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

 

Perfect Imperfections by Cardeno C…Vegan Calzone and Vihno Verde

PerfectImperfectionsLGI read my first Cardeno C book recently when she joined forces with one of my all time faves the most lovely, Mary Calmes in the PNR novel Control (which I LURVED). I liked her style of writing and specially loved the character she wrote. So, when she had a novel with a rockstar (one of my favorite tropes!) coming up I snatched it up!

Perfect Imperfections is a very sweet and no angst story, and  there is a bit of a mystery which kept things interesting. The build-up to the more smexy scenes was nice and made the payoff that more delicious. Here is the jist of it, Jeremy Jameson is a big rockstar, who is feeling a bit like there is not much in his personal life that is worth getting excited about. One night, before his upcoming tour, he walks into a bar in Arizona and ends up hiring the bartender, Reggie Moore, to be his tour companion…Like his “fake boyfriend” to basically keep him company while he does his shows around the world. A bit unusual situation, but these two get pretty adorable early on in the book, and that snuggly deliciousness keeps going for the remainder of the story. They were so cute!!!

So for this book, I wanted to do a comfort food like recipe with a summer wine as we are having that kind of weather these days. I went for a Spinach and Mushroom Vegan Calzone with a delish Portugese Vihno Verde. Vihno Verde is produced in Portugal and has been quite popular in the last few years, as it inredibly refreshing and ususally very affordable…I buy it by the case in the summer! This particular bottle, 2012 Vera Vihno Verde,  is more than I would normally pay at $11 (although it may be less in your area), but I was curious of the Rosé. It is delicious with the usual super subtle carbonation of VV, and a zippy bite that just makes you want to keep drinking. The Calzone is my little crazy creation, and I think it will pass even Cardeno C’s melty cheese test!

photo 3Now back to the story. Once Reggie goes on tour with Jeremy, it is pretty obvious that his presence is a good influence on the singer. He feels fulfilled and cared for like he never has before,. Reggie’s presence in his life becomes more of necessity with each passing day. It’s confusing too, because as far as he knows he is straight! Jeremy is known for having dated all the up and coming startlets in LA. He’s never really been attracted to men before.Reggie just pushes all his buttons though and pretty soon the chemsitry between them it getting to be too much to ignore. Reggie on his end is head over heels for Jeremy, and is pretty sure the feeling is mutual, he doesn’t want to push and scare Jeremy off, but the man’s sexiness is getting hard to resist.

This novel is a pretty light and easy romance. There are a few stressful twists, but none that involve our heroes, they are pretty steady with each other. There are so hilarious moments, specially with Jeremy which made for solid romcom fare. Reggie and Jeremy’s dance around each other was done well, there was a lot of tension without getting frustrated. Reggie and Jeremy were so dear, those two were certainly smittlen. As far as the rockstar trope there aren’t really many scenes showcasing performances and such, but that was alright, we got the other side of being a musician. There were a lot of pretty intense scenes regarding the kind of pressure starts face with the media, it made for a more coherent story given the plot.

I liked this one, will probably pick it up again when I need light read with cuteness and smexy.

Perfect Imperfections is available on for purchase here.

Spinach Mushroom Vegan Calzone

1 pizza dough (see here)

1 cup of crimini mushrooms chopped

1 cup of baby spinach

1 small onion chopped

1 garlic clove minced

1 bag of Go Veggie! Mozarella flavored rice shreds

1/3 cup of Go Veggie! Parmesan Style Grated Topping

1/2 block of extra firm tofu (drained)

1 tablespoon of nutriotional yeast

a few basil leaves (2-4)

olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Preheat oven at 425F. In the food processor place tofu, basil, nutritional yeast, a teaspoon of olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Run the mixture until it has consistency of ricotta cheese.

spinach_mushrooms

Once the mixure is done, mix with the rice shreds and grated topping, and set aside.

cheese

In a sautee pan, heat about a tablespoon of oil. Sautee onions, garlic and mushrooms until they are softened, about 4 minutes, and add spinach at the end for like a minute. Remove from heat.

photo 2

On a floured counter top take the dough, divide it into two halves and roll out to rectangular shape. Place half of “cheese” and half of veggies on lower part of rectangle, fold over and pinch edges to that it is sealed. Once you have the calzone sealed properly then brush the top with oil.

filling calzone

calzone

Prick the calzones with a fork on top a couple of times and place in a pizza stone or pan with nonstick oil for about 22 minutes. Serve with marinara sauce or pesto for dipping and enjoy with a nice chilled wine!

