Concourse by Santino Hassell with Avocado Tostones and Aperol Spritz

30364779It’s Friday! And man this book made my week. For real, between studying for finals and this fuckery with congress things were looking grim, but Santino saved the day. I’m just going to say it from the get go, this book is my favorite in the series so far. I loved it SO MUCH.  I don’t even know where to start. First of all, the intensity. I literally lost all feeling in my hands from holding my kindle so hard while reading it on the BX12 bus…I don’t know if it was just all too much, what with reading about the Bronx (Fun Fact: not many books set in the Bronx out there), while being IN the Bronx, and then Ashton making me cry while also being super hot with Val…Good LORD. This book IS IT, guys. Concourse, is the fifth book in Santino Hassell’s Five Boroughs Series, which is an absolute favorite of mine, and honestly with as much as I’ve loved the other books, I could not envision a book that could top them. And yet, here we are, with Ashton and Val, Santino achieved the Holy Grail of good romance, the perfect combination of angst, top notch chathartic erotica, and enough swoon worthy moments to fell a sperm whale. I won’t even go into my feelings about Santino’s writing, I already waxed poetic about that in my review of Insight. Before I get to the story though, let’s talk food!

OK! So, this book, as I mentioned, was amazing, and Ashton is now my favorite person, so what to make for him and Val?! They are both so delicious, and there are lots of foodie things happening in the book, so there was definitely inspiration, lots of possibilities. In the end I decided to make my own version of the infamous Avocado Toast that Ashton makes for Val in the beginning of the book. However, since the story is set in the Bronx and I AM Dominican, I gave the whole thing a twist.  I made these boys Avocado Tostones (See what I did there?!).  For those who don’t know tostones (or have spent any time north of 137th street in Manattan), a toston, is a crispy plantain fritter. They are delicious, and go perfectly with avocado and limey things. To make the recipe extra fancy for Ashton, I made quick pickled red onions and a cilantro pesto for garnish. These little avocado bites  are seriously delish, and go perfectly with the champagne cocktail I selected. Which leads us to the alcoholic beverage for this book…

Since summer is near, I made an Aperol Spritz, one of my go to sunny day drinks. Aperol is an Italian aperitif (pre-dinner drink), very popular during warm months.  It is delicious mixed with prosecco, and a slice of orange. I can literally picture Ashton downing these all day long sitting in an outdoor cafe, while forcing Val to take sips. Guys this recipe and cocktail pair is a total WIN!!! Perfect for reading Val and Ashton’s romance. But now back to the story…

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This book worked for me at many levels. The connection between Val and Ashton was so intense and raw that every scene with them together felt electric. In so many ways this this is a classic trope, friends to lovers, prince and pauper romance. And yet, Santino took to it another level and crafted a character driven, stunning love story with, with a strong sense of place.

Val and Ashton have been friends forever. Val’s mom was Ash’s nanny, and they sort of grew up together, even though their worlds were completely different. Ash was always the black sheep in his wealthy family, the outcast, so Val, his mom and sister took him under their wing and gave him the affection he never got from his own flesh and blood. Ashton has always loved Val, and Val has always loved Ashton, but now that they are grown ups (well sort of), their lives are still too different, Ashton is a wealthy Instagram NYC celebutante and Val is an amateur boxer that drives cabs during the day to put this sister through school. They might as well be on different planets. And yet they are each other’s touchstone. They just can’s seem get past all those differences though, and even if there is history and genuine affection between them, they don’t seem to know how to come together.

Ashton’s character made this book for me, his vulnerability and his yearning to be SEEN, to be wanted by someone for who he really was, man it was heartbreaking. His character was rendered with such nuance and feeling, I wanted to weep for him. And yet, he was bright and funny, gave as good as he got from Val. Val was the stoic protector, and yet in the end he had to be saved too, and what saved him was Ashton. Then there’s the sex…The chemistry between these two was some next level shit, I mean how do you even do hotness, angst and humor ALL AT THE SAME TIME? Every scene with Val and Ashton was delicious, and felt so genuine.

