It has been a few long weeks since I’ve been in the bookstore and I am still bothered by that one particular book. I tend to choose books by their cover and title, and that day was no different. I noticed the book The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena and grabbed it. I turned it over, looking for the blurb and reviews. The story is about a couple who leave their baby alone in her crib while they attend a party next door, counting on a baby monitor to protect their child. They come back home to a missing baby and no leads. The setup sounds intriguing.
Although the book and the blurb were attractive, as well as the review, in the end I just couldn’t get over the fact that these parents left their baby alone—for a party. What kind of parent does that sort of thing? I was angry with the mother for being so careless. How can a mother gamble with the safety of her child to please her husband? The thought made me so angry that I just couldn’t bring myself to buy the book. I couldn’t see myself having any sympathy for the mother at any point.
Perhaps that says something about the reality of the situation. We hear of babies dying because parents forget them in a hot car in a parking lot at work. There are plenty of horror stories of negligence and tragedy in the news. I understand these horrors are very real. The question becomes do I want to read about such things? I’m afraid I’d be far too frustrated with the characters to empathize. So I’ll leave this one alone.
But what if I’m missing out on a good read. Maybe there’s some twist that makes the story amazing. It left me wondering, should I let go of my perceived morality and read the book or should I stick to my beliefs?
What kinds of things hold you back when you want to buy a book or watch a movie? Are there any moral dilemmas that are deal breakers for you? And what sort of things make you take a chance on a book?
Books are more than just a read.
I find writing and cooking to be similar in many ways. Both take creativity and passion. The process is grueling, requiring time and patience to complete revisions and edits and lots of taste tests and reviews. There are so many different palates out there, what one will love, another will hate.
The skill needed for both crafts is often underestimated. We have all written things in our lives. We often do it for work or perhaps we remember writing short stories in school. And we all cook, every day. We feed ourselves and our families. We think these are things that everyone can do. But both are crafts that get better with practice and information. In both writing and cooking I believe spice is the secret ingredient that elevates a dish or a manuscript.
Last week an old friend from Israel came to visit. She handed me a small gift, a basket containing five little bottles. “This is for you,” she said. “I thought it might come in handy while you are working on your cookbook.”
I was very excited. I couldn’t ask for a nicer, more thoughtful gift. And along with the spices, I got a story…
My friend, a certified skipper, arrived after crossing the Atlantic in a sailing yacht from the Canary Islands to the Caribbean on a 21 day excursion as part of a flotilla of 10 other yachts. While they were stopped at Grenada she quickly learned how important nutmeg is there. People call it Nutmeg Island as it’s their number one industry. I was enthralled by the history of nutmeg as countries tried to control the resource throughout centuries. It wasn’t until 1796 when the British took over the Moloccas and spread the cultivation of nutmeg to other East Indian islands and then to the Caribbean. Then they realized that Grenada had the perfect environment to grow nutmeg.
The story captivated me. Through the excitement and appreciation, however, I felt bad that she knew more about nutmeg than I did…although I was the one who aspired to be a chef. Research was in order. I rushed to find out all I could about nutmeg and here are the five most important things to know about this spice.
Nutmeg is a great asset to any chef. It is essential to béchamel sauce and also goes well with baked or roasted fruit. Many chefs use it in custards, eggnog, punches, pasta and vegetables dishes such as creamed spinach.
Spices are powerful. It’s amazing how a tiny pinch of any spice can make all the difference in a finished dish.
What are your favorite spices and herbs?
Here it comes again, the loved—or the dreaded—Valentine’s Day. It’s on everyone’s mind.
We’ve all been taught that the only recipe for Valentine’s Day is something for two. Singles tend to believe that they are outsiders and the holiday is not meant for them. Greeting cards and jewelry store commercials make it sound as if we are all in line for Cupid’s arrow.