 

Hope that you guys give the book and recipe a try. Uncomplicated and tasty is always a good combination!

 

Cheers and Happy Reading.

Laura

Control by Cardeno C & Mary Calmes…No Fish “Tuna” Salad.

ControlLGI do love when Mary Calmes delves into the paranormal realm. Her shifters usually bank on every possible angle to make them toppily delicious…She also writes a sexy devil of a bottom that totally annihilates all of his mate’s control. This story in some ways is a bit of a change of pace to that. First of all Mary Calmes and Cardeno C teamed up to write the story of Vy Aleknos and Robert Cimino.  I have read almost everything Mary has written, but this was my first time reading a Cardeno C story. I was interested to see how their styles would match up, and if I would still able to get that Calmes brand of writing I know and love. I thought they’re joint effort worked beautifully, I could certainly recognize Mary’s style in Vy’s character, and enjoyed reading Robert’s POV as well.

For these guys I wanted to do something strictly vegan, but with a bit of twist. Robert was a vegan, and seemed to love the fake meat products. I am one as well (like 90% of the time anyways, I love Cheese too much!) but I don’t particularly enjoy the tofurky like products…What to do for food then? I remembered I have an AMAZING recipe for a No Fish “Tuna” Salad which is completely vegan, no mayo, no tuna, no nothing. I paired it with a glass of Malbec, mostly because it was there, and I think Malbec pretty much goes with anything.  The 2012 Portillo Malbec from Salentin Winery in Argentina is full of flavor, has intense cherry overtones and hints of vanilla that make it a very nice wine to sip. It goes great with spicy or peppery foods, and for $9.99 it’s fantastic value.

photo (21)

Back to the guys. Vy Aleknos is a hawk shifter and the leader of his kettle. His entire life is fiercely connected to his animal side, to his role as the leader of his community. He was born to that job, and he made sure from the moment he assumed the role  never to disappoint those under him. He is as much man as he is hawk. He is well loved, by his kettle, but nevertheless there is an emptiness in him. He is sorrounded by family and friends who love him, yet there is a part of him that he can’t share with anyone. He can’t show vulnerabilities, weaknesses, doubts. He can’t ever reveal that he yearns to be taken care of some time, that he has a deep aching need to let go and let someone else take over. When Robert Cimino walks into his life, he finally can sense that what he has been waiting for has arrived.

Robert is a scientist, he has been living out of a tent for his entire life, and has no plans to change anytime soon. He’s come to work in Vy’s little town in Colorado and as soon as he sees the slight, blond man he is drawn to him with everything he’s got. All the feelings and instincts that Robert has kept tampered down from when he was a young child are trying to bubble up to the surface.  Robert is a bear shifter, but he has no pack, or has even shifted since he was a kid. The animal part of himself is dangerous, and he is fearful that he may not be able to control it, if he allows it to come out.

The thing is once Robert and Vy discover their connection it is hard to stay away. Robert is struggling in many ways, he has never contemplated staying in one place, but Vy embraces his animal side and won’t have a mate that doesn’t. They struggle with meeting half way, Vy is proud and quick tempered, while Robert is easygoing and sensitive.  Then there’s the drama within Vy’s kettle, and an outside wolf pack. Is it realistic to even consider making a go of things for them?

I enjoyed this novel a lot, it definitely had the Mary Calmes touch, and I really liked Cardeno C’s writing as well. Robert and Vy were awesome to read in their own POVs, and the tones and styles complemented each other well. This is pretty straighforward shifter fare in terms of pack politics and what not. The town and supporting characters were also very reminiscent of Mary’s other shifter books. I enjoyed the juxtapositions of heros’ personalities, and the inner conflicts both Vy and Robert faced to be with each other. I also liked that their human sides were pretty well aligned with their inner animals. I loved how cuddly Robert was and how prickly Vy could be. I would TOTALLY love a follow up book on the Alpha of the enemy wolf pack! There are at least two more books that could come out of this one.

