Chamein Canton Novel Excerpt, Fiction, North of 40 and 50 plus Authors

Love At First Swing Preview-Chapter One

 

The once rolling forest of the Allen-Boggs-Levitt Estates served as an ideal place for a golf course on the North Shore. It had all the things golfers look for, sweeping fairways, gently contoured greens, and sparkling ponds. It was a far cry from the cookie-cutter homes one of the estate’s namesakes, Levitt, built for GI’s returning from World War II.  However, Levitt’s part in the creation of the North Hills Country Club and Golf Course was anything but assembly-line.

The 6730-yards, par 72 golf course’s gorgeous arboreal setting allowed members to enjoy a private island course less than 30 miles from Manhattan. It was there at the 18th hole, where all six feet of fifty-four-year-old Camilla, CJ, Jordan stood impatiently leaning on her club. A fair-skinned woman with freckles, CJ, was a brick house 1970s Commodores style with her long reddish-brown hair, 44-DDD boobs,  curvy girl waistline, and firm round butt. At that moment, the curvaceous CJ’s eyes were set on her best friend and professional golfer, fifty-five-year-old Tyler, T-Shot Mitchell as he circled the hole again.

“Are you going to putt or square dance? You’ve circled the hole five times already.”

“Yeah.” He put his hand up. “I’m lining up the shot.”

 

Although over fifty, Tyler was still blond, toned, and tanned with a six-pack that rivaled men half his age.  In terms of a sport to show off his swimmer’s physique, golf wasn’t on the list. Tyler grew up surfing and boogie boarding with his friends, many of whom were rich beach bums.  Golf entered the picture courtesy of his grandfather. Tyler turned out to be a natural at it.  He competed in amateur events all over California. Then a funny thing happened, wherever he played, there was a spike in female attendance from the amateur circuit to the NCAA. Everyone wanted to be near the golden boy. Tyler became golf’s first real sex symbol when he joined the PGA. His love life and exploits with women rivaled any NFL or NBA player. He dated supermodels, lead actresses, starlets, singers, and performers. He even married a supermodel turned entrepreneur and had one son. The marriage didn’t last. Tyler liked a la carte dating and relationships too much. Although conservative, the PGA overlooked his exploits. Tyler Mitchell’s name increased attendance and ratings.

Luckily for the PGA and Tyler, his good genetic fortune continued, but his fortunes on the green had taken quite a few hits as of late. At first, it wasn’t too bad. He only missed the cut for one tournament the year prior. Yet, after his disappointing performance in the subsequent cuts, he did make, he may have been better off not making the cut in the first place.  He was in a slump and though no one came out and said it, everyone knew it. CJ was the last person he wanted to hear it from, but he knew it was coming.

While Tyler hailed from sunny California, CJ was a Long Island native from Manhasset. Already 6 feet tall by the time she got to junior high school, CJ confidently took auto repair and woodshop instead of home economics. At twelve she knew how to cook, but sewing gave her a headache. Once in high school, she captained the all-male debate team, then led them to four straight statewide and two national titles. Then she went on to hold the distinct honor of being the first and only female practice partner for UCLA’s men’s golf team. She was a man’s woman, but not a tomboy. She’d put on a dress as easily as a pair of jeans, fussed with her hair, and wore makeup, but could still roll with, talk to, and out bluster guys. Yet men continued to baffle CJ when it came to dating and relationships.  A self-professed serial monogamist, she’d broken up with her longtime love a year earlier and wasn’t focused on much else besides business and golf.  All of which meant, she had no intention of going easy on old T-Shot.

Tyler walked around the hole for the sixth time.

“Are you kidding me?!” CJ huffed. “I don’t think I have any chalk with me, but I can give you a red lipstick to use to mark up the grass. Give me a second, I’ll check my bag.”

“Fine.” He huffed. “Point taken.”

Tyler lined up his putt, swung, and it sailed past the hole. “Don’t say anything.” He tapped the ball in.

“That was anticlimactic.”

“You just had to say something, didn’t you?”

“What else could I do. You set yourself up. The only other thing I could say is I’ve seen you sink par 4 holes like this with your eyes closed.”

“You can’t help yourself can you?”

“Yes. I can. However, since you’ve taken to playing like shit lately, it’s becoming a reflex action.” She headed for the golf cart.

“I’m just off today.” He followed behind her.

CJ put the club in her golf bag. “No, an off day happens every so often. You were off for The Palmer Invitational, The Players, Quail Hollow…”

He cut her off. “I did take the green jacket at the Masters. What do you call that?”

“As of lately, a fluke. You’ve got to get it together Man.”

“Not everyone can be as stealthy as you, Priscilla.” He put his bag on the cart.

“I know how to separate personal from professional, especially in golf. If you have both going on in your head while you’re playing, you are sunk.”

 

“Not everyone can turn the ice on in their veins.”

“I don’t have ice in my veins. I keep my shit separate. Maybe that’s something you should aspire to.” CJ climbed into the passenger side.

“I’ll put it on my list of things to do.” He got in the cart. “We didn’t keep score, did we?”

“No, I was merciful for once.” She smiled. “Do you want me to make lunch at your condo?”

Tyler stared out at the course. “No, let’s drop the gear at the condo and have lunch in the club.”

“Works for me. You’re paying, right?”

“Aren’t I always?”

CJ laughed as they drove off.

Being wealthy and from California, Tyler liked anything that reminded him of the west coast and luxury. The Ritz Carlton Residences in North Hills fit the bill perfectly. His 2,000 plus square-foot condo was more than enough room for the bachelor and his usual parade of lovelies he called girlfriends.

CJ walked into the living room with her golf bag. “Where do you want me to put this?”

“Put it against the terrace entrance. I’ll have someone get it and bring it down to your car later when we get back. By the way, this is a full-service condo. You didn’t have to carry it in here.”

She put her bag down. “I’m sure people here keep the staff busy enough without me adding to it. I’ve been carrying this thing since I was a teenager.”

“Speaking of being a teenager, is that why you have that thing in your hair?”

“Oh, good grief. I forgot I put the scrunchie on.” She took it out and tossed her hair. “People find me less intimidating when I look like Gidget.” CJ put it on top of her bag.

Tyler chuckled. “Scrunchie or ribbons, you’re 6 feet tall, CJ you will always be intimidating. There’s a reason I call you Priscilla Amazon Queen of the Fairway.”

“Don’t I know it?” She smirked.

Tyler put his bag next to hers. “You ready to go?”

“Let’s bounce.”

Lunch at the Governor’s Room boasted Michelin-rated food. It served as a banquet hall for larger events, but during the week, dining there for lunch or dinner was a culinary affair. CJ and Tyler took advantage of the warm weather and dined on the patio. A couple of luncheon-size steaks with salad and baked potato was just the thing to satisfy their appetites. Tyler had a beer while CJ stuck to sparkling water.

“The Memorial Tournament is coming up quick.” CJ sipped her water.

“I know. I’ve got a little time to pull it together.”

“You’re going to have to practice a lot and I know that’s not one of your strong suits.”

 

“I’ve grown up a lot since college, CJ.”

“You have, the women you date haven’t.”

“CJ. Really?”

“What? I’m just saying your current le chat du jour, is a black hole when it comes to her need to be the center of attention, especially when it comes to you. She practically demands your full attention.”

“She loves me. It’s nice to be wanted.”

“Being wanted by Alyssa makes the FBI’s ten most wanted list look like an informal invitation.  Something about this girl.” She shook her head.

