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12 Days of Holiday Romance Reviews and Recipes, Day 12: All the Other Holiday Books I’ve Read, Plus Some Cake

A few days late, but here it is, the final post in my holiday romance and recipes series. Today I thought I’d go through some of the other romances I’ve read throughout this holiday season. Most of these were on Kindle Unlimited or were free, so they were both enjoyable to read and kind to my bank account, a win-win this time of year.

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Werewolf shifters, pregnancy, and a slow burn romance? Yes please! A Christmas Caroling was a delightful short m/m romance by Penelope Peters, whose book Ben’s Bakery and the Holiday Miracle was featured in an earlier review. She knows how to write emotional drama between characters, and that really shines in this book.

 

 

 

 

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Three Men and a Maybe is a short but delightful friends-to-lovers novella by an author I can’t wait to read more of, and a New Years romance to boot! This was a little on the short side for me, but it was a fun, quick read one night before bed, and had the added benefit of introducing me to Katey’s rom-com style of writing.

 

 

 

 

42902642 (1)Oh, did I love Goldilocks and the Bear, both the plot and that beautiful, beautiful cover. I’m really loving the illustrated cover trend going on in romancelandia right now! Jess and Trisha from When in Romance talked about the trend in a previous episode with Rebekah Weatherspoon— check it out if you want to learn the pros and cons of the trend.

Now, onto this book. It was so wonderful. A bear and a cafe owner get cosy during the holidays and bond over Christmas trees, snacks and their attraction to each other. It’s another short one, so it’s perfect for squeezing in when you need a break from the family time.

 

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I LOVED Grumpy Fake Boyfriend, so I was so excited to read this prequel to Jackie Lau’s new series. This is a delightful friends-to-lovers with a forced proximity element and baking! Basically, all of my catnip. I loved this book and can’t wait to read the new Baldwin Village series.

 

 

 

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I snapped up Snowed in with the Billionaire for FREE and loved the first story in this duo. The heroine reminded me of Lorelai Gilmore—quirky, hilarious, and unafraid to speak her mind. The second story in here was also good—the sex was way hotter, but I didn’t like the heroine as much. Both of these stories have snowy forced proximity elements, though, which is something I really, really love.

 

 

Now, here’s a delectable dairy-free cake that I’ll be serving to my family tomorrow instead of English Christmas Cake because boozy+desserts is my least favourite word combination.

Spiced Milk and Honey Cake
lightly adapted from the recipe by Martha Collison

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Ingredients
Cake:
150g vegan butter
100g soft light brown sugar
100ml runny honey
100ml soya or almond milk
2 large eggs
175g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
freshly grated nutmeg or 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Icing:
100g icing sugar
1 tablespoon soya or almond milk
1 tablespoon honey

  1. Preheat oven to 180C/350F. Line a 20cm round springform cake pan with parchment paper.
  2. Melt butter, sugar and honey together in a pan until the sugar is no longer grainy and butter is totally melted. Let cool while you make the rest of the cake mix.
  3. Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and nutmeg together in a large bowl.
  4. Add the milk to the butter mixture and beat in the eggs one at a time, then add to the flour mixture and whisk until a smooth cake batter forms.
  5. Pour cake batter into pan and bake 30-35 minutes until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean.
  6. Let cake cool for a few minutes while you make the icing. Then, remove the ring from the cake pan and pour the icing onto the centre of the cake. It will gradually melt toward the sides. Add a few sprinkles on top and eat! Or wait until Christmas like we’re doing.

 

 

Baking · Blog · Book Reviews · Reading · Recipes

12 Days of Holiday Romance Reviews and Recipes, Day 11: A Swedish Christmas Fairy Tale by A E Radley

42866611Real talk, readers. This whole reading and reviewing romances and crafting recipes while the holidays are rapidly approaching AND I’m swamped with freelance work is ROUGH. So, I haven’t finished the book for today’s review. I’m 50% in, and I’m freaking loving it, but since I haven’t gotten to the end, I don’t really feel I can give it a full review. Instead, I’m just going to tell you what I *like* about the book so far. I should also note this book is FREE right now on Kindle Unlimited.

What I love about this book is the way the author deals with the heroine Emilia’s anxiety. It’s just so…real. As someone who also suffers from anxiety, I really felt like I was there with Emilia during her panic attack at the mall and I completely, 100% understood her need to go home and be back in a place that felt safe and comfortable. I also loved how understanding Amber was of Emilia’s anxiety, telling her that she would do whatever she could to keep her away from future situations that might make her anxious. Way to go Amber for being a pal, and way to go Emilia for opening up about something she rarely shared with people.

I also LOVE the scenery in this book, both the snowy Swedish outdoors and the cosy warmth of Emilia’s house. It honestly sounds like my dream pad: big kitchen, big fireplace, comfy furniture, minimal knickknacks.

I’m just past 50% of the way through the book and the heroines are starting to get feelings for each other and I cannot wait to see how the HEA happens. This is the perfect book to cosy up with. I know I’ve said that about a lot of the books I’ve read for this roundup, but it remains true!

Now, for the recipe. At one point early in the book, Emilia makes Swedish cinnamon rolls for her and her BFF. And I just happen to have an excellent sourdough cinnamon swirl bread recipe I’ve been meaning to make into cinnamon rolls, so wham bam here you go, a recipe for ooey gooey cinnamon swirly buns perfect for dousing in icing and eating for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Because it’s winter and Christmas and that means carbs and cinnamon all day, every day.

