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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

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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.

 

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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

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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.

 

 

 

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

12 Days of Holiday Romance Reviews and Recipes, Day 2: I Will by Lisa Kleypas

Lisa Kleypas is definitely one of the authors I turn to when I need a good historical romance. She’s actually one of the first romance authors I read, and she’s remained a firm favourite. I Will, however, was a bit of a disappointment. The hero was a jerk, there was a noticeable lack of consent, and it just didn’t fill me with the squee that a normal holiday historical does.

Synopsis

Andrew, aka Lord Drake, is about to be cut out of his father’s will so he needs to find a lady who can save his reputation by pretending to be his betrothed. Miss Caroline Hargreaves fits the bill perfectly—a noted spinster, her brother is also deeply in debt, and Andrew is willing to forgive those debts if Carolina agrees to help him. But of course, drama ensues, which tears the budding lovers apart before throwing them back together again, where they realize that they’re both pretty attractive and live HEA, much to my disappointment because they’re both not great humans.

31572877Review
2.5 stars

First of all, I wouldn’t really class it as a Christmas romance, since more than half the book takes place in the spring/summer/fall. I actually got a bit confused part of the way through, thinking that maybe I’d downloaded the wrong book, when I read mentions of cool spring breezes and roses. Surely that can’t be just seasonal confusion? But no, Goodreads confirmed that this is a “Christmas novella.”

This book contains one of my favourite tropes: forced proximity. Give me two people who are forced to spend inordinate amounts of time together and, in the process, fall slowly in like/lust/love, and I’m a happy woman. However, what I thought was going to be a weekend holiday party replete with kissing in the corner and perhaps a sneaky session in the guest bedroom turned out to be completely bereft of any sexy times except for a stomach-churning nonconsensual scene. It isn’t even clear if the characters really like each other until about 75% of the way through the book, which means I didn’t fully believe the HEA.

The hero, Lord Drake, also seems like an irredeemable asshole for most of the book. He’s the main reason why Caroline’s brother, Cade, is in debt up to his eyeballs, because Drake keeps carting him to every gaming hell in town and, as he says, “I don’t give a damn who gets dragged down with me.” I’m all for a grumpy alpha male who ends up having feels, but no matter what, they have to treat their friends well. I can’t sympathize with a hero who doesn’t value his friendships.

My main issue with the novella, however, came during the rape scene (no way am I calling that nonconsensual bullshit a sex scene). Caroline makes it very clear that she plans to seduce Lord Drake no matter what. She says “I am going to make love to you, right now, on this bed, while you are helpless to prevent it.” This is not consensual! Sure, Drake gets into it and the sex becomes consensual, but Caroline’s intentions don’t start out that way. She plans to take advantage of him until he tells her what she wants to her, and that.is.not.okay. It’s 2018. Consent in romance is mandatory.

Other than that huge, glaring issue, the main problem with this book is that it’s just a bit boring. Not much happens until the very end, and that non-consensual drama puts a downer on any expectations readers might have that things might start getting juicy, romantic, and real. There are so many good Christmas romance novels out there, so save yourself the time and money, and go read one of them and give this one a miss.

To cheer myself up after this face-palm of a book, I made the Vegan Gingerbread People from BBCGoodFood, because gingerbread people are warm, comforting, and, I like to think, would never try to have non-consensual sex with each other for their own personal gains. Below is my adapted recipe. Bake them, decorate them, and have wonderful daydreams of happy historicals.
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Vegan Gingerbread Shapes
adapted from BBCGoodFood

Makes 50 small shapes, 25 large ones

Ingredients
For the cookies:
1 flax egg
400g plain flour (1 and 2/3 cup) plus extra for dusting
200 g vegan butter (about 1 cup)
2 tbsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
200 g dark muscovado sugar (about 1 cup)
50 g agave nectar, honey (if not vegan) or maple syrup (about 1/3 cup)
100 ml soy milk (about 1/2 cup)

For the icing:
3 cups icing sugar
6 tablespoons water
food colouring as needed

1. Preheat oven to 180C/ 350F. In a large bowl, rub together the flour and butter until it resembles crumbs. Add the spices and whisk to combine.
2. In a small bowl, whisk together the sugar, agave, milk and flax egg and pour over the flour mixture.
3. Using your hands, knead the dough until it comes together. It will be smooth and buttery.
4. Scatter some flour on a clean surface and roll the dough out. It will be very sticky, so dust flour on the rolling pin and on top of the dough to ease the rolling process. Cut out shapes and bake on a parchment-lined baking sheet for 10-12 minutes until just starting to brown around the edges.
5. Once the cookies have completely cooled, clean your work surface to prepare for the fun part: icing! Mix the icing and set aside a few bowls. Add a few tablespoons of icing into each, then add droplets of food colouring until you’ve achieved your desired colours. Using a piping bag or knife, spread the icing onto the cookies. They’ll be dry but still tacky in 10 minutes. Eat, and enjoy! These keep for about 4 days in a sealed cookie tin.

