Shaking Things Up

I’ve been on vacation.

It was a much-needed, relaxing, and warm vacation in Hawaii and now I’m back home in New Jersey, freezing, sore from shoveling, and dealing with jet lag. But I’m not complaining–if that’s what it takes to go on vacation, sign me up.

So that’s why I haven’t posted in a few weeks, except for the #WATWB on the last Friday of 2017. But now I’m back with new energy and a couple new ideas for Reade and Write.

I would like to start an online book club. My idea is to host a book discussion on the last Tuesday of each month.

It wouldn’t start until March because I have the last Tuesdays booked up until then. But I figure that would just give us more time to read our first book. I’ll choose the first book and the second book, then take suggestions for the books after that. My plan is to ask readers to make book suggestions in the comments on the last Tuesday of the month, then I’ll pick a title out of a hat and schedule that book for two months later.

How does that sound to you? Would you be interested in participating?

Another idea I have is to make the first Tuesday of each month a day to share new recipes with readers. I figure this is a sneaky way to force me to put more new meals into my family’s monthly rotation. And I would love to share recipes that readers have tried, too. If you try a new recipe that’s a keeper (or if you have an old favorite that’s new to us!), email the recipe or the link to me at amymreadeauthor@gmail.com and I’ll print it in the first Tuesday’s post.

That leaves two, and sometimes three, posts in the middle of the month during which I’ll still showcase author interviews, book recommendations, and other posts. My goal is to inject some predictability into my weekly posting.

Do you have other ideas you’d like to see on Reade and Write? Please let me know in the comments below.

Here’s my pick for The Last Tuesday Book Club in March: The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro. It was written in 2013, so it should be available in most libraries.

Until next time,

Amy

 

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#WATWB is Taking a Holiday Break–But I Still Have a Story for You

Today is a double-whammy — not only is it the last Friday of the month, but it’s the last Friday of 2017. This event calls for a special article about good news that will (hopefully) take you into 2018 with a smile. And though the #WATWB is taking a break this month, I wanted to share a story about choosing happiness in the face of negative, even dire, circumstances. It takes a few minutes to read, but I hope you’ll read all of it because the message is both necessary and beautiful in its simplicity.

Click here to read the story.

Here’s how #WATWB works: On the last Friday of each month a number of bloggers participate in a blog hop in which each blogger highlights a story that spreads good news, happiness, and hope.

Because #WATWB is taking a break for the holidays, I don’t have a list of other blogs to send you to. But if you go onto social media and type in “#WATWB” you should be able to find other good news stories that will encourage you to choose joy.

I wish you and yours all the best in 2018. Happy new year!

Amy

 

A Tradition is Born

What I’m about to share with you, combined with last week’s post about a chocolate tasting, is going to give you the impression that I indulge my food fantasies every weekend.

But let me assure you of two things:

First, date nights are pretty rare around here; and

second, when my husband and I do have a date night, you’re far more likely to find us at Home Depot or cleaning the garage than at any restaurant.

But two Friday nights ago was an exception. We attended an annual Holiday Wine dinner featuring Dueling Sommeliers–it was so much fun that I wanted to share it with all of you (I will spare you the account of our most recent trip to Home Depot). It was the first such wine dinner we’ve attended, and I certainly hope it won’t be the last. As the title suggests, I hope we can do this every Christmas from now on.

The premise of the evening was simple: the restaurant (The Mad Batter in Cape May, New Jersey) provided a five-course menu to each of two sommeliers. They didn’t taste the food–they only saw the menu. Based on the descriptions of the dishes to be served, each sommelier decided on a wine for each course. Each of the guests was then provided with two glasses of wine with every course.

Yes, that’s ten glasses of wine. Not huge glasses, but much more than a taste. And yes, my husband drove. That means he didn’t drink all his wine.

And yes, it means that I finished what he didn’t drink.

So here’s what the menu looked like:

The first course was oysters. I looked at my husband and said, “Oysters? Eww. And beets? What are they thinking?”

But fried oysters? Hmm. I figured I could manage a teeny bite of those because…fried.

And they were so good. I got thinking, “If they can make oysters this good, I wonder how those beets taste.”