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Sourdough Cinnamon Raisin Swirl Buns
Inspired by the King Arthur Flour recipe
Makes 8 buns

Ingredients
Dough:
1/2 cup sourdough starter (I used discard starter)
3 cups plain flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon non-dairy milk of your choice
5 tablespoons vegan butter
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2-1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1-1/4 teaspoons salt
2/3 cup warm water

Filling:
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon plain flour
2 tablespoons non-dairy milk
1 cup raisins/sultanas

  1. To make the dough, combine all the ingredients in a bowl and knead until you have a smooth dough. If it’s quite sticky, add another tablespoon or two of flour. Once the dough is ready, place it in a greased bowl, cover it and leave it in a warm place to rise for an hour and a half or two hours.
  2. Once the dough has risen, make the filling, combining the sugar, cinnamon and flour in a bowl. Roll the dough out into a large rectangle about 8×12 inches and spread the milk over the dough so the sugary filling will stick. Evenly distribute the sugary mixture over the dough, then sprinkle the raisins on top and gently press them into the dough.
  3. Roll the dough from the short side, making a long, rectangular log. Cut the log into 8 equal pieces using a serrated knife and place in a large greased cake pan. Cover and let rise again for another 90 minutes-2 hours.
  4. Preheat the oven to 350F/175C and bake the buns for 45-55 minutes until golden brown on top. Cover in your favourite icing (I made one by combining 1/2 cup icing sugar, 2 tablespoons soy milk and one teaspoon of vanilla) and enjoy!

 

 

Baking · Blog · Book Reviews · Contemporary Romance · Reading · Recipes

12 Days of Holiday Romance Reviews and Recipes, Day 10: An Ex for Christmas

34613341I’ve read a lot of good books for this holiday romance and recipe series. Unwrapped and Merry Inkmas were my favourites prior to cracking open this beauty, but now it needs to be added to the list because like the others, it’s damn near perfect.

Synopsis
Kelly Byrne and Mark Blakely have been best friends since childhood. They’ve been there through the highs and lows, break-ups and makeups, and through it all have remained each other’s favorite person. But when superstitious Kelly is told by a stranger at a train station that she’ll reunite with a previous love this Christmas, Mark starts to get exasperated. As Kelly checks off exes on her list, hoping that one of them will be the One That Got Away, he grows more and more impatient. When will she see that he’s been waiting in the wings all along? After a passionate kiss under the mistletoe between them turns into a few days of snowed in sex, Kelly realizes that maybe Mark isn’t just her bestie. Maybe he’s something more. Maybe he’s the guy she’s been waiting for all along. But is she willing to risk their friendship to explore what mind be true love?

Review
5 stars

This is the holiday romance I’ve been searching for. Replete with Christmas songs, snow, festive drinks, an elf costume and hot mistletoe kisses, it. is. so. damn. good. I couldn’t put it down, reading basically all of it in one day and staying up way past my bedtime to finish it. And I have insomnia, so bedtimes are important to me. A book that makes me ignore my sleep alarm has to be a good’un.

I loved everything about this book. I loved that Kelly was a curvy heroine unapologetic about her belief in the mysterious and less-than-scientific world of Magic 8 balls, horoscopes and fortune tellers, I loved that she and Mark lived in a cute little town in upstate New York where everyone knows each other, I loved that Mark wouldn’t let her say anything bad about her body, I loved that she had a colour theme for her Christmas tree, and I LOVED the sex scenes in this book. This book is 100% on the digital keeper shelf for the rest of time and I plan on reading it every year, Santa socks on, Christmas Jazz turned up, just like Kelly would. Please read this and let it fill you with holiday cheer and friends-to-lovers, small-town romance vibes.

Now, onto the food. At one in the book, Mark makes Kelly what sound like truly delicious cookies full of salty sweet goodness that apparently takes hours to create. And because it’s the holidays, I do not have time to make those delights, so instead, I combined salty and sweet into a cookie recipe that makes delectable, hockey-puck-size whoppers perfect for munching on while you watch Gilmore Girls on the couch in your Santa/chosen mythical figure socks.

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Vegan Salty Sweet Cookies
Makes about 15

Ingredients
2 cups flour
1/2 cup oats
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup crushed potato crisps
1 cup crushed Oreo cookies
1 cup sugar (I used caster sugar)
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup vegan butter
2 flax eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup vegan chocolate chips

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F/175C and line three or four cookie sheets with parchment paper.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, oats, baking soda and salt. Then, add the potato crisps and oreos to the mix and stir together.
  3. In the bowl of a large stand mixer, whisk together the butter and sugar until creamy. Then, add the flax eggs and vanilla and mix to combine.
  4. Add the flour mixture to the sugar and butter mixture and mix on a low speed until flour is fully incorporated and you have a sticky batter. Take the bowl off the mixing stand and add in the chocolate chips and stir them in with a spoon.
  5. Take large palmfuls of dough and roll them into balls with your hands, then place them three inches apart on a baking sheet. Bake 10-15 minutes until golden brown at the edges. Eat and enjoy!
Baking · Blog · Book Reviews · Historical Romance · Reading · Recipes

12 Days of Holiday Romance Reviews and Recipes, Day 9: Once Upon a Winter’s Eve by Tessa Dare

I really tried to include new-to-me authors in this holiday romance review line-up, but when I saw that Once Upon a Winter’s Eve was on sale for $1.99, there was no way I wasn’t going to buy it and review it. Spindle Cove remains one of my favourite historical romance series ever, and with the holiday stress setting in, I need a brief vacation to one of my favourite literary worlds full of badass women.