 

 

Baking · Blog · Book Reviews · Contemporary Romance · Recipes

12 Days of Holiday Romances and Recipes, Day 1: The Best Worst Holiday Party Ever by Olivia Waite

27503662To kick off this fest of love and good food, I chose Olivia Waite’s The Best Worst Holiday Party Ever. I initially heard about the book on Twitter and it sounded way too good to pass up, plus, Olivia Waite is a new author to me, and I wanted to sample some of her work.

Synopsis

Isobel is a passionate wine aficionado working her way toward a Sommelier qualification. Her jerky friend Owen invites her to a holiday as a guest—or so she thinks. But when Isobel shows up and Owen directs her to the kitchen, she realizes that she’s been invited not to enjoy the party splendour, but to serve the guests. Thankfully, she meets Owen, a hot accountant and amateur piano player she has a brief rendezvous in the cellar with. They bond over their shared hatred of Ernest, Isobel’s asshole friend and Owen’s boss, and by the end of the night, they’re smitten.

Review
4.5 stars

I really liked this book. Novellas that are this short often leave much to be desired in the way of plot, but this supplied enough background to get to know the characters as well as a believable progression in their relationship to where I could absolutely believe in their attraction to each other. I was left wanting more, but that happens with pretty much every novella I read. I’d highly recommend this book if you’re looking for a short, sweet novella to get you in the holiday mood.

I also loved the little details that the author included in the book. The chapter titles were inspired by music, a nod to Owen’s piano playing, and wine knowledge was littered throughout.

Olivia Waite is a talented author, and I can’t wait to read more of her books. If she wanted to do a sequel to The Best Worst Holiday Party Ever that shows us where Isobel and Owen are now, I also wouldn’t mind.

The back of the book features a delectable mulled wine recipe, so I decided to craft some cookies to go along with it. The microwave version of the mulled wine recipe and cookie recipe are both printed below.

Swedish Pepparkakor
Makes about 20

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Ingredients

60g (about 1/4 cup) vegan butter
75g (about 1/3 cup) dark brown sugar
2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp finely grated orange zest
1 tbsp black treacle
2-4 tbsp almond or soya milk
225g (1-3/4 cup) plain flour
½ tsp baking soda

  1. Cream the butter and sugar in the bowl of a large stand mixer. Add the spices, black treacle and orange zest and combine, then add in the soya milk.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour and bicarbonate of soda. Slowly add it to the wet mixture until mostly combined, then turn the power off and knead the mixture by hand until completely mixed, adding a dash more soya milk if needed, but be sure not to make it too sticky.
  3. Refrigerate the dough covered in plastic wrap for an hour.
  4. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F. Grease two cookie sheets. Roll out the dough until thin and then, using a rounded drinking glass dipped in flour, cut out circles from the dough. Bake one inch apart for 12 minutes. The cookies will harden as they cool.

 

Isobel’s Mulled Wine
Makes enough for 2 people

Ingredients
1 bottle red wine, not too fancy
1/2 lime, sliced into wedges
2 whole sticks cinnamon
splash of elderflower or other sweet liqueur
plenty of honey, nutmeg and spices to taste
anything else you think might be delicious

1. Fill two mugs two-thirds full with wine. Add other ingredients and stir until well blended. Heat on high for two minutes or until steaming. Let cool, remove lime wedges, and enjoy

 

 

Baking · Blog · Book Reviews · Reading

12 Days of Holiday Romance Reviews and Recipes coming soon!

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This holiday season, I’ve decided to celebrate by combining my two favourite activities, reading romance and baking, into one super 12-day challenge. From December 10th to the 21st, each day I’ll review a holiday romance and share a scrummy sweet recipe. I’ve carefully chosen the books to cover a broad range of romance sub-genres, including historical, sports romance, alpha male, Western, and small town. I’ll be reviewing works both from authors I know and love and new ones I’ve never read before. The recipes I share will go along with the books, either directly inspired by food eaten by the book characters or goodies I think would go well with a reading of the book itself. Come join me for this festive challenge, and check back in on December 10th for my first review and recipe!

Blog · Roundup · Travelling

Where to Eat Vegan in Dublin, Ireland

Earlier this year I moved to Dublin, Ireland for work. I spent nine months there, and during that time explored the city and all of its vegan offerings. Below are some of my favourite restaurants and my tips for eating vegan in Dublin.