However, Cupid—the god of desire, erotic love, attraction, and affection—shoots his arrows at the target of his choosing, and on his own schedule. Yet the holiday marketing targets couples for Valentine’s Day, even though some of us might not always have a date for February 14.
So on this Valentine’s Day, I wanted to offer my readers something special—something to warm everyone’s heart, whether you’re spending Valentine’s Day solo or with the one you love.
I racked my brain, trying to find a way to beat Cupid to the punch, or at least to shoot my own arrow…and if not at my readers’ hearts, then at their stomachs. I took this idea to my co-writer of my cookbook, Chef Johannes, and together we created a delicious chocolate martini made especially for you to enjoy on this Valentine’s Day, or any day.
And the best thing about this recipe…if you drink enough of these, you may even forget that it’s Valentine’s Day.
Chocolate Martini (1 Serving)
1 ounce Vanilla Vodka
1½ ounces Godiva Dark Chocolate liqueur
1½ ounces Crème de Cacao liqueur
½ ounce Grand Marnier
2 ounces Whipping Cream
4 ounces Cacao Powder for rim garnish
1 Orange for twist and wedge
Cut one orange wedge and run around the rim of martini glass. Tip: Hold the martini glass upside down to avoid orange juice from running into the glass.
Spread cacao powder evenly on a plate larger than the rim of the martini glass.
Lightly dip the rim in the chocolate powder to coat then chill the martini glass in freezer for 20-30 minutes. Tip: Glasses can be prepared in advance and kept in the freezer for a few days.
Mix vanilla vodka, Godiva liqueur, Crème de Cacao liqueur, Grand Marnier and whipping cream in a martini shaker with several ice cubes.
Shake and strain into the chilled martini glass. Tip: If you don’t have a martini glass, use whatever glass you prefer.
Optional, garnish with orange twist on the rim of the glass and sprinkle drink with cacao powder using a fine sieve.
We hope our arrow hits its mark and that our chocolate martini makes your Valentine’s Day the most memorable ever.
Michelle (& Chef Johannes)
Earlier in January, I wrote a blog about my collaboration with Chef Johannes Klapdohr, and our cookbook to be released later this year. The blog reached many followers and received numerous comments. As you know, I’m very particular about taking the time to answer each of you—I take your comments very seriously.
What might surprise you is the impact that you have on my work. One of my fans commented about the desire for gluten-free recipes. I was asked if we would consider including gluten-free options in our book.
My first reaction was to inform that fan that the cookbook wouldn’t follow a gluten-free diet—or any other particular diet for that matter. I thought the cookbook was unique enough with its connection to my novel, Pinnacle Lust. I was ready to explain that Chef Johannes and I have been working on this book for several months now and we’ve designed specific recipes to follow the novel itself.
But then I got to thinking: Why not listen to my fans? If one person asks for gluten-free recipes, there must be many others out there who could benefit from it. I should not waste the suggestion.
I quickly glanced over the recipes going into the cookbook and realized that actually we have several gluten-free recipes (like our delicious creamy hummus or the irresistible stuffed grape leaves cooked in red wine that you’ll have to try!).
Taking this reader’s comment to heart, I called Chef Johannes and asked his opinion of somehow putting the two together. Could we stick to our concept and still please individuals who are seeking gluten-free recipes? You bet. Chef Johannes’ creativity, knowledge, and understanding hit me again. “Of course. It’s simple,” he said. “We won’t add or change any recipes but just point out all the recipes that are gluten free.
Johannes and I have prided ourselves on creating recipes that will cater to all palates and cuisines, and are constantly looking for ways to make this book appeal to everyone. So why not add gluten-free options? Perhaps this will help our cookbook reach more people, as gluten-free recipes are very popular right now.
I would have never considered highlighting gluten-free dietary options in the book until my fan made that request. It just goes to show that reader’s comments are highly treasured. Thank you to everyone who reads my work, and even greater thanks to those who leave comments and suggestions!
Michelle (& Chef Johannes)