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Synopsis

Violet Winterbottom (I know, I know, what a great last name) has spent the last year at Spindle Cove after giving her virtue away to the man she thought was her soulmate. However, this cad abandoned her, leaving only a note that did nothing to explain his sudden disappearance. Hence, she has since dubbed him The Disappointment. Violet is disturbed when, a year after their parting, during a winter’s ball, a man breaks through the doors of the Summerfield Grand Hall, a man who looks suspiciously like The Disappointment. At first, the man speaks only in Breton, but Violet, a seasoned linguist, offers to translate for him while the rest of the village decides if he’s friend or foe. As the night goes on, Violet and the mystery man, who is, in fact, The Disappointment, devise a plan to help him escape back to safety, but is she really ready to trust him again? Sadly, despite him being an absolute arse, yes, she is. They are apart for a year, he comes back, they live HEA and I’m mad about it.

Review
3 stars

Full marks for the fantastic writing in this book. It read almost like an Austen novel, with lines like “I’ve been humbled by the comprehensive and inescapable quality of my own stupidity” reminding me of a fumbling but oh-so-hot Darcy. But really, has Tessa Dare ever not written a book full of witticisms and amazing prose? No.

She has also, previous to this book, never written a hero I haven’t liked, but oh boy, did I not like Christian. I wanted to hang Christian by his toes from a wire in a dungeon until he realized what a self-righteous arse he was, preferably after I’d played all the worst pop hits to him at top-volume for 24 hours while repeatedly throwing expired whipped cream at his face. He was, truly, The Disappointment of this book.

Violet is an amazingly brave, strong, courageous woman who has had to weather the past year in Spindle Cove after having her heart and, potentially, her future, smashed to smithereens because she slept with Christian. She’s amazing and deserves a prince among men, but instead, she gets The Disappointment, twice.

Christian is a royal dick. He could have told Violet upon arriving at the hall (after he woke up from the injuries that cease to concern him midway through the book), without many words, that it was, in fact, him, Christian, her old friend, rather than a farmer from Breton, but no, he insists on keeping up the charade for a few hours, torturing Violet. He belittles and manipulates her into feeling bad for him, showing her his scars and saying how much he loves and missed her, despite the fact that he admits to having sex with her partly that first time to ruin her so she’d wait for his return, because oh yeah, he knew he was leaving to become a spy.

That in and of itself is more than enough reason for Violet to run the other way, but no, she stays, because Christian has used his pretty mouth to woo her into thinking that they are right for each other. He also convinces her to have sex with him, when she’s asked him to stop, because he says, “Darling, I promise, this time I’ll make it good. We can make bliss, between us,” when really, we all know he just wants some nooky before he disappears off again because HE IS A GRADE A CAD OF THE HIGHEST ORDER and people should ALWAYS listen to their partners when they say “stop” during life but also, particularly, sexy times.

I also don’t really understand what Violet did in the year they were apart again. She still goes to London and buys dresses and flirts with men, but somehow avoids a proposal or Christian’s sister’s matchmaking so she can wait for him? But if her family is so keen to marry her off that they want her to leave Spindle Cove for London, as it says in the book, why would they allow her to go another year unmarried?

Basically, this is a well-written book with a bastard of a hero and if you want to read it, do it to root for Violet and maybe pen some fanfic that has her ending up with a better dude. That’s what I’m going to spend this weekend doing while I munch on this Honey Spice Cake, which is warm, comforting, and won’t gaslight me.

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Dairy-Free Honey Spice Cake
inspired by the recipe for Honey Spice Cake in How to Bake Everything
makes 1 loaf or 1 20cm round cake

Ingredients
1/2 cup strongly brewed black tea
1/2 cup honey
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 eggs
1/2 cup sugar (I used caster)
1 teaspoon orange zest
1-1/2 cups plain flour
1/2 cup whole grain flour (I used white spelt)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon mixed spice/allspice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup raisins/sultanas/currants

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F/175C and grease a loaf or cake pan and line with parchment paper.
  2. Whisk together the eggs and sugar until creamy. Then, add the tea, zest, oil and honey and whisk to combine.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt and spices.
  4. Add the dry ingredients to the wet, mixing with a fork until no flour pockets remain. Then, add the raisins and stir through.
  5. Pour the mixture into the greased cake pan and slide into the oven. Bake 40-50 minutes until a knife inserted in the centre of the cake comes out clean. Eat, enjoy or give to someone else for a lovely holiday gift.

 

 

Blog · Book Reviews · Contemporary Romance · Reading · Recipes

12 Days of Holiday Romance Reviews and Recipes, Day 8: Ben’s Bakery and the Hanukkah Miracle by Penelope Peters

 

42108069You might have noticed that originally, this round-up was called “12 Days of Christmas Romance Reviews and Recipes.” I realized after reading a post from Kissing Books that that wasn’t a very inclusive title, because the holidays are more than just Christmas. So, I’ve incorporated two Hanukkah romances into this series, and the first is Ben’s Bakery and Hanukkah Miracle. It was as delightful as the donuts Ben bakes throughout the book.

Synopsis

Ben Daniels has been happily running his kosher-style bakery in Boston for the last few years, and doesn’t miss speed skating at all, thankyouverymuch. But when hot ice hockey coach Adam Bernard pops into the bakery, Ben’s friend, Sheldon, takes it upon himself to kill two birds with one stone: get Ben dating again, and get him back on the ice. He offers Adam a monetary reward if he can manage to do both.