Let me explain something about beets. I am the person who, as a child, cried at the prospect of eating beets, insisting to anyone who would listen that I would throw up if made to eat them. But grated beets with horseradish? I don’t know if it was the heady atmosphere in the restaurant, or the two glasses of wine I was enjoying while I ate them, or simply that I have grown up, but those were the best darn beets in the world. I would eat beets all the time if they always tasted like that.

And what of the wines? I’m not going to describe them in detail here because I have a wines section on my website where I discuss my favorite wines (and I haven’t updated it since before this dinner), but I will tell you that, though I liked both, the Relax Bubbles were the clear winner in my opinion.

The second course was a truffled wild mushroom soup that was life-changing in a good way. I don’t like to throw around phrases like “life-changing,” but this soups fits the bill (FYI, the last time I said a food was life-changing, I was referring to Brown Cow whole milk maple yogurt and chocolate yogurt). The soup wasn’t entirely creamy–there was a little bit of texture and you can see the larger pieces of mushroom on the top.  It was earthy and salty-smoky, and just perfect for a snowy evening in Cape May.

The wine: I preferred the wine from Sardegna, though both were good. Also, I love to say the word “Sardegna.”

For the third course, we enjoyed a salad. And when I say “enjoyed,” what I really mean is that I’m pretty sure I heard angels singing while I ate it. It was absolutely delicious, and as a result of eating that salad I have requested that everything I eat from now on be wrapped in pancetta. And bonus: my husband hates bleu cheese, so I got his (hence the obscene amount of bleu cheese in the photo).

Wines: I actually couldn’t choose. They were both wonderful. I love pinot gris and I also love rose, so I didn’t force myself to pick a winner for the salad course.

The fourth course, the entree, was rabbit. I have had rabbit once before and it was delicious. Normally I am not a rabbit-eater (I got home and my daughter asked, “You ate Thumper??”). The couple next to me were vegetarians and they got salmon. Had I known salmon was an option, I would have chosen that. The rabbit was disappointing. It was tough and overcooked and one lady at my table couldn’t eat hers (my theory is this: I paid for it; I’m eating it whether I like it or not).  The saving grace of this course was the amazing fennel-celery puree on which the rabbit sat. If you had asked me three weeks ago if I wanted a fennel-celery puree or beets, I would have chosen to starve to death. But, like I said, I paid for it and I was going to eat it. And I’m so glad I did. The carrots were good, too. And who doesn’t love eating purple carrots?

Of the two wines, I preferred the one from Bordeaux. As a rule, I am not a Merlot drinker (I find it too heavy).

And finally, dessert. It was French toast (apparently, it’s not just for breakfast anymore). And though I had no earthly idea what “strawsling” was, I was game for anything at that point in the dinner. Turns out it’s a strawberry-infused Riesling. Makes sense when you look at the word “strawsling,” doesn’t it? But I have to be honest, not a lot was making sense to me by that time. I had enjoyed a lot of wine. The dessert was good, though if I had the opportunity to order it in the same restaurant again, I wouldn’t. I like my desserts to consist of some kind of chocolate.

And the wines were both delicious, though I preferred the German wine because it was sweeter. I’m not even going to attempt to say the name because I’ll butcher it, but if I ever see it in a wine store, you can bet I’ll get a bottle. Or two. Or four–whatever.

I hope you’ve enjoyed date night, though vicariously. One of the nice things about the evening was that the sommeliers chose wines that weren’t too expensive. They weren’t Two-Buck-Chuck (I’ve heard it’s now Three-Buck-Chuck), but they weren’t over-the-top, either. Any of them would be a great host or hostess gift, particularly at this time of year.

And speaking of this time of year, I will try to post next Tuesday, but no promises! I wish all of you health, happiness, and, if you celebrate, a merry Christmas!

Until next time,

Amy

The Forgotten Food Group

Anyone who knows me well also knows that I consider chocolate to be a food group unto itself.

And as many of you also know, I live near Cape May, New Jersey. Each December, Cape May’s Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts & Humanities (MAC) sponsors a spectacular array of events including everything from a Christmas traditions lecture – to evening Yuletide trolley tours to see the lights on the Victorian homes and inns in Cape May – to walking tours of historic Cape May inns – to something called a “Dickens Christmas Extravaganza” – to various and unforgettable food and wine events. If you want to see some of the things the MAC has to offer during the holiday season, you can check out their website here.

