Friday, March 10, 2017

Donna Alward: The Purple Pig Café Black Bean Brownies

This month the second book in my Darling, VT trilogy, SOMEONE TO LOVE, hits the shelves. I loved writing this one…from the yoga and meditation to all the yummy food that my heroine, Willow Dunaway, cooks up in her café. The Purple Pig Café is pretty popular on Darling’s Main Street, and early on in the book the hero, Ethan, gets stuck with having to try a black bean brownie. You see, The Purple Pig uses locally sourced, organic ingredients, and emphasizes Fair Trade policies.

I had to do some searching around for a good Black Bean Brownie recipe, and of course I had to try it out first! I found this one on Pinterest: and pinned it to my Darling, VT series board.

I had a blast coming up with menu items for the café, many based on some of my favorite foods. One of my daughters is a vegetarian, so I’ve learned to cook (and enjoy) a lot of different foods, particularly those made from legumes. The bean salad in the book is a fave, and I also learned to make black bean burgers, homemade falafel, and lentil curry.

Here’s a snippet from SOMEONE TO LOVE:

His chest tightened in a strange way, but Ronan was tugging on his hand, anxious to get to the glass display case. Willow smiled—a small, sweet smile—and the tightness squeezed.

What the heck was that about?

“Well, hello,” she said as they approached the counter. “What a nice surprise.”

Ethan tried to smile, but his face felt tight as he looked at her. She looked so relaxed and comfortable and pleasant. It was damned intimidating. Other than his sisters, he’d avoided conversations with the women of Darling since Lisa died. He’d quickly learned that they either ended up looking sad and pitying, or worse, prospective. He was definitely out of practice in the art of everyday conversation.

“The boys had their pick of a treat today. They wanted to come here.”

He realized he’d put it all on the boys, making it sound like he would have rather gone somewhere else. Which was, well, the truth, but he could have been more tactful. Tact wasn’t exactly his finest skill.

But Willow didn’t seem to even notice. Instead she looked over the counter at the boys. “You did? Awesome! Why don’t you come back here and pick a treat?” She looked up at Ethan. “Any allergies to be aware of?”

“No,” he answered. “Though Connor isn’t fond of raisins.”

“What?” She raised her eyebrows and looked at Connor. “But raisins are delicious! And full of good stuff. I think they’re nature’s candy.”

Ethan tried not to roll his eyes.

“I like them in cookies,” Connor admitted.

“Oh, well then. That’s okay.” Willow grinned. She turned her head and Ethan saw the nose ring wink in the light, and the pink stripe that ran along the side of her head since her hair was pulled back in a braid. She looked about twenty.

She moved to the end of the counter and waved them in. “Come on, boys. You can come back here and pick something out. It’ll be our secret.”

Ethan had to admit, his boys seemed smitten. And she was genuinely nice, that was clear. Too nice, maybe. Or maybe he was just a big old crab. Thinking it just made him crabbier.

He stood back and watched as the boys picked a sweet from the refrigerated display. Willow got them each a little plate and when they came back around he saw that Ronan had a huge chocolate chip cookie and Connor had two plates. One held a square of blueberry cake and the other a fudgy looking brownie with thick icing on the top.

He remembered what Connor had said about the beans and hoped to God that the blueberry cake was for him.

“Daddy, look! I got you a brownie cuz chocolate’s your favorite.”

Shoot. “Gee, thanks Connor.”

Connor beamed up at him.

Ethan reached for his wallet. “Boys, why don’t you go find a table and I’ll be right over with something to drink.”

“Okay, Daddy.”

He looked at Willow. She seemed far too pleased with herself, as if she could read his mind. Right then and there he determined that he’d eat every bit of that brownie if it killed him.

“Milk,” he said quietly. “A glass of milk for each of them, if I could.”

“And for you? Did you want a coffee or tea, Ethan?”

He focused on pulling bills out of his wallet. “A coffee with milk, please.”
When she told him the tally, his jaw nearly dropped and his head came up. “How much did you say?”

It was the better part of twenty dollars. He supposed because they were a specialty market, they could charge through the nose. He added a five to the bills he’d already taken out and handed them over. “Thanks,” he said.

“I’ll bring your drinks out. You go sit with the boys.”

He nodded and went to the table, where Connor and Ronan were already munching on their food. It surprised him that Connor had gone for the blueberry cake, instead of the cookie he’d been talking about. His boy was growing up . . . too fast.

He was poised to take his first bite of brownie when Willow came out with a tray of drinks. She put two small glasses of milk before the boys, and carefully set Ethan’s coffee in front of him. “So, how is it? Do you like the carob chips, Ronan?”

His mouth was full so he nodded, his brown eyes sparkling. She laughed lightly and looked at Connor.

“Good cake.” He waved with his fork. “Almost as good as my mommy’s.”

Ethan froze. Connor had been Ronan’s age when Lisa died. How could he possibly remember what his mother’s cake had been like? Was he making it up? Pretending? Trying to hold on to fading memories or creating his own reality? Funny how a simple observation made Ethan question whether he’d paid enough attention to his son’s grieving process.

More than that, though, the simple words had brought forth a memory. Blueberry cake had been Lisa’s favorite, usually with a warm, lemony sauce for the top, and she asked for it every August for her birthday.

There would be no more birthdays.

“Are you okay, Ethan?” Willow’s voice was soft and her hand touched his shoulder.

He swallowed tightly. “Sorry, yes, I’m fine. Just getting ready to dig into this brownie.” He forced the memory away and picked up his fork.

“Are you sure?” She squeezed lightly, and his throat tightened.

“I’m sure.” To prove it, he valiantly stabbed the brownie with his fork and guided the piece to his mouth. He would eat it. He would pretend to like it, the boys would finish their snack, and they’d go to the playground as planned.

He put it in his mouth, steeling himself against the taste, determined not to show his dislike, and then he stopped in surprise.

It was delicious. Really, really delicious.

He looked up at her. “This is beans?”

She grinned. “Yessir. Black beans, and organic cocoa, free-range eggs . . .”

“It’s moist. And rich.”

“You’re surprised.”

“Well, yeah.”

She smiled at him, a big smile that seemed to warm the whole room. He found himself smiling back. The boys continued to eat, totally unconcerned, but for Ethan it seemed like an important moment. He didn’t like being bad-tempered. It wasn’t who he was, deep down. She’d prompted an honest-to-goodness smile from him, and it felt awesome.

“Did you think all ‘healthy’ food was tasteless and dry?” Her lips twitched.

“Well . . .” He chuckled. “Hannah always raves about the food here. I should have had more faith, maybe.”

SOMEONE TO LOVE is OUT NOW! “The latest offering the Darling Vermont series is an emotionally poignant, can’t-put-it-down, opposites-attract tearjerker. A true treasure from page one to the beautiful, touching ending. Alward’s witty dialogue drives this powerful tale, but it’s her little boy costars and her paradoxical, damaged hero and heroine that make hearts sing and rule every page of this sweet and steamy love story.” – RT BOOK REVIEWS – TOP PICK!


dstoutholcomb said...

great excerpt

Lil said...

I have a particular soft spot for stories with food and love. Enjoyed the excerpt.