How crappy is your weather right now? As a Michigander, my weather is unfortunate, but not shockingly so. We are a resilient people, accustomed to bouncing between winter and spring weather for months.
I’m also very lucky. Many of the surrounding areas have had power outages for days due to a recent ice storm, but I only had my power flicker, which means my oven and microwave have been blinking the wrong time for days, as I am deeply lazy and probably won’t fix it for a month.
If you are currently reluctant to brave the outside and its moody temperatures, may I suggest you pour yourself a cocktail (this one in particular) and open a good book. A book you have been looking forward to reading or a book that you have read a dozen times, it doesn’t matter. Just escape. You deserve it.
Chai concentrate is sold in cartons in the tea aisle. Tazo is probably the easiest to find, but there are dozens of store brands out there. If you prefer not to buy a carton of chai, just brew a very strong chai tea with several bags of chai and add some sweetener. As for the whiskey and amaretto, I used Bulleit rye and Disaronno, but use whatever you like.
2 oz chai concentrate
¾ oz half and half
1 oz rye whiskey
½ oz amaretto
In a cocktail shaker full of ice, combine all ingredients and shake vigorously. Pour into a cocktail glass with ice and garnish with a cinnamon stick.
Are you a dine in or dine out type of person on Valentine’s Day? Or Galentine’s, for that matter.
I can go either way. I like creating a not-so-everyday meal at home, but I also love to go out. It feels so extravagant, having a fancy meal in the middle of the work week.
I don’t have a Valentine this year, but I have a suggestion for those of you who do: Both. An elaborate dinner out on Sunday and an indulgent meal at home on the actual holiday, complete with wine and candles. Best of both worlds. Valentine’s calories don’t count, after all.
I have a second suggestion. This polenta with cheese, mushrooms, and Argentine red shrimp. If either you or your partner is not a seafood fan, a flank steak could replace the shrimp. Or both for surf and turf.
If you are asking what Argentine red shrimp is, I don’t really know aside from it being shrimp native to Argentina, but it is known for having a similar flavor to lobster. The middle class man’s lobster, if you will, because there is no such thing as a poor man’s lobster in this economy. You can buy it in the freezer section of Trader Joe’s. It cooks similarly to regular shrimp, except for one thing. It looks cooked when it’s still raw, so timing is everything.
Can’t find red shrimp? No worries. Just use the regular kind. Absolutely no one is policing this.
Argentine Red Shrimp with Sauteed Mushrooms and Cheesy Polenta
Do you have any illogical food preferences? I have entirely too many. Nuts (with the exception of walnuts) are delicious in chocolate candy, but they ruin any baked goods. I like lettuce and I like cucumbers, but I do not like them together and will pick cucumber slices out of my side salads. Eggs are delicious in the afternoon or evening, but they turn my stomach when I first wake, even though I am definitely a breakfast person.
So no eggs for breakfast.
I generally want something sweet in the morning. It could be a smoothie bowl or a muffin. I’m often guilty of eating leftover dessert for breakfast and think pie tastes best in the morning. So foods that are sort of breakfast and sort of dessert are my favorites. If you combine that revelation with the fact that I am Slavic, it fully explains why I am shaped like a hamster in midwinter.
Whether you eat this for breakfast or serve it for dessert, it is delicious.
Roasted Cinnamon Apples with Whipped Vanilla Honey Ricotta
This calls for only 1 tablespoon of brown sugar, as this tends to be a breakfast food for me. If you are serving this as a dessert, you’ll probably want to use 2 to 3 tablespoons of brown sugar in your apples.
4 cups apples, peeled and diced
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon lemon juice
16 oz ricotta
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon vanilla
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Place the butter in a baking dish. Bake for 2-3 minutes or until the butter is fully melted.
Combine the diced apples in a large bowl with brown sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, and lemon juice. Add the apple mixture to the baking dish and mix until the spiced apples are coated in the melted butter.
Bake for 30 minutes, then let cool for 10 minutes before serving.
While the apples are cooling, combine ricotta, honey, and vanilla in a large bowl. Blend with an electric mixer on medium until light and fluffy.
Optional garnishes: granola, nuts, caramel drizzle, etc.