For many of the past years, we haven’t had the time to enjoy MAC holiday events. But my husband and I were finally able to attend the Chocolate Lovers’ Feast at The Blue Rose Inn about a week and a half ago. For about 90 minutes, we sat in one of the small Victorian dining rooms at the Inn and enjoyed learning about chocolate and sampling gourmet treats made with chocolate the restaurant sources from Europe.

I thought the menu would make a good blog post, so I’m sharing it with you here. Most of the seven courses featured a different type of chocolate, classified by both cocoa content and the plantation where the chocolate originated in France.

First, a look at the menu:

So here’s what the first course looked like:

It was one of the most unusual ways I’ve ever seen chocolate presented–with both sweet and savory elements included. Each of two crispy pieces of Honey & Chocolate Porter crostini were topped with a drizzle of Concord grape jam, watercress, three dollops of mascarpone, duck prosciutto, and dark (72% cocoa) chocolate shavings.

In a thousand years I would never think to put those ingredients together, but somehow they worked. I was impressed.

Second course:

Of the seven courses, this was my favorite. It was a white chocolate and Bailey’s Irish Cream pot de creme with a frothy topping of milk and tiny crumbles of dark chocolate cookies. We ate it with dainty little spoons that forced us to take small bites to savor and enjoy the dessert. If I had been at home, I’m embarrassed to say that I would have eaten the pot de creme in two bites, licked out the bowl, and gone for seconds.

Third course:

The mascarpone at The Blue Rose Inn is made in-house, as is everything else in the scratch kitchen. On its own, it is sublime. When combined with milk chocolate (47% cocoa) and made into a cheesecake that is paired with Bourbon cherries and a creme Anglaise, it is nothing short of heavenly. There was a kerfuffle at a nearby table because one of the guests didn’t want cherries soaked in alcohol; I would gladly have eaten her portion. Those little crumbles you see in the photo are bits of the cocoa Amaretti crust.

Fourth course:

Palate cleansers are not a thing at my house. If someone asked for a palate cleanser, I would laugh at them. But as part of a chocolatey Victorian experience, it is a must. And this sorbet, made with white chocolate and citrus, was perfect. It was tangy and not too sweet. I don’t know why I expected a sorbet to be room temperature, but it wasn’t. The rest of you probably would have known that already, but I can be a bit dense sometimes.

Fifth course:

This is going to sound like Francophobic vitriol and I hereby apologize to everyone in France, but I do not care for macarons. I know, Mon dieu! But it is the truth. This was one course I did not enjoy. The macarons I have tasted lack strength of flavor, and this one was no different (please note, these should not be confused with macaroons, which I could eat all day). And of all the nuts on earth, peanuts are perhaps my least favorite, so the macaron paired with frozen peanut semifreddo was lackluster. I could see, though, that I was one of the only ones in the room who did not find the dish delectable. P.S. the cranberry coulis was delicious and I would top every Thanksgiving food with it if I could.

Sixth course:

This was an interesting addition to the feast. I know coffee and chocolate are traditional pairings, and I also know that a bit of strong coffee or espresso will bring out the chocolate flavor of a dessert. But I don’t add coffee to my chocolate desserts for a reason: I do not like the taste of strong coffee (I have coffee on most days, and I add enough sugar and half-and-half so that it tastes something like ice cream). This offering was not what I would have chosen, as the coffee was pretty strong. But the cake itself was dense and tasty and the mascarpone, as I already mentioned, was wonderful.

Seventh and final course:

The Blue Rose Inn was brilliant to send us off with a holiday classic–hot chocolate. It was the perfect way to fend off the afternoon chill and the wind that greeted us when we left to return to our normal lives. And this hot chocolate was something special. Made with dark (72% cocoa) chocolate and topped with Chantilly cream, it wasn’t too hot, too cold, too sweet, or too strong. It was, in a word, perfect. I have used sweetened whipped cream a million times in my own kitchen and never knew there was another name for it. From now on I shall call it “Chantilly Cream” and make people think I was trained in Paris. And the meringue and ginger cookie that accompanied the drink? Magnifique.

I should note that on the way home, my husband and I each got a free Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup from the gas station/convenience store down the road from our house. We didn’t eat them that day, but they’re gone now and they were delicious, too. To be honest, they’re really more our speed. But our afternoon in Cape May was a great memory and we’re glad we experienced it.

