Here’s an excerpt from my novella that will be featured in this year’s Authors of Main Street Christmas box set. (It involves lasagna….and hot chocolate. Two of my favorites.)
While Jamison napped, Sophie went to the attic and found her grandmother’s Christmas ornaments and decorations. Her heart twisted and she had to blink back tears as she carried the boxes to the living room. Her grandmother had been gone for nearly a decade, but this would be the first year without her sister. In her entire life, she’d never once imagined a world without her sister—until she had to. She had thought about calling her dad and offering to fly up with Jamison, and maybe she would still do that, but…
The truth was she didn’t feel comfortable around her stepmother, and she knew the feeling was mutual. And her dad didn’t do a thing to ease the tension. So, would she rather spend Christmas alone—or would she rather be uncomfortable with her dad and stepmother?
The teapot let out a high squeal, letting Sophie know that the cocoa was ready. She chose the reindeer mugs her grandmother had always used and filled four of them with the steaming cocoa. She topped each with a dollop of whipped cream and added chocolate sprinkles.
Luke’s SUV swung down the driveway. Maybe, she thought as she watched him climb from the car, there’s another option. The door slammed after Mia and Paige got out. Paige, dressed in a long black coat, dark jeans and knee-high leather boots, frowned at the house and wrinkled her nose as if she didn’t like what she smelled.
Sophie hurried back into the kitchen to check on her lasagna. It was her grandmother Morelli’s recipe and she’d made everything—even the noodles—from scratch, just as her nonna had.
She loaded up the tray with the cocoa mugs, carried it into the living room, and set it down on the coffee table before opening the door.
Luke came in and gave her a swift hug before turning to Mia and Paige. “I hope you don’t mind, but they insisted on bringing a salad.”
“Only it’s not made yet,” Mia said, nodding at the grocery bag in her arms.
“That’s great,” Sophie said. “Come on into the kitchen. If you can’t find anything, Luke can show you around while I set the table.” She motioned to the mugs on the coffee table. “I made some cocoa.”
Paige slipped off her coat and laid it over the back of the sofa. “Do you have any sugar-free?”
“Huh, no. Sorry.”
Paige sniffed. “How about tea?”
Paige wrinkled her nose, screwed up her face, and sneezed so loudly Sophie worried she’d wake Jamison.
“Is there a…dog…in…this…place?” Paige asked right before she sneezed again.
Sophie pointed her mug at Javert sleeping on his quilt in front of the fire.
Mia dropped to her knees beside the puppy. “Oh, he’s the cutest thing! What is he?”
“I have no idea,” Sophie told her.
“He has to go!” Paige said. “Either that, or I do!”
That seemed like an easy to decision to Sophie, but after a quick look at Luke’s face, she gathered the puppy into her arms. “Come on, Javert,” she muttered into his fur. “We know when we’re not wanted.” Inside the mudroom, she put a towel on the floor and placed him on it. He blinked at her with sad, tired eyes. “You’ll be fine in here for a few hours,” she said while petting him.
Back in the living room, she found Paige rummaging through her purse while Luke and Mia sipped their cocoa.
“What sort of name is Javert ?” Paige asked as she pulled a small pill bottle from her purse.
“You know, like Inspector Javert from Les Miserables.”
“Les Miserables? You mean that movie with Hugh Jackman? I don’t remember any dogs in that film.” Paige sneezed again. “Do you mind if we open the windows and doors?” she asked moments before she did so. A cold breeze blew into the room.
“Mia, why don’t you help me set the table,” Luke said.
Paige followed Sophie into the kitchen. “I’m allergic to dogs.”
“I sort of got that,” Sophie said.
Paige sniffed and popped open her pill bottle. “Where’s the tea?”
Sophie opened the cupboard where Chloe had left a large collection of teas. Paige sniffed again, selected a bag, and made a small sound that might have been a thank you when Sophie handed her a teacup.
Sophie pulled the lasagna from the oven. The cheese on top had turned a crispy, golden brown, just the way she liked it. The French bread would soon be done as well.
Paige removed a head of Romaine lettuce, a box of croutons, and a bottle of dried Parmesan cheese from the grocery bag and put it all down on the table.
