Book Review: Yerba Buena by Nina LaCour

Book Review: Yerba Buena by Nina LaCour

yerba buena, book review, lgbtq fiction

Sara Foster grew up too fast. After her first love is found dead in the Russian River, sixteen-year-old Sara becomes a runaway, leaving her life of parental neglect to head to LA, doing things she would have once thought unthinkable to just to make it there. Once in Los Angeles, she takes an entry level job in a restaurant and, over the years, works her way up until she is the most sought after bartender in the city, known for her intuitive and artistic cocktails.

Emilie Dubois doesn’t know how to grow up. A seventh year college senior, she has had five different majors and has spent five years working at her best friend’s family business as a receptionist. When she’s surprised with a five-year work anniversary cake, she is startled to find she’s spent so much time standing still. Impulsively, she quits her job and becomes a florist. There she begins making floral arrangements for the hottest restaurants in town, including her family’s favorite restaurant, Yerba Buena.

Sara is working as a consultant, helping Yerba Buena develop a line of signature cocktails, when she first meets Emilie. There is an instant attraction between the two women, but Emilie is having an affair with the married owner of Yerba Buena, and it is not meant to be. Over the years, Emilie and Sara have a few chance encounters until they reach a place where they can begin a relationship. However, when a family emergency draws Sara back to her hometown, her new relationship with Emilie seems threatened.

This wasn’t the book I thought it would be. I expected Yerba Buena, the first adult novel of a YA author, to be a lesbian romance, not without depth but fairly uncomplicated. I was wrong. In the best possible way. Yerba Buena is a coming of age story. It’s about overcoming family trauma to become yourself again. It’s about socioeconomic class, opportunity, adverse childhood experiences, and hope. And if, like me, you are a romantic, there is still a love story in the background.

Yerba buena is an herb, a member of the mint family, most closely related to spearmint. The herb features in the stories of both women, and is alleged to have healing properties. And, at its heart, this is a novel about healing. Ultimately, both women need to make peace with their pasts and make decisions about their futures before they are able to plan a life together.

I would recommend Yerba Buena to readers who love literary fiction, LGBT stories, coming of age stories, and family stories. Most of all, I would recommend this to people who haven’t read many novels from a lesbian point of view but are interested in doing so.

Suggestions for beverages while reading:

For a tea option, you can make a tea with fresh leaves of yerba buena (or any mint). The characters drink tea from fresh yerba buena in a few spots of the novel. To make your own, steep 2 springs of mint in 1.5 cups of boiling water for 3 to 5 minutes. Add honey if desired.

For either a cocktail or mocktail to pair with the novel, see these recipes developed by the author’s wife, both of which are featured in the novel.

Saffron Shrimp Sheet Pan Dinner

Saffron Shrimp Sheet Pan Dinner

This is a simple dinner that goes well with a glass of white wine on a summer night. Enjoy!

Saffron Shrimp Sheet Pan Dinner

Wine Pairing: Albariño.

Ingredients

  • 1 lb potatoes, diced
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • Salt and pepper
  • 4 ears of corn
  • 1 cup green beans, trimmed
  • 1 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • Pinch of saffron
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil
  • Lemon wedges for serving

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 400.
  2. In a medium bowl, toss the potatoes with a small amount of oil. Add salt, pepper, and paprika and mix well.
  3. Spread the potato mixture in a sheet pan lined with foil or parchment paper and roast for 15 minutes.
  4. Cut the kernels off of 4 ears of corn. In a bowl, toss corn kernels and green beans with a small amount of olive oil.
  5. After the potatoes have roasted for 15 minutes, remove from oven and stir. Add the corn and green beans. Return to oven for 5 minutes.
  6. Remove the sheet pan from the oven. Mix the shrimp into the vegetable mixture and add sprinkle with a pinch of saffron. Salt lightly.
  7. Turn on the broiler. Place the sheet pan back in the oven and broil for 3 to 5 minutes or until the shrimp is opaque.
  8. Serve with lemon wedges.
Vegan Ceviche Stuffed Avocados

Vegan Ceviche Stuffed Avocados

Once I decided I would select Albariño as my first wine for recipe pairings, I knew I had to create a ceviche. There was just one problem.

