Food, family, and secrets combine in Cathy Lamb’s emotional and deeply honest novel as one woman discovers the recipes and life lessons that have shaped her family’s past, and could guide her toward a second chance at happiness.
Two years ago, Olivia Martindale left behind her Montana hometown and her husband, Jace, certain it was the best decision for both of them. Back temporarily to protect her almost-adopted daughters from their biological mother, she discovers an old, handwritten cookbook in the attic. Its pages are stained and torn, their edges scorched by flame. Some have been smeared by water . . . or tears. The recipes are written in different hands and in different languages. In between the pages are intriguing mementos, including a feather, a pressed rose, a charm, and unfamiliar photographs.
Hoping the recipes will offer a window into her grandmother’s closely guarded past, Olivia decides to make each dish, along with their favorite family cake recipes, and records her attempts. The result, like much of her life to date, involves a parade of near-disasters and chaotic appearances by her doctor mother, her blunt grandma, her short-tempered sister, and Olivia’s two hilarious daughters. The project is messy, real—and an unintended hit with viewers.
Even more surprising is the family history Olivia is uncovering, and her own reemerging ties to Montana, and to Jace. Generations of women have shared these recipes, offering strength and nourishment to each other and their loved ones. Now it’s Olivia’s turn to find healing—and determine where her home and her heart truly belong.
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.20(d)|
About the Author
Cathy Lamb is the bestselling author of twelve novels, including The Man She Married, No Place I’d Rather Be, What I Remember Most, The Last Time I Was Me, Henry’s Sisters and Julia’s Chocolates. She lives with her family in Oregon and can be found online at cathylamb.org.
Read an Excerpt
January 2010 Kalulell, Montana Olivia Martindale
Do not drive in blizzards.
Especially in Montana, at night.
It will make your heart pound as if it's trying to escape from your chest, your foot on the accelerator shake, and your mind leap in a thousand panicked directions. It's dangerous, it's life-threatening.
I am stupid.
We left Oregon early this morning. To be honest, I rushed us out of Oregon. I had my reasons. The reasons scared me to my bones and made them rattle. Suffice it to say: We needed out. Immediately. As soon as I had written permission, we left.
It was cool in Oregon, raining and misting, sweater weather only. We drove east, then north, and all was well, until we had a flat outside of Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. I hauled out the jack and changed the tire, but we got behind. It started snowing lightly when we started up the mountains; became worse at the top; and, coming into Kalulell, the snow turned into a blizzard. My phone was dead, so that added to my teeth-grinding anxiety.
But I was close to home, close to the log cabin with the red door that my granddad and grandma had built together, in 1945.
I saw a familiar sign announcing Kalulell. It was almost covered with snow, but I knew I had only a few miles to go. The snow fell faster, thicker, and my wiper blades could not keep up with it. My tires, even with chains on, slid sporadically over the ice. The wind that whistled around my car as if taunting me, the sideways snow that made me feel upside-down, and the fact that I could hardly see ten feet in front of my face yanked my fear up to stratospheric levels.
I gripped the steering wheel with tight hands and tried not to have a panic attack. I breathed deeply, then panicked when I couldn't breathe deeply again. I tried to breathe shallowly, then panicked when I thought I wasn't getting enough air. Maybe I was having a heart attack. Oh dear, oh no, I could not have a heart attack now. Not now.
I had to fix things first. I had to protect them.
Growing up here in Montana, I learned how to do a lot of things. I can break a horse, no matter how rebellious. I can work outside all day on our property. I can chop wood for hours, I can milk cows, and I can ski on one foot. One time I faced down a bull because I knew I couldn't sprint to the fence fast enough. He turned away.
But I don't drive in blizzards. Call it a personal hysteria button.
I reclenched the steering wheel, my black cowgirl boot shaking on the accelerator, and saw another sign. I looked away. I knew what lay beyond that particular sign, in a place where the grass was green in the summer, the buttercups a golden blanket. I also knew what was on top of that hill, way across the meadow, with a view of magical sunsets. I felt a thump in my heart and wanted to cry.