Adam isn’t looking for romance—he’s way too focused on his career and taking care of his dad right now, but he can’t deny the attraction he feels to Ben and his baking prowess. Over the week that Adam spends in Boston with his hockey team for a tournament, the two get to know each other, and the more they know, the more confused they are. Ben likes Adam, but can’t understand why Adam is so critical of Ben’s different style of honouring his Jewish faith, and Adam can’t decide what to do about his future: move to Boston and see where things go with Ben or stay in Montreal with his dad? This book has hot shower sex, donut inspiration, nosy teenagers, and a fuck ton of snow.

Review
4.5 stars 

I love an ice hockey romance, and I love baking, so I was excited when I saw the blurb for this book on Twitter. Combining two of my favourite things in a book? Yes please! I loved the snowy Boston setting of this book, and the interfering teenagers were hilarious and added yet another enjoyable element to the plot.

Ben was my favourite character in this book. He’s just so completely okay with who he is; he sticks to his convictions, honouring only Hanukkah in the bakery and not succumbing to the pressure of pushing out Christmas bakes to please the customers and his best friend/accountant. He’s happy with the way he practices his faith, and he’s also accepting of his speed skating injury. Sure, he’s struggling to get back on the ice, but he doesn’t beat himself up about it. He’s just so confident and calm.

Adam, on the other hand, could be a bit of an asshole. At one point in the book, Ben has made Adam an amazing dinner, and Adam starts grilling him about the fact that he had a Christmas tree growing up. Ben tries to explain that it wasn’t faith-based, and Adam basically storms off. He’s dismissive of Ben’s way of practising his faith is a conflict throughout the book, and I was worried it wouldn’t get resolved, but thankfully, Adam realizes that Ben is, in fact, a good Jew, perhaps an even better one than Adam, and apologizes. It was an interesting conflict to read, and one I liked seeing the characters overcome, because it was very pertinent to their lives overall. Sometimes, I find conflicts in books a bit thin, but this one really did impact on the relationship and require both characters to do some thinking.

My only real criticism of the book was that we didn’t get to learn much about Ben’s family. Adam’s dad is mentioned repeatedly and shows up in one scene, but Ben’s family, makes no appearance. I also would have loved to actually read the scene when Ben went to dinner with Sheldon and his old speed skating teammates. It would have been interesting to see how he fared after not seeing them for so long, and I also would have liked the opportunity to get to know Sheldon’s character better. We never learn much about his and Ben’s friendship.

The best part of this book, other than the shower sex scene, was the donuts. Ben makes sufganiyot, traditional donuts served during Hanukkah, but he switches up the flavours, serving everything from lemon cream to maple sugar. They all sound absolutely delicious. However, rather than sharing a donut recipe, I’m going rogue and serving up latkes, which are a childhood favourite of mine. My mom used to buy them frozen from Trader Joe’s and serve them to us with applesauce, and with all the dark, dreary nights in England lately, I need a bit of that fried comfort goodness in my belly. Plus, Ben and Adam have a very cute scene involving some suspicious latke recipes (eggplant latkes?!), which touched me even more than all the mentions of donuts did.

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Vegan Potato Pancakes
Inspired by the recipe by Isa Chandra Moskowitz
makes about 15

Ingredients
2.5 pounds potatoes
1 white onion
salt and pepper to taste
2 cups plus two tablespoons flour (all-purpose is my preferred flour, but spelt is also nice here)
vegetable oil

  1. Grate the potatoes and onion into a large bowl. Sprinkle two tablespoons of flour into the mixture, stir, then let sit for two minutes.
  2. Mix in the rest of the flour, using your hands to evenly distribute it with the potatoes until no more flour is visible in the mix. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Let the batter sit ten minutes. While you wait for it to thicken up, heat a medium-sized heavy-bottomed non-stick pan on medium-high heat with about 1/4 inches of vegetable oil poured into the pan. The oil is ready when you drop a bit of the potato mixture in and bubbles quickly form around the batter.
  4. Gather a handful of the batter, shape into a ball, and then flatten and place it carefully in the pan. I like to further flatten the pancake in the pan with my fingers, but that’s a dangerous game to play with hot oil, so attempt at your own risk.
  5. Fry the pancakes 3-5 minutes on each side until golden brown, and eat with applesauce, vegan sour cream, cranberry sauce or whatever other condiments you fancy.

 

Baking · Blog · Book Reviews · Contemporary Romance · Recipes

12 Days of Holiday Romance Reviews and Recipes, Day 7: Yo Ho Ho by Jenny Redford

42954795Like so many of the books on my Kindle, I found out about this gem on Twitter. It’s on Kindle Unlimited, which means if, like me, you shell out some of your good-earned money each month to Amazon, you can get this for free. Pay for it, read it on KU, just read this book. It’s holidays and hockey and hot, consensual sex.

I initially picked this book up because it’s a hockey romance, and ever since listening to Helena Hunting’s Pucked series on audiobook, I have been absolutely in love with hockey romances. The big, beef players with hearts of gold, the therapists and fans who support them—I love it all, and this book did not disappoint.

 

Synopsis

Yo Ho Ho finds Maxine Quinn, our heroine, trying to deny just how much she likes Logan Moore. Maxine is a sports journalist who follows the hockey team on the road, and over the years, she’s grown close to Logan Moore. They shared a passionate night of sex one night in a hotel in Denver, but ever since then, she’s tried to keep her distance. Maxine loves her job, and she’s not willing to sacrifice it for Logan. Logan, however, is smitten with Maxine, and has been ever since that night. When Maxine finds out that she’s losing her job at the paper, he thinks it’s the perfect opportunity for them to rehash their relationship and explore their compatibility, but he and Maxine are so not on the same page.