I’m just too Midwestern. Coastal home cooks can just pop off to their local fish market and select the freshest seafood for their ceviche. Here in Metro Detroit, seafood comes from the supermarket and all of it is previously frozen. I never know how fresh my seafood is, so to create a recipe centered around raw seafood is questionable at best.

And then I read that hearts of palm make a great vegan seafood substitute, similar to how jackfruit can be a vegan pulled pork alternative. I was intrigued and knew I had my solution to the ceviche dilemma.

Would I mistake the hearts of palm for scallops or fish in this recipe? Honestly, I don’t think so (although I was expecting the hearts of palm flavor, so it was hardly a blind test), but I will say this vegan ceviche is delicious and that’s what matters. Serving it on an avocado half elevates it to an elegant appetizer.

If you have never had hearts of palm, you’ll look for it in the canned vegetable aisle. It is tender with a mild flavor and tastes a little like artichoke hearts.

Hope you enjoy!

Vegan Ceviche Stuffed Avocados

  • Servings: 4 entrees or 8 appetizers
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print
Wine Pairing: Albariño.

Ingredients

  • 1 can hearts of palm (14 oz), drained and chopped
  • 1 tomato, chopped
  • ½ bell pepper, chopped
  • ½ cucumber, chopped
  • ⅓ red onion, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon jalapeno, seeded and minced (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
  • Juice of 2 limes
  • Salt
  • 2 Hass avocados (or 4 small avocados, if serving as an appetizer)
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • Tortilla chips for serving

Directions

  1. Combine the first nine ingredients in a bowl.
  2. Halve the avocados and scoop out of the peel. Tutorial here.
  3. Place avocado halves on plates and top with the ceviche mix and freshly ground black pepper.
  4. Serve with tortilla chips on the side.
Cheesy Crab Tostadas

Cheesy Crab Tostadas

crab tostada, seafood appetizer, appetizer, wine pairing, albarino

I was in college the first time I tried crab. There are two reasons for this. The first was I didn’t come from a seafood eating family. My sister and I both believed that Red Lobster commercials were the grossest thing on TV, and we had no desire to eat crustaceans. (We have since both repented of this.) The second was I was the pickiest eater alive as a child. Today, I am excited by new foods but once upon a time, new foods gave me anxiety. I also rejected things based on smell, and seafood is nothing if not smelly. When I married into a family of picky eaters, I couldn’t help but feel that this was punishment for what I put my mother through when I was a child.

Therefore, I was 21 and a senior in college the first time I tried crab. Reader, it was instant love. Nevermind, that it was merely crab cakes I tried as an experiment while on spring break in Florida (I tried actual crab legs soon after), I immediately understood that I had denied myself something delicious for two full decades of my life.

These tostadas are a casual weeknight-friendly way to eat crab. If your grocery bills aren’t giving you as much pain as mine are, feel free to increase the amount of crab in the recipe and decrease the veggies. As written, this recipe is fairly mild. For a spicier version, add more jalapeno and use a hotter pico de gallo. Like all of the recipes to be posted in June, these tostadas will pair perfectly with Albariño.

Cheesy Crab Tostadas

  • Servings: 4 dinner portions or 8 appetizer portions
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print
Wine Pairing: Albariño.