"Stop it," I whispered to myself. "Stop it now, you baby. Buck up."
But I didn't buck up. I couldn't. And that's the problem when you return to a place, a place you called home, and things happened that were shattering and you leave and it's easier because you don't have to be reminded of the things you don't want to think about when you're gone, but then you come back, and there it all is, like mini lightning strikes to your soul.
Through the swirling snow I could see the outline of a familiar white fence, which meant that the river was now on my other side. Fence on the left, river on the right. The river would be filled with snow and ice, dangerous and fast, a gray, slithering snake.
I had driven alongside this fence more times than I could count, and it was a comfort to me in some ways. I knew where I was. And yet seeing it made breathing hard and I tried to inhale and the air seemed to get stuck in my lungs.
The wind hit my car with a howl out of hell itself, and I felt it shift, snow covering my windshield. Through my silly tears the white twirled all around me, like a snow tornado. It was then that I hit a patch of ice. We skidded, like a marble across a wood floor, careening to the right, then the left, back to the right. I thought of the raging river snake below us.
I braked, we spun in a final circle, I screamed.
They woke up and screamed along with me. They had had more than their share of screams in their young lives, and this was not fair. They did not deserve any more screams.
We tipped, a horrible jerk over the edge of the road, the front of my car pointing down toward the broken ice in the churning river, a skinny tree trunk smashed into my right side.
We were going to die.
Oh no. We were going to die.
I had left my job as a sous-chef two weeks ago, after I threw a chicken at my boss.
"What are you doing, Olivia?" Carter shrieked, turning toward me in his state-of-the-art, cold and sterile stainless steel kitchen.
It wasn't a live chicken — that would not have been kind to the chicken — but a whole, plucked chicken. Clearly I was losing my mind. Probably because of the phone calls I had been getting. The underlying threats. "Stop yelling at Brayonna, Carter."
"What?" His face, sweaty and flushed, scrunched up in fury. "What?"
"She burned the crème brûlée, Carter. That's it. It's a dessert. Only a dessert. No one was hurt. No one was in danger. She doesn't deserve to be yelled at."
That I interfered in the middle of his swearing tantrum enflamed him and his ego. "It's not just a dessert, Olivia. It's my famous crème brûlée." He stabbed his finger at me. "This is my restaurant and everything must be done flawlessly, perfectly. If she can't do perfect, she's out."
All of the other chefs were suddenly quiet, standing still over bubbling pots, gas-fired stoves, bowls full of cake batter and soups, thick steaks and shrimp, fresh fruits and vegetables ready to be sliced. Outside the double doors we had customers waiting, people who had sat on waiting lists for weeks, tonight a special event for them.
"You yelled at Ethan tonight, too, Carter, because you said his sauce wasn't creamy enough. You berated him until he cried and left."
"It wasn't creamy enough," he seethed, then slammed down a wooden spoon. "Not. Creamy. Enough!"
"It's sauce. It's not life." Of all the things to get upset about. Crème brûlée. Sauce. It made me want to cry. These are not things in life to melt down over. "You knocked Georgia's hat off her head tonight because you said she didn't add enough butter. It's butter. That's all it is. Chill out."
"No, Olivia!" His voice spiked as he charged over to me. "It's not. Butter makes or breaks my recipes, so it makes or breaks my reputation. No one can blemish my reputation!" He threw a dish towel to the floor. "And stay out of this! Who asked you what you thought?" "I always say what I think, and what I think is that it's only butter. From a cow." I had had it. I knew it at that moment. Carter demeaned people constantly. Everyone hated him, except his henchman, Ralphie, who smirked at me. Every dictator has a right-hand henchman who doesn't think for himself. I don't hate anyone, but Carter was one of the meanest people I have ever met. I think that's why I picked up an egg and threw it at him. He ducked and I missed, which was disappointing. I take pride in my aim — being a Montana girl I knew how to shoot a gun and a bow and arrow — so I threw a second one. Got him. He dodged to the left, then to the right. I pelted an egg at the smirking, nonthinking Ralphie, too. Target hit.