In the years since he turned forty, the age of the women Tyler dated skewed twenty years younger than him. He thought he was safe dating millennials.  They weren’t into labels, so there’d be no strings. Then he saw tall, blonde, and lithe Alyssa Brummel at a red carpet event. She wore a neck-to-toe nude illusion lace bodysuit and Tyler couldn’t help himself. By the end of the evening, they went home together. A year later and the twenty-four-year-old, trust funder and bonafide Influencer regularly overshared everything, including her relationship with Tyler with her followers and the media.

“You’ve been talking to me about my love life for 20 plus years. Your love life…” he stopped.

CJ had a steak knife in her hand. “You were saying.”

“I can’t even with you.”

She laughed, and then looked up. “What is that?”

“What are you talking about?”

“In the sky. It looks like smoke.”

“Maybe someone’s burning leaves.” He kept eating.

“This is the gold coast part of the North Shore. People don’t burn leaves here.”

He looked up. “The smoke is too dark to be organic.”

CJ’s cell rang. She looked at the caller ID. “It’s Tim.” Hey, Tim. What’s going on?”

“Mom, have you been on Instagram?”

“Really, Tim? This is your mother you’re talking to. Of course, I haven’t been on Instagram. Why?”

“You need to go on it right now.  Is uncle Tyler with you?”

“Yeah. We just played a round of golf and we’re having lunch at the club.”

“He needs to go on Instagram too. It’s Alyssa.”

“What do you mean, it’s Alyssa?” Tyler put his fork down.

“Tim’s saying that we both should go on Instagram to see.” She put the knife down.

Tyler took his phone out.

“Make sure you turn it so I can see.”

“Oh boy, Mom.” Tim groaned.

“I really don’t like the sound of that.”

When Tyler opened Instagram there was a live stream with Alyssa with ablaze and fire trucks behind her. She was ranting and raving.

“What the hell?!” CJ exclaimed.

Tyler watched frozen.

“It’s already gone viral, Mom.” He paused. “Are you there?”

“Yeah. It’s all I can do not to sail off into the atmosphere. “Wait, there are two bags. The bitch set fire to my golf bag.”

“Oh, no,” Tim said quietly. “I’m going to go, Mom. I know you want to talk to Uncle Tyler”

“I may do more than that. I’ll see you later.”

“Okay, Mom.”

Tyler was stunned. “Where did she come from? She wasn’t supposed to be in New York. I spoke to her this morning.”

“She just did the golf equivalent of a burning bed, and you want to talk about when she got here? That’s the hill you want to die on?”

Tyler didn’t know what to say. Soon the whole dining room was focused on the patio.

“Everyone’s looking Tyler.”

“We better get out of here. I have to see what’s happening.”

“You have to see? It’s streaming live.” CJ got up. “I don’t know if you want me near her.”

“We have to be calm. It’s already horrible.”

“She just melted the bag my father gave me for my high school graduation. Thirty-six years I’ve had them and in one afternoon, they’re barbequed. You better hope the fire department got the blaze out. Otherwise, I may throw her shrimp ass on the barbie.” CJ huffed away full speed.

“No, CJ. I’ll make it right. I promise.”

“Bullshit. I’ll do it.” Head full of steam, she charged through the dining room with Tyler right behind her.

“No, we have to calm down and find out what happened.”

CJ stopped dead and turned around. “Please tell me what’s a good reason for setting a fire in front of private property and ranting like a mad cow. It’s stupid and fucked up.”

“Seriously. I will make it right.”

“How? She burned my shit. How are you going to make it better?”

“I’ll get your bag and clubs replaced with the exact same bag.”

“I don’t know if the company that made the bag is still in business. Or do you think that like a Phoenix, the bags will rise from the ashes?”

“You let me handle it.”

“Like you handled her when she showed up at Quail Hollow and trashed that poor woman’s room because she transposed the room numbers?”

The trashed room happened after the first round when Tyler went out for a beer with some fellow golfers and sport’s bloggers. He left his cell in his room.  The next morning as he waited to tee off,  he got the news that not only was Alyssa there, she was angry with him for not returning her calls. She flew in ready for a fight, but she went to the wrong room and furiously destroyed another guest’s belongings. Luckily, her father’s deep pockets compensated the guest for the damages plus suffering. Unfortunately, he couldn’t do the same for the damage to Tyler’s game which swiftly went down the tubes.

“You had to bring that up?”

“Yes. I did. Someone has to put some sense into that head of yours.” She exhaled. “You know what, let’s get going. We, or should I say you, have to see the damage. Thank God, I drove my car here. I’m going home.”

Tyler looked relieved. “I know you’re upset and getting in her face now won’t help anything.”

 

“What it will do is save her life. I was going to murder her on her live stream!” She took a breath. “Are you moving? Let’s go.”

Every set of eyes in the club was on Tyler. He knew this attention was only the beginning. He looked down at his phone. She was still going.   “F my life.”

 

***

In the short time it took to get back condo, the residents’ parking lot was filled with police cars and fire vehicles. Tyler found a space in the secondary parking lot. Knowing it was imperative to get CJ out of there, Tyler flagged down a police officer to guide her out of the parking lot.

“You are one lucky son of a gun.”    CJ scoffed as she hopped into her Range Rover.

“I’m not stupid. I’ve seen your temper.” Tyler closed the car door. “Well, you’re all set to get out of here.”

CJ started the car, then rolled the window down. “I don’t see any handcuffs.     I bet she called her daddy.”

“That’s not fair, CJ.”

“You want to talk about what’s fair? I can still get out of this car and wring her neck.”

“Okay. You got me.”

“I don’t know why I am surprised. Girls like that always skate. You’ll be upset for another 10 minutes or so. Then you’ll move on to the makeup sex.”

“No, I won’t.” Tyler insisted. “You have to forgive people. They’re only human and make mistakes. You know you could do…”

“I could do what?” CJ’s eyes flashed with anger.

“Nothing. I’m sorry.”

“Right. I’ll email you the specs from my bag to replace it. I hope you know Merlin.”

“If I don’t, I’ll make a point to meet him.” He looked over at the officer. “He’s giving you all clear to back out.”

“Thanks.”

Tyler watched CJ drive off, then made his way over to where the action was. As he got closer to his condo, he noticed the placement of the bags. Did she throw them off the terrace? He traced the path with his eyes.  Yes. She threw them off the terrace.  He shook his head then made his way to a fire official.

He tapped him on the shoulder. “Excuse me, are you the fire chief?”

A short, stout man with a ruddy complexion faced him. “Yes. Chief Carlson. You’re Tyler Mitchell.”

“Yes. Where is she? Is she under arrest?”

He pointed. “She’s over there by the property manager. The police are here, but I don’t know what’s happening.”

Tyler looked at the smoldering heap. “Was there any other damage?”

“The fire was pretty much contained to the bags. There’s some damage to the grass, but nothing horrible. Good thing the bags were real, a cheap one would have gone up like a Roman candle. All in all, it could have been worse.”

“Yep. Thanks.” He stepped away. What a parting gift. If she was going to be a firebug, at least the bags were made of good enough material that it only burned the grass, as opposed to burning the whole condo down.  

Tyler nodded as he walked by some of his neighbors. Everyone waved politely, but he could feel residual flames burning through his back when he passed by.  People began to part as he came upon Alyssa, who was in a blue dress with puffy sleeves and a white-collar. She looked like Madeline from the children’s book. All that was missing was a pair of Mary Janes. So, if Alyssa was the schoolgirl, building manager, Harrison Pinter, who was next to her, looked like the headmaster.

“Ty!” She ran up and put her arms around his neck. “I’m sorry.”

