Halliday Theater #1
by Katherine Moore Genre: Cozy Holiday Romance
It’s Christmas, and this year Emily Halliday is trying something new at the struggling revival movie theater she runs for her great-grandmother. After all, how many times can you show It’s a Wonderful Life?
Emily was hoping to make a little profit on “Holiday Hijinks,” her “counter-programming Christmas” event. What she never expected—plot twist—is that an unexpected guest will turn her own life into a romantic comedy. Holiday Hijinks is the first in a new series of cozy romances set in the small Pacific Northwest town of Silver Birch, Washington. A short read (15K) for a busy time, Holiday Hijinks introduces a whole new cast of characters while bringing back “cameos” from the “Meredith Manor Hotel” books, which are also set in Silver Birch.
If you love movies and food and romance as cozy as flannel jammies, Holiday Hijinks is the Christmas read for you.
Max had been right. The announcement that an actual Hollywood insider would be in attendance had caused quite a stir and had helped me sell all those tickets.
Zac Orwell was a filmmaker whose USC senior project had snagged all kinds of awards at the festivals that count and turned him into the industry’s flavor of the month for the next year. He’d used that year to make an atmospheric fairy tale based on an obscure French novel that had never been translated into English, which made it a tough sell to audiences in the U.S., who notoriously hate reading subtitles.
Though dreamily beautiful—critics compared the work to movies by Christophe Gans and commercials by Bruno Aveillan—the movie’s box office had been lost in translation. Still, there were thirteen slots to fill for the movie marathon and Her Golden Eyes (Ses Yeux D’Or) had been enthusiastically welcomed to the lineup. Who knew there were so many Francophiles in one small Pacific Northwest town?
Zac was scheduled to speak at midnight on Christmas Eve between his movie and a screening of the original Westworld. Nella thoroughly approved of that choice. She was a fan of the series but though she loved Ed Harris as the Man in Black--He should have won an Oscar for Pollock—she considered Yul Brynner the sexiest man she’d ever met in real life. (“Don’t tell PaPa,” she would caution me when I was young, even though my great-grandfather had died years before I was born.)
Max got him comped at Meredith Manor, and one of Nella’s friends arranged for him to get a free rental car through his grandson’s Enterprise franchise.
Local restaurants offered complimentary meal vouchers for his stay. A reporter from the local paper called about setting up an interview. I arranged for a driver to bring him up from the airport in Seattle, and that was when the trouble started.
“Mr. Orwell will require a town car,” his rep told me, “dark blue, not black.”
“Why?” I said, which is apparently not a question they ask very often in Hollywood because after a short pause, the rep replied with a heavy sigh. “He prefers it that way,” she said in a tone that suggested the topic was closed.
“Okay,” I said, wondering where I could get a blue town car on short notice. There was only one limo service in town and several Christmas weddings had already booked it. Fortunately, an antique car collector Nella knew offered the use of his pride and joy—a 1932 Auburn Boattail Speedster. “Just like the one Clive Cussler has in his collection,” Bailey told me. He also said he would be accompanying his designated driver—his grandson—to the airport for the pickup. I decided not to mention that to the rep because I’d no sooner sorted out the limo situation than she called me back with a huge laundry list of other “requests.”
Zac wanted a masseuse on-call.
He wanted a particular brand of artisanal spring water available to him backstage.
“Our local water is fabulous,” I said, thinking Are you kidding? She wasn’t.
The list went on, with increasingly outrageous demands. It took everything in my power not to ask her if he wanted the brown M&Ms taken out of the candy bowl, a contract rider made infamous by the 80s rock group Van Halen.
“He’ll need his space in the green room,” the rep said. “He prefers solitude before public appearances.”
The Halliday doesn’t have a green room, but I figured I could stash him upstairs in my apartment if he needed somewhere to chillout before doing his Q and A.
“Okay,” I said.
“And he’ll want a variety of nutritious snacks available to him.”
“No problem,” I said because after all, a revival movie house is basically a box surrounding a concession stand. Even at the multiplex, it is all about the snacks, which are usually marked up outrageously. Here at the Halliday, the goodies on offer are enticing enough people come in to buy them even if they aren’t interested in seeing a movie.
We’re just down the street from a mixed-use building and we’re open early, so we get the apartment dwellers grabbing a pastry for breakfast and the office workers looking for a sweet treat to get them through the afternoon. We don’t do lattes or frou coffee milkshakes, but I buy my coffee beans from Sagebrush Coffee and grind it myself and I’ve had people tell me it’s the best coffee they’ve ever had. I keep a pot going in the lobby at all times although I never developed a taste for the caffeinated beverage myself.
