Christmas Asopao

So I am terrible about cooking in a systematic way.  I cook by feel and taste most of the time.  I love cookbooks, but I rarely make things as written more than once. I love them for the ideas, techniques and flavor combinations.  The rest of the time I just throw things in the pot based on what I have on hand. My kids used to teasingly always ask for Mama soup, because they knew they would get something tasty even though it might not be the same as last time. Sometimes there would be swiss chard, other times chickpeas and then next gandules...but it would be yummy and warm.

On Christmas Eve I made a pot of asopao as our dinner, and since Rose is home sick I brought some over to her yesterday. She asked for recipe since she liked it so much.  My first instinct was to send her the I referred to Yvonne Ortiz's A Taste of Puerto Rico, one of the cookbooks I turned to the most over the last 3 decades of living on my own.  I always highly customize them to fit my needs and family ways of cooking.  But as I sent her a photo of recipe I realized how much I had customized it, so much that it was its own thing. 

Asopao is Puerto Rican soup served hot that is either cooked with rice in it or served over rice or in Mofongo.  It is most often made with chicken and its favorful broth is heavily seasoned with sofrito and annatto oil.

I am sorry but I took no pictures while cooking but here is my best approximation of what I made.


1/4 of cup of annatto oil (red-tinged oil made from annatto seeds simmered in olive oil) feel free to sub out a Sazon packet and olive oil or Achiotina (Lard with Annatto).

Diced onions (small onion)

Diced Green pepper (half of medium to large pepper)

(this time I added a bonus ingredient of diced celery, cause I had it)

Diced Potatoes  (chopped baby creamer & red skinned potatoes), approximately a cup

3 chicken breasts roughly chopped and tossed with adobo (can sub garlic powder, cumin, salt  & pepper)

2 cups of Gandules  (I use half a can of Green Pigeon Peas and half of can of Dried Pigeon Peas and then freeze the extras).

3/4 of cup of Recaito (I make my own which is pureed cubanel and green peppers, onion, garlic, cilantro, recao leaf)

sometimes I add approximately a tablespoon of condensed tomato paste.

4 to 6 cups of Chicken broth (I actually used some of the turkey broth I had in the fridge)  plus whatever you need to cover everything well.

I start by lightly sautéing the diced onions, peppers and potatoes (and anything else I feel like) in the annatto oil  in a generously sized Dutch oven.  While it cooks, chop the chicken and toss with adobo. When the onions start to look translucent, I added the chicken.  I mix it up enthusiastically with the cooking veggies, so it gets coated with the red oil.  I then dump in the recaito & tomato paste in, followed by the broth and the gandules.  Stir it all up and simmer over medium low heat, till it starts looking good like it all cooked. I simmer mine about 45ish minutes but it could have been done sooner but the gandules were a block of ice when I dumped them in the pot.

While the soup is simmering, cook up some rice. I prefer medium grain.  I do 1 cup for 1 and 1/2 cup of water, plus salt and olive oil.

To serve, add rice to the bottom of your bowl and pour soup over it.

Buen Provecho y Prospero Año Nuevo

(also published in my mostly defunct family blog: A Coqui in Winterfell)

Love in Panels Review: The Bride Test by Helen Hoang

I reviewed the Bride Test by Helen Hoang over at Love in Panels:

Chastised for being unable to cry at his best-friend and cousin’s funeral, Khải comes to believe that he is unnaturally unfeeling, unable to love. Khải is actually autistic, a diagnosis his immigrant Vietnamese family mostly ignores, instead thinking him as simply a little strange. In Vietnam, My/Esme is just a bit strange too, but in her Khải’s mother sees the perfect bride for her son - humble, hard-working and honest.

While The Bride Test is at points quite funny, at its center it is a deeply emotional story about familial bonds and an immigrant's desperate striving to make a better life for herself and her family. Hoang parallels My’s experiences as a new immigrant trying to figure out the rules of a new culture as an outsider to Khải’s autism and his efforts to navigate the feelings and reactions he doesn’t fully understand. Both My and Khải have to work very hard to decode each other’s feelings and intentions, working to overcome their differing cultural expectations and learn each other boundaries.

The book was marvelously tense, with the countdown to the expiration of My’s visa at the end of the summer never far from either of their minds, especially as they become intimately involved. Sex and their inexperience at intimacy, while at points humorous, is also deeply serious. I loved how Hoang gently built up their rapport, and how it heightened the stakes every time there was a misunderstanding or setback. In the end, they both understand each other better and do more for each other than they ever dared to expect.