“You stopped streaming?”

“Yes. Daddy made a deal.”

“Your father what?”

“Hello, Mr. Mitchell.”

“Harrison. I would say it’s good to see you, but you know.”

“Ms. Brummel telephoned her father and gave me the phone. He offered to compensate us for the damages and the services of his crisis management team to handle the press.”

Tyler looked around. “They must work fast. I don’t see any other cameras here.”

“Apparently so.”

“The powers that be okayed it?”

“Yes. They want it to go away quickly.  I am sorry about the bags, Mr. Mitchell. It could have been worse if they weren’t so well-made.”

“Isn’t that something.”

“I’ll leave you to it. Good day, Ms. Brummel.”

“Yeah.”

Tyler waited a moment. “All I want to know is why.”

Alyssa batted her eyelashes; it was the prelude to her coquettish act. “It’s your fault.”

“I’m sorry. It’s my fault you did all of this. How?”

“You didn’t answer any of my texts this afternoon.”

“I didn’t get any texts.” He took his phone out.

She grabbed it out of his hand. “See. You have a bunch from me.” She fiddled through his phone. “You didn’t remember you put your phone on silent?”

“I always put it on silent if I’m playing golf. You know that. I was going to take it off silent mode after lunch.”

“Yeah. I remembered, but then I got here, and I saw this in the living room.” She held up CJ’s red scrunchie.  “You were here with another woman.”

He shook his head. “That’s CJ’s.”

All the color drained from her face. “CJ’s scrunchie?”

“Yeah. She wore it on the golf course today. She offered to make lunch here, but we had lunch at the club instead.”

Still as pale as a ghost, she seemed to shrink. “The bag belonged to CJ.” She gulped and looked around. “Is she here?”

“She was going to come back. I convinced her to head home and cool down.”

“It was an old bag anyway. It couldn’t have been worth that much.”

“That’s not the point. Her dad gave her that when she graduated. Sentiment adds value. It was custom, like your shoes.” He paused. “We have to do something about this jealous streak of yours. You can’t keep having fits like this. Your followers aren’t substitutes for friends. If you’re mad, make like Who Wants to Be A Millionaire and phone a friend, use a lifeline. It doesn’t have to be a poll.”

“My followers are my friends. They have some good advice.”

“What poll said you should start a fire?”

She rolled her eyes. “I was angry. You didn’t communicate.”

“And that was communication?” He pointed to the charred pile.

“I’m going to do something to rectify that right now.” She began to fiddle with his phone.

“What are you doing?”

“Making sure you know when I’m trying to get in touch with you.” Her fingers flew across the screen. “Better.” She put it in his hand. “I gave myself a ringtone of a doorbell. Now you will know when I’m looking for you. And here’s the vibrate button. Use it. It’s quiet, but it buzzes.”

“I guess the problem is solved.”

“That’s right, Baby. Let’s go back in and forget about this. Someone will clean it up.” She kissed him then took his hand.

Alyssa was blind to all the disapproving looks and tut-tutting, but Tyler wasn’t. He was following her like a puppy on a leash. He kept his head low to avoid their gaze.  Just before he went inside, he turned around and saw people with fireproof gloves pulling what was left in the rubble.  I’m sure my pride is in there somewhere. I don’t want to think about how many people saw this live. He sighed and went inside. Before the day was over, there were over 6 million views and counting. Unfortunately for Tyler, even when it was over, it wouldn’t be gone or forgotten.

 

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Adaptable Recipes, Food Glorious Food, Makeover Monday Meals

Makeover Monday Meal- Breakfast Edition

 

Breakfast is considered the most important meal of the day. So, instead of grabbing a fast-food breakfast sandwich, why not have a lightly sweet scone to enjoy with your tea or coffee instead.

These recipes come together fairly quickly and you can make the dough ahead of time and refrigerate it for up to two days. These recipes have been adapted for vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, and low sugar diets. The substitutions are in the parenthesis next to each ingredient.

A Taste of Ireland recipe for Irish scones adapted by Chamein Canton

Makes 7 large scones  and 10 small scones

(225gr / 2 cups) plain all-purpose flour (gluten-free all-purpose flour, 1 to 1 gluten-free baking blend, sorghum, white rice, or brown rice flour)

2 heaped teaspoons (2 ¾ US tsp) baking powder

Large pinch salt

1 US level tablespoon) castor sugar (Swerve sweetener, Splenda granulated, monk fruit sweetener granulated, coconut, turbinado, or raw cane sugar, pulsed fine)

2oz (50gr / ½ a stick of butter) chilled unsalted butter (vegan butter)

(280ml / 2 fl. oz / ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons US cups) milk approximately” (dairy: whole, 2$) (non-dairy almond, rice, soy, or light coconut milk)

Beaten egg & sugar to glaze (2 tablespoons Aquafaba or 1 tablespoon soy lecithin)

Preheat the oven to Gas 8 / 450F / 230C

Sift all the dry ingredients together. Rub in the chilled butter until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Make a well in the center and add most of the milk. Mix to a soft dough adding all of the milk if required.
Turn out onto a floured surface and knead lightly. Roll out to about 1 inch (2 ½ cm) thickness. Dip the cutter into flour and cut the dough into rounds of 1 ½ inch (4cm).
Place scones on a floured baking tray, glaze with the beaten egg, and put immediately into the hot oven. In 15 minutes approximately, the scones should have risen and had a golden top. Enjoy with Irish butter and homemade jam!

  • The amount of milk added is determined by where you live and your house. If you’re in a drier area, you may need to add more milk so the dough begins to come together. Be sure not to overwork the dough. If you live in a humid climate, it may take less milk. Use your judgment.

Mini Chocolate Chip scones by Sugar Spun Run adapted by Chamein

2 cups all-purpose flour (465g) gluten-free all-purpose flour, 1 to 1 gluten-free baking blend, sorghum, white rice, or brown rice flour)

1/4 cup granulated sugar (100g) (Swerve sweetener, Splenda granulated, monk fruit granulated sweetener, golden sugar, coconut, turbinado, or raw cane sugar pulsed finely)
2 teaspoon baking powder (18g)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup very cold unsalted butter frozen is better (226g) (vegan unsalted butter)
1/2 cup heavy cream (237ml) (full-fat coconut milk or 3 tablespoons almond milk with 2 tablespoons melted unsalted vegan butter, cooled. With a stand or hand mixer, mix the butter into the almond milk, then add )
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips

Glaze
1/2 -1 ½ cups powdered sugar (110g+) (Swerve confectioner’s sugar substitute, organic or vegan confectioner’s sugar)
1 Tablespoon milk (30ml) (dairy: whole, 2%, fat-free) (non-dairy: almond, rice, soy, or light coconut milk)
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract optional

Instructions

Preheat oven to 375 F (190C) and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.

Thoroughly cut in butter (I prefer to freeze the butter, grate it using a box grater, and then cut it in that way. This method yields the flakiest scones, but is not mandatory — you can use cold butter cut in with a pastry cutter).

Measure out the heavy cream in a measuring cup and add vanilla extract. Stir gently.

Carefully stir heavy cream/vanilla mixture into flour mixture. You do not want to over-mix, but due to the number of dry ingredients, it may be tricky to well incorporate the liquid and the dry mixes. You may briefly use a KitchenAid or electric mixer on a low setting to help coax the dough to cling together.

Once the dough is beginning to cling together, add chocolate chips, stir briefly, and then transfer to a very lightly floured surface

lightly knead the dough and chocolate chips together until you are able to form a ball.