I can’t do a review about this series without going to the setting. There are no superlatives that come to mind that are enough to convey how much Santino’s portrayal of NYC affects me. To see every borough treated with the care that he does, and to show ALL the parts which make this city the amazing place it is, makes me kind of weepy to be honest. I love his writing, but this series, these New York City stories? They’re his sweet spot.

Finally, the cast of characters and squads that he’s brought to life made their appearances and I thankfully it seems like there is more to come from this universe. I can’t wait.

I HIGHLY RECOMMEND this book and the entire series.

Now the recipes!

Avocado Tostones with Pickled Onions and Cilantro Pesto

Ingredients

Tostones

2 plantains (if at all possible purchase at C-Town, they have the best plantains! ;))

5 tablespoons of canola oil

salt to taste

Avocado Mash

2 Avocados

Juice of one lime

1 garlic clove minced

1 teaspoon of chopped cilantro

salt and pepper to taste

Pickled Onion

1 red onion thinly sliced

1 jalapeno thinly slice

1/2 cup of red wine vinegar

1/2 cup water

1/3 cup of sugar

1 teaspoon salt

Cilantro Pesto

1 cup of cilantro

1/3 cup of oil

1 clove of garlic minced

juice of one lemon

1/3 cup of oil

Directions

  1. Picked onions, put all ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Lower heat to low medium and simmer for 10 minutes. Let cool for 20 minutes.
  2. Avocado Mash. Mash avocados in a bowl and mix with the rest of the ingredients. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Cilantro Pesto. Pulse all ingredients in food processor until well blended.IMG_0394
  4. Tostones. Peel the plantain (if you don’t know how, click here.) and cut into half inch slices. Heat oil in a skillet, when hot start frying the plantains, fry them until they start to look yellow and brown. Take out of pan, and smash each slice until they are flat (look like a cookie). Once you have flattened them all return to the oil for a second fry. Once they are brown and crispy, transfer to a plate lined with paper towels. Sprinkle with salt.IMG_0393.JPG
  5. To make your avocados tostones, spoon a dollop of the mash onto the toston, top with a few pickled onion slices. Add a bit of the pesto, and if you’re feeling really frisky top that with a bit of feta cheese. SO GOOD.

Once you have your tostones, pop that prosecco and top your glass with a bit of the Aperol. You will be in heaven with this book,  recipe,  and cocktail combo. I GUARANTEE IT! Also the left over cilantro pesto and pickled onions are DYNAMITE on top of street style tacos…My dude just eats the onions by the spoonful, they are so good.

Alright guys hope you enjoy the book, and the food and drink!

You can buy Concourse HERE.

You can buy the rest of the Five Borough Series HERE.

You can read more about Santino Hassell HERE or visit his Patreon HERE.

Have a great weekend.

Cheers and Happy Reading!

 

 

 

Insight by Santino Hassell with a Punchy Pinot Noir

30364791I discovered Santino Hassell last year at some point, and even though I have been reading this genre in worryingly large quantities for a very long time, and have reader friends who were fanatical about his In the Company of Shadows series, I never partook. I am bit of contradictory spirit and was like, “meh…he can’t be that good, it’s all hype. They don’t know…”. I was a bit off on that one! This dude can write, and when I say that, I don’t mean he can effectively put me in a “romance nod” with a book full of the delicious fluff I count on when I pick up a gay romance novel…Oh no no, he is W.R.I.T.I.N.G. fine urban fiction. There are a few reasons I have for saying this.

First, his sense of place, I live in the New York City area, I am Latinx, and I can say he captures the world I’ve lived in and know like few other authors I’ve read, IN ANY GENRE. And he is not just giving us the same old same old “white dude in Manhattan trying to make it” story line, no he is looking into the New York that those of us who have that concrete running through our veins love with undying passion.  He knows the humanity in those bodies captured in all those “New Yorker” snapshot, and it’s gorgeous.

