The small town of Sweet Bay, Alabama hides a house where Sara grew up with an embarrassingly eccentric grandmother named Mags, and all of her hippie friends who’d stayed on since the sixties. Sara escaped to a life in New Orleans with a shop of elegant knick knacks as soon as she could, and missed out on finding out from Mags just how much she is running toward a life much like her grandmother once had. Now that Mags has passed on, Sara has returned to restore the bed and breakfast to sell it, but the furniture hides a literal key carved into the wood which begins a story of who Mags was as a young woman, and the one who got away. The Hideaway is an escape to a small town where tragedy leads to hope, and more than just a house will be restored.
Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen is a hilarious story filled with savory herbs and delicious foods, and two sisters trying to find their way in life, one after returning to the town she left years ago.
The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop and Cafe by Mary Simses is about a woman who visits a New England town to deliver a letter from her grandfather, and unexpectedly finds a new life and the savoriness of blueberries.
The Forgotten Recipe is another tragic love story of a woman who loses her husband very young, but finds purpose again through her mother’s recipes and a bake stand.
The Sea House by Elisabeth Gifford is about a woman who suffers a terrible loss and seeks a new life with her husband by turning a decrepit sea house into a comforting bed and breakfast.
Mags loved looking out on her garden, and especially enjoying foods produced from it, particularly Bert’s strawberry pie. On the way to the doctor’s before she died, she asked him to make her some. Sara also loved choosing “the plump, ripe berries that Bert would later use in his pie.” It was one of the few things both women had in common.
Strawberry Pie Cupcakes with Strawberry Frosting
- 3 sticks (1 1/2 cups) salted butter, softened to room temperature
- 3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs, plus more for topping
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 2 tsp pure vanilla extract, divided
- 3/4 tsp, plus 1/4 tsp strawberry flavoring oil, (or candy flavoring), divided
- 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp baking soda
- 1 cup cake flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 4 cups powdered sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 3/4 cup pureed fresh strawberries
- 1 cup oven-dried strawberries, (thin-sliced fresh berries baked at 200 F for 3 hours)
- Preheat the oven to 350° F. In the bowl of a stand mixer using a paddle attachment on medium speed, whip one stick of salted butter for 1 minute. Add the granulated sugar and beat for another minute. Add 1 tsp vanilla, 3/4 tsp strawberry oil, the eggs, and the pureed strawberries. Then drop the speed to low and add the baking powder, baking soda, and half of the flours. Stop the mixer to scrape down the inside of the bowl with a rubber spatula if some of the batter is sticking to the sides of the bowl.
- When those ingredients are fully mixed in, add a quarter of the flour, then the buttermilk, and finally the rest of flour. Distribute the graham cracker crumbs evenly into paper-lined cupcake trays, just enough to cover the bottom of the cupcake liner in a thin layer. Add a scoop of batter on top of the crumbs (using a cupcake scoop), and bake for 16-18 minutes or until cupcakes are completely cooked through the centers. Test it with a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake. Allow to cool at least 15 minutes before frosting.
- For the frosting: In a clean bowl of a stand mixer, attach the whisk attachment and set the speed to medium high to whip together 2 sticks (one cup) of salted butter. Drop the speed to low and add 2 cups of the powdered sugar and the remaining 1/4 tsp strawberry flavoring oil. Finely chop the oven dried strawberries very carefully using a sharp knife and cutting board.
- **Oven dried strawberries can be made with fresh strawberries by removing the tops, slicing them thinly, and baking them in a 200° F oven for 3 hours on parchment paper-lined baking sheets.** Add the chopped strawberries and remaining powdered sugar to the mixing bowl, and keep on low speed until all ingredients are combined. Frost onto cooled cupcakes (if using a piping tip, use X-large) and garnish with more graham cracker crumbs, if desired.
- Furniture in shambles made Sara “fall in love with old, forgotten things.” Where did this come from in her life, and why did she appreciate the furniture more than the grandmother who filled her childhood home with such things?
- Why did Mags so enjoy the hard work of cleaning, cooking, and gardening, when her old life had never involved lifting a finger, but paying others to do tedious chores for her?
- Why did Mrs. DeBerry leave the house to Mags? How did it change nearly all of Mags’ future decisions?
- Crawford loved fixing broken things, old houses the best. Why did this appeal so much to Sara? Would he and Mags have gotten along well or poorly?
- Mags had wanted “uncomplicated love and a simple wedding” but had neither. Was this just a case of always wanting what you can’t have? Or was Mags “forcing herself into molds for too long” which she truly didn’t fit?
- Why was Sara and Mags’ relationship so complicated? Why was it difficult for her “to be really close to someone who seemed to try to be as eccentric as possible”? Why didn’t she take the time to understand her grandmother?
- What solidified Mags’ and Dot’s friendship, so that Mags knew she could trust Dot, more than any of the others who stayed on at the Hideaway?
- Mags’ new eccentricities bothered Robert, but why did he never say anything to her about them, or the house?
- Why do “the head and the heart rarely agree”? And is it true that all women “never fully forget their first love” or was it stronger for Mags?
- Why didn’t Mags ever tell Jenny who her real father was, or even her own granddaughter her story?