Ingredients

  • 8 corn tortillas
  • Non-stick cooking spray
  • 12 oz crab meat (2 6-oz cans)
  • ½ cup jicama, diced
  • ½ cup red bell pepper, diced
  • ⅓ cup celery, diced
  • 2 scallions, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons jalapeño, seeded and minced
  • ½ cup plain Greek yogurt (or ⅓ cup mayo)
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • Salt and pepper
  • Shredded cheese (Mexican 3-cheese blend)
  • Toppings: pico de gallo, diced avocado, cilantro

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400.
  2. Spray the tortillas with nonstick spray on both sides. Place in a single layer on one or two sheet pans. Bake for 5 minutes on one side. Flip tortillas and then bake for an additional 3 to 5 minutes.
  3. While your tortillas are baking, combine crabmeat, chopped vegetables, yogurt, lime juice, salt, and pepper in a bowl.
  4. Top your tortillas with crab salad mixture and shredded cheese. Bake for 3 to 5 minutes.
  5. Serve tostadas with pico de gallo, avocado slices, cilantro, and lime wedges.
Food and Wine Pairing: Albariño

Food and Wine Pairing: Albariño

Albariño, food and wine pairing, summer menu

In the northwest region of Spain, in Galicia, grows a white grape that is used to make the perfect summer wine. Albariño is a crisp white wine with flavors of citrus, honeydew, nectarine, honeysuckle and just a hint of salt. It is light in color and body, dry, and acidic. The white wine that Albariño is most similar to is Sauvignon Blanc, but Sauvignon Blanc is a bit more herbal in flavor than Albariño.1-3

While Albariño is predominantly grown in Spain, it is also grown in Portugal where it is known as Alvarinho. These days, you can also find Albariño from the US (California), Uruguay, Australia, Chile and Brazil. While Albariño may not be as common as some white wines, you can find it at any store with a decent wine selection, usually in the Spanish wine section. Prices tend to range from $12 to about $23 where I live (Metro Detroit). It is most commonly served young.1-3

Like one would expect from a dry and acidic white wine grown in a coastal region, Albariño pairs well with seafood. Think ceviche, fish tacos, and grilled seafood. It is not uncommon for dry white wines to pair well with fish and seafood; Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio pair similarly well with these foods and are easier to find in a grocery store. However, there are some instances where it is better to search out an Albariño rather than pick one of these more accessible wines. A unique thing about Albariño is it can handle a bit of spice, while most wines cannot. I wouldn’t pair it with anything extremely spicy (you’d want to pick a Riesling in that case), but it can hold its own with Cajun or Thai food or a seafood dish with a slight kick. Also, Albariño pairs well with herbs, so if your recipe uses pesto or chimichurri, you may want to seek out an Albariño.1-4

Seafood isn’t your only option with Albariño. It will also pair with light meats, soft cheese, semi-hard cheeses, herbs, and grilled vegetables. Consider it a to-go wine for a summertime tapas party.1-4

Recipes to Serve With Albariño:

Cheesy crab tostadas (Recipe here)

Vegan “ceviche” stuffed avocado (Recipe scheduled to post 6/15)

Saffron shrimp sheet pan dinner (Recipe here.)

How to Taste Wine: 

Step 1: Examine the color. First hold the wine up to the light, and then examine it against a white background (tablecloth, napkin, etc.). White wines range in color from pale straw to deep gold. Wine Folly has a great color chart on their website that can help you narrow down the shade of your vino. Other questions to ask yourself: Is the wine clear or opaque? Can other shades be seen along the edges of the glass? If the wine is browner near the rim, it may indicate the wine has been aged. If it’s pale near the rim, it may be a less flavorful wine. 5-7

Step 2: Swirl the wine glass. Yes, it looks snobby, but swirling your wine has two purposes: releasing aroma compounds and indicating alcohol levels. After you swirl, you will find there are tears running along the sides of the glass. These are called the legs. Is your wine a thick thighed gal? That indicates she has a higher alcohol level and you do not want to underestimate her.5-6

Step 3: Sniff. Note the distinctive aromas, which can be fruity, floral, herbal, or mineral. Take another sniff and see if you can identify new scents. Distinguishing aromas can be challenging. You might note that you smell berry, but you can’t identify which berry is triggering your scent memory. One way to simplify (or possibly complicate) the matter is to refer to the Davis Wine Aroma Wheel, which was created by Dr. Ann Noble, a chemist who retired from UC Davis.5-6, 8