While I struggled to get started with The Kiss Quotient, I couldn’t put down The Bride Test, racing breathlessly to the final chapters because I needed to know if Khải and My/Esme would get the HEA they both richly deserve. I wasn’t disappointed. It was perfect.

Content Warnings: Ableism, depression

Ana received a copy of this book from the publisher for review.

Romance Novel Meetup 2017 #MTLRom

A week ago I was walking around Montreal with a band of romance readers and writers. Stopping to shop and eat while discussing our favorite romance novels, twitter culture and just generally enjoying each other's company. I am still a bit amazed it actually came together.

Last August my husband and I took a trip to Quebec. Our kids were away at camp so we had an opportunity to travel on our own.  As soon as my husband suggested Montreal I messaged Kay (@miss_batesreads) about meeting up.  Kay was generous with her advice as I planned, giving us great suggestions for our sightseeing itinerary and hotel suggestions near downtown.  When we arrived in Montreal Kay graciously introduced us to her city, and we had a lot of fun together.  It was fabulous to have the time to chat face to face about romance after reading each other's reviews for years.  When we tweeted about our trip, our mutual friend Elisabeth expressed jealousy and how she wished she could have joined us.  We casually joked that it would be a fun thing to do again and that maybe Elisabeth could join us. And the bam all sorts of other twitter friends expressed an interest in going, if we could organize something. So we did.

2017-08-11 12.28.24_censoredWe polled people to decide a date, opened up a little website to collect itinerary ideas and post hotel suggestions, we put together a very infrequent newsletter. We envisioned a casual and informal gathering.  All the chatting and meal sharing we love at conferences without the sessions. We understood some folks would be traveling with spouses, friends, children or have other commitments so everything would be optional.  Although only a fraction of the people who expressed interest were able to make it at the end of the day we were amazed how many people actually made the trip.  (and incredibly thankful it wasn't much larger...getting dinner reservations for our crew was challenging enough!).

Most of us at #MTLrom were from the eastern half of the continent (Susanna Kearsley, Rain Merton, Laura Curtis, Elisabeth Lane, Tamsen Parker and me) but Super Wendy came to us from LA and  ValancyBlu and VaVeros made the incredibly long trip from Australia.

2017-08-10 20.43.27We opened up our trip by meeting for dinner at a very casual fish and chips restaurant downtown and after dinner we ended up wandering down the nearby streets, enjoying the street art near the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and walking through the McGill campus. We eventually made it back to our hotels and crashed for the night.

The next morning Kay lead most of us to The Libertine Bakeshop where we spent a great deal of the morning laughing and talking while enjoying delicious pastries.

 We eventually headed to Old Montreal and walked the tourist filled streets and after a few tries found a quiet little place for lunch.

2017-08-11 17.43.58We stayed well past when we should have left and it was only Elisabeth's well tuned ear that noticed that the kitchen sounds had turned into closed up/cleaning up sounds. The staff had been remarkably gracious and let us camp out at our table well past closing.  Kay then led us in an excursion through The Underground City, the interconnecting passages that connect many buildings downtown, finally bringing us to the romance section at the Indigo Bookstore downtown. We had fun finding our favorite authors on the shelves or grousing about the shrunken HQN Category section.We shared recommendations with each other and eventually with unsuspecting readers that stumbled upon us while we were occupying the aisles.

We eventually dragged ourselves away, and made it in time to meet the rest of group for dinner at fancy burger place not far from the hotel. We stuff ourselves silly with fries, onion rings  and groused about books over cocktails and beers before resting our aching feet for the night.

2017-08-12 12.25.57Saturday morning started at another coffee house, Cafe Myriade before we piled into the metro explore Boulevard St. Laurent and the attractive neighborhoods nearby.  We visited a giant mural of Leonard Cohen, and stopped in at Guillaume Bakery. We then chatted with some very nice firefighters and found a nice lunch at Dieu deu Ciel! (which got incredibly busy shortly after we arrived!)