Review
4.0 stars

This book is well-written, the romance between their characters is believable, and I loved loved loved Maxine. She sticks to her guns, and when she decides to sacrifice something for love, she does it knowing full well what the consequences will be. Logan is, at times, a bit of a dipshit, but a mostly lovable one, and I wanted him and Maxine to end up together. He worships the ground she walks on and never takes her love for granted.

However, this book did have some issues. The smallest for most people, but biggest to me as a former editor, is the spelling. Spelling mistakes are riddled throughout the book, sometimes multiple on the same page. It didn’t detract from the plot, though there was one particularly bad one: “She watched as he looked her over, his gaze lingering on every curse of her body.” I’m assuming the author meant curve?

Other issues included Logan’s pigheadedness. Example: “Seeing Max get attention like that from another man made him feel jealous.” I know it’s an alpha male thing to swell up with rage at the idea of another man eyeing your woman, but in this situation, Logan is getting angry at a middle-aged bartender being nice to Max. There is no reason to be angry here. Shouldn’t he want Max to have nice people in her life?

The thing I really couldn’t wrap my head, and the second-biggest issue for me after the spelling, was the idea of Max leaving hockey because she’d gotten hit once when she was 14. Yes, that would definitely have been scary, but I didn’t quite believe that was enough of a reason for her to stop doing something she’d love since she was a child. Also, why was she on an all-boys league? Didn’t they have girls leagues? She says she quit because she couldn’t the guilt she saw in the eyes of the boy who hit her, and yes, that would be very sad, but surely that’s something people get used to in a contact sport? I just didn’t think this was enough of a conflict to explain her not playing hockey for nearly two decades.

Overall, however, this was a really enjoyable book. It wasn’t super Christmassy– no making out under the mistletoe or getting it on under the Christmas tree, but there was an Ugly Christmas Sweater party, and there was Christmas Eve Eve sex.

Now, onto the food. This was a hard book to find recipe inspiration from, but there was a scene the morning after Max and Logan have sex, where Logan is getting breakfast for them and grabs some banana bread from a local cafe. I love banana bread, and I just so happened to have a few bananas going freckly in my fruit bowl (note: I did not JUST have a bunch of bananas going freckly. I bought them on Wednesday and let them chill with the apples so they’d get all nice and dark and mushy), and wanted my house to smell like sugared fruit, so I decided to make my favourite banana bread recipe of all time, the one from Oh She Glows that has gotten me through many a hungry Saturday afternoon. You don’t have to bake this for your hookup the morning after (in an ideal world, they’d be baking it for you), but it is tasty regardless of what your previous night looked like.

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Vegan Banana Bread
Lightly adapted from Oh She Glows

Ingredients
Wet:
3 large bananas, mashed
2 tablespoons (ground flaxseed
1/3 cup plant-based milk (I used unsweetened soya)
1/3 cup vegetable oil,
2 tablespoons honey, agave or maple syrup
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Dry:
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons dark muscovado sugar
1/2 cup rolled oats
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups flour (I used some white spelt flour I found at Sainsbury’s, but I’ve also baked this with plain flour and kamut, and all of them work great) 

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F/180C and oil a loaf pan and line with parchment paper.
  2. Add mashed bananas and wet ingredients to a large bowl.
  3. Whisk together the dry ingredients in a separate bowl and add to the wet, mixing together with a fork. The batter will be a bit lumpy from the oats and bananas, so don’t freak if it looks a little textured!
  4. Pour the mix into the loaf pan and bake 45-60 minutes, checking for doneness by inserting a knife into the middle of the loaf. If it comes out clean, it’s done! Let cool for 15 minutes, then cut and enjoy alone or with someone, preferably either a journalist or a hockey player who’s a little bit of an asshole.

 

Baking · Blog · Book Reviews · Contemporary Romance · Reading · Recipes

12 Days of Holiday Romance Reviews and Recipes, Day 6: Lighting the Flames by Sarah Wendell

23835891I’ve been wanting to read this book for ages. Sarah Wendell and Smart Bitches Trashy Books are most of the reason why I am the romance reader I am today. If you’re part of Romancelandia but don’t know about Smart Bitches Trashy Books, let me clue you in: five amazing women, a podcast, book reviews, historical recipes, travel porn and one of the best websites on the Internet. Sarah is the coolest, nicest, smartest, kindest person,  so I was so excited to read her book. It didn’t quite live up to my expectations, however.

Synopsis
Genevieve and Jeremy are meeting up for a winter session at Meira, the camp that has become home to them over the years. They’ve gone from campers to counsellors together, doing some great prank along the way, but last summer, Jeremy left midway through camp, right after he and Genevieve kissed. She’s spent the last year wondering what whether there’s something more than friendship between them. As they gear up for another week of crafts and kids, this time against a snowy backdrop, will they finally figure out if they’re ready to take the next step in their relationship?

Review
3.5 stars

I wanted to like this book so badly. I mean, it’s written by a romance queen! It’s also a friends-to-lovers romance, which is one of my favourite tropes, and it snows basically constantly, which is my ideal holiday romance. However, this one just didn’t work for me.