Second, the characters, specially in his contemporaries. The word “representation” gets tossed out a lot these days, and it can feel like the concept has lost all meaning, but like most abstract things you know when you feel it. And as someone who LOVES this genre with, yet rarely see myself portrayed in the stories I read,  I cannot express how meaningful it is to pick up book with characters that feel personally familiar. Then there’s the dialogue, Santino’s command of the vernacular is always impressive. It gives the characters an authenticity that really sets his work apart.

OK…So now that I’ve gone on and on, let me get to the actual book I’m discussing here today…Santino’s new paranormal series, The Community, introduces us to a world where psychics, empaths and mediums and all kinds of other gifted individual squietly exist among us. Their secretive ways, of course, create all kinds of fuckery, which we get to enjoy for at least three books! This being first in a series, I thought Santino did well with giving us a sense of who the players are, while keeping enough of a mystery to build on in subsequent books.

Before I get into what I thought about Insight let’s cover the basics, and by basics I  just mean the wine. For this book, I chose a Pinot Noir, which like Santino’s novels, I waited way too long to get into. I’ve just recently decided that I actually love Pinot Noir, and have been testing various bottles, the one I chose today is from Hanging Vine Winery in the Central Valley of California. It is a light, flavorful wine, very smooth and with nice fruit notes. It is also about $11 a bottle which is a great deal for a nice California wine.

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Back to the book…So our Nate Black has some issues, some of them have to do with his psychic powers, but MOST of them come from belonging to a family where EVERYONE has some kind of paranormal ability. He tries to stay away from the as much as possible, which is not easy to do living in a backwater Texas town. He tried hard though, because being around his family always makes him feel fucked up. Besides there are only a few of them left, him mom died years ago, and not long after his twin brother fucked off to parts unknown and hasn’t made any effort stay in touch. Not that Nate can blame him, if he had the guts to do it, he would have been gone too.

Things change suddenly when he dreams of his brother’s death, something about what he saw compels him to make his way to New York City, where his brother died and find out what happened to him. He hitchhikes a ride from Trent, a hot dude also headed Northeast, and before he knows it, not only is he in the middle of a super shady secret psychic society situation, he’s also falling in love.

First things first, I enjoyed this book. I thought the premise was clever, and I am curious to learn more about the secrets and Scientology like shiftiness of The Community. Like any first in series paranormal it had its quirks, there is a lot of information to deliver when you are creating a universe that will be fleshed out in multiple books.

I liked Nate’s character a lot, he really evolved throughout the story, it almost felt like he went from a shadow to a full formed body by the end. The rest of the characters were great as well and as always with Santino’s book added a lot substance to the story. I specially enjoyed Elijah and Chase, those two will be amazing to read when their time comes.

I thought the mystery was done well, it was set up so that I did not feel totally lost, but had enough twist and turns to keep me guessing. The romance I thought was not as intense as the usual from Santino, but given all that was happening with Nate and Trent, it could have made for just too much. It felt to me more like a paranormal with a strong romance component, and that is alright. There is a lot to build on here, Trent and Nate were our first foray into The Community, and I am very interested in getting more of the people living in that world, now that it is solidly built for us.

I hope you go and explore more of Santino’s writing, in the off chance you’ve been reading gay romance under a rock and don’t already know his work. :0)

You can can get Insight here, pre-order Oversight the next in the series here, and find out more about Santino here.

So there it is, your book and wine for the weekend. You can thank me later.

Cheers and Happy Reading!!!

If you liked the post and want to my next book and wine pairing subscribe HERE.

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Favorite Books of 2016 and Holiday Cookies!

I hope everyone has been having a lovely holiday season this past week. I have been busy hosting lovely friends and family who have made the trip to New York for a visit with us, as well as working and other “leading a life” related activities. I have also caught a bit of a cold, but I WAS able to do some baking before the holiday crud set in. As promised I have a list of of my favorite books of 2016, as well as a couple of recipes of holiday cookies I love to make this time of year.

The cookies I chose are Chocolate Crinkles and a Shortbread recipe. The crinkles are delish, like eating the edge of the brownie pan, and the shortbread recipe is incredibly delicious and versatile. You can make take the basic dough and add all kinds of fun ingredients. I made two different kinds for this post, lemon poppy seed and dried cherry with dark chocolate chips. SO GOOD!!