Recommend, for those looking for a sweet, easy, PNRish read. Control is available for purchase here.

No Fish “Tuna” Salad

(adapted from Carrie On Vegan Blog)

Ingredients

2 cups garbanzo beans
4 celery stalks
2 tablespoons unsalted tahini
2 tablespoon pickle relish
1 teaspoon whole grain mustard
½ teaspoon white miso
¼ cup red onion

1 teaspoon of lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste
photo (22)

Instructions

Rinse and drain garbanzo beans and place into a medium-sized bowl. Chop celery and add to bowl. Add tahini, relish, mustard, miso, onion, lemon juice and salt and pepper to the bowl and stir to combine. Use the flat side of a fork to smash some of the beans. Serve over chopped romaine as a salad entrée, wrapped in a tortilla for a wrap, or on toasted bread for a sandwich.
Hope you enjoy the book, the food and the wine pairing! All three are very much worth revisiting soon, at least for me.

Cheers and Happy Reading!

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Shaking The Sugar Tree by Nick Wilgus and Vegan Cinammon Rolls

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

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

photo 3 (1)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shaking the Sugar Tree is available for purchase here.

Easy and Delicious Vegan Cinnamon Rolls

1 packet instant yeast

1 cup unsweetened almond milk

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

1/4 tsp salt

3 cups all purpose flour

1/2 Tbsp cinnamon

1/4 cup + 1 Tbsp sugar, divided

Directions:

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

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

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

Little ball.

Little ball.

After one hour.

After one hour.

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

My little love is a rolling pin expert!

My little love is a rolling pin expert!

Ready to roll.

Ready to roll.

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

photo 1 (1)

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

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

photo 2

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

Cheers and Happy Reading,

Laura

Review: The Return by Brad Boney…French Rosès, “Food Truck Style Vegan Tacos” and my Bruce Springsteen Fangirl Moment

Return[The]Brace yourselves kids because this is a LONG ONE…The Return, Brad Boney’s sophomore effort complete with an extended visit with all the guys we got to know and love in his first book The Nothingness of Ben is completely brilliant, a fun, unique book with some heavy themes and strong writing, but even more than that it’s a beautiful and hopeful tribute/eulogy to  the  men who died and survived the AIDS epidemic, it’s an amazing lesson in music and it’s trascendence, it’s an optismistic and crafty story about the power of love and friendship. Yep, I loved this book.

I’m going to just start by saying that this book had me at Hello. I mean it was maybe at 3% that the Love Fest for Bruce Springsteen began and I was a GONER. Bruce Springsteen...SIGHS…I am a FAN, like stone cold, die hard, rabid FAN. One of the best nights of my life was seeing Springsteen in New York City in October of 2003. I get chills just remembering how magical that night was. The thing is, Thunder Road, it’s  my Battle Song. When I moved to New York City from Dominican Republic in 2002 (my homeland) for graduate school, Thunder Road was the only thing I listened to on the plane. It’s my BATTLE SONG. So with the Bruce Love, Brad went straight for my soul.

I loved Stanton, and Topher and Chris and all the men in this book for their reverence to Springsteen and music and what it meant for them, how it bound them…and I LOVED Brad Boney for writing this story…but I digress. On to the review…