Break the dough into 4 even pieces and round each one out into a disk about 5″ wide.

Cut each into 8 wedges and transfer to cookie sheet.

Bake at 375F (190C) for 14-16 minutes.

While the scones cool, prepare your glaze by whisking together milk, vanilla extract, and powdered sugar. Start with 1 cup powdered sugar, and if it still seems too runny you may increase the sugar amount.

Once scones are cooled, dip, drizzle, or spoon the glaze lightly over the top of each scone. Allow it to sit and harden before serving.

 

To learn more about Irish Cooking check out A Taste of Ireland on Recipe TV

https://recipe.tv/

Living Your Best Life North of Forty and Fifty Plus

The Thin Grey (Haired) Line in Women’s Fiction

Finding Love over Forty

I’ve been in the publishing industry as a literary agent and an author for a long time. Publishing has gone through changes over time. Some changes have been permanent, while others were essentially transient. It’s still centered around fiction and nonfiction with a host of genres and sub-genres.  Both fiction and nonfiction books are reflective of the times, trends, and movements. Nonfiction books that focused on race and gender, now include titles that cover the Black Lives Matter Movement, transgender issues, and gender identity to name just a few. The same applies to fiction sub-genres in a multitude of categories, I am going to focus on women’s fiction.

Wikipedia defines women’s fiction as an umbrella term for women centered books that focus on women’s life experience that are marketed to female readers, and includes many mainstream novels or women’s rights Books. It is distinct from Women’s writing, which refers to literature written by women. The Women’s Fiction Writers Association says women’s fiction may include romance, or it may not. It could be contemporary or historical and have magical, mystery, thriller, or other elements. What defines a novel as women’s fiction is that the driving force is the protagonist’s journey toward a more fulfilled self.

The wonderful thing about fiction is it allows you to create a world from your mind’s eye. The only limitations are the ones you put on yourself, at least that’s the case when it’s just you and your laptop or notebook. If you are a female author who happens to be north of forty or fifty-plus, then you are in for a fight from the outside.

There is so much talk about age and how it’s just a number. The fact is that your grandparents’ fifty looks nothing like it does today. With good nutrition, skin care, and surgical intervention, in some cases, people are not only living longer, they are looking better than ever. Moreover, the sit in a rocking chair mentality has gone out of the window. You are more likely to find a grandmother in a spin class, and if she does like to knit, today’s north of fifty grandmothers are doing it in between yoga and Pilates. Life north of forty is viewed as an opportunity to make our second acts more exciting and fulfilling.

It’s the reason I am often puzzled by fiction categories for women over forty. First off, a lot of people think romance when you say you’re an author. There’s nothing wrong with being a romance author at all. It’s the most popular category in fiction. Romance novels focus on relationships and romantic love with an emotional and happy ending.  When it comes to stories of love, everyone wants a happy and satisfying end. However, that view or path changes as we get older, and many female authors who are north of forty, fifty, and even sixty-plus reflect that in their writing.

Currently, romances for people over forty are called seasoned romances. Some hold to the happily ever after formula, only with older characters. Why it’s categorized differently when it’s still all about love, is beyond me.  Then there are the seasoned romances where the path to true love isn’t easy. It’s fraught with many of the issues people over forty face when looking for love, or when they are trying to keep romance alive in a relationship. In Shakespeare’s  A Midsummer Night’s Dream we’re watching the Athenians pursue love and all its follies, and find The Bard was quite correct to state that the course of true love never did run smooth.  Romances with older characters develop the romance in a nuanced way that reflects their experience and the time in their lives. Situations when one was quick to get angry about and summarily dismiss at thirty-years-old, aren’t looked at in the same way at forty or fifty. In the end, north of forty and fifty characters are looking for love and find it, but the path to get there is different.

Then there is the relatively new genre of chick-lit.  Viewed by some as a derogatory term, it’s loosely defined as literature that appeals mainly to women. (obviously, a man’s idea)  The other definition for chick-lit is a genre fiction which “consists of heroine-centered narratives that focus on the trials and tribulations of their individual protagonists. What’s not said in this definition is what is usually found when you pitch it to editors. Chick-lit is about women in their twenties and thirties. Anything written with characters over forty is defined as either matron-lit or hen-lit, neither of which particularly flattering. Matron is a term associated with female prison guards or a verb that’s the kiss of death in fashion. Hen conjures up images of women sitting in a room laughing or talking while men refer to their chatter at clucking.  Why can’t women over forty and fifty still be chicks? Writing about mature men isn’t called Prostate-lit or Dick-lit for men who use Viagra. No one would dare do such a thing even though publishing is overwhelmingly female, but it’s still mostly a boys club the further up the chain of command you go.

I started referring to my writing as Still A Chick Lit as I went through my forties to being in my fifties. Life and love are essentially the same, but there’s much change as you age. If you’re single/divorced, the dating pool is considerably smaller and you don’t have the time to take long applications. Everything has to be put on the table rather quickly so you can make the decision if you want to pursue a relationship or not. It comes down to the devil you know or the devil you don’t know. The number of people who get back together after divorce or long-term dating/cohabitating is quite large. I used to wonder about that when I was in my thirties. I couldn’t fathom doing such a thing. If you got rid of a man, you did it for a good reason. He should stay gone, right? Well no. I’m not sure if it’s a matter of being mature, scared, or just tired of the gerbil wheel of dating. Things change and there’s a level of acceptance and communication that you are a little more willing to do to make love work.

The bottom line is grey hair in a book doesn’t mean the story is old. As a matter of fact, you can find a plethora of characters that are made more charming and interesting with age. One of the biggest announcements at the end of 2020 was a Sex and the City re-boot with three of our favorite ladies in New York navigating their lives as women in their fifties with husbands, children, careers, and friendships. What made the series and subsequent movies successful was going on the journey with Carrie, Samantha, Miranda, and Charlotte. Age didn’t make them any less interesting. In fact, they became more inspiring as women over forty and fifty began to think about their lives in different ways. Why that won’t happen with books is beyond me, but it’s something that I hope to change.

I hope that you will come with on this journey as an author of Still A Chick-lit and nonfiction passion projects to go on this journey with me

Classic Chocolate Cake recipe from Add A Pinch and adapted by me

Ingredients

2 cups all-purpose flour (gluten-free all-purpose flour, 1 to 1 gluten-free baking blend, sweet rice, or sorghum flour)

2 cups sugar (Swerve sweetener, Splenda granulated, golden sugar, coconut or turbinado sugar, pulsed finely)

3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (Dutch-process cocoa or regular unsweetened cocoa)

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon espresso powder 

1 cup buttermilk (non-dairy: 1 cup almond, soy, rice, or light coconut milk plus 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar or lemon juice)

1/2 cup vegetable oil canola oil, or melted coconut oil

2 large eggs (1/2 cup Aquafaba, ½ cup silken tofu plus ¼ teaspoon baking soda, 2 flaxseed or chia seed eggs, or egg replacer)

2 teaspoons vanilla 

1 cup boiling water

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350º F. Prepare two 9-inch cake pans by spraying with baking spray or buttering and lightly flouring.

For the chocolate cake:

  1. Add flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, salt and espresso powder to a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer. Whisk through to combine or, using your paddle attachment, stir through flour mixture until combined well.
  2. Add buttermilk, vegetable oil, eggs, and vanilla to flour mixture and mix together on medium speed until well combined. Reduce speed and carefully add boiling water to the cake batter until well combined.
  3. Distribute cake batter evenly between the two prepared cake pans. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick or cake tester inserted in the center of the chocolate cake comes out clean.
  4. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for about 10 minutes, remove from the pan and cool completely.

