I love finding funny, smart, new-to-me romance writers and Ruby Lang definitely fits the bill. The second book in the Practice Perfect series, Hard Knocks is about a neurologist coping with parental illness and an aging hockey player working though a vocational crisis. It doesn’t appear to matter whether these are read out of order. I just bought the first in the series, so likely a few questions that cropped up while reading this one will be answered there, but it wasn’t anything critical to following the plot of this book.
Helen Chang Frobisher is a neurologist whose father is suffering from Parkinson’s, possibly brought on by his escapades as a boxer in his younger days before he became a small-town doctor. She’s a former ballet dancer who changed career direction at 18 and loves her work, but is feeling frustrated and helpless at not being able to do more for her ailing dad. Meeting hockey player Adam Magnus turns into the perfect outlet for her to vent that frustration. Adam is a defender on the unpopular and largely irrelevant Oregon Wolves. His position is that of easily replaceable muscle and he’s had enough injuries and bad seasons that he fears his career is coming to an end. Considering that he’s kind of over hockey anyway, he’s not terribly upset by this, but he still needs to work and doesn’t know what he should be doing next.
When Helen and Adam meet after Adam and a teammate get into a minor car accident, they’re instantly attracted to each other. Adam’s height and good looks impress Helen more than she wishes they did and Helen’s grace, intelligence and surliness intrigue Adam. They eventually come into conflict over Adam’s job, leading to a public feud over the dangers of hockey, an intersection of Helen’s work, Adam’s work and Helen’s fears about her father.
It’s a tightly woven story, fusing family, work, romance and personal transitions into one occasionally uncomfortable, but ultimately satisfying whole. It never seems over-balanced toward work and family problems and never prioritizes one character’s struggles over another. Helen in particular has a rough road to walk and I wouldn’t have been surprised if this book had followed that journey closely to the detriment of both the romance and the hero’s internal conflict, but it never did. Oh, and it’s gratifyingly sexy. The phone sex scenes particularly stood out for me, but there’s no shortage of hotness.
Ruby Lang just landed on my auto-buy list. The ballet-dancer-turned-neurologist and the hockey player turned out to be way more than just opposites attract. Plus the friendships between the three women the series revolves around seemed very realistic. I can’t wait to see what Lang will do with the other two doctor heroines in the practice.
For a chance to win an ebook copy of Hard Knocks, don’t forget to scroll down and enter the giveaway!
At one point in Hard Knocks, the heroine is injured and the hero has to leave town on a road trip. While he’s gone, he sends her treats, one of which is a basket of artisanal pop tarts. I was almost heart-broken not to make the halibut fritters that pop up early in the book when they have dinner together, but ARTISANAL POP TARTS. I had to.
The only problem was that once I started coming up with ideas for fillings, I couldn’t stop. So I’ve gone ahead and doubled my favorite Smitten Kitchen pop tart recipe and provided options for three different fillings: blueberry-lavender and goat cheese, red pepper jam and cream cheese and Nutella-banana. And I gave the filling recipe per tart so you can easily mix and match. I also considered a blood orange curd one, but I’d already made 18 pop tarts! So that will just have to wait until next time.
The recipe is not terribly complicated and Smitten Kitchen does a great job of explaining all the steps. There was just one part of where she has you roll out the dough into a 9″ by 12″ rectangle and then cut the dough into 9 pieces that I found a little confusing the first time I did it. So hopefully the visual reference here helps.
I often double the Smitten Kitchen recipe so I went ahead and just made that adjustment here. Because making only 9 pastries with all the mess and bother of rolling out dough doesn’t seem worth it. Plus these would make a great gift for a friend who’s feeling under the weather or a treat for an office party. They’re also a big hit at bake sales. And you know you’ll need to keep just a few for yourself.
As for me, if there are really places in Portland that will deliver artisanal pop tarts? I’m moving. Hot hockey players optional.
- 4 cups all-purpose flour + more for rolling
- 2 tablespoons white sugar
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 2 cups unsalted butter (4 sticks), cut into pieces
- 2 eggs
- 1/4 cup milk
- 1 additional egg, beaten (to brush on pastry)
- 1/2 tablespoon of blueberry jam + 1 pinch lavender flowers (or 1/2 tablespoon blueberry-lavender jam if you can find it)
- 1/2 ounce soft goat cheese
- 1/2 tablespoon red pepper jam
- 1/2 ounce cream cheese (about 1/4 inch slice off the solid style cream cheese)
- 1/2 tablespoon Nutella
- 2 1/4-inch thick slices of banana
- 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
- 3 tablespoons water
- 1 tablespoon butter, softened
- 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
- Nutella and/or food coloring (optional)
- In a food processor or with a whisk, combine the flour, sugar and salt. Add the butter and blend with a pastry blender or with quick short pulses in the food processor. Add the 2 eggs and milk and pulse or stir until the dough just begins to form. Turn out into a bowl and finish combining using a spatula. Try not to overwork the dough. Divide into four even balls and shape into 3" by 5" squares.
- Prepare three cookie trays with parchment paper. On a heavily floured surface, roll out one square at a time until it is 9" by 12". Cut off excess from sides and then cut into 3" by 4" pieces. Remove to cookie trays, six pieces per tray.
- Brush the tart bottoms with additional beaten egg to help hold the tarts closed. Repeat the above step with tart tops after filling as desired. The cream cheese, goat cheese and Nutella all go on bottom to be topped with the red pepper jam, blueberry jam and lavender and the banana slices. Top with tart tops and press around the edges of the tarts to seal. Crimp all sides with a fork.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Put the tarts in the refrigerator to chill for 30 minutes. Bake for 25-27 minutes or until the tarts are golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool 15 minutes before glazing.
- In a medium bowl with a whisk or hand mixer, combine the powdered sugar, water, butter, light corn syrup and vanilla until smooth.
- Divide the glaze into three bowls. For the Nutella glaze, whisk in one tablespoon of Nutella and 1/2 teaspoon water. Add food coloring or other flavorings to the other glazes as desired.
- Spoon or drizzle glaze over each tart and serve.
Disclosure: The author and I follow each other on Twitter, but I purchased Hard Knocks for myself. The giveaway is courtesy of Crimson Romance.
January 11, 2016