McGuinness Traditional Take-Away

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The Vegan Menu at McGuiness Traditional Takeaway

This restaurant smack dab in the middle of busy Camden Street is a drunk vegan’s paradise. McGuiness’ has vegan junk food, as well as non-vegan food, meaning you don’t have to send your friends to a different kebab stand while you forage for provisions. I recommend the combo, which gives you vegan chicken nuggets, onion rings and a battered sausage. Their curry chips are also amazing.

 

Happy Food Cafe

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The Vegan Pulled Pork from Happy Food. Courtesy of Happy Food Facebook Page. 

Connected to my favourite yoga studio in Dublin, Happy Food is excellent at utilising fresh produce to make everything from pulled pork to smoothies and raw dessert. It’s expensive, so save your ha’pennies and spend a leisurely Saturday brunching here. Pop by one of their yin yoga classes too and you’ve got yourself an ideal weekend.

 

Sova Vegan Butcher

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The Seitan Kebab, Pulled Por Bap and Green Smoothie from Sova Vegan Butcher

Vital wheat gluten is expensive in Ireland, so the best way to get your seitan fix is heading to Sova Vegan Butcher for amazing vegan seitan burgers and kebabs. The smoothies here are also delicious.

 

M&L Chinese Food

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Photo courtesy of Totally Dublin.

If there was one restaurant I would’ve happily eaten at every single week in Dublin, it would’ve been M&L. Every one of their vegan dishes is amazing, and the portions are big enough that you’ll definitely have leftovers. My favourites are the Tofu in Homemade Sauce and the fried eggplant.

Dragon Inn, Christchurch
If you’re looking for a Chinese takeaway to satisfy your vegan needs, look no further. Dragon Inn has the best fried mushrooms I’ve ever had and their tofu dishes are lip-smackingly good. They’re also cheap as well, which is unusual in Dublin, one of the world’s most expensive cities.

If you’re in Dublin and looking for cheap vegan grocery options, check out Lidl and Aldi for inexpensive produce and grains, and for specialty items, go to Asia Market, where you can find cheap tofu, noodles, spices and tea. Their ramen section is also amazing and very, very cheap.

 

 

Baking · Blog · Recipes

Oatmeal Peanut Butter Cookies

It only figures that my first recipe after a serious blogging hiatus features peanut butter, my lifeblood, my chosen food, the nut butter of my dreams. Peanut butter cookies are, to me, the ultimate afternoon snack. They remind me of homework, elementary school and autumn days that get dark too quickly. I whipped these cookies up a few weeks ago when we were in England and I had a new jar of Whole Earth just waiting to be used. This recipe makes a huge batch, so share with friends and neighbours or hoard them for yourself. Either way, they’re delicious!

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Oatmeal Peanut Butter Cookies

Makes about 48

I love using oatmeal in cookies to add chewyness and a bit more wholegrain goodness, and these cookies are the perfect chewy, peanutty things to bring to a bake sale, party, or even just the office. The peanut butter and two kinds of sugars blend together with the vanilla extract to form a subtly flavored, chewy delicacy that’s perfect with a glass of almond milk or a cup of tea.

Ingredients

1⁄2 cup vegan butter
1⁄2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup crunchy peanut butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup dark brown muscovado sugar
2 flax eggs
1 tablespoon non-dairy milk
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon honey or agave nectar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup oatmeal (Scottish porridge oats work great here)

  1. Preheat your oven to 350F/170C. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.
  2. In the bowl of a large stand mixer, add all ingredients except the flour and oats, and mix to combine, scraping the sides of the bowl occasionally.
  3. Add the flour and continue mixing until a smooth batter is formed—there will be some lumps, but they’ll be from the oatmeal and the peanuts in the peanut butter, so ensure the lumps you see aren’t packed brown sugar. If they are brown sugar, smash the lumps with the round side of a spoon and mix again.
  4. Using a tablespoon, scoop the cookie dough onto a baking sheet, leaving 1.5-2inches of space in between each scoop to allow the cookies to spread. Flatten the cookies using the tines of a fork, making a criss-cross pattern.
  5. Bake 12-15 minutes, taking the cookies out when they are golden brown and have spread to about 4 inches in diameter.
  6. Allow cookies to cool on the baking sheet for ten minutes before serving or storing in a cookie tin.

These will keep for 2-3 days in a sealed tin. They get a bit hard after that, though I’ve found that if you dip them in some milky tea or hot chocolate, they soften right back up again. Make these and let me know what you think!