"What the hell, Olivia?" Carter lurched left. I got him again.
I wasn't angry. Some part of my mind couldn't believe what I was doing. The other part thought that a man who could actually turn into a frothing Tasmanian devil over crème brûlée deserved to have eggs thrown at him. Did he not read the newspaper? Did he not see what happened to people? Now, that was worth melting down over. I myself had had a total meltdown two years ago. It had had nothing to do with crème brûlée.
"You need to stop yelling at people, Carter. You need to treat people like humans. Don't be a frightening prick."
He gasped. "I do treat them like humans unless they're screwing up my restaurant! What? Ethan can't make sauce right after I've shown him twice? Brayonna still can't make crème brûlée without burning it? Are they stupid?"
"No." For some reason I thought I should throw a potato at him, so I did, and he ducked and swore, but I had anticipated the duck, so the potato smacked him. I chucked one at smirking Ralphie, too. Dead center. He said, "Ooph."
Carter's was now a popular restaurant in Portland. I had worked for him as his sous-chef since I left Montana, two years ago. I was in charge of the kitchen when Carter wasn't there. I was in charge of the menu, including all of the specials, and often worked twelve-hour shifts. Carter would not admit it, but his restaurant was not doing well when I arrived on the scene. In fact, he was close to going belly-up.
He and I sat down and revamped the menu. We cooked together. I showed him my recipes. We made them and he loved them. I had the restaurant remodeled. We had an excellent review in the paper, then another one, and it was word of mouth from then on out.
I think of it as American fine dining, elegant and plentiful, with a splash of Italian and the colors and spices of Mexico. I needed the job when Carter hired me. I had nothing. He gave it to me and I was grateful, but he was a temperamental and explosive chef, and my frayed nerves couldn't take him anymore.
"I'm out." I turned to the other people, my coworkers, who were equally fed up with crazy Carter, and said, "I'm sorry."
Two people closest to me reached over and gave me a hug, then more came. "Please don't go," they whispered. "I can't handle Carter without you ... don't do this ... Leave now, come back tomorrow, please, Olivia ... I can't take his screaming with you gone...."
"Olivia!" Carter yelled at me, his finger waving, egg dripping down his white chef's coat. "If you leave here, you can never come back! If you come back tomorrow, I will close the door. If you come back in a week, probably I will keep the door shut. If you come crawling back in a month, I will think about letting you back in, so do not leave. I have made you the chef you are. You owe me!"
I laughed. So did a bunch of other people. It was so patently false that in response I picked up an onion and pitched it at him, and then, my finale, because he had yelled and yelled at me for months, carrots. He dodged and ducked and swore as one after another hit. Ralphie was hiding behind the island. I managed to land an onion on him anyhow. Again: I take pride in my aim.
I heard the other chefs smothering their laughter.
I took off my hat, and the net, my brown hair tumbling down my back. I grabbed my bag, all of my recipes that I'd collected in a notebook, and my knives, and I walked out through the front door, waving at the waitstaff, their faces confused.
I went home to my small, one-bedroom apartment in downtown Portland. The girls, six and seven years old, were in bed, my bed, as I was now on the couch in the family room, and I paid the babysitter. She has tattoos and piercings and is sweet and loves to do crafts with the girls.
I took a shower, unfolded the couch into a bed, piled on the blankets, and opened my computer. I had some savings. Not a lot. The attorney had cost a bucket of money. My car had broken down, too, which was expensive. I missed the truck I had had in Montana. I had to sell it to pay the attorney. I made another payment to the hospital. A few months ago I had had to spend four days there for a bleeding ulcer that hit an artery. My deductible was $6,800. I would be making payments for months.
I was a single mother. It was still hard for me to grasp that after six months. But I might not be their mother forever. There were complications, problems, issues. Terrifying things. And now I had no job. Fear, strangling and tight, curled around my entire being.
The next morning, early, I got another call. The woman's words terrorized me.
And that's when I knew we had to leave, to escape, immediately.
The car teetered on the edge of the icy road, as if we were on a multi-ton seesaw.
"What's happening?" Stephi yelled.