Step 4: Taste. Your first sip should be swirled around your mouth so all the flavors are released. My first impression is always whether the taste matches the scent. White wines I usually find to be pretty consistent, but every now and then, I come across a red wine that smells like sweet ripened berries and tastes like gravel. Other things to note when tasting include acidity, sweetness, alcohol content, and tannins (wines with high tannins will “dry out” your tongue). The last thing is the wine’s finish. Do the flavors linger after your sip? If yes, your wine has a long finish. Is it a pleasant finish? Some wines may mellow out in the finish, while others taste delicious initially only to have an unpleasant finish.5-6

Step 5: Cheat. Okay, I made this step up. Wine tasting is subjective. You may taste pears while your dining companion tastes apples and vanilla. After I note my perceptions of both smell and taste, I like to read the notes on the wine bottle. If the wine doesn’t provide any notes on the back of the label, I Google wine reviews and learn what Wine Enthusiast had to say about it. I then take another sip and see if I now taste new flavors based on the tasting notes of others. This isn’t to see if I am right or wrong; there isn’t a right or wrong in wine tasting. For me, it’s about training my palate. Please don’t ever read tasting notes before you taste yourself, as you will only taste the flavors you anticipate that you will find.

Sources:

1Wine Folly: Albariño (Alvarinho). Accessed April 20, 2022.

2The Spruce Eats: What is Albariño Wine? Accessed May 26, 2022.

3The Grape Grind: All you need to know about Albariño. Accessed May 26, 2022.

4Dornenburg A and Page K. (2006.) What to Eat with What You Drink. (pp 203.) Voracious/Little, Brown and Company.

5Wine Enthusiast: How to Taste Wine. Accessed May 26, 2022.

6The Spruce Eats: How to Taste Wine Like a Professional. Accessed May 26, 2022.

7Wine Folly: The Wine Color Chart. Accessed May 18, 2022.

8The Wine Aroma Wheel Official Website. Accessed May 18, 2022.

Pride Month Reading List

Pride Month Reading List

It wasn’t long ago that fiction authored by LGBTQI+ authors was considered niche. It’s only over the last two decades that books celebrating gay and lesbian lives have become mainstream, and these are still the first books to be banned from schools. This recommended reading list includes literary, mainstream, historical, and YA fiction.

Happy Pride Month to all members of the LGBTQI+ community.

Less by Andrew Sean Greer

Not quite famous novelist Arthur Less desperately wants to get out of the country. He hasn’t committed a crime and he isn’t on the run, but he wants an iron clad reason not to attend his long term lover’s wedding. So he goes through his junk mail, accepting teaching appointments at random German universities, attending previously unheard of literary awards in Italy, taking on a food writing assignment in Japan, and agreeing to attend a friend of a friend’s birthday celebration in Morocco. During the course of his travels, Less accumulates a series of embarrassing moments, surprise victories, and flings. He prepares to turn fifty, thinking, “He has never seen another gay man age past fifty, none except Robert. He met them all at forty or so but never saw them make it much beyond; they died of AIDS, that generation. Less’s generation often feels like the first to explore the land beyond fifty.” Although Less has its serious moments and won the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, it is overall entertaining and perfect for your next beach vacation.

The Guncle by Steven Rowley

At age forty-three, Patrick is a retired sitcom actor who lives alone in Palm Springs. He has a Golden Globe and an Oscar Wilde quote for every occasion. What Patrick does not have is experience with children, and he is a stranger to his niece and nephew who simply know him as GUP (Gay Uncle Patrick). When Patrick’s sister-in-law and best friend, Sara, passes away, and his brother goes into rehab for a pill addiction that went unnoticed during Sara’s battle with cancer, Patrick finds himself temporary primary caregiver for nine-year-old Maisie and six-year-old Grant. Given that the kids don’t drink martinis, he’s not quite sure how to bond with them, and he definitely doesn’t know how to help them with their grief given that he has never recovered from losing his own partner years before. There are missteps and careless words aplenty, but Patrick finds he was made to be a guncle.