For one thing, Jeremy is way too immature. He screams “epic!” every five seconds, makes quips about Gen being a “wench,” seems incapable of maintaining a normal adult conversation most of the time that doesn’t involve some sort of yelling, yet he’s also supposed to be really sensitive? I just didn’t buy it. His immaturity made it hard to root for a romance between him and Gen, because Gen needs someone emotionally mature and fluent.

I also felt like we were missing some backstory. We find out that Gen’s parents have died and Jeremy and his dad, both funeral preparers in the Jewish tradition, took care of her parents’ while they were in the hospital and Gen was in a coma. But how did Gen not know that? Yes, she was in a coma for a bit, but wouldn’t she have found out at some point during the funeral that Jeremy and his dad had done the preparations? Wouldn’t Jeremy’s dad or someone else at the hospital have told her that?

I was also a bit confused about the timeline of Gen’s parents’ death, her going off to Iceland, and the summer that she and Jeremy kissed, which made it hard to understand where their relationship stood.

This is a romance leaning toward the “clean” side, i.e. no sex on the page, which is sad, because there was a scene near a fireplace in a cold cabin with some sleeping bag kissing that could have led to a very exciting sex scene.

I did like the way the book was structured around the nights of Hanukkah and I liked the summer camp setting. I’d definitely like to read more camp romances. And, of course, Sarah is a good writer. The book is worth a read.

There’s a scene in the book where Gen and Jeremy are eating dessert in the dining hall and one of the campers makes Jeremy a huge brownie sundae. Since I’ve already posted a brownie recipe on here for this review roundup, I thought I’d marry the brownie with the cookie and finally make Chocolate Crinkle Cookies, something that’s been on my to-bake list for ages. These come out fudgy and cakey and so delectable, and rolling them in powdered sugar is a fun way to mess up the kitchen. The recipe for them is below.

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Vegan Chocolate Crinkle Cookies
adapted from the recipe by Fox on an Island

Ingredients

3/4 cup sugar (I used golden caster, but white caster or granulated would work here)
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons honey or agave syrup
1/3 non-dairy milk (I used soya milk)
1 tablespoon ground flax seeds
1/2 cup chocolate chips, melted
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
4 tbsp cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup powdered/icing sugar

  1. Preheat the oven to 325F/160C and cover two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. Combine the sugar, oil, honey, milk, flax seeds and chocolate chips in a bowl and mix to combine. Then, add the flour, baking powder and salt and mix, using either a spoon or the whisking attachment of an electric mixer.
  3. Pour the icing sugar into a small bowl.
  4. Scoop heaping tablespoonfuls of the dough, roll into a ball and then roll in the powdered sugar until completely covered and place on the baking sheet. Repeat until all dough is used, and bake cookies for 12-18 minutes, until the surface is cracked.
Baking · Blog · Book Reviews · Contemporary Romance · Reading · Recipes

12 Days of Holiday Romance Reviews and Recipes, Day 5: Merry Inkmas by Talia Hibbert

36640831I have ten tattoos scattered across various parts of my body, and I’m a ginger, and I love Christmas, so there was very little chance I was not going to love a book between a ginger tattoo artist whose studio resembles Santa’s grotto and a hardworking psychology student who becomes his employee during the Christmas season. And because probability is math and therefore usually right, I freaking loved this book. It’s one of the best I’ve read this year.

Synopsis

Cash Evans has been frequenting the coffee shop where Bailey Cooper worked for a few weeks when he gets embroiled in a dramatic evening that ends with Bailey losing her job and Cash helping her friend John find temporary housing to help him off the streets. Cash feels bad that Bailey’s been fired, so he gruffly offers her a job at his tattoo shop. Bailey ends up loving the new job, and she and Cash grow closer, but he won’t let himself fall for her. He can’t, or else he’ll become just like the man he always hated: his father, and he can’t do that to the one woman he truly loves. When Bailey and Cash end up at Cash’s mom’s for Christmas, Cash has to decide if he’s ready to fight his demons to win back Bailey’s heart. HEA ensues and I’m here for it.

Review
5 stars

Hot hero, curvy heroine, tattoo shop, Christmas decorations galore, great sex… this book had it all and then some. Bailey and Cash are good people to their core. Cash helps John find safety and a job that ends up changing the course of his life forever, and gives Bailey the job she needs to cover her bills after she gets fired from her job at the coffee shop. Bailey is a friend to John and Gem and is emotionally intelligent and self-assured. When Cash is a fuckboy, she lets him know, but she also lets him know when he’s being awesome, which is most of the time. My favourite scene between the two of them is during Bailey’s tattoo consultation with Cash, right before one of their hot, steamy kisses.

“Bailey,” he said again. “Sometimes…sometimes you look at me like…”

“Like what?” she asked when his voice trailed off.

“I don’t know,” he said finally. “I don’t know how to describe it. But it makes me wish I was a better person.”

She frowned up at him. “Why would you say that? You’re already the best man I know.”

Their conversations are so real and deep and they made me feel exactly what I imagined the characters would be feeling in each moment. This whole book had me tearing up and feeling like my heart was going to bounce out of my chest with both joy and sadness at Cash and Bailey’s difficult backstory and their ability to rise above their respective instances of adversity. I wanted only good things for them.

My second favourite scene is really just the last quarter of the book, when Bailey goes with Cash to his mom’s house for Christmas. The scene is so warm, inviting and familiar, with food and family contrasting with awkwardness and emotion, and it was just so well done. I think what really makes this book stand out amongst so many of the others I’ve read this year is that I could really and clearly picture every scene in my mind, every emotion, every kiss and laugh. It’s a triumph. Read it, please. You won’t be sorry.