“Do you have a bowl?” Paige asked.
“Um, sure.” Sophie retrieved the bowl, a cutting board and knife, and a colander.
Paige eyed the colander. “What’s that for?”
“I thought you’d want to wash the lettuce.”
“No. I bought this at Whole Foods.”
“Everything there is organic.”
Sophie bit her lower lip and took another peek at her French bread.
“I know what you’re doing,” Paige said as she whacked the lettuce into bite-size pieces.
“You do?” Sophie tried to guess what Paige could be talking about. “That’s great, because sometimes I feel like I don’t.”
“You’re pretending to play house with Luke.”
Sophie laughed, because, yes, that was exactly how she felt.
“Well, it won’t work. He can’t be domesticated.” She waved her hand at the mudroom door. “He’s not like a puppy you can housebreak.”
Sophie raised her eyebrows when Luke came in.
“Are you talking about me?” Luke asked.
Paige froze like a statue.
Sophie fought for something to say to break the tension. “You know, maybe we should go and pick out a tree before it gets dark.”
“But your ankle,” Luke said.
“It’s feeling better. A walk could do me good.”
“Why walk?” Mia chipped in. “Why not take the ATVs?”
“I’d forgotten all about those,” Sophie said, only she didn’t know how she could since they took up so much room in the barn. “I’m not even sure they still run.”
“Why wouldn’t they?” Mia asked.
“They might need gas,” Sophie said.
“Are you scared of the ATVs?” Luke asked.
“No.” Sort of.
“Well, I’m not going,” Paige said.
“That’s great,” Luke said. “Then you can stay here with Jamie.”
Panic filled Paige’s face. “But what if he wakes up?”
Luke pulled his phone from his pocket. “Then you’ll call me and we’ll come right back.”
Paige shot Mia a death stare.
“If you guys want to go, I can stay here with Jamie,” Sophie said.
“What? It’s your tree!” Luke put his arm around Sophie’s waist and steered her toward the mudroom. “Let’s get your coat.”
He opened the mudroom door and Javert shot out.
Paige screamed and jumped onto the ottoman as Javert tore through the kitchen and circled the living room. Luke went after him. Mia tried to tackle the dog, but landed face-first on the carpet. Sophie sank onto the sofa, laughing. Javert jumped onto her lap.
Jamison began to cry.
Paige huffed, stalked from the room, and banged through the front door.
Sophie, still trying not to laugh, tucked Javert under her arm, and climbed the stairs to get Jamison.
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- 1 pound sweet Italian sausage
- 3/4 pound lean ground beef
- 1/2 cup minced onion
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1 (28 ounce) can crushed tomatoes
- 2 (6 ounce) cans tomato paste
- 2 (6.5 ounce) cans canned tomato sauce
- 1/2 cup water
- 2 tablespoons white sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil leaves
- 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 4 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
- 12 lasagna noodles
- 16 ounces ricotta cheese
- 1 egg
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 pound mozzarella cheese, sliced
- 3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- Add all ingredients to list
- In a Dutch oven, cook sausage, ground beef, onion, and garlic over medium heat until well browned. Stir in crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, tomato sauce, and water. Season with sugar, basil, fennel seeds, Italian seasoning, 1 tablespoon salt, pepper, and 2 tablespoons parsley. Simmer, covered, for about 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally.
- Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Cook lasagna noodles in boiling water for 8 to 10 minutes. Drain noodles, and rinse with cold water. In a mixing bowl, combine ricotta cheese with egg, remaining parsley, and 1/2 teaspoon salt.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).
- To assemble, spread 1 1/2 cups of meat sauce in the bottom of a 9×13 inch baking dish. Arrange 6 noodles lengthwise over meat sauce. Spread with one half of the ricotta cheese mixture. Top with a third of mozzarella cheese slices. Spoon 1 1/2 cups meat sauce over mozzarella, and sprinkle with 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese. Repeat layers, and top with remaining mozzarella and Parmesan cheese. Cover with foil: to prevent sticking, either spray foil with cooking spray, or make sure the foil does not touch the cheese.
- Bake in preheated oven for 25 minutes. Remove foil, and bake an additional 25 minutes. Cool for 15 minutes before serving.