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Now, back to the books, for convenience sake, I’ve listed the books in the order they came out this year, from the earliest to the latest, some had made it on the blog already. So here they are, my favorite romance reads of 2016:

26157385The Mermaid Murders by Josh Lanyon: What can I say that has not already been said about a Lanyon Mystery? The dialogue is superb, the mystery will keep you guessing, and the heroes will make you swoon. This mystery in particular had it’s fair share of heart stopping moments, and there were scenes so vivid and fast paced throughout I was a bit breathless the whole time. Loved it.

 

28121630-1Scoring Chances Series by Avon Gale:  This series caught my eye early this year and it quickly became a favorite. I love the easy stories and strong writing. I have read every book in the series, and can say that each one has been better then the last. The game of hockey is star for sure in these novels, and I think the books are the better for it. The author clearly has a passion for the games and her enthusiasm infuses the stories by giving us heroes with a whole lot of heart.

22714914-1Catch a Tiger by the Tail  and Smoke and Mirrors by Charlie Cochet: The only way one would be a gay romance reader and not heard of the THIRDS series at this point, would be if one were doing so under a large rock, even then, I’d be surprised! The THIRDS universe has an enormous following, and every bit of hype is unequivocally very well deserved. The world Charlie Cochet has created is outstanding. Getting lost with these characters, and their stories is a delight, the books just get better and better. Smoke and Mirrors the 7th book,  and latest in the series, was probably the most emotional so far for me. One of the best books of the year, full stop.

25893424A Gentleman’s Position By KJ Charles: If I could, I’d  write a love poem to this book, I love it so. I’ve read it like a half a dozen times, and it is just as good each time. I absolutely love the way KJ Charles set this book and the nuance with which she put forth some incredibly deep thoughts on privilege, obligation and a man’s place in the world. On what it really means to ‘have it all’. Throughout this series, she explores socio-economic disparities and injustices with such a clear eye and razor sharp tongue, I almost feel sorry for those poor saps out there who think they are too clever to read romance…Almost.

32106624-1Risk Everything on It  and Take a Chance on It by K.A. Mitchell: The last book in this trilogy was a heart breaker, just like it promised to be. It lived up to the angst I expected, and it also delivered some of the most tender storytelling I’ve read in this genre. Only one with some serious skill could walk us through a love story forged in the midst of cancer treatment, and give us everything we need to get an utterly satisfying romance. KA Mitchell has those skills, and then some.

12000020-1Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz: This book was released awhile ago, but I only got around to it this year. It is a beautiful coming of age story, I loved it so much. I think pretty much everyone should read this book.

 

 

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Hexbreaker by Jordan L. Hawk: This new series by Jordan L Hawk, who is a total master at the paranormal, is pretty clever. A paranormal police force in 1800s New York City, animal shifters of every kind. This first book was entertaining and the love story was solid. Looking forward to more from this universe.

 

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First and First (Five Boroughs Series #3) by Santino Hassell: I got on the Santino Hassell train a bit late, and did not pick up this series until this year. I am glad I did, this series is set and written with the kind of grit only a born and bred New Yorker can muster up. The vernacular is on point, the portrayal of Afro-Caribbean New Yorkers is done superbly, the love stories are raw and hard fought. For an adopted New Yorker like me, this series can’t get any better. I look forward to Staten Island and the Bronx.

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Overexposed (In Focus #4) by Megan Erickson: This is the last book in the ‘In Focus’ series. Each book is set around a trip, road trip, cruise and in this case walking the Appalachian Trail. One of our heroes is grieving, the other is struggling to readjust to civilian life.The second theme in particular I think this author does very well. Trauma is not easy to write into a character, and I thought she did both her heroes and their pain justice.  I loved this book, thought it was the best of the series and strongly recommend it.

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Out of Nowhere and Where We Left Off by Roan Parrish: This another author/series with which I’ve descended deeply into the waters of fervency. Will and Leo’s story in particular is as much a coming of age story as it is a romance. The author does this with such a gentle hand, that we feel like we are spreading our wings alongside Leo. There is heartbreak in this story, but loves wins out gloriously.