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about my brief culinary adventure. Next week I’m going to take you on a vicarious wine dinner that we also enjoyed as part of the Cape May MAC festivities.

Until next time,

Amy

The 12 Slays of Christmas is Here!

Today’s the day–The 12 Slays of Christmas is live!

Thanks to everyone who has preordered the set and to everyone who plans to order it. We’re very excited to be donating all the proceeds from the sale of the set to pets displaced by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. If you haven’t ordered a copy yet, you can click this link and it’ll take you to our website, where you can click to order the set for 99¢ on your ereader of choice.

Anyone who gets my newsletter will find this post redundant–I’m too tired at this point to come up with something sparkly and new!

I’ll be back here next Tuesday with a recap of a chocolate tasting I attended last weekend, so stay tuned!

Until next time,

Amy

Never read my newsletter?

Lynne Fellows, a fellow member of Mystery Authors International, shares some picks for reading this December. And, ahem, The 12 Slays of Christmas just might be on the list…

Lynne has a great description of what the advent season brings in Spain. I’d love to see it in person someday!

Just 4 My Books

To be honest, you’re not alone.

This newsletter lark is a relatively new thing for me, and I thought I’d share the latest one with you because

From me to you at Christmastime.

It’s December already, where did the year go? Are you busy making plans for the holidays? I won’t keep you long.
Here in Spain, things are a little more relaxed. Okay, so isn’t everything? Christmas is not as commercialised as back in the UK; in fact when I first moved over here you couldn’t find Christmas decorations or a Santa’s Grotto anywhere. Of course, such tranquillity couldn’t last forever, and these days, at this time of year, Papá Noel is a more frequent sight. However, I’m delighted to say that the Spanish traditions are still the best part of Christmas for me.

Today, we’re off to the Plaza de la Constitución to see “Los Gigantes y Los…

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Book Lovers’ Tag

 

photo courtesy of ulleo/pixabay

Waaay back in October author and blogger Diana Peach published a blog called “A Book Lover’s Tag” (you can read it here) and I’ve been eager to play the game. Below is a list of questions in the game of Book Lover’s Tag. I encourage you to consider yourself tagged if you want to play! Just leave your responses in the comments below. And, like Diana, I will compile a list of favorite books and post it at a later date. Enjoy!

Do you have a specific place for reading?

No. I will read anywhere and everywhere. I’ve read in doctors’ offices, hospitals, schools, cars, buses, my bed, my couch, my desk, the patio, the beach, the pool, other people’s houses, parking lots, libraries, and the list goes on and on. You get the point.

Bookmark or random piece of paper?

Yes! I use anything at hand, whether it’s a bookmark or any piece of paper. I’ve also been known to use candy wrappers, nail files, my Kindle, ribbon, pens, etc.

Do you eat or drink while reading?

Not usually. I don’t want to get drips or spills on what I’m reading.

Music or tv while reading?

No! The only time I can tolerate that is when I’m in the car (as a passenger, not the driver!) and the rest of the occupants vote for music. Even then, I can only read magazines, not books.

One book at a time or several?

Several. Usually three.

Do you prefer to read at home or elsewhere?

I prefer to read at home, but I’ll read anywhere.

Read out loud or silently?

Silently, unless I’m reading non-fiction and it’s something I need to remember.

Do you read ahead or skip pages?

I try not to, but sometimes I just can’t bear to wait to see what happens next.

Break the spine or keep it like new?

I would love to keep my books like new, but I always end up breaking the spine. Well-used books are well-loved books.

Do you write in books?

Not usually.

What books are you reading now?

Whose Body? by Dorothy L. Sayers, Fifty Shades of Cabernet (a mystery anthology), and The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson.

What is your childhood favorite book?

That depends on what part of childhood you’re talking about. By the time I was eight I loved the Nancy Drew mysteries and I remember those very fondly. I also loved The Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

What is your all-time favorite book?

I would say it’s a three-way tie: Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway, and Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. And, of course, I love anything by Phyllis Whitney (my favorite is Black Amber) and M.C. Beaton, author of the Agatha Raisin and Hamish Macbeth series.

Tag, you’re it!

Until next time,

Amy