First things first…The booze…Of course I could not just whimp out on Brad Boney and the amazing men he gave me in this book, so I didn’t just try one wine, nope I tried TWO. The boys in The Return get to try an amazing bottle of French wine in the book, so I wanted to stick with the theme. The two wines I tried were a 2012 Eclat du Rhône a Rosè from the Rhône Valley and a 2012 Grange Des Dames from the Ventoux Valley, both of these wines are less than $10 a bottle and are delicious summer wines. The Eclat is made with Grenache grapes, its a bit light and has a just a bit of a fruity kick that is really delicious. The Grange des Dames  with a Granache, Syrah and Mouvedre blend is a bit more crisp and a bit grassy, but still very nice well chilled. In the end either of these two wines would go PERFECTLY with the recipe I came up with for The Return. The book is set (partly) in Austin, so I went with that for the food pairing. I love Austin, particularly the amazing food trucks all over town, so I got my creative juices FLOWING and came up with the “Southwest by Northeast Vegan “Food Truck Style” Tacos with a Tequila Lime Slaw, and Sweet and Smoky Guacamole”…I know, I know it’s a mouthful! But they are insanely delicious and the guacamole?? You’ll want to name your future babies after me once you taste it. I am pretty happy with myself for this one, and hope I did this book justice with the food and wine I paired it with.

The Food, The Wine...THE BOOK.

The Food, The Wine…THE BOOK.

Now the story (I promise the song quotes are necessary, so bear with me :))… In reality, this book is four stories that kind of combine into one. We have two love stories, and two stories of powerful enduring friendship, all over one lifetime. The story of Today, Stanton and Topher and their best friends. The story of Yesterday, Stanton and Chris and their best friends.

Topher Manning is a musician (mechanic by day) who can’t get his songs out of his head, and into the world, he loves what he does and he loves his bandmates though. His bandmates and very best friends, Robin, Maurice, and Pete, with whom he left his hometown of Dime Box, Texas and came to Austin with to pursue their dream. Time is passing though and  they’re going to need something spectacular to happen soon, he is going to have to unlock those songs from his head somehow or their band just won’t make it…

I give you a song and open a door
And from the shadows you come through
I give you a song at dawn
When I most need your light…

…I give you a song like a gunshot
Like a book, like a word, like a guerrilla:
Like I give love.

-Silvio Rodriguez, Te Doy una Cancion

The extraordinary thing Topher needs one day literally walks into the auto shop he works in and his name is Stanton Porter. Stanton Porter the legendary music critic for NPR. Stanton is in town to cover the South by Southwest music festival and the car he borrowed has died before he got to pick up tickets he needs to get into the Springsteen concert that evening. Since the guy is in a jam and none to happy, Topher offers to drive Stanton to get the tickets. Fast forward to Stanton asking Topher to come to the show with him as a thank you. Best frigging day of Topher’s life! I mean SPRINGSTEEN, with Stanton Porter who he completely admires, and for some reason finds incredibly hot (even though he’s straight and Stanton is waaaaay older), if only his phone would stop buzzing in his pocket (for no reason! What the hell?!) the night would be pretty much be perfect and then…Then the opening notes to Thunder Road begin, and Topher is taken over by this feeling, this BIG feeling, like nothing he’s felt before, and the only thing he can do is kiss Stanton…Wait what?!…THAT’S when EVERYTHING gets a whole lot more interesting.

I’ll work for your love dear
I’ll work for your love
What others may want for free
I’ll work for your love
-Bruce Springsteen, I’ll Work For Your Love

Topher throws Stanton for a loop, he doesn’t know what to think when this 26 year old hot as hell kid, just comes on STRONG. Stanton has not done this in awhile, he’s fifty years old for goodness sake, he doesn’t know how to do “in love” anymore. He lost the love of his life long ago, and his heart never got up to trying again. But Topher he’s bringing those feelings back and Stanton’s scared. He’s scared of getting hurt, he’s scared of looking ridiculous triying to date a younger man, he’s scared of the weird signs everywhere, he’s just plain scared. But Topher is TENACIOUS and PERSISTENT, he’s only ever wanted two things this badly, and with this much clarity in his life, being a musician and Stanton. He’s going to do whatever it takes to convince this man that when something feels this RIGHT, not age, not distance, not anything should keep two people from love. He’s got faith enough for both of them.