Notes

The cake batter will be very thin after adding the boiling water.

Freezer Friendly

Let the baked cake layers cool completely. Wrap them well with plastic wrap and then with foil. Put each layer into a freezer bag and freeze up to 2 months. To serve, thaw in the refrigerator overnight with wrapping intact. The next day, the layers are ready to fill and frost

Chocolate Buttercream Frosting by Add a Pinch adapted by me

Ingredients

1½ cups butter 3 sticks, softened (vegan butter, margarine)

1 cup unsweetened cocoa (Dutch process cocoa or regular unsweetened cocoa powder is fine)

5 cups confectioner’s sugar (Organic confectioner’s sugar, Swerve confectioner’s sugar substitute)

½ cup milk (dairy: whole milk, 2%) (non-dairy: almond, soy, rice, or light coconut milk)

2 teaspoons vanilla 

½ teaspoon espresso powder or 1 tablespoon brewed coffee 

Instructions

Add cocoa to a large bowl or bowl of stand mixer. Whisk through to remove any lumps.

Cream together butter and cocoa powder until well-combined.

Add sugar and milk to cocoa mixture by adding 1 cup of sugar followed by about a tablespoon of milk. After each addition has been combined, turn mixer onto a high speed for about a minute. Repeat until all sugar and milk have been added.

Add vanilla extract and espresso powder and combine well.

If frosting appears too dry, add more milk, a tablespoon at a time until it reaches the right consistency. If it appears to wet and does not hold its form, add more confectioner’s sugar, a tablespoon at a time until it reaches the right consistency.

Chocolate Pudding

Ingredients

3 tablespoons cornstarch

2 tablespoons water

1 ½ cups almond milk (soy, rice, or light coconut milk) (dairy: whole milk, 2 %, non-fat milk)

¼ teaspoon vanilla extract

¼ cup white sugar (Swerve sweetener, Splenda granulated, golden sugar, coconut, or raw cane sugar, finely pulsed)

¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder (Dutch-process or regular unsweetened cocoa powder

Directions

Step 1

In small bowl, combine cornstarch and water to form a paste.

Step 2

In large saucepan over medium heat, stir together soy milk, vanilla, sugar, cocoa and cornstarch mixture. Cook, stirring constantly, until mixture boils. Continue to cook and stir until mixture thickens. Remove from heat. Pudding will continue to thicken as it cools. Allow to cool five minutes, then chill in refrigerator until completely cool.

Dairy whipped cream

½ cup whipping or heavy cream, chilled

¼ teaspoon to ½ teaspoon cream of tartar

2 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar (Organic confectioner’s sugar, Swerve confectioner’s sugar substitute)

In a clean glass or metal bowl, add the heavy cream and cream of tartar.

On medium-high speed whip the cream and slowly sprinkle the sugar in. Continue whipping until soft peaks begin to form. When you run a spoon through the bowl, it should leave a path.

To make the chocolate mousse filling, fold in ½ the whipped cream into the cooled chocolate pudding. Fold until you don’t see any white streaks. Then fold in the remaining whipped cream. You can put it in the fridge for up to 1 day in advance, otherwise, fill the cake right away. Let the filled cake set in the fridge for at least an hour before serving.

Vegan Whipped cream recipe from Minimalist Baker

1 14-ounce can coconut cream or full-fat coconut milk  (do not use cream of coconut, it’s too sweet and won’t work, It’s great for a pina colada)  (I like Whole Foods 365 brand of coconut milk)

1/4 – 3/4 cup organic icing/powdered sugar (Swerve confectioner’s sugar substitute)

1/2 tsp vanilla extract (optional)

Instructions

Chill your coconut cream or coconut milk in the refrigerator overnight (see notes for top brands!), being sure not to shake or tip the can to encourage separation of the cream and liquid. See notes for more insight / troubleshooting.

The next day, chill a large mixing bowl 10 minutes before whipping.

Remove the coconut cream or milk from the fridge without tipping or shaking and remove the lid. Scrape out the top, thickened cream and leave the liquid behind (reserve for use in smoothies).

Note: if your coconut milk didn’t harden, you probably just got a dud can without the right fat content. In that case, you can try to salvage it with a bit of tapioca flour – 1 to 4 Tbsp (amount as original recipe is written // adjust if altering batch size)- during the whipping process. That has worked for me several times.

Place hardened cream in your chilled mixing bowl. Beat for 30 seconds with a mixer until creamy. Then add vanilla (optional) and powdered sugar (or stevia) and mix until creamy and smooth – about 1 minute. Taste and adjust sweetness as needed.

Use immediately or refrigerate – it will harden and set in the fridge the longer it’s chilled. Will keep for up to 1 – 2 weeks!

Living Your Best Life North of Forty and Fifty Plus

Something New: A Sneak Preview of Barefoot in The City

When 2020 and Covid-19 puts a damper on life as they knew it for everyone in New York, America, and the world, Like so many others, 54-year-old literary agent, wife, mother, and renegade foodie, Clarissa Berman looked at the dawning of a new decade with hope and maybe some change. However, when she and her husband of 14 years, Miles, begin to see little things in the news about a virus or flu in China, they’re both a little uneasy, but it’s Clarissa who can’t shake the foreboding feelings she has. Luckily, she has her best friend Melanie’s engagement and Barefoot in the City, an online Ina Garten fan page to keep her thoughts light, happy, and pretty focused on the kitchen. But when one of her favorite clients, geopolitical author, Tom begins working on a book about China and the virus, she soon realizes it’s worse than she thought.

Clarissa begins to notice little things. Some hospitals seem busier than usual, she sees nurses in trash bags instead of scrubs, and anything health-related from the WHO or CDC is buried in news crawl. She knows it’s not a sign of the apocalypses, but one of the horses is coming. With one eye on the news, Clarissa heads to the kitchen to relieve stress and figure out the kind of cakes to make for Melanie’s wedding. She’ll include her Barefoot in the City friends who always have great tips and recipes to help her along. As it becomes clear to NYC that something wicked this way comes, Clarissa uses the pan in pandemic, Ina, the members of Barefoot Contessa in the city, and a lot of love and patience to make her way through.

An excerpt from the beginning

BAREFOOT IN THE CITY

By Chamein Canton

It was a dark, cold, grey, January day in Manhattan. The city lost its holiday shine. Gone from the modern contemporary office lobbies across New York County were the trees, lights, and holiday decorations that made them sparkle.  Now, they were more like a rich man’s trophy wife or girlfriend, beautiful to behold, but soulless and cold.  At least that’s how fifty-four-year-old, Clarissa Berman felt as she walked through the lobby of her office building on Lexington Avenue.

At 5’8, Clarissa was too tall to be considered petite, but tall enough to be above average. A very curvy African American woman, she had big boobs, a generous butt, a smallish waist with a little more tummy than she’d like. Her long, curly, thick hair was a custom mix of Clairol light reddish and cedar red brown, that played nicely off of the red undertones of her brown bronze-like complexion. Clarissa was a recent convert to the natural hair movement at her mother’s suggestion. Although, it was rare for her mother, who she affectionately referred to as Her Mothership, to make suggestions. More often than not, her advice was the equivalent of mutton dressed as lamb, but it was still mutton.

Clarissa’s text notifications chimed. She looked at her cell. It’s mom.