The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai

It is 1985, and the Boystown district of Chicago is in the midst of the AIDS epidemic. The Great Believers opens with Yale Tishman grieving the loss of his friend, Nico. Like many of the early AIDS casualties, Nico had his final medical decisions made by estranged family members, rather than those closest to him, and was given a funeral that reflected the values of his relatives rather than Nico’s own. With his partner Charlie, Yale attends a life celebration for Nico, and at this event, misunderstandings and jealousy destroy Yale and Charlie’s relationship. Yale comes to learn that his relationship was not safe and monogamous as he had always thought. The second storyline of The Great Believers follows Fiona, Nico’s sister, in the present day as she seeks out her estranged daughter in Paris. As Fiona searches for Claire, she stays with her friend, Richard, an artist preparing for a show that will honor his fallen friends from Chicago. The Great Believers is a powerful story, and Makkai’s writing is beautiful. As I was very young when the AIDS epidemic began, it took decades for me to understand how it affected an entire generation of gay men and how politics and the witholding of funds turned a public health issue into genocide.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

When Monique Grant, a struggling journalist at a crossroads in life, is given an opportunity to write a biography of classic movie star, Evelyn Hugo, she accepts. Hugo is a Hollywood legend, known for her sexy roles and her seven marriages, and Monique knows writing this book could change her life. Born Evelyn Herrera in Hell’s Kitchen, Evelyn leaves New York for Hollywood as a teenager. After changing her surname, losing her accent, and dying her hair blond, she finds success in the movie industry. Evelyn has both beauty and talent, but she learns that high profile marriages are as important to her career as appearing in high profile films. And if those high profile marriages turn abusive, a film icon never lets the adoring public know. What Monique comes to learn is that Evelyn has had seven husbands, but only one true love, who was definitely not one of her husbands. But Evelyn’s sexual orientation isn’t her only secret and her last revelation to Monique completely rewrites Monique’s understanding of her own past.

Life Mask by Emma Donoghue (historical fiction)

Eliza Farren, a well-known comedic actress of 18th century London, prizes her reputation above all else. Through sheer talent, she has been able to move from being an impoverished child thespian in the country to being one of the most well known faces in Drury Lane. While most actresses of the time relied upon aristocratic donors for economic security, Eliza is unwilling to become a man’s mistress. This is unfortunate for Eliza’s greatest admirer, Edward Smith-Stanley, the Earl of Derby. When Derby’s bored aristocratic friends put on an amateur play, he gets Eliza involved as advisor, which brings her into London’s aristocratic social sphere. As rehearsals go on, a friendship develops between Eliza, Derby, and the widowed sculptor Mrs. Anne Damer. The three maintain a close friendship until rumors spread that Eliza and Anne’s relationship is more than platonic. While Derby initially thinks the rumor is absurd, he grows jealous and demands that Eliza choose between him and Anne. Life Mask is intricately researched historical fiction, and Eliza, Derby, and Anne were real historical figures. It might not be for readers who get bored with too much historical detail, but I was totally immersed in the late 18th and early 19th century world.

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters (historical fiction)

Sue Trinder, the seventeen-year-old orphaned daughter of a convicted murderer, has been raised in Victorian London by Mrs. Sucksby, baby farmer and petty criminal. While Sue has grown up committing petty thefts and learning to transform stolen goods into new and unidentifiable goods, she has never known neglect or lack of love as Mrs. Sucksby’s favorite orphan. One day, a conman, simply known as “Gentleman,” shows up at Mrs. Suckby’s house with a proposal for Sue. Gentleman wants Sue to take a job as a lady’s maid to heiress, Maud Lilly, and convince Maud to elope with Gentleman. Once Maud and Gentleman are married and he has control over Maud’s fortune, he will then share a portion of the fortune with Sue. With Mrs. Sucksby’s permission, Sue agrees to the scheme. But once Sue is at Briar, she learns that Maud, like her, is seventeen and motherless. The two girls even look similar. Despite their differences in class and upbringing, Sue and Maud become close and Sue begins to realize her feelings for Maud are far from sisterly. She wants to extricate herself from Gentleman’s scheme, but she needs the money to repay Mrs. Sucksby for all that she has done for her, and she doesn’t realize Gentleman’s scheme is wider than she ever imagined. Fingersmith is a very fun and intricately plotted historical novel.