Show a little faith, there’s magic in the night
-Bruce Springsteen, Thunder Road

Brad Boney wove two tales in this book that are intertwined in Stanton and his best friend Marvin. In the 1980’s Stanton and Marvin while spending a weekend in Fire Island met Chris (Hutch) Mead and his three best friends, Michael, Robert and Paul. From the moment Stanton and Chris looked at each other, they were one. Chris and Stanton fell hard and strong. Chris and his friends took Marvin and Stanton into their fold, they started a friendship that could never be broken. That first summer of youth, freedom and forging bonds that revolved around a common ground, passion for music and living openly was just the beginning. Life could not get better, Stanton and Chris were in love, deeply , completely, and their friends were there to share their lives, and for a few years “they had roses” and then things fell apart.

Mary you’re covered in roses, you’re covered in ruin
you’re covered in secrets
Your’e covered in treetops, you’re covered in birds
who can sing a million songs without any words
You cast aside the sheets, you cast aside the shroud
of another man, who served the world proud
You greet another son, you lose another one
on some sunny day and always stay
-Patty Griffin, Mary

The AIDS epidemic is a history in this country that is tragic, not only for the loss of lives, it’s particularly heinous in how shameful it is to remember how people tunred their backs on what was happening. Such an awful time to live through and to remember, so many men cast aside, so many regrets from the families that turned their backs on all that hurt. Normally when an epidemic strikes it hits EVERYONE men, women, children, young, it’s where a society bands together, to fight it, as ONE. With AIDS, no one cared, they kept quiet…It was only gay men dying, and who cared about them? Who cared about thousands of men in the prime of their lives dying within months of getting sick? Who cared about men who in many cases had been outcasted from their families, left alone living in fear of dying next, of having to see the people they loved most die? Who cared right? THEY did, they who died, they who survived…And THIS is what I loved, LOVED about this book, that little shining light…What if all those lives that were gone too soon, and those love stories that were cut too short could get a another chance? What if Stanton got a second chance at love and happiness with Topher and a bit of Chris’ soul in the mix?

Tonight this fool’s halfway to heaven and just a mile outta hell
And I feel like I’m comin’ home
These are better days baby
There’s better days shining through
-Bruce Springsteen, Better Days

The premise for this book is not going to hit the spot for everyone, it’s different, and it’s not your regular Gay romance, but man if it resonates with you it is AN EXPERIENCE. To see a man’s history and his present blend so that he can have the future he lost once. So CLEVER.

Oh I get by with a little help from my friends
Mm I get high with a little help from my friends
Mm going to try with a little help from my friends
-The Beatles, With a Little Help From My Friends

Topher and Stanton, they have a bit of a rough go. There are stumbles and a lot of what happens to these men is WAAAAAY out there to take in stride. But they have their friends, the old,  and the new, and the rely on them to help them navigate the strangeness of it all. They manage to come away with faith in what they have, and trusting that fate really is smiling upon them. Once they choose to see these things that are happening to them as the gifts that they are, they jump with both feet.

Stanton finally is able to look back on his past and heal the wounds he had left open for too long, and what he was left with was a full free life, with love and friends, and sex and fun and Topher…Topher…And even a bit of Chris.

Let’s fall in love again with music as our guide
We’ll raise our ready hands and let go for the ride
Down into unknown lands where lovers meet and hide

We got these lives for free, we don’t know where they’ve been
We don’t know where they’ll go when we are through with them
The starlight of the sun, the dark side of the moon

And in the air the questions hang
Will we get to do something?
Who we gonna end up being?
How we gonna end up feeling?
What you gonna spend your free life on?
Free Life…
-Natalie Maines, Free Life

I had a great time with this book, it was fun, sexy, sad, uplifiting, hopeful…I got to visit with some of the guys from The Nothingness of Ben which was FABULOUS…What else can I say? So much of this story resonated with me from NYC, to Springsteen, to friendships that are so good, and so right, and so big, and so solid that they are trascendental…Eternal.

Totally and completely recommend.

The Return is available for sale at Dreamspinner Press

And still there is more!!! THE FOOD!!! I do not exaggerate these tacos are frigging DELICIOUS!! I didn’t want to call myself a food genius over a taco recipe, but damn if I wasn’t tempted!  Here they are…

Southwest by Northeast Vegan “Food Truck Style” Tacos with Tequila Lime Slaw, and Sweet and Smoky Guacamole (makes about 8 tacos)
Level of Difficulty: Intermediate
Time: 30-45 minutes of cooking (reserve some time to marinade tofu)

This recipe is a little labor intensive, but the outcome is TOTALLY worth it! They are absolutely delicious and the extra slaw and guacamole will go AMAZING with some tortilla chips! If you make this for guests I guarantee they won’t bitch about missing the meat or dairy we usually get in tacos. I GUARANTEE! The trick is to the prep in stages and that will simplify getting your tacos on the table.