I just picked Ingrid up from JFK. She went to North Carolina to see her grandchildren. Jimmy has the kids, but that ex-wife of his told Ingrid some sob story about being sick and Ingrid gave her $2,000. The girl wasn’t sick, she needed it for a boob job. Can you imagine that? I told Ingrid she’s too soft. A boob job at her age. Tiffany is damn near sixty and still dresses like she’s getting ready to climb a pole, any pole.

Her mothership had strong positions on most things, like strippers or décolletage to name two, and she wasn’t afraid to express her opinion. Although, she was almost two years shy of being eighty, her mothership was fit, had a smooth complexion with barely a wrinkle and a silver hair pixie cut.  She could have gotten away with a little higher of a hemline, but that wasn’t her mothership’s style. Her mothership felt that at a certain age you covered up to be dignified and not an embarrassment to your children or grandchildren. The hemline moratorium included shorts of any length for women over forty and fifty. Even J-Lo’s ageless shape didn’t get a pass. Her mothership kept herself tight at that age, but never donned a pair of shorts. So, if she was too old, La Lopez needed to put a pair of slacks on.

Clarissa snickered. That’s not nice Mom. She typed.

It’s not meant to be nice. Jimmy’s mad at her and I don’t blame him. I told her not to give that girl any money. The money she got from selling her house isn’t going to last forever.

Okay Mom. So, you dropped her off at home?

No. We’re going to dinner.

Wait. Ingrid’s in the car and your Bluetooth is on. It’s reading your texts aloud in the car.

Yeah. I don’t talk behind anyone’s back. I believe in being direct.

 You’re telling me? I’m not exactly new Mom. Clarissa shook her head. I’m waiting for  my uber.

So, you’re not taking the subway. Good. I don’t know how you do it nowadays. I took the subway back in the sixties, it was kinda nice then.

I am fully aware that you haven’t taken the subway since 1971. I’ve got to run now. Tell Ingrid I said hi. Better yet, hi Ingrid.

Hi Clarissa.

Enjoy dinner ladies. Goodnight Mom.

Goodnight. Be careful. It’s dark.

Gotcha.

I don’t know how Ingrid deals with her mothership. She’s nearly brought the woman to tears with her honesty, but she keeps doing things with her. I suppose that’s friendship or Stockholm syndrome.

Her mothership was born Mary Anne Stevenson-Cannon Burgess. She grew up loving hair, fashion, and makeup in a small town in South Carolina. Always a very pretty girl, she stood out as unusual because of her eyes. She was born with one blue and the other brown. Her eye color was almost as misunderstood as her parent’s deafness. When she was coming up in the 1940s and 50s, people used the horrible phrase deaf, dumb, and mute to describe the disability. Mary Anne and her older brother, Charles, were their parents, or more specifically, their father’s protectors. Mary Anne’s mother Annette was able to stick up for herself, and used the international sign for kiss my ass to make her point whenever she needed to. Clarissa could attest to that when her grandmother and mother would argue via sign language. Grandma Annette came from money. Her family was able to send her to the School for the Deaf and Blind in Spartanburg, and it put her in good stead for her life. Clarissa never knew her grandfather Landy. Her mothership remembered him as a kind and gentle man. His family enrolled him in the same school, but couldn’t afford to keep him there.  It was painful issue for her mothership and her big brother, but not for the reasons most people would assume. It was their father Landy’s trusting nature. It made him a mark for passing gypsies and some of the less than scrupulous residents in town. She and Charles would go toe-to -toe with the folks who’d duped their father to get his hard-earned money back.

Nevertheless, life in a small town wasn’t all bad. Mary Anne loved to roam the woods around town for wild berries, laugh at fun church picnics, and try out the latest dances at school socials.  Clarissa was grateful that unlike her uncle Charles, who left high school to work in the steel mill and decided to build a life in South Carolina, her mother took a different route. After she graduated from high school, she left the bounds of her town, county, and South Carolina and made her way up the east coast to Maryland where she stayed with cousins in Baltimore. That was where she met Clarissa’s father, Ernest, a native New Yorker. They married and settled on Long Island. Although her mothership didn’t go to college, she landed a position at a women’s service magazine as they were known in the early sixties. It wasn’t fashion, but it concentrated on home fashions and interior décor, another area she was skilled in. 

Mary Anne was a frustrated fashion editor, so she turned Clarissa and Elena into her living dolls, with about as much say as a doll when it came to what they put on or how many barrettes and ribbons were in their hair.  Clarissa began to refer mom, Mary Anne as ‘her mothership’ when she decided it was in her best interests for the girls to get relaxers.  Despite having seemingly won the battle of the barrettes, Clarissa realized that even as an adult, she and Elena would always be ladies in waiting when it came to the will of her mothership in some form.  Even when she hit 50, her mothership weighed in on her hair. Now a relaxer was the enemy for a woman Clarissa’s age and her natural curly hair was better.  Clarissa’s first inclination was to rebel, but in the long run, her mothership’s will be done. Not only did Clarissa go back to her curly hair, she also hadn’t worn a pair of shorts in fourteen years.

But fuss with her hair Clarissa did as she looked out the window for her Uber.  You would think I just did this the way I keep futzing with my hair. It’s been four years, and I still haven’t gotten used to it. She sighed.  Traces of frozen precipitation had begun to fall when a black Navigator pulled in front. Clarissa checked her phone. That’s it. She walked outside and got in the backseat on the driver’s side.

“Good evening, Ma’am.”

“Good evening.” She closed the door and buckled up. Again with the looking at my hair in the mirror. At least it’s shiny and doesn’t resemble the tentacles of a Portuguese Man O War. That’s progress.

Her cell rang. It was Clarissa’s best friend of over forty years, Melanie Vargas Hopkins. Their birthdays were separated by a mere few days. They graduated from the same high school and went onto Skidmore College together. The curvaceous Latina with lush brunette locks was divorced and dating a guy Clarissa set her up with a year earlier. But, before she could pick up the phone, she had to give the driver her customary explanation for why she uses the speakerphone.  Clarissa was partially deaf.

She was born a healthy baby girl, but at three months old, her Grandma Cannon noticed that she turned her head to the right when spoken to. When she mentioned it to her son, it ticked her mothership off. To keep the peace, no one pushed the issue again until a routine hearing test in elementary school, led the audiologist to confirm she was deaf in her left ear. Fortunately,  Clarissa’s right ear was at 99.1% and she could read lips .

To adjust for someone on her left, she’d subtly turn toward them. The volume on a landline wasn’t an issue. However, the busy, noisy streets of Manhattan were another story.

Clarissa looked at her phone for the driver’s name. “Excuse me, Bernie?”

“Yes ma’am.”

“I’d like to answer this cell call, but I have to put it on speaker. I’m partially deaf. If it bothers you, I’ll send her a text and call her back.”

“No, that’s not a problem. Thanks for asking.”

“No. Thank you. I appreciate your understanding.” She hit answer. “Hey Girlie. How was Fiji?”

“It was fantastic. So beautiful, warm, sunny, and lovely all the time.”

“Aww, that sounds nice. Then you flew back to grey and cold reality. What a bummer.”

“Don’t I know it? I figured I’d buzz you before you went underground to get home.”

“I am ubering home now. I didn’t feel like descending into the arteries of the city today. The whole city is shrouded in a post-holiday funk, and it’s contagious.”

“You’re not kidding.”

“When do you have to get back to the hospital?”

“I’ve got another week or so off. I have a ton of accumulated time. I’m taking some of it. No need to rush. I have to give my body a little time to re-acclimate.”

“Good for you. Where’s Jordan?”

“He went to his place, but he’s coming back.”