In the afternoon, we get kids headed home from school stopping in because when you’re a teenager, it’s a long time between lunch and dinner and they can grab a soft pretzel or a home-made brownie to keep them from dying of hunger for the next few hours.
I make a Costco run about twice a month to restock the candy and the chips and the bottled salsa I pour right into the paper boats with the heated corn chips and cheese.
Snacks were not going to be a problem.
Mr. Orwell was going to be the problem.
“Mr. Orwell is allergic to gluten,” the rep said on what was the fourth or fifth phone call of the day. At least I think it was his rep. Zac seemed to have a whole team looking after his every need and they all sounded alike—female and frazzled and unhappy.
“We’ve got gluten-free, vegan cookies and donuts,” I said. “And nut chips for the humus if he can’t eat pita chips.”
“I don’t know about the humus,” the rep said.
“There’s no gluten in humus,” I said.
“Garlic upsets his stomach,” the rep said with another big sigh.
At this point I felt like sighting too, but I was beginning to feel sorry for the rep, whose name, she’d told me, was Jeni.
“Jeni, it’s going to be okay. We’ll take good care of your guy,” I said.
There was a sound on the other end of the phone like Jeni was e lighting a cigarette.
I wondered where she was. I hadn’t lived in Los Angeles for more than five years but even then, you couldn’t smoke inside office buildings.
“It’ll be fine,” I added.
“You have no idea,” Jeni muttered, which did not inspire confidence.
I was beginning to wonder if it had been such a good idea to invite someone who seriously referred to himself as “Zac Attack.”
Born in Washington, D.C., Katherine Moore now lives in a small Pacific Northwest town very much like Silver Birch. She has worked as a food writer, a caterer, and a movie extra as well as a freelance lifestyle reporter and staff writer for magazines in Honolulu, Los Angeles, and Richmond, Virginia.
Let the Feasting Begin
I mostly grew up in Virginia, so Christmas meant visits to my maternal grandparents’ house where my mother and aunts turned the occasion into a foodie version of the Olympics. Mickey looks strong coming into the sides with her corn pudding but contenders Helen and Mabel could offer her a real challenge with their bacon-wrapped Brussels sprouts and green beans almandine.
In most families, everyone would divide up the dishes and one person would bring the sweet potatoes and one person would bring the mashed potatoes and so on. Amateurs the women of the Moore family would scoff. And so my mother would bring grated sweet potato pudding, Aunt Mabel would bring the candied yams, and Aunt Helen would offer sweet potato timbales with crushed cornflakes on the outside and marshmallows hidden inside like sweet lava.
It was the same with the other side dishes—especially for potatoes. There were always mashed potatoes, potatoes roasted with root vegetables until crackly and delicious, and boiled red potatoes with butter and parsley. (The day after Christmas morning, my mother always sliced up the leftover boiled potatoes and fried them with onions for breakfast. I was convinced she made extra just so there would be plenty for breakfast.)
The one thing everyone agreed on was pie. No one really liked mincemeat pie or pumpkin pie so the majority ruled and the dessert was pecan pie. I loved pecan pie, so I was fine going along with everyone. But I also love pumpkin pie, just not enough to buy a whole pie for myself.
Imagine my delight when I discovered the joys of baking things in a mug. This Pumpkin Pie for One became one of my favorite solo holiday indulgences.
Pumpkin Pie For One
1 microwave-safe mug (10 ounces or larger)
1 tsp. butter, preferably unsalted
2-3 small gingersnap cookies, crushed fine
Melt the butter in the bottom of the mug. (Use the low power setting)
Stir in the crushed gingersnaps and press into the bottom of the mug to make a crust.
1 Tbsp. whole milk
2 Tbsp. light brown sugar
1/3 cup unsweetened canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
½ tsp. cinnamon
¼ tsp. nutmeg
¼ tsp. ginger (May substitute 1 tsp. of pumpkin pie spice for the cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger)
Mix the milk, egg, brown sugar, pumpkin, and spices together in a small bowl.
Pour “pie filling” into the mug over the crust.
Put the mug on a microwave-safe plate and nuke at full power for 2 ½ to 5 minutes. (Cooking times vary—check on it after two minutes and remove the “pie” when a knife comes out clean.)
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