Cover Reveal AND Reading Round-Up

First things first. Yesterday my newsletter subscribers got the first look at the cover of my next book, Cape Menace: A Cape May Historical Mystery, and now it’s time to share it here! This is the first book in my new Cape May Historical Mystery Collection, a collection of standalone mysteries set throughout the history of Cape May, New Jersey.

Here’s the blurb of the new book, which will be available for pre-order soon (don’t worry—I’ll get all the details to you!):

The year is 1714. Two years have passed since Ruth Hanover vanished into the wilderness of the New Jersey colony without a trace, leaving behind her husband, William, and their daughter, Sarah. Though William and Sarah have never stopped hoping that Ruth will return, as time goes by it becomes less and less likely they will ever see her again.

Now William is acting strangely. He won’t tell Sarah why he’s conducting business with a mysterious stranger in the middle of the night, he won’t explain the sudden increase in his income, and he won’t share with her what people in town are saying about her mother’s disappearance.

When the time comes for Sarah to face her father’s secrets and figure out why her mother never came home that December day in 1712, what she learns will shock her tiny community on the New Jersey cape and leave her fighting for her life.

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And here’s the cover!

I hope you love it as much as I do.

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And now it’s time for the Reading Round-Up. I never did post at the end of March, so this month I’ll share some of the reads I really enjoyed over the past 60 days. I thought I’d get more reading done because of the quarantine, but I was wrong. My reading schedule hasn’t changed much—this is actually good, since it means I’m sticking to my routine. Reading is always a part of my day, but so are a lot of other things, and that hasn’t changed.

Every book in this round-up gets 5 stars from me, and I will not share the only book I didn’t like.

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First up, No One Will Find Me by Marja McGraw. I loved this book, as I have loved all the other books in the Sandi Webster series. Set in the desert of the American southwest, this mystery follows Sandi, her husband, their friends Stanley and Felicity, and Sandi’s parents as they search for a serial killer who’s gotten away with murder for many years. Read my review here.

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Sprinkle with Murder, book 1 in the Cupcake Bakery Mysteries by Jenn McKinlay, was a fun cozy read that introduced readers to Mel and Angie, co-owners of the new Fairy Tale Cupcakes Bakery. Mel is accused of murdering the nightmare fiancee of one of her best friends, and the story unfolds delightfully from there. Read my review here.

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If you like thrillers, do yourself a favor and read this book. Ann Cleeves has done a fabulous job of putting the reader smack into the action of Raven Black, a whodunit that takes place on a remote Scottish island. Read my review here.

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This is the second book I’ve read by Bibiana Krall, and it was a superb and spellbinding tale of legend, paranormal suspense, and Irish folklore. I love the way Krall uses language to bring urgency and horror to Loftus Hall, Book 2 in the Irish Phantom series. Read my review here.

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Poison Branches is the first in the Perri Seamore series of genealogical mysteries by author Cynthia Raleigh. Main character Perri Seamore is off on a girls’ weekend and she’s combined it with a research trip to Kentucky to find information about her ancestors. When a murder takes place in the small town where Perri is staying, she is drawn into the investigation because the police need her expertise in ancestry research to find the murderer. Read my review here.

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I have read several of Sally’s books, and they’re always a treat. She has shown time and again, both in books and on her blog, that her writing skills go way beyond one genre or one kind of poetry. Life’s Rich Tapestry is a celebration of writing, of inspiration, of human nature, and of the natural world. But there’s so much more, and you’ll have to read it to fully appreciate Sally’s talents and wisdom. Read my review here.

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Every time I read a book of psychological suspense, I love the genre more. And The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides was no exception. If you’re looking for something that you can read quickly (because you’ll have no choice—you can’t stop turning pages), check out this novel. Read my review here.

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Please remember to review the books you read! Reviews are important for authors and we appreciate every single one.

Until next time,

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