The recipe to go along with this book was inspired by Cash’s mom, who reminded me a bit of my mom, in that she was extremely kind and friendly. The first thing I learned how to bake were chocolate chip cookies, and I have a vivid memory of being three years old, looking up at my mom as she used an electric hand mixer to cream together the butter and sugar for the cookies. Now, whenever I eat a chocolate chip cookie, I think of love, warmth, and happiness, and that’s how this book made me feel. So, here are some cookies. Eat them and let life be good to you.

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Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from the recipe for Vegan Chocolate Chip Macadamia Nut Cookies in Vegan Junk Food  
Makes 20 cookies

Ingredients 

2 flax eggs
1 cup vegan butter
1 cup sugar (I used golden caster but I’ve also used granulated in this recipe and it works great)
1 cup dark brown muscovado sugar (I’ve also used light brown sugar in this recipe and it’s slightly less caramel-y when baked, but still delicious)
2 1/2 cups bread flour (all-purpose will work here but the cookies won’t be as chewy)
11/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup semisweet vegan chocolate chips (I’ve subbed in chopped dark chocolate before and it works great, though the chocolate will melt while cooking, so you’ll get nice little pools of chocolate, rather than intact chips)
2 tablespoons non-dairy milk

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F/180C. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.
  2. In the bowl of a large stand mixer, cream the vegan butter and sugars until fluffy, then add the flax eggs and mix.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt, then add to the butter mixture and mix until combined. Add in the soya milk if the dough is dry (mine was).
  4. Take the bowl off the stand and mix in the chocolate chips.
  5. Scoop the dough by heaping tablespoonfuls, roll into balls and place 1.5-2 inches apart on the cookie sheet. Bake 10-12 minutes until golden brown. As the cookies cool, they’ll set and develop delicious little cracks in them. Eat!

 

 

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12 Days of Holiday Romance and Reviews, Day 4: One Snowy Night by Jill Shalvis

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I am ashamed to say that prior to this book, I had not read Jill Shalvis. Her books have been on my TBR for months (okay, maybe years), but as I’m sure is the case with so many romance readers, the books that I was once enthused about get buried under a pile of new releases, Kindle Unlimited items and audiobooks.

But this challenge gave me the perfect opportunity to sample one of romance’s most prolific contemporary authors, and I’m glad I did. I really liked her writing style in One Snowy Night, though the book itself had some issues.

Synopsis
 Rory Andrews wants to use this Christmas as a chance to finally mend the tear she created in her family when she ran away as a teenager. She’s planning to get the long train and buses to Lake Tahoe by herself, but who should be waiting for her outside her office other than Max Straton, ready and willing to drive her home through the cold, snowy weather?
Rory and Max have a history, and not a good one, so she’s not sure why he’s offering to drive her home, but she doesn’t have much of an option. She settles in with him and his canine companion, Carl, for a long night of driving, but a number of mishaps mean that she and Max are stuck in a motel in the early hours of the morning, and by Christmas morning, Rory has fixed both her relationship with Max and her parents.

Review
3.5 stars

This book started out great—a sexy hero, a heroine looking for a second chance, a cute dog, and forced proximity. It was, however, hard to get into the book because we don’t find out about Rory and Max’s history until midway through, so for a while, I felt like I was watching a movie with the sound off, having no idea why he was waiting outside her office, how Rory knew the dog, or what the cause of all the sexual tension between them was.

I also found the plot holes and gaps in information in the book really frustrating. I understand that novellas are hard to write, because a whole relationship has to be believably built in less than two hundred pages, but I hate it when things are mentioned in books and then disappear or are contradicted, or worse, when things don’t get explained at all. The first instance of this was Rory and Max’s crushes on each other. We find out that Rory crushed hard on Max in high school, yet somehow she’s fine basically ruining his life back then to save hers? And though Max hates her for what she’s done, he is also supposedly in love with Rory, visits her at work all the time, checks on her, but remains oblivious to his feelings until he’s in bed with her, and then suddenly, he wants a relationship with her. Like, what?! Too fast, too fast! Rewind! Also, I’m a bit over the alpha male-discovers-he-has-feels-trope. Emotional intelligence needs to be the theme of romance in 2019.

There is also the issue of Max’s sister, who calls Max on speaker while he and Rory are driving and implores him to ask out the next woman he feels attracted to. This just felt like too much of a set-up. Again, I know time is of the essence in novellas, but this was just too cheesy! We also don’t find out why she’s saying that in the first place. Is it because he’s been pining for Rory? Other reasons? Let a bitch know!

However, the single biggest issue I had with this book is one that the romance community has discussed again and again: the prevalence of heroines who are made to seem more interesting because they have a history of sexual abuse or assault. Rory running away from home was more than enough to give her character some troubles to work through, but no, she also has to have had her drink spiked and maybe have been raped. I’m going to say it: CAN WE HAVE A HEROINE WHO HAS SOME ISSUES AND NOT HAVE HER ISSUES RELATED TO SOME VIOLENT ACT AGAINST HER BY A MAN? CAN WE? All I want for Christmas is a heroine troubled because her dog died, she broke her arm as a teenager and now she can’t achieve her tennis dreams, her best friend moved away and she wasn’t able to ever feel as close to anyone—basically, any backstory that gives the story some meat but doesn’t involve violence against women.

