Hi friends! Happy May! This month, I’ve asked a few authors to help me celebrate the Romance of Food and spotlight Brenda Novak’s Juvenile Diabetes Fundraiser. You might know that instead of her usual auction, this year she has three boxed sets of original works from amazing authors: Sweet Talk, a collection of Contemporary Romances; Sweet Dreams, a collection of Thrillers; and Sweet Seduction, a collection of Erotic Romances. Plus she has a yummy cookbook—Love That! Brenda Novak’s Every Occasion Cookbook—that we’ll be referencing in May posts. This has been a great gift for me, because I sought out authors who wrote about food, and found new friends and reconnected with some favorites. I really hope you enjoy the posts, and that this project will support Brenda Novak’s important work. Happy Reading, Yummy Eating. xo
Today we’re welcoming Elisabeth Lane, the busy and talented mind behind the Cooking Up Romance blog, a perfect companion to this month’s theme. Welcome, Elisabeth!
Grand Romance & Everyday Passion
Cooking is my life’s passion. I’m happiest when standing in the kitchen covered in flour. There’s something supremely satisfying about taking raw ingredients and turning them into something that feeds body and soul. Even better is preparing food for other people. It’s incredibly intimate. I love finding out about new friends’ likes and dislikes, food allergies and dietary restrictions, and making something just for them. I know I’ve hit the mark when someone’s eyes drift closed and all she can say is, “Mmm.” From my hands to their cells: cooking literally keeping the ones I love alive and in motion.
We rarely think about food this way in the developed world. We have so much of everything that the notion of keeping body and soul together at a subsistence level is foreign to many us. So when we think of romantic meals, we imagine things like champagne, steaks, buttery mashed potatoes, and chocolate-covered strawberries. Our fantasies are of decadent treats designed to show someone how special they are to us.
Over the past year, I have written a lot about food in romance novels. On my blog, Cooking Up Romance, I pair a romance novel review with a recipe a few times a week. And while sometimes rich, romantic candlelit meals are featured in romances, one of the things that has surprised me most is how quotidian most romance novel food really is. In most novels, it’s less about beef Wellington in fancy restaurants than it is about scrambled eggs at kitchen tables.
Romance novel food is often not overtly romantic, but then, lots of things in romance novels aren’t. It’s the reason I’ve fallen so deeply in love with the genre. Sure, we get sweeping epics, dire predicaments and dramatic betrayals, but the magic of romance really occurs in the everyday deepening of a connection between two people. We get our share of grand gestures, but at its best, romance also elevates the daily work of caring for children and siblings and elderly parents, chatting with friends, working a farm or a cubicle job–making real lives and real emotions something worthy of both examination and celebration.
Love in all its forms and expressions is where romance dwells, ending with the everlasting commitment of two people to share everything, including many meals, for the rest of their lives. It’s a small helping of hope every time we finish a book—food for the soul in every happy ending.
Good Food from Brenda Novak’s Cookbook
One thing I have come to appreciate as I have matured as a cook is the importance of fabulous ingredients. They don’t have to be expensive or exotic as long as they’re fresh. And I’m particularly spoiled living in Virginia, where we have a lot of local farmers growing all kind of different produce year-round. Our nearest farmer’s market is just a short walk down a hill from our house.
I chose to make these crêpes because the recipe suggests serving them with seasonal fruit or goat cheese and blackberry jam. The strawberries at our local farmer’s market have been beautiful lately—small and sweet and perfect. I topped the crêpes with quartered berries and a honeyed goat cheese whipped cream.
With just a little bit of practice, these crêpes are a surprisingly easy, but impressive-looking, light, fresh, spring dessert perfect for company.
Questions for the Author
Tell us about a magical moment you remember that had a food element to it.
My husband and I had been dating about a year when he invited me to dinner one night at a neighborhood Italian place we both like. I truly hadn’t anticipated anything out of the ordinary (and would have dressed up a bit more if I had), but when dessert came around and the server set a chocolate lava cake in front of me, there was something a little bit special about it—a diamond ring held up by a tiny clothespin in the top of the dessert. We still laugh over the fact that I didn’t even wait for him to propose before saying yes and putting the ring on my finger, getting chocolate all over it in the process. But he did go down one knee and I got to say yes properly. We’ll have our fifth anniversary this year.
You are stranded on a magical desert island for a year. You can only eat one meal everyday for that year. You can have as much as you want of that meal, but that’s the only thing you get to eat. What do you choose?
Definitely carne asada tacos—the kind you get from street vendors in Southern California. They’re piled high with marinated, grilled, sliced beef, raw onions, cilantro and lime juice in soft corn tortillas and served with these uniquely Western ranch beans on the side. There’s absolutely nothing better than tacos when it’s hot out.
What is your favorite restaurant in the world? Why?
Jitlada, a Thai restaurant in San Francisco, California. Not only is the food amazingly fresh and inventive and the staff beyond friendly, but in order to get to the restrooms, you have to walk straight through the middle of their kitchen. Honestly, I have never seen a cleaner kitchen anywhere (and that includes my own!). I think I’d have been comfortable eating off the floor it’s so clean. That’s probably a weird reason to love a restaurant, but once you’ve seen enough commercial kitchens, it’s the sort of thing you learn to appreciate. We go every time we visit family in San Francisco, which is never as often as I’d like.
Historical romance author Rose Lerner has a real knack for using food in her characterizations. Her book Sweet Disorder, set partially in a Regency confectionery, inspired me to make three different meals. It’s also a sweet, slow burn of an arranged marriage romance that doesn’t work out at all as expected.
And the entries in contemporary m/m romance author Alexis Hall’s Spires series each conclude with a recipe for a meal featured in the book. His latest, For Real (release date: June 1), is a big, romantic story featuring a May-December romance between a doctor and a chef. And it contains a recipe for lemon meringue pie that I helped develop.
Elisabeth is giving away a paperback copy of both Rose Lerner’s Sweet Disorder and Alexis Hall’s For Real. Enter through the rafflecopter form below.
Elisabeth Lane is a native Californian now living in the Washington, DC, suburbs with her husband and a beloved little dog. She spent nearly 15 years in marketing before quitting to become a full-time housewife. She has been cooking since burning her first batch of oatmeal at age 7 and has been reading romance since discovering Julie Garwood in high school nearly 20 years ago. On her blog, Cooking Up Romance, she matches romance novels with a recipe from her personal archives. She loves experimenting in the kitchen, ballroom dancing, thrift-store shopping, taking long walks in the woods and, of course, reading romance novels.