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson (YA)

Noah and Jude are twins with extremely different personalities. At thirteen, introverted Noah looks to his art to save him, while adventurous Jude’s priority is on her social life. At sixteen, the relationship between the twins has been destroyed, and Jude is now the anti-social twin who looks to art as her salvation. Noah is outwardly the more successful twin, but beyond the surface, he isn’t doing any better than Jude and is more firmly wedged in his closet than he was at thirteen. The novel alternates chapters narrated by Noah at thirteen with chapters narrated by Jude at sixteen. This is a beautiful novel about loss, family, love, identity, and what happens after you’ve done things that seem unforgivable.

Dress Codes for Small Towns by Courtney Stevens (YA)

Otters Holt, Kentucky values traditional femininity. The town is the home of Molly the Corn Dolly, a forty-foot-tall statue that is its sole tourist attraction, and a corn dolly is awarded every year to an outstanding woman. Corn Dolly winners are pie bakers, gardeners, caregivers, and pillars of the community. Daughter of the local youth pastor, Billie McCaffrey is outside the Otters Holt ideal and is infamous for setting the church youth room on fire at a lock-in when she and her friends microwaved a smelly sock and her dad’s World’s Best Minister mug. However, when the Harvest Festival and corn dolly award are canceled, it is Billie and her group of misfits who develop a fundraising scheme to save the festival. Throughout the book, Billie is seeking to understand gender and sexuality. She resents that the church community demands that she can only love boys, but she also resents that her friends assume she is gay simply because she’s a tomboy. Her friends attempt to nudge her out of the closet when she just wants to figure out her sexual orientation for herself. While this book could have gone badly (either too sweet or too cynical), it never does because Billie is such a fresh, likable character.

Cherry Amaretto Sangria

Cherry Amaretto Sangria

sangria, large batch cocktail, amaretto cocktail, summer cocktail

What is your favorite summer cocktail? Are you a margarita fan, always ready for a taco and a top shelf margarita?  Or are you all about the frosé?

I’m a sangria girl, but I rarely ever have it. It’s a large batch drink if you make it at home, and so many restaurants make shortcut sangrias with cheap mixes and Sprite that I am disinclined to order it on an evening out. Recently, I became curious about what an Amaretto sangria would taste like. Brandy is traditional in sangrias, but I suspected (correctly!) that an almond flavor would complement sangria flavors nicely.

As a note, this sangria is very cherry forward. If you don’t love cherries quite as much as I do, I would recommend a half cup of cherries and a half cup of your favorite berry rather than a full cup of cherries. Also the sugar amount is customizable. I made this with a quarter cup since I don’t love sugary alcohol drinks, but kept the recipe a bit sweeter to appeal to a larger group.

amaretto cocktail

Cherry Amaretto Sangria

Ingredients

  • 1 bottle light bodied red wine (Beaujolais/Gamay or Pinot Noir)
  • 1/3 cup Amaretto
  • 1 cup cherries, pitted
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 orange sliced, plus extra for garnish
  • 1 cup sparkling water to top (optional)

Directions

  1. Juice your lemon, then stir the sugar into the lemon juice.
  2. Combine all ingredients except orange slices and sparkling water in a pitcher. Refrigerate for at least one hour.
  3. When ready to serve, add the orange slices, ice cubes, and sparkling water. Garnish glasses with orange slices.
Strawberry Mint Lemonade

Strawberry Mint Lemonade

It’s nearly summer cookout season, and everyone is thinking burgers, corn on the cob, and side salads. Drinks can sometimes be an afterthought, and it’s so easy just to grab a Coke or a beer. However, if you try this at your next BBQ or graduation party, this lemonade might be your new go-to summer beverage. While I haven’t tested this, I suspect it would also make for a great popsicle.