First Stage: Rub the tofu with seasoning, roast peppers and caramelize the onions.
Second Stage: Make the slaw and guacamole
Third Stage: Sear tofu and prepare your tacos!
Fourth Stage: Pour yourself a glass of Cotes Du Rhone Rosé and enjoy your meal and lovely book!

For Tofu:
1 package of extra firm tofu, drained, cut into ¼ inch slices and line the pieces in a plastic container that has a lid. (Try and get as much moisture out of the tofu as you can with a paper towel, without breaking it up)

Ingredients
1/2 teaspoon of chili powder
½ teaspoon of garlic powder
½ teaspoon onion powder
½ teaspoon of coriander seed
¼ teaspoon of cumin
1/8 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon of olive oil
Pinch of salt and pepper

Directions: Mix the ingredients in a small bowl and pour over tofu, close container tofu and gently move around until the tofu is covered with the marinade. Leave in the fridge to for at least two hours or overnight.

For Poblano Peppers and Caramelized Onions

2 Poblano Peppers
2 Large White Onions
1 ½ teaspoon of agave nectar
Salt and Pepper

Directions: Put the peppers in the middle rack of an oven preheated at 400F, after 10-12 minutes turn the peppers, leave them in the oven for another 8-10 minutes or until the skin is blistering and softened. Take them out, put them in a bowl, and cover with cling wrap until they are cool enough to remove the skin, seeds and veins.

Cut the onions in ¼ inch slices, put in a skillet with a bit of olive oil at medium heat loosen them so that the rings are separated, add a bit of salt and pepper to taste and the agave nectar. Stir until the onions are a bit translucent (2-3 minutes) than put the heat on low and cover. Cook for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally so that the onions don’t burn. Once they are a nice caramel color turn off heat and leave them too cool.

These tacos are seriously amazing...

These tacos are seriously amazing…

Tequila Lime Slaw

1 small cabbage chopped for slaw
1/3 cup fresh cilantro chopped very finely
1 lime
1 ½ tablespoon of white tequila (I used Espolon 100% agave tequila)
2 tablespoons of olive oil
¼ teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon of brown ground mustard
1 ½ teaspoon of agave nectar
¼ teaspoon of garlic powder
¼ teaspoon of onion powder
½ teaspoon of Ancho chili powder (Optional, I used Penzey’s brand)
1 roasted Poblano pepper minced
Salt and Pepper to taste

Mix the cabbage, cilantro and Poblano pepper in a large bowl and set aside, in a small bowl mix the other ingredients and pour over cabbage mixture. Cover and refrigerate.

Smoky and Sweet Guacamole

2 ripe Hass avocados
1 lime
1 caramelized onion chopped coarsely
1 Poblano pepper minced
¼ cup cilantro chopped very finely
1 clove of garlic minced
1 tablespoon of olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Mash the avocados vigorously until they are soft and have no big lumps (you can also pulse in the food processor) add the rest of the ingredients to the mixture and taste to make sure you have seasoned properly.

For the final stage, take the tofu slices and sear them on a hot and lightly oiled non-stick pan (about 1 ½ minutes on each side at medium heat), or grill them about two minutes on each side until they start to darken on the edges or getting grill marks. Once they are done you can make your tacos!!!

Warm 8 flour or corn tortillas, whatever you prefer, then put a bit of the slaw, then some onions, then a piece of your tofu and a generous dollop of the guacamole. You can top with a bit of fresh cilantro and a squeeze of lime. Enjoy with a nice VERY chilled Rosé and while reading Brad Boney’s FABULOUS story!

If you managed to make it this far into this post, all that is left to say is…

CHEERS AND HAPPY READING!

Laura