There is an entire sub-genre within the romance and mystery genres that involves cooking and baking where a particular recipe plays an important role in character development or the plot’s unfolding. The heroes of these culinary romances are generally no-nonsense women who have a business to run, or life to live, and children and grandchildren to raise. Through cooking for and feeding others these heroes express and often identify their femininity and inner goddess. I am oversimplifying the idea but these female heroes don’t need the hero in their lives, but through cooking for him they reveal to themselves they are a woman, have womanly thoughts, and the hero might be good to have around.
I do not read contemporary romances and hardly any mystery novels so I have missed out on this sub-genre. Most I have seen on the self, at least mystery-wise, look like I would get cavities by reading the book, if it were possible. Pushing the Line was a self-published book on the 2015 RWA RITA Award finalists’ listings so I thought I would give it a try.
Book Review: Pushing the Line by Kimberly Kincaid
Pushing the Line (No. 4 of The Line Series) by Kimberly Kincaid is a 2015 RWA RITA Award finalist in the novella category. Pushing the Line is a self-published novella. The RWA Rita Awards define a novella as a story between 20,000 and 40,000 words long. Other literary and genre awards recognize different word count maximums as their definition of a novella (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Novella). Novellas generally contain chapters, think Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, whereas short stories have a blank line between sections.
Novellas, because of their nature are often quick reads and contemporary romance Pushing the Line is no different. One can read Pushing the Line in under 3 hours. I purchased it as an e-book and its formatting within my Kindle was not a problem to the reading experience. In summary, Harper McGee a free spirited artist crashes, emotionally and physically, back to her hometown after the death of her beloved grandmother who raised her. She discovers her grandmother left her the local landmark candy shop, and what does someone who has not spent more than seven days in one place since college do with a such business. The candy shop coincidentally and mysteriously catches fire after the reading of the will. McGee rushes into the burning building (????) and our hero Aaron Fisher the fireman leads (drags?) her out of the dangerous situation. McGee cannot sell the business after the fire until the building is brought up to city building codes, so she contracts to have the renovation done and guess who is the sub-contractor (this is quite believable, actually): our hero Fisher the fireman. Sparks fly and embers burn as McGee and Fisher, both rootless, figure out what to do with the attraction between them. Here enters the mystical, magical pecan cluster chocolate candy. This recipe is a plot device that proves to all who eat the candy, and to McGee, she is the mythical feminine figure who possesses the magic to cook this recipe like no one else. It is a romance novella and ends as a romance should.
Pushing the Line is very well done. It deserved its RWA RITA nomination. I kept expecting the disagreeable cousin to demand McGee sell the candy shop so he could receive a full portion of the inheritance. I fully expected him to be behind the candy shop fire. I still feel the old wiring explanation is not right, and the disagreeable cousin faded from the story much to easily. Perhaps in an effort to keep the story under 40,000 words that complication had to be edited out. I did not know how Kincaid was going to wrap up the story for her happily ever after ending, and she provided a good ending. Pushing the Line was well written, well formatted, and an enjoyable read.
Recipe Review: Grandma Izzy’s Pecan Clusters
I made Grandma Izzy’s Pecan Clusters as Kincaid presented the recipe at the end of Pushing the Line. I knew that as I read through the recipe the first time there were going to be problems. The end of the recipe she says to drop the chocolate and pecan mixture by a tablespoon onto waxed-paper sheets. I did not see how the evaporated milk-sugar mixture could hold any shape when hot, so I used little shaped squares and any excess would be treated as goo and shaped later with a spoon. Where the recipe goes wrong is it does not tell the reader/candy maker how hot to heat the evaporated milk-sugar mixture. I followed the recipe as written and did not use a candy thermometer.
There is nothing magical about basic cooking and this is a basic recipe. Cooking and baking is plain, old fashion chemistry. Cook the candy until it reaches the temperature point of “soft ball”, and you can get all fancy after that. Once you master, for example, cooking a hard-boiled egg you can then get fancy and magical with the deviled egg recipes, but you have to learn how to boil the egg first.
So, you have the sugar and corn syrup and evaporated milk heating in the double boiler (a very important thing that double boiler) and you now need to take your candy thermometer and heat the mixture until the thermometer reads 230 °F (110 °C). Stir constantly for two minutes, and do not let the heat rise above 240 °F (115.5 °C), otherwise the sugar will do things you don’t want it to do. Remove from heat and carefully add in small amounts the milk chocolate chips or pieces, stirring between additions until what you added melted. Then, add the pecans and stir until coated. I chopped the pecans into small pieces. Spoon into your candy forms or chance the waxed paper. Refrigerate immediately.
I did not allow the evaporated milk-sugar mixture to get hot enough and it was a soft goo that did not take any shape even after refrigerated overnight. It has to be eaten with a spoon. It tastes very good spread on toast.
Grandma Izzy’s Pecan Clusters taste good, but you need to use a candy thermometer to get the evaporated milk-sugar mixture hot enough the sugar dissolves properly so that you get to the “soft ball” phase. Enjoy this good recipe and its good story.
Pushing the Line (No. 4 of The Line Series) is available as an e-book and as a printed book through your favorite online retailer or by ordering through your local book store. You can check with your local library or state library to see if it is available. If not, request it.
Here is a link to Kimberly Kincaid’s website. You can order it through her links. That helps her out, too.
For a quick summary of candy making, I would encourage you to look at Wikipedia’s entry. The entry reports “soft ball” starts at 234 °F (112 °C), but I think there is enough wiggle room when it comes to thermometer accuracy to think 230 °F (110 °C) is a good starting point, too.