To make this easy, I use store bought lemonade in this recipe (I used Trader Joe’s organic lemonade). If you are a from-scratch cook, I’m sure this would be even more delicious with homemade lemonade. It calls for one tablespoon of mint, which is just enough to add a slight herbal flavor, but it’s not overpowering. It’s a child friendly mint level. If you want a more distinct mint flavor, please double the amount.

Strawberry Mint Lemonade

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 64 oz bottle lemonade
  • 1 cup chopped strawberries
  • 1 tablespoon agave syrup (or preferred sweetener)
  • 1 tablespoon mint, finely chopped

Directions

  1. Place strawberries, sweetener, and mint in a blender or processor. Puree.
  2. Add strawberry mint blend to a pitcher. Top with lemonade and stir well.
  3. Pour into glasses and garnish with strawberries and mint.
2022 Father’s Day Gift List

2022 Father’s Day Gift List

Dads are so hard to buy for. Mine likes gardening, naps, fresh loaves of bread, and Christian apocalyptic films starring Kirk Cameron. That’s really about it. Vinyl? Not interested as he owns a perfectly good radio, thank you very much. A new weekend bag for trips? He’s a homebody. Craft beer? Doesn’t drink. Golf clubs? He has no idea why anyone would waste their money on that. (I don’t either, for that matter.) Collectible anything? They collect dust, and my mother wages war on dust.

So, what I’m saying here is that I have ideas for everyone else’s dads, ranging in price from $18 to $250, but I still don’t know what I’m getting mine. Wish me luck.

For the outdoorsy dad:

A portable hammock is a great gift for Dad, whether he is a frequent camper or if he just wants to “rest his eyes” in the backyard.

A pour over coffee set for the dad who doesn’t want to choose between his camping trip and a great cup of coffee.

A portable campfire if your dad loves being outside but was never a Boy Scout.

For the bookish dad:

Do you have a bookish dad who would love a first edition of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road? Try AbeBooks, which is like Etsy for used and rare books. Most rare and used bookstores in the US and beyond list their merchandise on Abe.

For the culinary dad:

Rodney Scott’s World of BBQ.  This was one of the biggest cookbooks of 2021, and a grill master dad would love it. I’m linking to Amazon here, but please support an independent bookstore if financially and geographically possible.

If a smoker is on dad’s wish list, this budget friendly smoker from Lowe’s has a 5-star rating.

For the dad you drove to drink:

Smoked cocktails are very trendy right now. If dad appreciates a whiskey drink, he’ll enjoy this cocktail smoker from Uncommon Goods.

For the dad who prefers experiences to tangible items, gift a mixology class, also from Uncommon Goods.

For a music loving dad:

Does dad sing along with any song whether he knows the words or not? Try a gift of mistaken lyrics coasters.

If dad collects vinyl, search Discogs for his favorites.

For a dad who always appreciates a new toy:

For the dad who has everything, he may enjoy a drone.

Last but not least, every suburban backyard needs a game of cornhole.

Under the Whispering Door by TJ Klune: book review and book club menu

Under the Whispering Door by TJ Klune: book review and book club menu

Wallace Price’s death came at the least convenient of times. As a busy lawyer, he had work to do and cases to win and then he found himself at his own funeral as a ghost, watching his colleagues and his ex-wife all talk about what an asshole he was. While viewing his funeral, Wallace is collected by Mei, a bubbly young woman, who informs him that she is a Reaper, there to take him to the ferryman who will help him cross over. Wallace informs her that he does not have the time to be dead, but she takes him to a tea shop in the middle of woods, where he is to wait until he is ready to cross over.