Fifty-eight-year-old graphic art designer Jordan Chan was always in Clarissa’s orbit as an editor and an agent. Jordan was blissfully married for many years until a drunk driver ended his happy world. Clarissa knew that people who truly loved before were likely to find love again, it was always a matter of timing. Melanie’s marriage to Troy began like a dream but devolved into a nightmare after the kids were born. Troy was a serial cheater and lazy to boot. Melanie had the role of breadwinner for their twin daughters and son. After their divorce, relationships weren’t on her radar for a while.

All of that changed during the holiday season the previous year. Jordan finally decided to attend Clarissa’s legendary holiday buffet, instead of getting an after-party care package. She introduced him to Melanie. The attraction was instant. After a few dates, they were a bonafide couple.

“My goodness, Girlie. All of this togetherness. Why don’t you two just move in together? Or maybe jump the broom?”

“Jordan and I were just laughing about that. It’s too soon.”

“Too soon? Have you checked our sundial lately? We have no business waiting around in this section of the pool. The water is receding. There’s no time to waste.”

“I know. You make a good point.”

“Of course I do, but that’s beside the point. How did David enjoy his time with his big sisters?”

“He had a great time, and it’s going to continue. He’s going to be there for a few more days.”

“So you’re going to continue with that Fiji feeling.”

“Mercy, yes.”

“Oh.” Clarissa laughed. “Don’t let me keep you. We’ll catch up later. Give Jordan my best. Take care and have fun Girlie.”

“You too. Say hi to Miles for me.”

“Sure will.” Clarissa turned and stared out of the car window. I knew Jordan and Melanie would hit it off. Now they’ve been hitting it often. My matchmaking skills worked once, and now I can retire with a high batting average. She giggled softly as her text notifications chimed. She looked down. It was from her assistant Tess Arnold. Hey Miss B. Don dropped by the office after you left. He wants a Zoom meeting on Wednesday. I know you’re going to be out of the office for the rest of the week, but Don will send a link.  Don’t worry, I’ll walk you through it beforehand.

She groaned. A Zoom meeting. I hate this stuff. What ever happened to having meetings in the office with a coffee cart, pastries, and tea? I never know if I have enough bandwidth or whatever in my apartment building. Technology. She sighed. Is it progress? To me, that remains to be seen.

***

Clarissa graduated suma cum laude with a degree in English. A book nerd from the time she was a kid, she gravitated toward a career in publishing. At twenty-three, she was an editorial assistant at one of the big five publishers in New York. It wasn’t long before she became a full-fledged editor at twenty-five. Her personal life changed too when she married music teacher Darren Campbell and had twin sons. By the time Clarissa was twenty-eight, she was one of the youngest editorial directors in publishing at the time. Still, the laws of the see-saw prevailed. While her professional life was on the way up, her marriage was on the way down to crash and burn. Darren wanted to do more than just teach music, he wanted to live it. So, he quit his job, joined a band, and succumbed to the wanderlust gypsy life of music, which left Clarissa holding the bag.  Unfortunately, her grand title didn’t come with a grand salary, which would have been okay if Darren wasn’t a deadbeat dad. She was the sole provider for her sons.  Later at a friend’s suggestion, she made the transition to become a literary agent. It was the perfect career for her, particularly since she could bring her long-standing connections to publishing houses big and small with her.  Eventually, Clarissa landed at Trifecta Literary Agency, where within the first two years, she had Pulitzers, National Book, and National Book Critic award-winning authors. Not to mention a long list of authors who made the New York Times bestsellers list in fiction and nonfiction. Twenty-five years later, Clarissa was a vested partner, and the Executive Vice President of Trifecta.

Much of Clarissa’s success came from the way in which she maintained her working relationships. There were quick catch-ups over coffees at Starbucks, lingering creative sessions/lunches at Le Grenouille, a devil’s in the details discussion over tea at Alice’s Tea Cup, a good old celebratory steak at Peter Lugers, or we got a deal seafood extravaganza at Le Bernadin. She treated her clients and colleagues well. However, the most coveted invitation was to her table. Clarissa’s culinary prowess was well-known in publishing. Zoom meetings and teleconferences were efficient, but lacked the warmth and personal touch of having  fresh baked muffins, cinnamon rolls, apple pie donuts, and bagels made better by New York’s famous tap water, and Clarissa’s twenty-year-old sour dough starter. The shift to the online netherworld as she thought of it, made her long for the days when publishers took on talented authors with great stories or intriguing voices. Now the industry looked to social media for their next blockbuster or best-seller.  Personalities, influencers, and viral media sensations with a large number of followers, likes, and views on Instagram, Tik-Tok, and YouTube were getting first pick. Editors and agents had to work with this algorithm whether they liked it or not.  Despite that aspect of the digital age, it wasn’t all bad to Clarissa. As someone who enjoyed cooking and who took solace in the kitchen, going online let her find new and old recipes to make at home. Moreover, she could follow her favorite television cook, Ina Garten, The Barefoot Contessa, and it was where she stumbled upon an online group for Ina Garten fans, Barefoot in the City.

The kitchen was the main hub of activity in her life, and Clarissa had a vast collection of cookbooks to challenge herself and put her culinary skills to the test. However, there was more to it than just being a kitchen gunslinger.   Whenever she felt stressed about work, the kids, or life in general, there was something about the order found in recipes that quelled her nerves. The tactile aspect of mise en place, sautéing, chopping, baking, braising, broiling, simmering, or grilling to name a few, helped blow the clouds from her mind. The discovery of the fan group brought her into a world of incredible posted food pics, recipes, and a community in a way that was unexpected. It wasn’t long before she began check it every day for the food posts, and pics, all with a great big helping of love for families and Ina, of course.

I have to go on Zoom for a meeting. Yuck. She sighed. What did I take out for dinner tonight? I think I asked Miles to take the salmon out.

The car turned onto East 96th Street on the approach to Carnegie Hill. When Miles was in the market for a condo before their wedding, Clarissa’s only requirement was a big kitchen. Luckily as a result of his work and connections, Miles was able to buy one of Carnegie Hill’s rare condos just before their wedding in 2006.

While there is no shortage of luxury apartment buildings rising up from the concrete of the Manhattan skyline, 21 East 96th Street, was a little gem of a boutique building. It wasn’t a high-rise, but it had nine whole floor units,  24-hour doorman, gym, bike room and private storage. Clarissa and Miles’ unit had four bedrooms and four bathrooms. Their master bedroom was its own suite with two walk-in closets and a luxe and large bathroom.  The high ceilings and perfectly polished wood floors throughout the apartment allowed the sun’s rays to dance about and bathe the apartment in shades of yellow each morning, and orange at sunset. The décor was contemporary modern in different shades of blue, grey, white and black. The living room and dining room were big enough to entertain, and Clarissa had the large modern kitchen of her dreams.

Clarissa unbuckled her seatbelt as the Navigator pulled in front of the building. “Thank you.” Before her hand touched the handle, her doorman Fred opened the car door.

 “Good evening, Mrs. Berman.”

“Good evening, Fred. Thank you.”

He closed the car door, then scurried ahead of her to open the door. “Here you go.”

“Thanks again, Fred.” She smiled.

“I see you didn’t take the subway this evening.”

“No. Even though January is almost over, I still have the post-holiday blahs. I needed to stay above ground to see the sky and breathe.” She took her keys out. “You know what I mean.”

“I get it.” He nodded. “By the way, Sandy wanted me to thank you again for all the treats over the holidays. My kids were in heaven and if I’m honest, so were we.” Fred patted his stomach.

“My pleasure. I love to do it. Once upon a time, I had teenage boys at home too.”

