Guest Blogger: Author Monica Epstein
Monica Epstein, author of the newly released WHERE THERE IS WILL, is here to share a bit about her new book, as well as a favorite recipe (that I can't wait to try).
Monica writes about topics that appeal to women like herself—over 40 and nowhere near ready to throw in the towel and call it a life. Her first novel, Where There Is Will, is published by The Wild Rose Press.
She lives in a suburb of Washington, D.C. with her husband, their teenage daughter, and a small collection of hats and fascinators. She dreams of being the Queen of England in her next life.
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Food plays an important role in my novel, WHERE THERE IS WILL. In fact, it’s a big part of the reason my hero and heroine connect.
Michelle Loeser has a bad case of low self-esteem. She takes a job transfer to London, where she hopes to rebuild her life far away from her so-called friends who think she made a mistake divorcing her husband. On her trip overseas, she meets actor Will Sheridan, whom she’s had a crush on since her marriage went sour. They make a deal: she’ll teach him how to cook in exchange for help acclimating to her new surroundings. Friends and Will’s parents aren’t too keen on their friendship because Michelle is nearly twice as old as Will, but neither of them are looking for love, so they both see it as harmless.
Will’s cooking lessons turn out to be the vehicle for a growing attraction between the pair. When Michelle teaches Will to prepare an American Thanksgiving, she admits to herself that they are flirting, as described in the following excerpt:
While he [Will] stirred the noodles, I leaned over his shoulder to watch. I lingered there so I could take in a few more whiffs of him. When he turned to look at me, I backed away.
“Did you sniff me?”
“You did. I saw you.”
“I was watching you stir the noodles.”
“Liar. I heard you too. You owe me a sniff.”
I screwed up my face.
Beckoning me with his index finger, he said, “Come here. It’s my turn to sniff you.”
I stayed put, so he stepped forward, put his hand on the back of my neck, and drew my head close to his face. He leaned in, and, with his nose in my hair, inhaled deeply. He took a handful of my curls, brought them to his nose and sniffed again, and then a third time.
I swayed as goose bumps formed on the nape of my neck under his hand. They traveled down my arms, my spine, even my legs. I closed my eyes and concentrated on the pleasure he was bringing me.
I forced my eyes open. “What?”
“Does your shampoo have lemon in it?”
“Maybe orange, or some other citrus?”
I managed to return to my senses, although my cheeks were warm. “Mango.”
“It smells good.”
He turned his focus back to the pot of macaroni. “Lunch will be ready soon. Could you get me the strainer from that cupboard?”
I wobbled to the cupboard on legs weak from Will’s touch. I returned with the strainer and handed it to him. While he finished preparing lunch, I busied myself with my back to him, afraid he’d spot my flushed face.
After lunch, Will went off to set the table while I washed dishes and thought about the fact that he and I had definitely been flirting.
Besides having low self-esteem, Michelle has a mean sweet tooth. (Something I can relate too.) Readers are introduced to her love of sweets early in the novel, when Michelle learns that her new office takes a tea time break once a week, where they serve treats. Despite a snide comment from a new coworker, Michelle thinks, “Even the flippant edge to her voice wouldn’t deter me from wanting to work for a company that served dessert once a week.”
Michelle resorts to sweets and other junk food for comfort. Throughout the book she loads up on such favorites as ice cream bars, frosted toaster pastries, Scottish Shortbread, custard cream cookies (biscuits in the U.K.), peanut butter cups, and potato crisps (potato chips in the U.S.). No wonder she has a slight problem with her weight!
Will’s pretty fond of food too. That’s why he needs cooking lessons in the first place. He’s getting tired of grabbing a bowl of cereal after a long day of filming because he doesn’t know how to prepare much else. So he’s thrilled with Michelle’s cooking skills. On one occasion, when Michelle has Will and his family for dinner to celebrate the Jewish New Year, Will’s grandmother begins an argument with Will’s mother about not exposing Will to the food of his heritage. (His mother is Jewish; his father is Protestant.) Things diffuse quickly, yet he declines a second piece of honey cake, to avoid rekindling the tension. The argument is just another reason for Michelle to question her interest in the young man.
Food eaten for the Jewish New Year tends to be prepared with sweet ingredients like honey, as a wish for a sweet new year. But despite its popularity, I was never much of a fan of honey cake. Its flavor is good (it reminds me of a spice cake or gingerbread that is low on ginger), but it is often drier than I like a cake to be. For many years, I’d skip making one when the holiday came. That is, until I developed my own recipe, which was inspired by an Amish shoo fly cake recipe. Now I look forward to making it each fall.
The recipe calls for cutting shortening into the dry ingredients and then mixing the crumb mixture into the wet ingredients right in the baking pan. I encourage you to try it. It’s easy, flavorful, and moist. It goes great with a cup of tea or coffee.
Monica’s Amish Honey Cake
4 cups flour
2 cups brown sugar
¾ cup shortening (solid vegetable shortening like Crisco, butter, or margarine—I use butter-flavored Crisco)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon cloves
1 cup honey
1 tablespoon baking soda
2 cups boiling strong coffee
Mix flour, brown sugar, shortening, cinnamon, and cloves using pastry blender or two knives until the crumbs are the size of peas or smaller. Reserve one cup.
Mix honey, baking soda, and coffee. Pour into 9x13 pan. Mix crumb mixture into liquid. (Doesn’t have to be totally incorporated but remove big lumps.) Sprinkle reserved crumbs on top.
Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. (The cake sinks a little when it cools and the crumbs move away from the cake’s edge.)
Cover Blurb for Where There Is Will:
When she moves to London following her divorce, Michelle Loeser has no interest in looking for love. She needs to focus on surviving without her ex’s six-figure income, coping with a severe fear of heights, and rebuilding her confidence. And if she keeps her promise to her best friend, she’ll pursue her passion for writing too.
Will Sheridan found his passion early in life. At age eleven, he was cast in the starring role in a film series. Now, at the age of 25, he’s a celebrity at a crossroads in his career. He has no time for women who don’t understand his priorities.
When Will offers to help Michelle acclimate to the unfamiliar city in exchange for cooking lessons, she figures what’s the harm? But jealous fans and coworkers, eager paparazzi, and a distrustful mother see it differently.
Learn more about Monica at the following:
Where There Is Will is available at HTTP://AMZN.COM/B00HJE46UA.