Stay With Me Forever by Farrah Rochon is a great example of small town romance done right. Personally, I love small towns, but I rarely love small town romance. A lot of it is too precious and cutesy for me, particularly with a trope like the one Stay With Me Forever features: that of a decades-old crush, second-chance romance. I think the reason Stay With Me Forever avoids some of what I dislike about other small town series is that it features African-American characters, which is not a given in a lot of romance. Plus, there’s a great community, family and workplace context that I know a lot of Cooking Up Romance readers also love.
Paxton Jones is a 37-year-old successful career woman returning to her hometown to work on a flood control project for her company and to help her mother with the grand opening of her new bar and grill. Theirs is an exceptionally loving and close relationship, with Paxton grateful for everything her mother did for her growing up. It’s not often that one sees such functional families, especially in relationships between mothers and daughters in romance, so that was a fun dynamic. Their family was dirt-poor while Paxton was growing up and that circumstance ends up driving a lot of the conflict between her and the hero. I loved that she’s beautiful and capable, but also emotionally complicated–having to come to terms with how her perceptions growing up might not have necessarily reflected reality.
Sawyer Robertson was Gauthier’s golden boy in high school, far above Paxton’s social reach, or so she thought. After a professional set-back, Sawyer is put on the same flood control project as Paxton, working as the state civil engineer to her private sector project manager. He’s a good guy, a reassuringly normal guy, despite his pedigree and football-captain-and-homecoming-king status, one who loves hard and deeply. In a market full of over-the-top alphas, Sawyer felt real to me–sexy for sure–but also sensitive and conscientious.
The cross-class conflict between Paxton and Sawyer is an illustration of how economic privilege functions in interpersonal relationships in addition to driving the romantic arc. We are given to understand that Sawyer’s family money (both of his parents have passed away) has enabled him to not work if he so chooses, while Paxton doesn’t have that luxury. Sawyer then has a slightly different mind-set about bringing their project in on time and under budget than Paxton does because she is more aware of how even the smallest misstep can affect her future promotions and success. It may be just because I’ve been reading a lot of old Harlequin Presents and wild historicals, but this plot was refreshingly sensible and balanced both internal and external conflict quite readily. Paxton’s concern that the two of them might have different values plays out in their romantic relationship as well.
It’s easy to go overboard with this kind of a story–making it sentimental or Cinderella-like. But there isn’t a single foot put wrong in this book. Even if you’re not normally a category romance reader or a small town romance reader, I whole-heartedly recommend it. This was the first one I’d read from Harlequin’s Kimani line myself, but I’m glad I did because Stay With Me Forever is just the kind of book I love.
It’s never really occurred to me to make chicken wings at home. It’s sort of bar food, right? Go out to watch a game, get a plate of wings to share? That’s the context for the wings in Stay with Me Forever–Paxton’s mother’s new bar & grill serves them alongside the quintessentially Louisianan Purple Haze from Abita. If you don’t mind breaking out the fryer though, wings are really not all that difficult to make.
Given the setting, I wanted to pull some Creole flavor into this dish without fundamentally changing the basic expectation of chicken wings. That “wing” flavor pretty much comes from a very specific brand of hot sauce–Frank’s. These are not the spiciest version I’ve had, but with the addition of a dash of a spicier local hot sauce (which you can totally omit if you like your wings on the milder side), they’re interesting enough on their own. The addition of a very non-traditional Creole blue cheese remoulade rather than the more standard basic blue cheese dressing kicks it up a notch though.
There are a bunch of different versions of remoulade, a traditional sauce mostly for fish and vegetables. Some are vinaigrette-based, some are mayonnaise-based. I used a mayonnaise-based version since it’s the creamy cooling properties of blue cheese dressing that I was trying to replace.
That said, mayo from scratch uses raw egg so if you’re not comfortable with that or just don’t want to mess with it, you can totally substitute a store-bought mayo for the egg, lemon juice, oil and salt in the recipe below. It will just be a stiffer, more mayonnaise-flavored sauce. No matter what you decide to serve it with, the crispy-hot wings right out of the fryer with fresh sauce will beat anything you can get in a bar.
Well, unless it’s Paxton’s mom’s place.
- 6 tablespoons butter
- 4 tablespoons cider vinegar
- 4 tablespoons Frank's hot sauce
- 4 teaspoons extra spicy hot sauce (optional--for additional heat)
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 3 pounds chicken wings
- 4 cups vegetable oil
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 8 tablespoons cornstarch
- 2 egg yolks
- 4 tablespoons lemon juice (from approximately 2 lemons)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 cup vegetable oil
- 3 tablespoons Creole whole-grain mustard
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1/2 cup chopped celery
- 1/2 cup chopped onion
- 1/2 cup chopped green onion
- 2 tablespoons minced garlic
- 3 tablespoons minced parsley
- 4 ounces crumbled blue cheese
- Celery sticks for serving
- Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat.
- Add remaining ingredients and whisk to combine and heat through.
- Remove from heat and set aside.
- Heat oil in a large pot to 360 degrees Fahrenheit.
- In a large bowl, combine chicken wings with cayenne pepper, salt and black pepper. Toss to coat. Add cornstarch a bit at a time and toss, making sure each wing is coated.
- Working batches, carefully add wings to hot oil, no more than a single layer at a time. I had to do three batches total. Cook for 10 minutes each batch, turning halfway through so they're evenly browned. Remove to paper towel-lined plate to drain.
- When all wings are cooked, add to a large bowl, pour wing sauce over the top and toss to coat.
- Combine egg yolks, lemon juice, salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the plastic blade and pulse to combine. Add oil slowly through the top, running continuously until sauce forms.
- Add all the remaining ingredients to the food processor except the blue cheese and pulse to combine, about 8 pulses.
- Pour the sauce into a bowl and fold in the blue cheese.
- Serve wings with celery sticks and remoulade for dipping.
- If you're pregnant or should otherwise avoid raw egg, you can omit the egg yolks, lemon juice, salt and oil in the remoulade recipe above and substitute a cup of store-bought mayonnaise instead.
Harlequin Kimani Romance
Complientary via publisher