amazing. So here they are, my ten most memorable stories for 2013. No specific ranking here, just the order in which I read them, from first to last.

tell the wolves im homeTell The Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

This book took everything out of me. It is not a romance and not strictly LGBT, but the main story is very much attached to the AIDS epidemic of the 1980’s and 1990’s and the awfulness that surrounded it. If I HAD to classify it, I would say coming of age, young adult. It is absolutely exquisite writing, and one of the most powerful things I’ve read. Very much worth the tears…

let's hear it for the boy

Let’s Hear It for the Boy by T.A. Webb

Another heart breaker, this short story made me BAWL MY HEAD OFF. Loved the writing, the sadness, but mostly the obvious heart that went into telling the story of these two men. This one is one of those stories I wish would be made required reading.

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Touch & Geaux (Cut & Run Series #7)by Abigail Roux

This one is probably in a lot of favorites lists this year. For me this installment is the best in the series so far. I loved every minute of it, and felt like it was the first time that I got an up close look at who Ty and Zane are as individuals. I really hope the end is near with this series, because I have had way TOO MANY ups and downs with these guys. Regardless, this one was unexpectedly awesome to read.  For a series I had mostly given up on two books ago, a year’s favorite is nothing to sneeze at.

the general and the horse lord

The General and Horse Lord by Sarah Black

Gabriel, John and their band of boys are pretty much one of the best things that happened to me this year. Sarah Black is a gift in this genre. She writes with soul, and with deep thoughtfulness, yet her men are so tender. I loved this book, and the sequel as well. No wasted words with Sarah.

racing for the sun

Racing For The Sun by Amy Lane

What’s a Top ANYTHING list in this genre without a book by Amy Lane in it? She had quite a few books out this year, and I enjoyed them all immensely, but I think with this story Amy really advanced in her craft. She explored the world of clandestine racing, she went quite dark with her heroes, and it all worked. It worked amazingly. To me this might be one of her most flawless writing efforts. Loved this book. Sonny and Ace are unforgettable.

coverharperfox

Brothers of The Wild North Sea by Harper Fox

This book is maybe the best historical I’ve read in this genre. It was beautifully written, and with a story that captivated me from beginning to end. Harper Fox is an amazing writer, she is solid and consistent. She is a for sure read for me, and with this book she put herself in a separate category. Also…Vikings.

Return[The]

The Return by Brad Boney

The heart breakers are a theme this year for me! This book had it all! I delighted in it, even if it was incredibly tough at times. It was such a hopeful story. I think this one also should be read by everyone who reads this genre.

17730586

The Magpie Lord by KJ Charles

This book was one big shot of awesomeness. The writing, the characters, the story, the mystery. Everything made sense. A fantastic read from beginning to end. I am so happy there is more coming from these guys soon. One of the best paranormal stories in the genre. The hottest newcomer  to M/M, her name is KJ Charles…SO-LID.

18743452

Here’s To You, Zeb Pike by Johanna Parkhurst

My top Young Adult book this year. Dusty broke my heart. I loved the writing, it felt wise. It was easy to see that the author was very familiar with the inner workings of a young adult mind. Lovely story, looking forward to lots more from this author.

FishandGhostsLG

Fish and Ghosts (Hellsinger #1) by Rhys Ford

This was straight up the most fun I’ve had with a book this year. LOVED every second of it. It was creative, original, and just a BLAST. I hope people go for it with enthusiasm, because it’s some of the best PNR reading in M/M. I am very much looking forward to more of Wolf, Trystan and their peeps.

BONUS PICK:

lover at last

Lover At Last by J.R. Ward

I HAD TO. I just did, Qhuinn and Blay brought me to M/M romance, and I was frigging elated to see them get their book. Was the book actually great? Not really (I cursed like a sailor in my review), but the fact that they got their book, that a Gay Romance made it to the New York Times Bestseller, THAT is noteworthy and so I needed to give The Wharden her props…No matter how much she pisses me off.

Fin.

This year had amazing reads, I think pretty much every book I read was awesome, but these ten were the ones that affected me the most. I hope that this list proves useful for those of you that haven’t given some of these a try…Here’s to 2013, a fabulous year for those of us who worship at the “Church of Man Love”, and I hope 2014 brings us more to rave about. What were your favorites of 2013?

Christmas Kitsch by Amy Lane, Chocolate Tamales and some Bubbly…

ChristmasKitsch_500x750Logically 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.

photo 3 (1)

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

Directions:

For the masa:

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.

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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.

photo 2 (1)

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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.

photo 2 (2)

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!

Laura

Early Review: A Good Vintage by Ashlyn Kane, Homemade Vegan Pizza and A California Petit Syrah

a good vintage cover

I’ve been waiting for a new book from Ashlyn Kane from pretty the moment I finished American Love Songs a couple of years ago. I loved the book and her writing style, so when I saw the blurb for this I jumped on the getting an ARC. Wine, food, and a” second chance at love” story?! It’s like she wrote the damn thing for me! Luke and Mal were amazing, such a great love story.   Luke and Mal’s have a history. A summer eight years earlier they worked together at Mal’s vineyard. Mal had lost his wife to cancer a year before,  and Luke was trying to outrun a bad family situation. Luke was 19, Mal was 28. Things could not work THEN…But now eight years have passed, and they are right back where they started. Things could be different now.