"Aunt Olivia, what's going on?" Lucy said.
The car wobbled, up and down, again. My windshield wipers were still on, but they were hardly making a dent in the snow coming down like a white, cold blanket, ready to smother anyone who stood too long in one place.
I knew what was below us. I knew what would happen when the car tilted down a few inches in the wrong direction. "Don't move," I choked out. "Don't move." The car stopped, the engine growling.
"Don't move?" Stephi said. "Oh no oh no. Oh no."
"Right. Stay still."
"I'm scared," Lucy said. "So scared. Help, Aunt Olivia! Help me!"
"I know, baby. But don't move."
I could hardly see. The wind battered the car. I didn't want to open the door, because I didn't know if I would drop down the side, between the road and the car, and disappear. But I couldn't stay in the car with them and risk plunging down the cliff into the river. I had a vivid image of the car filling with freezing water and ice as I struggled to yank the girls through a window. I shoved down bubbling hysteria, knowing hysteria would not help this situation.
We teetered again, and I jammed my teeth together so I didn't let loose a bloodcurdling scream. I opened the door to the car, slowly, so slowly, to see if my half of the car was still on the highway. If it was, I would carefully climb over the seat and haul the girls out. I would not think about how the three of us would survive in a blizzard once we were out. At least we would have a chance. The river offered no chances; the river snake would drown us.
Snow flew in when I opened the door, and the girls whimpered. I wanted to whimper, too. How far over the edge were we? How much pavement was on my side? Should I have the girls climb out on their own and stay where I was to balance the car out?
The wind whooshed through the car and the girls screamed, the noises blending together. Then the car rocked up and down. We were going down the cliff and into the river. At that cataclysmic moment, between life and death, I thought of her.
She had breathed into the phone the morning after I'd quit my job. Heavy. Deliberate. She lowered her voice. "I have a surprise for you, Olivia."
I would not like the surprise, I knew that.
"Want to know what the surprise is?"
"No." I hated her calls. I gripped the lid of the blender. I was making the girls a fruit smoothie with raspberries, bananas, and strawberries.
She giggled. "Surprises are fun." She sang the word fun. "Fun and exciting."
I waited, my throat tight.
"You're going to lose, Olivia."
I closed my eyes.
"You lose," she singsonged. "I win, win, win."
"Don't call me again."
"Why? I like talking to you."
"I don't like talking to you."
She laughed and laughed. "Olivia, you have no idea what's going to happen soon. None. But I know and I like it. You won't like it. You won't like it at all."
"What are you talking about?" I walked away from the blender, passing a mirror I have in the nook. My green eyes, cat eyes I'm told, that tilt up at the corners, looked stricken.
"It's a secret. I like secrets."
"Last time, what are you talking about?" I felt my whole body clench, as if waiting for a blow.
"What am I talking about?" she whispered. "What am I talking about? That's easy." She giggled again. "Revenge, Olivia. I'm talking about revenge."
I hung up on her laughter. She thinks she's so funny.
I don't find her funny at all.
Her sick rage echoed in my ear.
Her harsh words cut through my heart.
Her hissed threats clogged my throat until I could hardly breathe.
I gripped the counter in front of me, the silence a sickening contrast to the evil conversation I'd had. Outside my apartment the gray clouds rolled, the rain pouring down, blurring everything.
I had to get out of Oregon.
I had to go where she could not find me, find us.
I knew exactly where to go.
I called my attorney.
In two weeks, with permission, with hands that trembled, I began to pack. Then I gave away our furniture.
I would keep them safe. I would hold them close.
I would never let her come near them again.
That's why I had to survive this car accident. Because of her. For them.
Through the open door, I could see that my car, on my side, was still on the pavement. How much pavement I didn't know, the snow near blinding. It couldn't be much, as we were rocking back and forth. "Unlock your seat belts, Lucy and Stephi. I'm coming to get you."
The car tilted forward again. "Stop! Don't move. Wait!" The car leveled out.
Excerpted from "No Place I'd Rather Be"
Copyright © 2017 Cathy Lamb.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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