 

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Pansies by Alexis Hall: This book is as sweet as the cover and the title suggest. Alexis Hall is a known and respected name in this genre, and for good reason. This book was wonderful.

 

 

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Bitter Legacy by Dal Mclean: I wrote a review on this book a couple of weeks ago, so I won’t go too much in things here, other than to say, if you have not read it, please do.

 

 

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Summer Lessons by Amy Lane: This might be one of my favorite Amy Lane series. I absolutely loved the previous story Winter Ball, and this one was just as sweet. Pure Amy Lane goodness.

 

 

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So This is Christmas by Josh Lanyon:  To begin and  end the year with Josh Lanyon, if only every one could be this magical! For those of us who have been reading this genre for awhile, this novella out today, is a bona fide Christmas Miracle. What can I even say? I stayed up ALL NIGHT reading it, and it was well worth the wait and the sleep depravation. Jake and Adrien again, happy and in love, it was like visiting with beloved old friends, you know the ones right? You can just pick up with them, like you were  together yesterday. *happiest of sighs*

Now after all these amazing books, let’s move one to the cookies you can bake to enjoy them with!

Lemon Poppy Seed and Cherry Dark Chocolate Shortbread Cookies

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

2 sticks  unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup  confectioners’ sugar, sifted
2 large egg yolks, at room temperature
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon  vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour

Directions

Before you start with the though prepare your flavors for the two varieties. For the lemon poppy seed,  zest two lemons and 1/4 cup of poppy seeds. For the cherry dark chocolate, chop up finely half a cup of dry cherries (I used dried bing cherries from Trader Joe’s) and a half a cup of dark mini chocolate chips.

Put the butter in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat at medium speed until it is smooth. Add the sifted confectioners’ sugar and beat again until the mixture is smooth and silky. Beat in the egg yolks and vanilla or almond, followed by the salt and any dried fruits, zest, nuts or seeds. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the flour, beating just until it disappears. It is better to underbeat than overbeat at this point; if the flour isn’t fully incorporated, that’s okay just blend in whatever remaining flour needs blending with a rubber spatula.

Turn the dough out onto a counter, gather it into a ball, and divide it in half. Wrap each piece of dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 30 minutes.

2. Working on a smooth surface, form each piece of dough into a log that is about 1 to 1 1/4 inches (2.5 to 3.2 cm) thick. (Get the thickness right, and the length you end up with will be fine.) Wrap the logs in plastic and chill for 2 hours. (The dough can be wrapped airtight and kept refrigerated for up to 3 days or stored in the freezer for up to 1 month.)

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3. Position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

4. While the oven is preheating, roll cookie logs in any coatings of your choice. Then, using a sharp slender knife, slice each log into cookies about 1/3 inch (10 mm) thick. (You can make the cookies thicker if you’d like; just bake them longer.) Place the cookies on the lined baking sheets, leaving about 1/2 inch (1.5 cm) space between them.

5. Bake the cookies for 12 to 14 minutes, or until they are set but not browned. Transfer the cookies to cooling racks to cool to room temperature.

Do ahead: Packed airtight, the cookies will keep for about 5 days at room temperature, or in the freezer for a month. Unbaked logs can be frozen for longer.

Chocolate Crinkles

Adapted from Simply Recipes 

  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 cups white granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon espresso powder (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar

Directions

Beat together cocoa powder, white sugar, vegetable oil in the mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or beat by hand with a wooden spoon) beat together the cocoa powder, white sugar, and vegetable oil until it comes together into a shiny, gritty, black dough of sorts.

Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing for 30 seconds each. Add the vanilla and beat in thoroughly.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and espresso powder if using.

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Mix into the chocolate mixture on low speed until just combined. Do not overbeat.

Cover the dough with plastic wrap and chill the dough for four hours or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350°F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Place the confectioner’s sugar in a wide bowl.

Using a rounded teaspoon get clumps of the chilled dough and roll them into 1-inch (2.5 cm) sized balls using your hands.

