In Sara’s Surprise, Sara works in the kitchens of the famous Alex Bay Crossmon House Hotel. After working in the Pullman Island kitchens during President Grant’s 1872 visit she’s learned quite a lot. (You can read more about this in Katelyn’s Choice, book one of The Thousand Islands Gilded Age series.)
When Sara becomes the assistant pastry chef, her boss abuses her in lots of ways, as was all-too common in 1873. Women had no recourse and often feared they’d be blamed and dismissed from their jobs, so they kept silent. Back then, women were often devalued and unappreciated, under paid and treated poorly. And men took advantage of the cultural norms of the day.
Have you ever been harassed by an employer? I have, and it’s pretty traumatizing. In this “Me Too” movement, lots of women are speaking up about their trials and tribulations in the workplace, so I decided to explore the topic.
As a single mom in the early 1990s, I was treated poorly too, and I regret that I was afraid to speak up and expose the nasty man who threatened, teased, and tormented me. As a leader in the organization, that should never have occurred, but it did. Thankfully, today’s climate is more open to reporting such abuse.
Sara’s Surprise explores this problem from several angles. But in the midst of Sara’s trials, she falls in love and learns a lot about the art of baking French pastries.
In researching how to make pastries that’ll delight your palate, I learned way more than I’d ever dreamed, like how to properly break an egg and how to cream sugar and eggs the right way. And did you know that you laminate Pain au chocolat? There’s much to learn about French baking, to be sure.
Here’s a short excerpt to give you the “flavor” of Sara’s Surprise:
Sara hurried to grab the tray of petite, white, fluted ramekins she’d already readied. Bringing them to the pastry station, she set them down, waiting for further instructions.
“I will teach you to separate eggs the proper way. I noticed you drew them from shell to shell. That is incorrect. You pour them onto your palm like this.” Chef broke an egg with one hand and let the egg white run through his fingers in one fluid motion. He plopped the yolk in a bowl. “Now you try.”
Sara cracked an egg with one hand. But before she adjusted the shell and got her hand under the egg, the white fell to the table in a gooey mess. She panicked, and the yolk broke too.
“Imbecile! Non!You don’t even know how to break an egg.” He slapped her hand and showed her again, making the process look simple. Effortless.
“I’m sorry, monsieur. I will learn.” Sara blinked back tears and tried again, this time accomplishing the feat, albeit rather awkwardly.
Chef took her through the next steps of heating the cream to “temper the eggs and prevent them from scrambling.” At his instruction, she gently mixed in the remaining ingredients, simmered it, and poured the custard into the dishes.
Chef LaFleur handed her a tea towel. “You must put a towel in the bottom of the pan and fill it halfway with water before baking.”
Sara did as he commanded her, baked them, cooled and chilled them, and grinned with pride at her accomplishment. Just before teatime, Chef pulled her away from preparing the teapots to show her the final step.
He took her hand and led her back to the pastry table, touching her arm as if he was courting her. She shivered even though it must’ve been ninety degrees in the kitchen.
“For the final presentation, we sprinkle sugar on top of the custard to create a lovely caramelized crust. We put them under the broiler for a few moments and voilà! They will be magnifique.” He put his fingers together and touched his lips to the tips, fanning out his hand as if to send some magical kiss to the heavens.
Sara wished he’d wash his hands instead. Thankfully, the crème brûlée was picture perfect, and after he placed a sprig of mint and three blackberries on top of each one, they were a work of art. Chef LaFleur may be persnickety, but he sure was talented.
Want to know more about Sara’s Surprise? Here’s the back cover copy:
Sara O’Neill, works as an assistant pastry chef at the magnificent Thousand Islands Crossmon Hotel where she meets precocious, lovable, seven-year-old Madison and her charming father and hotel manager, Sean Graham. But Jacque LaFleur, the pastry chef Sara works under, makes her dream job a nightmare.
Sean Graham has trouble keeping his mind off Sara and Madison out of mischief. Though he finds Sara captivating, he despises LaFleur and misreads Sara’s desire to learn from the pastry chef as affection. Can Sean learn to trust Sara and can she trust herself to be an instant mother?
I hope you’ll pick up a copy and give some for Christmas gifts as it’s a lovely Christmas story as well. And if you ever get harassed, please speak up. You’ll be glad you did.
Susan G Mathis is a multi-published author of stories set in the beautiful Thousand Islands, her childhood stomping ground in upstate NY. Katelyn’s Choice, the first in The Thousand Islands Gilded Age series, is available now, and book two, Devyn’s Dilemma, releases in April, 2020. The Fabric of Hope: An Irish Family Legacy, Christmas Charity, and Sara’s Surprise are available now. Visit www.SusanGMathis.com for more.
Susan is also a published author of two premarital books with her husband, Dale, two children's picture books, stories in a dozen compilations, and hundreds of published articles. Susan makes her home in Colorado Springs, enjoys traveling globally with her wonderful husband, Dale, and relishes each time she gets to see or Skype with her four granddaughters.
Editor's Note: Sara's Surprise as well as Susan's other books, are available through the following sites:
• Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Saras-Surprise-Susan-G-Mathis/dp/1087235715
• Website: www.SusanGMathis.com
• Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SusanGMathis
• Twitter: https://twitter.com/@SusanGMathis
• Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/susangmathis
• Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/susangmathisaut
• Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6044608.Susan_G_Mathis