Now, there’s a part in the book where Rory very nicely shares her PB&J sandwich and hot cocoa with Max. It’s nice and sweet and free of issues, so I decided to use that scene as inspiration for the PB&J thumbprints I baked below. I based the recipe off Mark Bittman’s How to Bake Everything, one of the best Kindle Daily Deals I’ve scored this year. Eat these and forget about bad plot devices, confusing love, and blizzards.

Peanut Butter and Jelly Thumbprint Cookies
Makes about 20

IMG_3597

Ingredients
1 cup crunchy peanut butter
1/2 cup vegan butter
3/4 cup sugar (I used golden caster, but the recipe calls for granulated)
1 flax egg
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup soya milk
1/2 cup fruit jam (I used strawberry)

  1. Preheat the oven to 375F/190C. In a large electric stand mixture, cream together the peanut butter, vegan butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
  2. Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt in a separate bowl, then gradually add it to the butter mixture. Pour in the soya milk and mix on a medium speed until the mixture resembles large, pea-sized crumbs.
  3. Scoop 1.5 tablespoon’s worth of dough into your hands and roll into a ball. Press onto unlined baking sheets, making an indent the size of your thumb. Fill with jam. Bake 8-12 minutes until edges are just getting golden brown. Wait until cool, then eat. These will last 3-4 days in a sealed cookie tin.

 

Baking · Blog · Book Reviews · Contemporary Romance · Favourite Books · Reading · Recipes

12 Days of Holiday Romance Reviews and Recipes, Day 3: Wrapped by Rebekah Weatherspoon

37645241 I’m sorry to say I only just discovered Rebekah Weatherspoon’s wonderful, wonderful novels. I read Fit after hearing her interview on When in Romance and LOVED IT. I was hoping this book would be such as replete with steamy sex, hot, sensitive heroes and badass heroines, and it did not disappoint.

Synopsis
Shae Kenny isn’t looking for love when she finds her old colleague Aidan on an online dating app, but that’s exactly what she gets. Aidan is sweet, sensitive, and insanely hot, and even better, he’s been crushing on Shae for years, ever since they worked together and she would bring her homemade confectionary creations into the office.

Now, Shae runs her own bakery, and Aidan starts popping in every few days after their first date. Before long, they’re in love, but Shae is terrified. How can she be with Aidan when she’s still feeling the effects of her divorce? Thankfully, Aidan’s a fighter, and he’s not willing to let the sexiest, smartest, hottest baker he’s ever met go.

Review
5 stars

This book. This book was amazing. Rebekah Weatherspoon is hands-down one of the best contemporary romance authors out there right now. I honestly wouldn’t even be upset if you stopped reading this review and just went straight to Amazon and bought her entire catalogue.

However, if you’re still reading, let me tell you why I loved this book. It’s partly because Shae is a baker, and I love baking; it’s partly because Shae has amazing friends, and I’m a sucker for a romance with strong female friendships; and it’s partly because Aidan is the OG of sensitive heroes who are also ace in the bedroom and will shout their woman’s amazingness from the rooftops.

The relationship between Shae and Aidan builds so believably and so sweetly, and you can almost feel his love for her radiating off the page. There’s also a hot bit between them with some sexy photos that is dealt with the sexiest of consensual conversations. Most importantly, however, their first date is the most perfect first date I’ve ever read. They pick out a Christmas tree, buy ornaments, then go home to order takeout and watch Netflix. IDEAL.

While Shae was a great character, Aidan was my favourite. He’s just so inherently good. He fights for Shae when she has an attack of low confidence and second-guessing herself, works with her friends to see her, and he tells her he’ll always listen to her, including when she needs to vent about her husband. Aidan is the hero we all need, and I thank Rebekah Weatherspoon from the bottom of my ginger soul for creating him and reminding me and my fellow readers that good men exist in literature and in the world.

Shae is a fantastic baker, and at once point she makes Aidan the dessert he most missed while they were apart: her caramel crunch brownies. I’ve adapted a recipe from GoodHouskeeping for the ooiest, gooiest brownies topped with caramel. They’re decadent, perfect for a holiday party or just a rainy winter afternoon.

Vegan Caramel Brownies
makes about 10 slices

IMG_3583

Ingredients
For the brownies
125 ml vegetable oil
200 g dairy-free dark chocolate, roughly chopped
250 ml unsweetened almond or soya milk
200 g plain flour
50 g cocoa powder
100 g dark brown muscovado sugar
75 g golden caster sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt

For the caramel
75 g dark brown muscovado sugar
125 ml coconut milk

1/2 tbsp custard powder

Brownies:

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350F. Grease a 20.5cm (8 inch) round cake tin with some vegetable oil or line with parchment paper.
  2. Place the chopped chocolate in a heatproof glass bowl and place it over a small pan of gently simmering water. Allow to melt, then remove from the heat. Whisk in the oil and almond milk.
  3. In a large standing mixer, combine the flour, cocoa powder, sugars, baking powder and salt. Slowly whisk in the chocolate mixture until fully combined.
  4. Pour the mixture into the tin. Bake in the oven for 20-25min until a knife inserted into the middle comes out clean or with a few wet crumbs. Pour the caramel over the top and wait 20 minutes for it to set before cutting. Then, DEVOUR.

Caramel:

  1. Spread the sugar over the base of a non-stick frying pan and stir in 1 tablespoon of water. Pat the sugar and water together until the mixture covers the pan.
  2. Heat over a medium heat until melted, then mix in the coconut milk and custard powder and whisk, turning up the heat to boiling then down to simmer. Continue whisking until the caramel thickens, then take off the heat.