Roll the balls in the confectioner’s sugar and place on the cookie sheets (you should be able to get 12-16 on each sheet).

Bake at 350°F for 10-12 minutes. Allow to cool a minute or two on the sheets before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

 

I hope that you’ve gotten a couple of books to look for from this list and that you give the cookies a try, they are YUMMY!

This is my last post for the year, hopefully 2017 will ring in with great books to read. Wishing all of you a very Happy New Year!

Cheers and Happy Reading!

Laurax

 

My Comfort Reads from 2016 and the Ultimate Winter Couscous…C-O-Z-Y

Hello folks! Now that I decided to bring back the blog, I figure go big or go home right?! Over the weekend we had terrible weather here in the NYC ‘burbs, lots of snow, then rain, then slush…Indoors weather, just begging for a cozy fire, some yummy hearty food and a comfort read. Then it occurred to me, why not post my comfort reads of the year?! So I came up with a list of books  I’ve read over and over again in 2016, the stories never seem to get old, they just make me feel happy. Given the state of things this year, things that bring us joy are not to be overlooked.

To go with this list I picked a recipe that I LOVE to make in the cold weather, it makes me feel well fed, warm and happy. It’s the Ultimate Winter Couscous which appears in one of my favorite vegetarian cookbooks, Plenty by Yotam Ottlolenghi. This couscous is aromatic, earthy, delicious and very filling, also the leftovers are dynamite.  The wine I paired it with is the Sauvignon Blanc by Archer Roose. It IS a boxed wine, but honestly it’s delicious, I buy it all the time. It’s pretty much always in my kitchen.  They also have a Cabernet that would go great with this dish as well, and the best part is the price, under $25 for a box with four bottles. You can’t beat that on a snow day!

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Ok, so let’s talk books, the order of the books relates to how re-readable and happiness inducing, I’ve found them (it’s important to note, I’ve read each of these multiple times, so they are all awesome!).

25893424A Gentleman’s Position (Society of Gentlemen Series #3) by KJ Charles. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read this series. This book specifically, is like a warm blanket for me. There is such a beautiful intersection of historical romance with a deeply thoughtful look at social injustice, and the chains, visible and invisible, men make for themselves in every one of these books. I’ve said it once, twice, many, many times, in historical romance, for me, KJ Charles is second to none. If you have not read this series, please do, you will not regret it. Also if you have read them and loved them, a new Christmas Coda is out and it is AMAZING, we get an update from all our gentlemen, and a particularly scorching visit with Silas and Dominic from book two. You can get it by subscribing to the author’s newsletter!

28168696Risk Everything on It by K.A. Mitchell What is a list of favorites worth if KA Mitchell isn’t in it? K.A.’s writing is always safe bet for me, and this book specifically just hit all the right notes. I’ve read this one a few times this year, and like everything she writes,the erotica is searing. Moreover, with this one, as the title suggests, she takes risks. She has two men with complicated lives at a time in life when making changes can come at too high a cost, is it worth the risk? Of course it is! This is one of my favorites KA’s books, and that in itself is  telling.

29361143Power Play (Scoring Chances Series #3) by Avon Gale: This series is built around a set of American minor league hockey teams and it is DELICIOUS. This book particularly, I have read  like half a dozen times since it came out, as a matter of fact I read over this past weekend. I just love it. Love the romance, love the characters, the series, and the way the author blends in the game as well.

 

 

28549365-1Out of Nowhere (Middle of Somewhere Series #2) by Roan Parrish I don’t know what it is about Roan Parrish’s writing that works so well for me. Not that there aren’t obvious reasons, like the fact she writes with amazing style and so genuinely. Her love stories are earnest, in ways that really affect me. I relate to her characters so deeply, they feel like kindred spirits. Out of Nowhere specially has such a perfect balance of angst and hope, I find myself utterly disarmed by Rafe and Colin. I can’t express my respect for this author enough… She goes fully in with issues like mass incarceration and racial injustice, in a romance novel!  Read this one, but first read #1 and then after that #3.