2017-08-12 16.23.04 2017-08-12 16.23.04After lunch there was more shopping and then a bus ride up to Mount Royal Park, the volcanic hill around which Montreal is built.  We spent several hours just resting in the lush green park, enjoying the sounds of families enjoying picnics all around us.  We chatted about romance (of course) but also health care, patriarchy and families.  We finally got caught in a fast moving torrential rainstorm as we waited for our bus back to downtown.  We had been incredibly lucky up to that point. The weather outlook for the weekend had called for lots of rain but we only had been sprinkled once early and were able to find shelter quickly during the second storm.  A little damp, and a bit mud-splattered we made it to Fiorellino for dinner. Despite the hilariously tall tables I enjoyed dinner immensely.  It was simply a joy to look around the table and see everyone in conversation, and to overhear the wide ranging topics being discussed.  It is just so fabulous to chat with my "invisible" friends in person, to hear the sound of their laughter, or observe their most intent expressions. 2017-08-13 15.03.38 Many of commented on how great it is to be able to read a tweet and hear it in the voice of our friend now that we have spent time together.

On Sunday we went many different directions. Some folks started heading home or went off to explore on their own, others went to church with Kay, or traveled with me to the knitting shop next to it before heading to the Jean-Talon Market for lunch.  We eventually found our way to 2017-08-13 19.32.16Kay's lovely apartment, and the amazing meal she had assembled for us there.  There were sweet and savory Greek delights,  lots of books to rummage through and even more talking to do. Wendy, Vassiliki & Kay explained category romance to the rest of us, and then we all decided that Kay and Vassiliki really need to write one with an authentically Greek hero (Greek hero that doesn't dance, pshaw!).   I am incredibly thankful that Montreal's Metro runs late into the night because we didn't venture back to our hotel till quite late. I don't think anyone really wanted to say goodbye.


2017-08-13 16.43.29_censoredThere is just no way sum up the fun we had last weekend. I learned a lot, I laughed a lot and I am just so incredibly grateful to share this time with other people who care so much about genre.

On our drive out Montreal, Elisabeth and I were in agreement that we loved the weekend and both want to do this again. We are both willing to organize another meet-up next year.  However we are thinking of taking the meet-up to a new city, (possibly Chicago) with the idea that it could rotate around.  It is just a happy notion at this point, but so was this meet-up, so maybe this idea will take off too!

A Taste of Heaven by Penny Watson

A-Taste-of-Heaven-by-Penny-Watson-250Ever since Sophia Brown's husband died, she has been faking her way through her days.  She feels lost.  She doesn't taste the flavor in the perfect meals she makes, her mind wanders while she weeds, and she is in a rut, doing the same things over and over because it is familiar and comforting. Although she thought she was doing a pretty good job at keeping it together,  her daughters have noticed and have decided to intervene.  They want to insert a little excitement and positive challenge into her life so they sign her up for cooking competition reality show,"A Taste of Heaven", filming in their home state of Vermont. Ambushed by her daughters' s concerns and intervention Sophia is determined to face up to challenge. Sophia doesn't know what to expect when she shows up on the set but soon her competitive spirit overcome her fears and worries.

Grumpy, stubborn and desperate, Elliott Adamson, a Scottish professional chef with lots of skills and talents and many restaurant failures has agreed to participate in "A Taste of Heaven" in hope the cash prize and exposure will save his latest and maybe last restaurant. He is livid when he discovers that the competition will team amateurs like Sophia with experts like him, but he can't walk away as much as he wants to.

The competition is full of twists and surprises, and Sophia and Elliott end up teaming up despite having taken an initial dislike of each-other. They must negotiate how to work together as Sophia is not about to let Elliott run right over her.  Sophia does most of the heavy lifting in the partnership, working to smooth Elliott's rough edges, stressing presentation and strategic choices that will appeal to the judges and generally behaving with maturity that balances out Elliott's sullenness. Elliott slowly warms up to Sophia, realizing that she has great instincts and the strength to challenge him.  While he fights her every step of the way, she makes his Scottish dishes shine, while showcasing her own knowledge of Vermont's fantastic produce and products, eventually breaking down his resistance.

I really liked that Sophia and Elliott are a mature couple (Sophia is 47 and Elliott almost 50). They both have long relationship histories and that informs how they react to each other and what they want.  The sexual tension, the confusing feelings and the uncertainty about their futures are great complications.