When Amelia Wright wins a weekend away in Scotland, she feels it is the perfect opportunity to repair her marriage. Adam, her screenwriter husband, reluctantly agrees to the trip but has no intention of leaving his work behind as his wife requests. After driving through a blinding snowstorm, the couple arrive at their destination: a chapel converted into a house. The housekeeper is nowhere in sight, the house is neglected and the kitchen barely stocked, and the generator unreliable. On their first evening, Amelia spots someone spying on her through the window, and both Adam and Amelia hear impossible sounds in the house. This story is told through a decade’s worth of letters written on each wedding anniversary and through Amelia and Adam’s perspectives of their ill fated weekend away. I was completely surprised by the ending and more than a little annoyed with myself for not connecting the dots, which in retrospect, were connectable. I wasn’t sure how to feel about the characters in the end, which I think might have been the author’s intent, as no one is fully innocent or guilty in this one.
Eight Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson
When Malcolm Kershaw opens his bookstore during a snowstorm, he does not expect any guests or customers. His plan is to feed the shop cat and get some work done while the rest of Boston takes refuge inside. Much to his surprise, he does receive a visitor, and she’s not there to shop. The FBI agent who visits the Old Devils Bookstore wants to talk about the blog post that Mal created years ago, a list he titled “Eight Perfect Murders.” The agent has seen some disturbing connections between Malcolm’s list and recent homicides in New England. Mal is eager to help, concerned that someone would copycat his list, but he’s also concerned the agent will uncover his biggest secret. While the other mysteries on this list all take place in isolated and snowed in locations, this is very much a city mystery. This is an excellent selection for book lovers with nods to great detective literature, a bookshop setting, and a bookstore cat. Overall, Eight Perfect Murders is a fun cat and mouse game, with a narrator who keeps you guessing.
The Overnight Guest by Heather Gudenkauf
True crime author, Wylie Lark, has decided to finish writing her newest book at the farmhouse where the crime took place. One evening, in the middle of a severe snowstorm, Wylie searches for her dog on the grounds, only to find that her dog has located an unconscious child in the snow. Bringing both the child and the dog inside, she finds the child is traumatized and unwilling to tell her anything about how they came to be outside in a snowstorm. The Overnight Guest tells three intertwining stories: Wylie’s in the present day, Josie’s story twenty years ago when she was the sole survivor of a brutal crime, and that of an unnamed girl living with her mother. This is more unsettling than most of the list. Think In Cold Blood meets Room. If I had known going in that this was about the murder of a family, I might have hesitated to begin. This is not to discourage people from reading it, as it is a good book and intricately plotted, merely to say it’s not for all readers, as it is scarier and more violent than your average mystery/thriller.
The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon
West Hall, Vermont, 1908. Sara Harrison Shea is found murdered in her yard weeks after the death of her small daughter, Gertie. Her niece publishes Sara’s journal, which talks of fortune telling and spirits wandering the woods behind the farmhouse. Sara’s journal is the source of all West Hall legends, but many residents can’t help but suspect there is truth there. Everyone in town has either known someone who has disappeared without a trace or seen something they cannot explain, and the oldest residents have always left out offerings for Sara’s restless spirit. With the exception of drunk teenagers and UFO enthusiasts, the town avoids the woods and the Devil’s Hand, the mysterious rock formation within the woods. In the present day, college student Ruthie lives in the farmhouse. When Ruthie’s reclusive mother goes missing, Ruthie and her little sister search the home for clues of their mother’s whereabouts, only to find all clues lead back to Sara Harrison Shea and her diary. As the only supernatural thriller on this list, The Winter People will appeal to a reader looking for a complex ghost story with a quirky Twin Peaks-esque setting.
One by One by Ruth Ware
Snoop, a successful English tech start up, is holding their corporate retreat in a chalet in the French Alps. When they arrive at the chalet, dressed in designer clothes and already drunk, caretaker Erin knows exactly how to handle their kind as she has done it hundreds of times before. But when the Snoop crew gets down to work, Erin begins to realize that things are a bit strange here. With the offer of a company buyout, the shareholders are torn between the two warring cofounders, Eva and Topher. And strangely, all of the pressure seems to be on Liz, the shy and awkward former secretary of Snoop. After one of the group goes missing while skiing in dangerous conditions, an avalanche isolates the Snoop staff in the chalet, and then they are murdered one by one. A well-written mystery with isolated And Then There Were None vibes, One by One is a definite page-turner.