27797842Us (Him #2) by Sarina Bowen & Elle Kennedy: I don’t know what it is about me and hockey this year, but whatever it is, IT IS WORKING. Another series, and both books are just adorable. This second one brought the angst up a few notches, and it made it that much better for me! Also the best friend/neighbor/teammate character had me cackling away for the whole of the  book. These books are so fun and sweet.

 

 

30415154Fast Connection (Cyberlove #2) by Megan Ericksson and Santino Hassell: I would like to say the nuclear level of hotness that is this book is not a major reason why I’ve read it like five times, but I’d be LYING. In two words this book is, fun and hot…It is utterly readable, Luke and Dominic are a happy place for me. But I don’t want to sell it short, they delve into issues like the difficulties of veterans trying to re-enter civilian society after their service, among other things. This is not just fluffy sexy times.

Just because I can, I have two Bonus Picks, just because I am already here and listing stuff, so I thought I’d add two of my PERENNIAL, ALL TIME, READ THEM SO MUCH I KNOW SOME PARTS BY HEART comfort reads.

  1. The Adrien English Series by Josh Lanyon audiobooks…This series however you consume it, is life changing. The audios however, are to another level, they are utter perfection. I even got my husband to listen to them on a road trip a few years ago! This is perfect to listen during the holidays, I’ve done it for like the past three years. So good.
  2. The Enlightenment Series by Joanna Chambers. Other than KJ Charles, Joanna  is by far my favorite historical author in the genre. This series is set PERFECTLY in early 19th century Scotland. Again an author that does not shy away from accurately portraying injustices, and getting at some pretty hard issues, like domestic violence and the shameful part of Scottish history knows as the “highland clearances”. Also the love story is EPIC.

Now that we have some books to read, let’s talk food!

Ultimate Winter Couscous

Ingredients

  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into ½ inch chunks
  • 2 medium parsnips, peeled and cut into ½ inch chunks
  • 8 shallots, peeled
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 4 star anise/or anise seeds (½ teaspoon)
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 5 tbsp olive oil
  • ½ tsp ground ginger
  • ¼ tsp ground turmeric
  • ¼ tsp paprika
  • 2 cups pumpkin and butternut squash cut into ½ inch chunks
  • 1 14oz can chickpeas
  • 1 cup chickpeas liquid and/or water
  • 1 cup couscous
  • large pinch of saffron
  • 1 ¼ cup boiling vegetable stock
  • 4 tablespoons butter, broken into pieces
  • 2 tablespoons harissa paste
  • ¼ cup preserved lemon skin, finely chopped/or zest of 1 lemon
  • 3 tbsp cilantro leaves
  • salt

Directions
Preheat the oven to 425F. Put carrots, parsnips and shallots in a large baking dish (9×13) Add the cinnamon sticks, star anise or anise seeds, bay leaves, 4 tablespoons of the oil, ¾ teaspoon salt, and all the other spices and mix well. Place in the oven and cook for 15 minutes.

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Add the pumpkin, stir and return to the oven. Continue cooking for about 35 minutes, by which time the vegetables should have softened while retaining a bite. Now add the dried apricots and the chickpeas with their cooking liquid and/or water. Return to the oven and cook for a further 10 minutes, or until hot.

About 15 minutes before the vegetables are ready, put the couscous in a large heatproof bowl with the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil, the saffron and ½ teaspoon salt. Pour the boiling stock over the couscous. Cover the bowl with cling wrap and leave for about 10 minutes. Then add the butter and fluff up the couscous with a fork until the butter melts in. Cover again and leave somewhere warm.

To serve, spoon couscous into a deep plate or bowl. Stir the harissa and preserved lemon or zest into the vegetables; taste and add salt if needed. Spoon the vegetables onto the center of the couscous. Finish with plenty of cilantro leaves.

I hope that you try some of these books if you have not read them already and give the recipe a go. They will hep keep you warm in the coming cold winter nights.

So, now that you know MY favorites…Share YOUR favorite comfort reads and winter recipes with me!

Cheers and Happy Reading!

Laurax