Flora works at a law office and lives in cramped London apartment, seeking to escape her childhood memories of farming on a small, cold Scottish island. Mure is a place that now only holds flashbacks of her mother who passed away, the awful thing she said to her father at the funeral, and the trapped life she never wanted. London holds the thing she desires most: her handsome, tailored suit-wearing boss who only dates models and doesn’t know Flora exists. A new client named Colton, now the firm’s biggest and wealthiest, has fallen in love with the frigid island and wants a local to help him with a new building project. Flora’s boss Joel will stop at nothing to make the client happy, including volunteer Flora to go back home and accommodate Colton’s projects, even if it means having to visit the tiny town himself. The Cafe by the Sea is a humorous look at the contrast between city and country life, and where our souls long to rest.
Other books by Jenny Colgan most like this one are The Bookshop on the Corner about a librarian selling books out of a converted van/bookshop to odd locals in an isolated Scottish town, Little Beach Street Bakery, about a girl who moves to a sea town to restore an old bakery, and makes friends with a handsome beekeeper and a puffin, and Meet Me at the Cupcake Cafe, about a woman loses her boyfriend/boss and job all in one day and decides to open a cupcake shop. The last two novels also have sequels. Jenny Colgan has written nearly twenty novels in total.
The Seduction of Water by Carol Goodman is about a young woman researching her mother, a renowned writer, and about the symbolism of the brilliant selkie story her mother used to tell and write novels about. It takes place at a hotel in the Catskill mountains, where a secret manuscript of her mother’s may still lie hidden.
The Sea House by Elisabeth Gifford is about a young couple restoring an old cottage on a Scottish shore to turn into a home for their future child and fellow residents, but the soon-to-be mother must take a look into her old ghosts as well. Her story becomes tied to the man who lived in their house generations before, because of his obsession with mer-creatures and possible mermaid bones he may have buried under the floorboards.
Flora’s mother made lemon birthday cakes for Innes, “light lemon cakes, tiny little fairy cakes…” Agot’s insistence that “I Yike Cakes!”and “Daddy said Granma make cakes!” is what prompted Flora to look for and find her mother’s recipe book. In the pantry after making scones, Flora also found jam and sweet memories: “With its deep sweetness, the the slightly tart edge of the raspberries, came memories of her mother, standing right there, stirring frantically…jam day was always an exciting rush…” Even Colton’s garden grew fresh raspberries. And of course, Innes’ secret hobby and great pride was in the cheeses he made. To combine these bright flavors, I created a light lemon cupcake with organic raspberry jam centers and a tangy lemon cream cheese frosting.
Lemon Cupcakes with Raspberry Jam Centers and Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting
- 2 sticks (1 cup) salted butter, at room temperature
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 3 large eggs, at room temperature
- 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 3 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp cream of tartar
- 1/2 cup plus 1 tbsp milk, divided
- 3 tsp pure vanilla extract, divided
- 1/2 cup organic seedless raspberry jam
- 8 oz cream cheese, softened to room temperature
- 5 cups powdered sugar
- 2 tsp lemon baking emulsion
- Juice, about 3/4 cup each of 2 large lemons, divided
- Zest of 2 large lemons, divided
- Bring eggs, butter, and cream cheese to room temperature. Preheat your oven to 350° F. In the bowl of a stand mixer on medium-high speed, cream together one stick (½ cup) salted butter with one cup of sugar. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour with the baking powder, cream of tartar, and baking soda. To the butter/sugar mix, on medium-low speed add the lemon zest, then the eggs, one at a time, waiting until each is fully incorporated before adding another. Drop the mixer speed to low and add half of the flour mixture to the stand mixer. Allow those to combine, then pour in the 1/2 cup of milk, the lemon baking emulsion, one teaspoon of vanilla, and half of the lemon juice. When all of those are fully incorporated, add the rest of the flour. Stop the mixer to run a rubber spatula along the insides of the bowl and make sure everything is combining, then mix for another minute on low speed. Place into paper-lined cupcake tins and bake for 16-20 minutes.
- For the frosting, in the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, or using a hand mixer, whisk together the remaining stick of butter with the cream cheese on medium speed until smooth and creamy, about one to two minutes. Then stop the mixer, add three cups of the powdered sugar, the remaining tablespoon of milk, the zest of one lemon, and the remaining 2 teaspoons of vanilla. Mix on the lowest speed for a couple minutes, until everything is combined. Stop the mixer if some of the ingredients are sticking to the insides of the bowl, and scrape them down with a rubber spatula. Add the remaining powdered sugar and mix to combine.
- Remove the centers of the cooled cupcakes (at least (15-20 minutes) with an apple corer, being careful not to go all the way through the cake. Fill a piping bag with the raspberry jam, and twist the top closed after removing all the excess air from above and below the jam in the bag. Carefully tip the bag sideways with the weight of the jam in the bag in the center of your hand, and snip off the tip of the bag. Gently squeeze just enough jam into each cupcake center to make it level with the top of the cupcake. Pipe frosting onto cupcakes using a piping bag with a large tip (I used a star tip).
- To Joel, living on an isolated cold island was weird. To Colton, “living all jam-packed on top of each other in a place where you can’t breathe or drive or get across town is probably what I’d call weird.” What made each man prefer such different places to live? How did Flora feel about each?
- “If you’re a woman and want a selkie as a lover, you stand by the sea and weep seven tears…If you’re a man and take a selkie lover and want to keep her, you hide her sealskin and she can never go back to the ocean again.” Why do you think there are different rules for male and female selkies? What makes people enjoy these legends so much, especially cultures that live near the sea?
- Lorna told Flora that “the last time I was in the city, I thought I would choke on the fumes…There are so few places in the world where you can breathe like this. It’s the freshest air in existence… Take your stupid yoga classes and shove them up your bum. Nothing’s better than this.” Did Flora agree at the time, or would she later? Why does fresh air in nature smell so much better than city air, or even that at a city park? Why do so many people cram into a city to live, and vacation in the country?
- Charlie loved to help kids with a troubled past. He said that “a lot of them have no dad at home…sometimes the first time they come into contact with a man is through the police…or a gang.” How did this type of upbringing affect them, and why does that make him such a positive, strong influence in their life? Did that make him more attractive to Flora?
- For all his poise and control, Joel couldn’t drive a stick shift, which made Flora want to giggle at him. But “some men were not very good at being laughed at, and Joel was definitely one of them.” What were the reasons for this? Might it have marred or ended what friendliness they had if she had laughed at him for that?
- Lorna asked Flora once if it helped, “thinking about him [Joel] all the time rather than your mum?” Is this partly why Flora became so obsessed with him? If it wasn’t the only reason, what others might there be?
- The locals didn’t support Colton because he brought his own people in to work for him, and didn’t shop in the village or stop at the pub. Why was this so offensive to him? Might he have gotten what he wanted sooner if he’d attempted to use local laborers and foods? Why didn’t this occur to him?
- Why did Flora become so consumed so quickly with farm life? Would she have realized how much she loved being back if she hadn’t been able to busy herself with things like her mother’s recipes, cleaning up the farm, and running the cafe?
- Why had Joel never wanted to share or open up with anyone, but he suddenly did with Flora when they were in Mure and she’d opened up to him? Was he really arrogant and above everyone as they all thought?
- Why did Flora need to choose something for herself, not do what everyone expected her to? What things did she choose for herself?