I love Jackie Ashenden’s books. I love that many are set somewhere other than the United States. This one, for example, is set in New Zealand. I love that her characters are messed up and often kinda kinky, but that the two things are not directly related. And her characters never eat, which leaves me free to do pretty much exactly what I want when it comes to pairing her books with recipes.
Living in Shadow is an erotic romance featuring an older heroine and a younger hero, who is actually her student. I’ll just be up front here and say that this book is dark, intense and contains some light BDSM so if edgy is not your thing, this might not be the one for you. Likewise, this book contains rape triggers, though no actual rape takes place during the timeline of the book.
The heroine, Eleanor, is a university professor. She is a submissive who had a relationship with a Dominant in the past, but he seriously abused her trust. Ever since, she has distanced herself from her desires and from men in general. Hero Luc has a dark past involving his childhood in the Ivory Coast. At the beginning of the story, we know that he was orphaned and raised by his grandparents, but very early on, it becomes clear that this isn’t his entire story. In typical big man on campus fashion, he has several women trailing after him, but after weeks of sitting in Eleanor’s lectures, he has decided it’s her that he wants.
The interaction between these two is so tentative at first. Partially because the relationship is taboo, but also because both Eleanor and Luc have emotional blocks. Eleanor needs to learn to trust again and Luc has to forgive himself for his past. But when they do get together, their chemistry is off the charts. It’s not just about the sex though. Each of them needs something and coming together seems the only way for each of them to get it.
What I loved best about this book is what I always love about erotic romance done right. Luc is exceptionally tender with Eleanor, teaching her to trust him and eventually to trust herself again. Though he is somewhat new to the concept of dominance, it comes easily to him, a fact that worries him as much as Eleanor finds it encouraging. Watching these characters help each other tap their potential throughout Living in Shadow was just a joy. That might seem strange considering the intensity of the relationship and the fact of their dark pasts, but this book just made me happy. Despite their rocky start, you can’t help but feel that these two are in it for the long haul.
A definite five star read for me. If I gave six stars, I’d give them to this one. I loved it that much. I’m also giving away an ebook copy of Living in Shadow below so scroll down and wait for the Rafflecopter widget to pop up to enter!
I’m being deliberately cagey about Luc’s past, but suffice to say, he did grow up in the Ivory Coast. I’ve never had West African food and wasn’t sure what to expect when I had the idea to explore Ivorian cuisine for this review. The Wikipedia page, with it’s enormous, palm-sized snail, was hardly encouraging. Luckily, I stumbled across the defunct blog Global Grazers, which showcased some traditional recipes as well as gave some insight into the local food scene in Abidjan.
The recipe I found for a traditional pepper sauce for plantain fritters ended up being so intensely spicy that I had to give it away to some more adventurous friends. However, the plantain fritters by themselves were a little one-dimensional so I decided to keep to the same general idea, but tone down the spice. Therefore this sauce isn’t precisely traditional, but it had the advantage of being edible. If you’re into CRAZY spicy food, by all means try out the original. I wanted to die with just the amount on the tip of my pinky finger, but don’t let me dissuade you.
The bouillon cubes used in this recipe are a Spanish-made brand called Jumbo that is apparently commonly found in West Africa. I’m lucky enough to live in an area where it’s possible to track down such things thanks to our large population of immigrants and diplomatic staff, but if you’re not in a major city, any basic bouillon cube will probably work. I didn’t notice any particularly distinctive flavor imparted by the traditional brand.
The fritters themselves are incredibly filling. We ended up splitting a batch the first night I made them and that was dinner that night despite the plan to finish up some other leftovers we had. When we split them four ways (5-6 fritters each), it was a much more reasonably-sized appetizer.
I’m far from becoming any kind of expert on West African cuisine, but working through this recipe did make me wish for lots more books with diverse characters. Diverse characters make for fun with diverse food!
1 medium onion, halved
5 Roma tomatoes
2 red bell peppers
1 scotch bonnet pepper
1 head garlic, top third sliced off
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 bouillon cube (Jumbo, if available)
pinch of black pepper
salt to taste
2 very ripe yellow plantains, peeled
1 small onion, cut into wedges
1 cup self-rising flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
pinch of black pepper
Canola oil (or other high heat oil) for frying
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. On a baking sheet covered with aluminum foil, place halved onion, whole red peppers, whole tomatoes, whole scotch bonnet pepper and garlic and drizzle with 2 tablespoons olive oil, shaking to coat. Cover with foil.
2. Roast vegetables for 1 hour or until garlic is soft. Remove and let sit until cool enough to handle. Place tomatoes and peppers in a zip-top bag while cooling to assist with removal of skins.
3. Remove skins and seeds from peppers and tomatoes. Remove skins from onion and garlic (hint: you can just squeeze out the garlic like toothpaste). Add bouillon cube and pepper. Puree in food processor until combined.
4. Add mixture to a medium saucepan with 1 cup of water. Heat over medium heat and allow to simmer for 15 minutes. Using an immersion blender in the pan or returned to food processor, puree until completely smooth. Set aside to cool.
5. You’re going to have to wash your food processor now. Sorry.
6. Place plantains in the food processor and process until smooth. Add the flour, onion, salt and pepper. Process until blended. Batter will be the consistency of banana bread batter.
7. In a medium skillet, heat 1/4 inch of canola oil to 375 degrees. Drop tablespoonfuls of batter, 5 or 6 at a time, into the hot oil. Cook for approximately 1 minute on each side or until golden brown and puffy. Drain on paper towels.
8. Plate fritters with a drizzle of sauce and extra on the side, if desired.
Disclosure: I received an advance copy of Living in Shadow from NetGalley and Jackie Ashenden and I follow each other on Twitter.