For this lovely story I had to make something yummy, and homemade vegan pizza seemed like a clear option. It was a meal served in the book, and since my mouth pretty much watered reading about it, I thought I’d go with it. For the wine, the only choice was a California Syrah (you will know why when you read the book!), so I went with  a 2011 Petit Syrah from Concannon Winery in the Livermore Valley. The Petit Syrah (or Durif) is a forgiving grape, and is almost always a very nice choice of wine, it is so flavorful. This one specifically, is the total package. After a couple minutes breathing time this wine is a full flavored, deep red, that is sweet, but not too much and has tremendous body. Lot of spice to it, without anything standing out too much to steal the show. Lots of balance here, and for $9.99 a bottle. A fool proof wine choice.

pizza agv

Now back to Luke and Mal...This story has an interesting format where we get quick flashbacks in between each present time chapter…I am usually not a big fan of the flashbacks, but in this story they served as  quick snapshots of information. They broadened my sense of the situation, and allowed me to get some sense of where either Mal and/or Luke were coming from. It was a VERY useful device, and because the author kept them short they didn’t get tedious.

Luke has been unlucky in love for awhile, he seems to be going from bad to worse when it comes to partners. Men or women, they just all end up disappointing him…The last breakup left him wrung out, and feeling like this time he really needed to think about the choices he was making. His brother took him in for a little bit, and then rented him a cottage at a B&B winery in Napa Valley for a few weeks, so that he could thing about things for a bit. Napa Valley, brought back memories. That summer working with Mal and the things he experienced, they way he left, the thought that it had been the last time he had felt truly happy. Mal had been a revelation, a scary one, but absolute. He fell in love with the man, and when his father came knocking, once again disturbing his life and his plans, so he left. That’s were things ended back then.

Luke gone to pursue his professional goals. Mal with no real explanation of what happened, went on with his life, and for him that meant a life that put his vineyard at the top of the list, and romance at the bottom…That is until Luke walked into the picnic dinner of the B&B his brother had booked for him, and realized he had stepped right into a place of his past. Mal’s place, his brother’s intentions were not so innocent after all…So there they were, eight years older, a little wiser, and a bit more weathered, but with that feeling of rightness at the center of everything. Luke had his insecurities. Mal had his. They had baggage, and a lot to work out, there were secrets and a past that could ruin whatever future they might hope for with each other.

I liked these guys a lot, and their difficulties made their story all the more genuine. I liked that it was rough for them, that just because they had something strong, it didn’t mean they could get away with not thinking. That they could bypass how they could gowrong or what were the things they could do better. These guys earned their happy ending and they did it with a lot of courage. They just kept moving forward even if they were scared to death the whole time. The chemistry was NUCLEAR, I love them together, in bed, immersed in their passion, even with that they took their time. The secondary characters brought all kinds of flavors to the story, some levity, some angst, some clarity, some humor and even a little added drama, they well worked as a supporting cast.

Highly enjoyed this one and absolutely recommend it. I look forward to more from Ashlyn Kane in the near future.

A Good Vintage will be released on December 6th on by Dreamspinner Press, you can pre-order a copy here.

Check back this Friday, because I will have Ashlyn for a visit, answering a few questions about her book, her plans and her favorite wine and pizza!

Homemade Vegan Pizza with a Italian Style Veggies and Basil Pesto Topping

For the dough: (Makes 2 large pizzas)

2 cup. warm water

3 Tablespoon yeast

2 teaspoon sugar

2 teaspoon salt

¼ cup  oil

2 cup whole wheat flour

4 cup white flour

Directions:

In mixer place 2 cups warm water, add 3 scant T yeast, 2 scant t sugar.  Mix.  Add 2 t. salt, ¼ cup oil.  Mix.  Add 2 cups whole wheat flour, then 4 cuts while flour. Use immediately.  That is, don’t bother letting it rise.  It will rise enough in the oven.

Don't manipulate it too much, just let it rest for a minute and stretch.

Don’s manipulate it too much, just let it rest for a minute and stretch.

For the pizza:

1/2 cup of Basil Pesto (see recipe here)

2 cups of Marinara Sauce (I bought it fresh at my local grocery store, but any organic pizza sauce will work)

2 bags of Go Veggie!  Mozarella Flavored Rice Shreds (If you are not Vegan, fresh Mozarrella sliced thinly would work great too)

1 cup of sliced mushrooms ( I used Baby Bellas)

1 sliced yellow bell pepper

1/2 sweet onion sliced thinly

1/2 cup of marinated baby artichokes chopped coarsely.

Directions (makes two pizzas):

Pre-heat oven at 425F. Spray pizza pans or cookie sheet with oil, and stretch your dough, until it covers most of the pan. Then spoon one cup of the marinara on each of the crusts, make sure it is evenly distributed. Use one bag of cheese for each pizza, and then top with your veggies. Spoon small amounts of the pesto on top of the pizza and bake for 18-20 or until crust is golden brown.

 dugh with sauce

Ready for the oven!

Ready for the oven!

I hope you give the recipe and wine a try, with this book, it is really a trifecta that cannot lose.

Cheers and Happy Reading!

Laura