Charon’s Crossing Tea and Treats is an unusual waiting place for the dead, given that it is full of life. Everyday the living arrive to line up for the famous tea and scones. It is in the tea shop that Wallace meets his ferryman, Hugo, a handsome and empathetic young man, who is as calm as Mei is excitable. It is also in the teashop that Wallace first meets fellow ghosts: Nelson, who was Hugo’s grandfather, and Apollo, who was Hugo’s dog.

Wallace initially spends all of his effort attempting to flee the teashop, although he quickly learns that to leave is to destroy his sense of self. So he resigns himself to watching the everyday events of the teashop, annoyed that he died in sweatpants, dooming him to an afterlife in sweats. But as Wallace broods, he becomes curious about the people and ghosts around him, especially Hugo.

Wallace’s character development is slow and excellent. He learns to care for other people and share in their grief gradually. He begins to help people who cannot even see him. A message displayed in the teashop serves as a reflection of his journey:

“The first time you share tea, you are a stranger. The second time you share tea, you are an honored guest. The third time you share tea, you become family.”

The ending is not surprising, but it is lovely and perfect.

I was expecting this to be quirky and humorous. (It was.) I was not expecting it to be the sweetest and slowest love story. (It really was.) It reminded me of both A Christmas Carol and The Midnight Library, but it was more joyful and bittersweet than both of those. The world Klune created is original, but it’s the characters that make this story worth the journey. While all of the characters are enjoyable, it is Hugo who became my favorite. Recommended for readers who enjoy humorous writing, creative worlds, and LGBT love stories.

Book Club Menu

A tea time menu is the only appropriate choice for this book.

  • Assorted tea sandwiches. A recipe for a smoked salmon tea sandwich is below. Additional options would include ham and cheese; egg salad; chicken salad; and cucumber sandwiches
  • Strawberry scones (recipe below)
  • A selection of black and herbal teas (my preferred brands are Tazo and Rishi), plus sugar, cream, and lemon.
  • If serving alcohol, consider a sparkling rosé

Smoked Salmon Tea Sandwich

Smoked Salmon Tea Sandwich

  • Servings: 2 lunch portions or 4 teatime portions
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 4 slices of your preferred sandwich bread
  • 4 oz smoked salmon
  • 1/4 of an English cucumber, sliced thinly
  • 1 radish, sliced thinly
  • Whipped cream cheese
  • Dill (optional)

Directions

  1. Spread cream cheese on all 4 slices of bread.
  2. On 2 of the bread slices, layer smoked salmon, cucumber slices, radish slices, and dill (if using). Top with remaining slices of bread.
  3. Cut off crusts. Cut into desired shapes.

Strawberry Scones with White and Dark Chocolate

Strawberry Scones with White and Dark Chocolate

Adapted from Two Peas & Their Pod.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter into 1/4-inch cubes
  • ½ cup heavy cream plus 1 tablespoon
  • ½ cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup chopped fresh strawberries
  • ½ cup white chocolate chips
  • 2 tablespoons turbinado sugar
  • ½ cup dark chocolate chunks or chips
  • 1 teaspoon coconut oil

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add the cold butter cubes to the flour mixture until it has the consistency of sand.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together the liquid ingredients, minus 1 tablespoon of heavy cream.
  4. Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir. Don’t over mix.
  5. Gently fold in the strawberries and white chocolate chips.
  6. Transfer dough to a floured countertop and gently push the dough together with your hands, just until it forms a ball. Flatten the dough into a 1-inch circle, taking care not to overwork the dough. Use a knife to cut the scones into 8 triangles.
  7. Place scones on your prepared baking sheet and place it in the freezer for 25 minutes.
  8. Remove the scones from the freezer. Use a pastry brush to brush the tops of the scones with the additional heavy cream. Sprinkle the scones with turbinado sugar. Bake for 18 to 23 minutes, or until scones are golden brown on the bottom and around the edges. Let the scones cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes and then transfer to a wire cooling rack.
  9. As the scones are cooling, melt the dark chocolate and coconut oil in a double boiler.
  10. Transfer the melted chocolate into a ziplock bag and cut off one corner of the bag.
  11. Immediately drizzle chocolate over the scones.