The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley
They were the best of friends at Oxford, but they grew apart over time. Still they travel to an exotic location each year to celebrate the new year, and this year they find themselves in a luxurious yet isolated hunting lodge in Scotland. Beautiful Miranda has been disappointed by her lack of professional success in life, and so she keeps a grip on her role as queen of the friend group. Workaholic Katie wishes she hadn’t come. Emma, who joined the group as Mark’s girlfriend, wants to cement her status in the glamorous friend circle by planning the best new years celebration yet. Everyone at the lodge is hiding a secret, even the housekeeper Heather and gamekeeper Doug, and on New Year’s Day, one of them is dead. Told from alternating points of view, The Hunting Party is a suspenseful mystery.
Both of my parents were raised on farms in Paraguay. I personally have never known farm life, but seasonal living is part of how my parents operated and how they still live. As a child and a teen, I found this less charming than I do now. Sure, I loved all the baking that my mom did with blueberries in summer, but given that berries were available year round in the supermarket, I thought she was being downright cheap in waiting until summer. It was the eighties, and a farm-to-table approach was decades away from being trendy, and no one cared about the carbon footprint of their food.
This salad is a perfect example of how my mom approaches winter food. Cabbage is seasonal, affordable, and stays fresh for a ridiculously long time. Dressing it simply with oil and white vinegar keeps it light, balancing out heavier winter foods. This salad is on her table for weeknight meals and holiday meals alike.
Mom’s Simple Winter Salad
If you don’t have white vinegar, I’d recommend buying it rather than using whatever vinegar you have on hand simply because it’s far more neutral in taste, and this is a very simple side salad.
4 cups shredded cabbage
4-6 green onions, diced
2 tablespoons olive oil (or canola)
2 tablespoons white vinegar
½ teaspoon salt
Pinch of black pepper (optional)
Add all ingredients to a large bowl and mix well. Taste and add more salt/oil/vinegar as needed. I personally use 3 tablespoons of vinegar, but I tend to like my foods more acidic than the average person.
Are you ready for Christmas? We’re in the last week of baking, cooking, and shopping. Or, perhaps the question is, what does getting ready for Christmas mean to you? Is it movie marathons, or caroling, or Black Friday shopping, or Christmas Eve services with your family, or giving to your favorite causes?
This year, I have followed an Advent devotional (though I am admittedly a few days behind), done a surprising amount of my shopping online, watched a lot of terrible Hallmark movies, baked cookies, attend my church’s Advent services and their festival of tables, made the curious choice to read a selection of holiday themed murder mysteries, and purchased Angel Tree gifts for a young girl. Do I feel ready for Christmas? Not particularly, even though my gifts are all purchased and wrapped.
Whether you are ready for Christmas or not, baking these cookies will make your house smell like Christmas. (Well, it smells like a commercialized North American Christmas anyhow. The first Christmas probably smelled like a petting zoo and nothing like my cookies.) These festive cookies smell fruity, spicy, and warm, and they taste every bit as amazing as they smell.
These combine two of my favorite cookies: the guava filled cookies that my mom makes every year, and gingerbread cookies, which no one in my family ever bakes because I am the only ginger fanatic in the family. The flavors go together beautifully and the cinnamon sugar dusting adds a pretty holiday sparkle.
I hope you enjoy!
Spiced Thumbprint Cookies with Guava
Guava paste is not the most common grocery item. Unless you have a Latin American grocery near you, it’s easiest to buy it off Amazon.
¾ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
⅔ cup packed light brown sugar
½ cup molasses
1 large egg
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp ground cinnamon, divided
½ tsp ground cloves
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
½ tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
¼ cup granulated sugar
7 oz guava paste, cut into small cubes
In a large bowl, beat butter and brown sugar with an electric mixer on medium-high speed for about 4 minutes.
Add molasses and, on medium speed, beat until combined. Add egg and vanilla extract and beat until combined, approximately 2 minutes.
In another bowl sift together flour, spices (minus one tsp of cinnamon), baking soda, and salt. Stir it into the wet ingredients just until combined.
Wrap the dough in a plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Mix together ¼ cup granulated sugar and 1 tsp cinnamon.
Roll the dough into small balls. Smaller is better here, go for approximately the size of a chocolate truffle. Roll them in the cinnamon sugar mixture. Place them on a baking tray lined with parchment. Make wells in cookies with a teaspoon measuring spoon or your thumb. Fill them with cubes of guava paste. Bake for 7 to 8 minutes.