There were a couple of subplots in the story that I felt were left unresolved. Maybe they were only supposed to add background color and interest to some of the secondary characters but I felt we were building up to something (especially the one about the possibly predatory judge) and it didn't go anywhere which was a bit frustrating.  I would however welcome reading more about other secondary characters in their own books.   The ending was a bit over-the-top for me, while it tied up everything in a lovely bow, it felt slightly more sweet and fantastical than the story had been up to that point.

A Taste of Heaven was a very enjoyable romance that will appeal to fans of cooking competitions, mature couples and growly Scottish men who can cook.


#TBRCHALLENGE Review: Say Yes to the Marquess (Castles Ever After book 2) by Tessa Dare

Syttm_audioClio Whitmore is sick of waiting. Her intended decamped for the continent and a career with the foreign office as soon as the ink was dry on their engagement agreements. For the last eight years, Clio has has to endure the strictures placed on her by her family and the whispers of the ton. With her fiancee Piers finally headed home, Clio turns to his disgraced brother and temporary estate manager Rafe for a way out of her engagement.

Rafe is looking for redemption. Cast out of his father's house as teenager, he has made his living as bare-knuckle boxer, living on the fringes of polite society. When he is entrusted with the management of  Marquisate upon his father's death and his brother's absence, he is terrified of wrecking it and is determined to hand everything over to his brother is the condition he received it.  Despite his life-long attraction to Clio he refuses to sign the dissolution papers and instead begins a campaign to convince Clio to marry Piers by offering her the wedding of her dreams.

"Say Yes to to the Marquess" was romantic, funny and clever. All Dare's characters speak with a modern voice but I didn't find that at all jarring, but instead immersive and refreshing.  "Say Yes to Marquess" has a small cast and I liked all of them, even the antagonists. For all its lightheartedness Dare still tackles issues of emotional depth well. Both Rafe's and Clio's family have hurt each other terribly with good intentions.   It is the empathy Rafe feels for Clio that breaks through his determination to see her married to Piers. Rafe's own "Secret Pain" is believable motivation for his actions and source for his feelings of insecurity and inadequacy.

Although I have read all of Tessa Dare's Spindle Cove series,  this was still an impulse buy for me, because I was on a Tessa Dare break.   However I bought it when it was on sale in April, even though I had skipped the first in this new series.  My recent preference for darker weightier historicals was overcome through a combination of the premise and the enthusiastic recommendation of a few twitter friends whose recs I trust. I immediately bought "Romancing the Duke" after finishing "Say Yes to the Marquess" and read the first half in one sitting.



Truly (The New York Series) by Ruthie Knox

Cover48015-mediumLast fall I had the opportunity to read this novel when it was serialized on the WattPad. I really enjoyed re-reading  a few weeks ago over Labor day weekend.

May is having a horrible weekend, her long-time boyfriend and NFL quarterback Dan’s tipsy and cringe-worthy public proposal incited her to stab him with a shrimp fork, and the video has gone viral. Everyone in her life is hoping she will come to her senses and forgive Dan, but the event has become a bright line for her. She won’t go back to Dan and their unsatisfying relationship just because everyone else thinks he is the best thing that will ever happen to her, not even when her attempt to slip away quietly is spoiled by purse-snatching paparazzo. Alone and friendless in New York City, with nothing but a metro card and a couple of bucks, and with her family out of cellphone range in the UP,  May ends up in Green Packer’s Bar sitting across from the angriest former chef in the city.

Anger, anxiety and stress have cost Ben his marriage and career.   Passionate about food, Ben's life became about reviews and Michelin stars, till his wife divorced him, giving him a large check in exchange for their restaurant and cookbook. Ben is trying to rebuild himself from scratch, but it is not going well.  When Ben looks across the bar to May, he sees an innocent milk maid type, and does his very best to ignore her but against all odds Ben ends up insisting in helping May.  His gift of beer turn into an offer of dinner, an offer of help finding a computer, then an offer of a place to stay till she can find a way home, till he finds himself not wanting her to ever go. The longer Ben is around her, the more he wants her there.  

Ben and May’s romance is journey through anger. May must let herself feel anger, and to respond to it by asking for more for herself from herself & others. Ben needs to forgive others and himself before he can start over to accept himself and his mistakes.

I loved Ben and May’s Labor Day Weekend in New York City, the food, the sites and the tension. Ben is a reluctant white knight, and fumbles badly several times which is actually just want May needs.

4 out 5 stars.


A review copy of Truly was provided by Random House Publishing Group - Loveswept via NetGalley.