He laughed. “Your sons lucked out just like Alexia. Whenever she comes down, she always has a cookie, muffin, or something good.”

Clarissa laughed. “She’s a teenager, I love to keep the carbs coming.”

“I know that’s right.” Fred nodded. “Mr. Berman is a lucky man.”

“Thanks. I’ll be sure to remind him.” Clarissa stepped into the elevator and put her key in. “You have a great night. Is Ronald on tomorrow?”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

“Okay. Enjoy your day off then.” She waved as the doors began to close.

“I will.”

 When the elevators opened, Clarissa was greeted by her reflection in the mirror over the credenza of their apartment’s faux foyer. She let out a deep breath, took her coat off and stepped out of her black pumps. Clarissa wiggled her toes. “Oh, that feels so much better.” She picked up her shoes. “When will I learn. These pumps are pretty, but they kill my feet.” She walked into the living room, put her bag on the table behind the sofa, and walked over to the closet.  “Hey Honey. I’m home.”

Her 5’11, brown haired, athletically built handsome husband, fifty-six-year-old Miles Berman walked out of the office. “Hey there, baby.” He put his arms around her and gave Clarissa a kiss. ‘“How was your day?”

“Better now. Not that it was a bad day.”

“Good.” He let his hand slide down to her butt.  “I’m on a conference call right now, but I’ll be done in just a bit.”

“You’re on a video conference call now?”

“Yeah.”

“Why didn’t you say something?  You didn’t have to come out just to kiss me and cop a feel.” She grinned. “Not that I minded, but I don’t want to get in the way of you taking care of business. I just wanted to let you know I was home.”

“I know.” He kept his arms around her. “But these guys are in the middle of belaboring yet another point with each other. It’s been going on for almost 2 ½ hours. I doubt they noticed I left the room.”

She laughed. “A day in the life of Miles Berman, Esquire.”

Miles served as legal counsel for a major corporation for twenty-years, before retiring from the suit and tie world to become a legal mercenary of sorts. He stayed busy with briefs, motions, consulting, and reminding seasoned, yet occasionally forgetful defense attorneys of what is and isn’t required in criminal court. Miles’ photographic memory allowed him to recall common and obscure sections and sub-sections of the Consolidated Laws of New York, the CPLR or the New York Criminal Procedure Law to name a few.  He worked at his leisure, but he was always busy with one case or another.

“Yeah.” He scoffed. “I better get back in there before they get worse.”

“Sounds like you’re going to have to put them in the ring under the Marquess of Queensberry Rules.”

“Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.” He sighed. “I’m going back in.”

“Good luck. I’m going to change, then get started on dinner.”

Miles gave her a thumbs’ up before he went back in the office.

Clarissa changed out of her suit into comfortable yoga wear. She put her hair up in a loose top knot, and washed her hands like a surgeon before heading to her culinary ashram.

The kitchen had everything she ever dreamed of in stainless steel, a Sub-Zero fridge, three ovens, an overhead exhaust, six-burner Wolf range, and dishwasher.

She opened the fridge. “Hmm, the salmon’s not here. I thought I asked Miles to take it out this morning.” Clarissa paused to think. “No problem, I can work with it frozen.” She opened the freezer and took the salmon out.

Clarissa grabbed a sheet pan and parchment paper, then set both on the counter while she set the oven to 425-degrees. Long before Rachael Ray, she was a champion of thirty-to-forty-five-minute weeknight meals. She took the vegetables she prepped the night before out. The recipe unfolded in three ten-minute intervals.  First, the baby potatoes went in, followed by the zucchini, mushrooms, and onions. Then finally, the chopped herbs, sliced tomatoes, and salmon.

While dinner was in the final phase of cooking, Clarissa washed the dishes, put them away, and wiped the counters down with Clorox cleanup.  She grabbed her tablet, and sat down at the table to check her business emails. Clarissa dashed off a few return emails, flagged a few to follow-up on later, and deleted the junk emails. Once she took care of business, she switched over to the Barefoot In The City group for pleasure. She scrolled through the posts with images of fantastic dishes and recipes.  Although the fan group was all about Ina, not all of the posts were directly Ina related. The people in the group shared a love of cooking in a relaxed, elegant style like the Barefoot Contessa herself. Clarissa found hundreds of kindred spirits who not only loved being in the kitchen, they looked forward to the change of seasons and menus as much as Clarissa.  In the summer there were salads, seafood, cool desserts and grilling outdoors. When autumn arrived, they looked forward to apple everything, pumpkin spice, and hundreds of ways to make a Thanksgiving turkey with the same excitement as sports fans had for the NFL and NBA seasons. In December, Santa and his elves weren’t the only busy ones during Christmas time. Only Barefoot in the City members turned out cookies, cakes, and cocktails instead of toys. It was the height of food geekdom and Clarissa loved to geek out. 

Naturally in January, some of the posts skewed toward everyone’s top New Year’s resolution, losing weight, and eating healthy. Ina fans handled the resolution with great aplomb. All the healthy food posts looked decadent and satisfying.  Move over Jenny Craig and Nutri-System, this is how you take the die out of diet. Her kitchen timer went off.

Just as Clarissa grabbed a couple of oven mitts and got up, Miles walked in.

 “Something smells good. Oh, salmon.” He paused. “Wait. You told me to take the salmon out of the freezer last night. I forgot. I’m such a yutz. Good thing you remembered.”

She took the sheet pan out and put the pan on top of the stove.  “No. I forgot too.  Anyway, it’s not a problem. This recipe works with frozen salmon too.” She got the serving spoon and fork.

 “Cool. It looks great. Is this not Barefoot-worthy?”

Miles had gotten used to life with this fan group. In fact, he was the one who encouraged her to post her culinary creations, calling them Barefoot worthy. She liked the term and he kept it up.

She chuckled. “I think so. Can you grab a couple of plates for me, please?”

“Sure.”

Miles handed her the plates, then got the cutlery a long with a couple of wine glasses. “How about a Chardonnay?”

“Perfect.” She put the plates on the table, then got her cell out to snap a few quick pics.

“That looks great.” Miles poured the wine. “Hefe filter?”

“It’s my favorite. I like how it enhances without looking fake.” She looked at the preview photo. “Voila.”

“Looks terrific, but I’m glad I get to actually eat these artistic edible creations of yours.”

“Me too.” She set her cell down on the table. “I’ll post them later with the recipe.” Clarissa sat down.

“I like how you always share recipes. Not to mention all the work you put into adapting the recipes for vegans, gluten-sensitivities, and low or no sugar diets. It’s a lot of work.” He looked away for a moment. “I don’t know why you don’t take all of those family recipes notebooks and turn it into a cookbook. People would buy it like mad.” Miles picked his glass up. “Not to mention, you know how to wear a blue shirt, sexy lady.” He winked. “I’m just saying.”

“You like the way I fill out a blue Oxford.” She shimmied a little, then laughed. “Okay, babe.  I’ll think about it.” She sighed. “But you know I have enough to deal with these days with the cookbook authors I already represent. Then there’s the technical and social media bullshit I’m supposed to cope with at Trifecta.” She lifted her glass and sipped. “It’s a lot for one woman.”

“I know the goal is to bring talented people to the masses, just don’t forget you are just as, if not more talented.”

“I will. Thank you, my love. I’d better start eating before my head gets too big to hold up.”

“This is so good. There isn’t anything you can’t make.”

“I don’t know if I’d go that far, but I do love to fuss over you and keep the menu moving.”

“I am one lucky guy.”

Photos from Loved Black Woman

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