This recipe was inspired by a port old fashioned I had in Columbus (possibly Dublin, OH?) when I was in Ohio visiting my fabulous cousins. I wish I remembered the name of the restaurant, which was cute and had delicious food. This is a great recipe for an Old Fashioned (or Manhattan) drinker who wants a more festive variation for the holidays. Or for someone who wants to ease into drinking whiskey.
I’m a big believer in customizing recipes, even cocktail recipes, to individual taste. If you are not accustomed to drinking whiskey, you might want to do 2 oz of port and 1 oz whiskey, while a regular whiskey drinker might do the reverse. For most people, I think equal parts whiskey and port will be ideal.
Christmas and murder really shouldn’t go together. It’s like peanut butter and pickles or something else that should never, ever be combined. But it also makes sense. Family gatherings are where everyone knows a bit too much about each other, and there are memories of the deepest loyalties and deepest betrayals. All of these mysteries deal with family gatherings gone wrong. And each one is delightful. (I came across a few that weren’t delightful; they did not make the list.)
Hercule Poirot’s Christmas by Agatha Christie
Simeon Lee gathers his mostly estranged family for Christmas. Hoping the verbally and emotionally abusive patriarch has grown sentimental in his old age, they gather, only to find that the old man is baiting them to fight about the will. When Simeon is found dead, there is no shortage of suspects and Hercule Poirot must determine if the motivation was money or hatred. As a mystery, this is a 10/10 with twists, turns, and family drama. As a Christmas story, it isn’t the most festive on the list.
Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas by Stephanie Barron
Part of a mystery series featuring Jane Austen as an amateur sleuth, Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas follows Jane and the Austen family as they celebrate the Christmas season at an estate named the Vyne. After Jane’s first evening at the Vyne, one of her fellow guests leaves early, as he is on his way to deliver the recently signed Treaty of Ghent. However, his horse immediately returns without him and the remaining guests find the man murdered and the treaty missing. Jane can only conclude that one of their party is a murderer. This is a book intended for readers who are Regency lovers first and cozy mystery lovers second.
The Mistletoe Murder by PD James
This short story collection was the best surprise of this reading list. Being a fan of complicated mysteries with multiple subplots and fields of red herrings, I wasn’t so sure about reading mysteries in short story form. I was surprised at how satisfying these stories were and just how much James was able to do with both character and plot twists in such a short space. The title story was the best of the group and the ending was just so, so perfect. While these were all originally published as Christmas stories, only two felt truly Christmassy to me and the two others . . . mildly wintry. In spite of this, this collection is strongly recommended.
A Christmas Party (Envious Casca) by Georgette Heyer
Two elderly brothers, one a curmudgeon and the other a jolly fool, live together in an English manor. When one brother decides to invite the whole family to celebrate Christmas, it can only end in murder. Originally, I was going to claim The Mistletoe Murder as my favorite of the bunch. That was until I read this book. I didn’t go in with great expectations. Georgette Heyer was an author of Regency era novels, but she also published a few mystery novels, of which Envious Casca (later named A Christmas Party is one). I think I was expecting this one to be silly, but I was immediately drawn in. The humor and characterization was very Jane Austen, while the plot and twists were all Agatha Christie. I am definitely reading more of Georgette Heyer, and I plan to get this book trending on Twitter with #Won’tAnyoneConsiderNatsLumbago? and #GiveMaudHerBookBackYouBarbarians. (Join me on Twitter to assist my crusade!)
After dinner drinks are the best. From rich glasses of port to dessert liqueurs to coffee drinks, I love them all. And when you are too old to pub crawl on Saint Patrick’s Day, this is the perfect beverage.
Looking for a pretty Valentine’s mocktail that the entire family can enjoy? This cranberry, lime, and ginger combination is delicious and festive. It is a bit on the tart side, so if you prefer a sweeter mocktail, use equal parts cranberry juice and simple syrup.
Cranberry Ginger Mocktail
1 oz. ginger lime simple syrup (recipe below)
1.5 oz. unsweetened cranberry juice
Combine ginger lime simple syrup and cranberry juice in a cocktail shaker and shake until well mixed.
Strain ginger cranberry mixture into a glass filled with ice.
Top with sparkling water.
Garnish with lime.
Ginger Lime Simple Syrup
While this was created for the Cranberry Ginger Mocktail, it also makes a good citrusy ginger ale syrup for a Sodastream.
2 inches of fresh ginger sliced
Juice of 1 lime
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a boil on the stovetop.
Reduce heat to low and let the mixture simmer for 25 minutes.