All I Am by Nicole Helm had all the things I like: two bakers falling in love, a virgin hero, A+ groveling and a bunch of furry characters. Aside from my obvious love for old Harlequins (like, from the 1970s), I really haven’t read that many current ones. But Nicole Helm has had this farmers’ market series going since last year and I was deeply curious because the farmers’ market is one of my happy places. I still haven’t read the first book, All I Have, but that’s okay. It didn’t impede my enjoyment of this one.
Wes Stone is back from Afghanistan with a few new injuries, a few old emotional wounds and an organic dog treat business that is doing well, but could be doing better if he had a little extra help. Cara Pruitt is the town screw-up, or so she thinks. She has a couple of accomplished sisters and some friends who she has maybe outgrown, but she still hasn’t really found her place in the world despite being an accomplished pie baker.
I really enjoyed this book. The hero is quite nerdy and self-conscious. He’s also prickly about the injuries he sustained overseas and doesn’t like to be pitied. But the fact that he’s able to accept help for the business and, eventually, for his recovery, made him seem very reasonable and human. The heroine is going through a bit of a crisis as well, though hers is more one of perception. She’s always come off as a party girl who wasn’t very serious, especially in comparison to her accomplished sisters. But she has a lot of good qualities, ones the hero sees right away when he hires her to help him out with organization and paperwork. She’s loving and patient, but she also know when it’s time not to take any crap.
And then we get to the catnip. The hero is a virgin. The heroine isn’t. She really has to work to make him comfortable, which was a lovely role-reversal from the usual formulation of the experienced hero and virgin heroine. It really worked for me. Plus when the hero decides to be particularly obstinate late in the book and she quite rightly walks out on him, there’s some truly epic hero grovelling. Pretty much the best grovelling I’ve seen in an age.
What it added up to for me was a book that I’d hoped to like (because he’s a dog treat baker and she makes pies–how perfect is that?!) and ended up being a super satisfying read on levels I hadn’t even expected. So now I have to go back and read All I Have, the first book in this series, which features Cara’s sister Mia and The Naked Farmer. And aren’t we all curious what THAT means? If it ends up being as good as this one was, I think you can count me a Nicole Helm fan.
Here’s something no one knows about me. For a year and a half, I ran a dog treat baking business. It was a lot of work. So I found something to do with my time that was less work. However, for the year and a half I ran the business, 90% of the time the oven timer would go off, it would be because there were dog treats coming out of the oven. And my dog, Chester, would come running. AND HE STILL DOES IT. Even though I closed the business three years ago. Talk about Pavlovian.
Anyway, this is one of the recipes I used when I was making treats for the business. It’s a pretty basic pumpkin treat recipe, just rolled and cut out with a cookie cutter like sugar cookies. I used canned pumpkin here for simplicity’s sake, but I have also used roasted mashed sweet potatoes in equal amounts. It doesn’t seem to change the texture.
This recipe makes a lot of treats and there are no preservatives in them so you have a few options. You can refrigerate them, which will keep them for about a month. You can also freeze them, which is what I usually do, pulling out a handful at a time to thaw in the fridge. You can also dehydrate them, which is what I used to do when I made them professionally. It will make them a little crisper and they’ll keep longer in the fridge.
And they’re irresistible. I’ve never had a dog turn one down and some dogs are super picky!
Not, uh, Chester. Chester will eat anything. But I swear these are still good.
- 2 1/2 cups oat flour, plus more for rolling
- 2 1/2 cups brown rice flour, plus more for rolling
- 15 ounce can pumpkin puree (not pie filling)
- 1/4 cup blackstrap molasses
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- 2 eggs
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Prepare 2 sheet pans with parchment paper.
- Combine all ingredients in a stand mixer and mix until dough comes together. Gather into two balls, flatten and cover in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for minimum 1 hour or overnight.
- On a rolling surface, scatter a handful of brown rice flour and a handful of oat flour. Roll out one of the rounds to a thickness of about a 1/4 inch. Using a cookie cutter, cut out shapes. Dough can be re-rolled several times with good results.
- Bake 2 sheets at a time for approximately 18 minutes or until treats are firm to the touch. Let cool, then refrigerate or freeze as desired.
- A small bone-shaped cutter will yield about 144 treats. A large bone-shaped cutter will yield about 72 treats.
February 1, 2016
eARC from the author